Monday, January 13, 2014

The Tracks of Someone Else's Tears

It always seems my girlfriends eventually sync up their short-term relationship tidal clocks.  Things rise and fall, and suddenly they're each and every one slammed and up all night, and it's either a bottle or the phone.  Meanwhile I'm writing a song, and it's versus interruptus.   The words of Joseph Brodsky come to mind: if there is any substitute for love, it is memory.  Not, as they seem to insist, an online-arranged quickie or even a candidate from a  genuine husband-fishing site, or a blind date.  Really, nothing helps.  Memory, at this open-wound point, is painful and punishing.  Maybe notes for later, a revenge-blog--- a tear-producing contest, some really bad television-- okay, a couple of glasses of whatever you have on hand--never music, nor ex-boyfriends, films… not until a couple of layers of new skin have 'set'.

For those of us with some perspective--e.g.,  long-term serious heartbreak,  ribbon-worthy emotional challenges, kids who have had issues, family deaths… any kind of life seems preferable to the devastation of which we have had a peek.  I am no longer fussy about what I eat, and although I draw the line at fast-food coffee, most nights I'll say grace to a minimal plate, and pray for a hot shower and no muggings.  I occasionally wade out into relationship low-tide, but if I'm going to swim, I wear a rubber suit and bring my own oxygen.  Just saying.

Parentally speaking,  I'm way more unhinged when kids are upset-- for whatever reason.  It may be co-dependence, it may be hyper-mothering-- but there's that extra-sensory ghost of guilt hovering whenever our own offspring are flirting with the language of failure.  Every love relationship has a sort of death-throe-- even the healthy ones shed a skin and eventually morph into something less passionate and desperate; but when our kids are in flux, somehow the smoky nightmare of a child's suicide haunts me.  They are so fragile-- so unprepared, and it is my fault for sending them out into the world with plenty of warm sweaters and a decent education but an underdressed tender heart.

So I listen, and I empathize, because I have now let this little thread of fear weave itself into my night--- the kind that makes us prick up our ears at the sound of a siren and dread the local news.

Two stories that diluted my girlfriend-empathy and haunted my weekend--(besides the Weight Watchers poster-boy governor who had the amazing idea to handle his bridge and tunnel politics with the same solution his personal GI surgeon used on his gut).  One was the uptown oncologist who maybe let go of his son's hand for a second--- a split second-- and we all know how boys hate to hold hands especially when they've just been to their after school sports program or a peer playdate…  and the other was the 4-year-old boy who by some utter lapse in the system was helplessly left in the hands of sick sadistic monsters who were ironically paid by some agency for the opportunity of torturing this child literally to death and who had managed while still alive to remark to a witness that ' he's not sure about God'.  And still, being starved, burned, beaten and abused--- no one, including his birth mother and her posse band of lawyers--- was protesting until the cameras were turned on and the little coffin was being prepared.

Personally I remember 2 incidents that really threw me: once, I left my baby boy with his Grandma for about 2 hours and when I returned, she was weeping and blurted out---'he's not going to make it…'
I quickly realized she was referring to her 80-year old cardiac-compromised brother.  But for a brief moment, the bottom dropped out of my life and this simultaneous self-loathing and matricidal passion came up like a tidal undertow.  The second was one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls during rough teenage years, with a teary voice on the other end (my son's best friend) hysterically sobbing 'I can't tell you--- it's just too bad…' and me collapsing on the floor in grief and shock… and then barely hearing the next most beautiful words I have ever heard '... in jail'.  Still, for those seconds, twice--- I felt I could almost know the devastation of this very worst parental punishment.  But not quite.

We are each the center of our universe and for most of us our own personal grief is larger than any empathic sorrow we can feel for massive devastations and tragedies.  There are fires and typhoons and mutilations and war and genocide and earthquakes.  And here we sit in our little for the most part warm rooms-- worrying about stock portfolios, arthritic pets, bills-- crying over a broken relationship.   On the news disappointing retail sales numbers get slightly more time than these 2 children-- one well-cared, well-dressed and carefree-- the other a victim of suffering and abuse-- both innocent-- both just here-- 4 days ago-- -and now gone-- irreversibly, devastatingly, terminally and hopelessly absent; one leaving a father forever damaged, and the other leaving all of us with a hopeless sense that we have failed.  And I sit here, grateful that my own has survived another day, that this siren waxing and waning outside is not   for one of 'mine'-- not yet, anyway…  and feeling somehow guilty and sad and slightly fortunate at the same time.

And somehow, in some horrific version of television irony...I clearly hear, from my machine which is now airing some early morning repeat of some 'Pathetic Reality' show-- because this is what they are, these endlessly regurgitated variations on a revolting cheap theme-show yawn-- a woman saying 'Girl...Jesus might be okay as a companion, but you can't fuck him' (bleeped, of course--- but not so that you can't hear it).

I am a so-called rock-chick.  I have seen and done many things that have made my own mother compelled to distance herself.  So what misplaced, disinherited genetic morality trait has brought me to feel today like I have been sliced in half and dared to throw my lot in with some Solomon who has failed to step in to tell me or anyone else in this culture what to do about it?  Come back, Joseph Brodsky, and give us another option.

1 comment:

Ludovica said...

Speaks volumes for your capacity for compassion and empathy that you feel that way.

I was staying with someone in San Diego and a story much like those you mention came on TV, some bereaved mother holding a little blue shoe that had no owner any more, and I wept.. audibly, copiously.. to the discomfort of my companion who, for some reason saw this as false and unnatural. To be upset that way for a complete stranger was wrong, loathesome, ridiculous; and for a while I wondered if I was "being a drama queen" or something, as she had said; but really no.
I am a mother, she is not, but to cite motherhood as some sort of membership badge to compassion would be a lazy kind of shorthand, inaccurate. One of the most compassionate and caring people I have ever known is a single man, celibate, apparently passionless. Perhaps because he has so few familial concerns it makes it easier for him to feel for people outside his immediate sphere, rather like a priest or something. So I looked again at my hostesses reaction to my upset.. that wasn't me at fault was it, even though she made me feel bad for it?. It occurred to me that maybe to her, all emotions are a weakness.

Most of us restrict ourselves to the labyrinthine complexity of our own personal daily lives, piling needless nuance and shading into it, rather than face the bald truth that really we aren't as interesting, as important, or as much loved (or unloved) as we romantically believe ourselves to be. We build our own walls to feel safe. We can only go forwards or back, and the restricting maze is less terrifying than the wide open, 360 degree featureless plain to navigate. For the most part, what is on the outside of our personal maze is only of passing concern, the dark background to our own reflection in the window, to be observed but not experienced. It is totally natural to feel overwhelming relief that was not our child who suffered, not our child who died, but that isn't something we should feel guilt for either if it was something beyond our control. The failure in the child cruelty case was not your failure, nor is it impossible to feel compassion for whatever overworked social worker made that bad call.

To be the sort of person who can truly see things from an alternative perspective, is a double edged sword. To feel your own pain as well as that of others is not easy, people do not understand why I can cry for a bereaved stranger, or for a person I barely know suffering the turmoil of disease or substance withdrawal. More than that, people can become hostile that I am not more concerned with my own life and problems, forgetting I was brought up with that whole "There's always someone worse off than you, so count your blessings" ethos. Was I supposed to ignore that, to take it as some sort of meaningless saying designed or expected to be ignored? I don't know.. a lot of scattered and disparate thoughts here; a stream of consciousness rather than a structured response, apologies