I cried a little on my way into work this morning. Well, not work exactly. I was actually driving to the tire place near my office because I got another flat. Presumably due to hitting the curb too many times trying to squeeze into a parking space in front of my house, a popular place for people from all corners the earth to park. Not that I’m bitter. Anyway, back to the crying. I was crying because I didn’t have a head scarf on. I was crying because my divorce was a little about more final now.
I started wearing my headscarves five years ago. Was it really five years? It went so fast. It was after my husband and I had reconciled, for the second time. I decided to wear the scarf for a lot of reasons. I’m sure I’ve written posts about it on here. I covered my head on my spiritual journey of my youth. Covered it studying Judaism, covered it exploring Islam, covered it, ultimately as a Catholic (turned post-Catholic). It was a way for me to remember God each day. But it was also because I was married. Muslim women who wear hijab do so whether they’re married or not. Same with the Amish. But Orthodox Jews cover their hair when they’re married.
And I’m not married anymore. Mostly.
Divorce doesn’t happen in a day. There’s the day you file, the day you tell the kids, the day you tell everyone else, the day you move out, the day you change your name back, the day you write up your custody agreement, the day you divide up your assets and debts (the physical ones anyway. Not sure you ever stop dividing up the blame and resentment but I hope so), the day the decree is handed down. But these are just the outward signs of the true divorce, the one inside you.
I chose to stop wearing my headscarves this weekend after a year and a half of considering it. I thought and contemplated and prayed and searched my heart and consulted the cards. And I knew it was time. I’m still devoted to God and I’ll still wear it on certain occasions. But, for me, a head scarf is for married women. And I’m not married anymore.
But as I was crying, I thought, why are you crying? It’s not that I miss my husband. I reeeeeeally don’t. It’s definitely not that I wish we were still together. I reeeeeeally don.’t. It was something else. A marriage is more than the two people in it. There are the two of you and then there’s who you thought they were and who they thought you were. There’s the couple you thought you were and the couple they thought you were. There’s all the people in your life and what you thought your marriage was to them. There are your kids and what it was to them. And there are your hopes, the life you thought would unfold over the next 30 or 40 years. Your identity as a married woman, now a twice divorced woman. It is a slow, painful death. But.
It is followed by rebirth. All those contractions and dilating and blood and fluid and pushing until you think you might split in two like a wishbone, are worth it in the end. You emerge bloody and red and crying. You might even have some meconium in your lungs to work out. The air is cold and you miss the comfort of the womb, but there’s no going back. Here you are.
I wish I could say there’s a big boob waiting there to comfort you, but there’s not. After all, you just gave birth to yourself. The only teet is your own. Okay I’m going to drop this metaphor now. It’s getting a little bit too weird.
Where was I? Oh yes, scarves.
When I started covering my head, after we reconciled, if I’m being completely honest with myself, it was about more than God. And it was about more than being married. It was to contain the part of me I had to put deep inside in order to keep my marriage together.
We reconciled because I couldn’t financially afford to leave but we also reconciled because I couldn’t stand to be alone. It took me 40 years to get to a place where I could be alone and not fall apart. Okay, 42; I’ve definitely fallen apart during this divorce process and had to have some very strong external motivators to keep me going. Anyway, when I went back five years ago, it was in resignation. Resignation to the fact I couldn’t afford to leave, resignation to the fact I wasn’t strong enough to leave but I wasn’t strong enough to stay. I knew if I went back this time, that was it. I was in it for the long haul. I couldn’t keep putting my kids through the back and forth. Or myself. I needed to be stable and give them a stable home. I needed to grow up and accept my life for what it was. And so, I knew I had to resign myself to the parts of my husband that always made me want to leave. I had to accept the control and paranoia and misogyny and irrationality and the messy house and everything else. And I had to dim my light, so I didn’t outshine him. And so I covered it with a scarf and said goodbye.
How many of us spend our lives dimming our light to keep the people in our lives happy?
Well, fuck that.
It’s been a long journey of spiritual growth and therapy and a lot of blog entries and a few very good friends. But I have started shining again. Gradually, over these past few years. And now, the scarves are off and I’m aiming for supernova levels.
It’s not just him. It’s so many people who’ve been in my life. And that’s life. That’s the fallen world we live in where people are insecure and jealous and afraid and don’t realize there’s room for all of us to shine. A million white hot suns. Feel free to stare directly at us, it will not damage your retinas.
And so, I find myself thinking of Gloria Steinem and Rhoda Morgenstern and all the other fabulous, confident, free spirited 40-something women with good hair. I am not someone new. I am just stripping away all the layers I’ve used to dull my shine. The self-imposed vernix. I am becoming more me.
I’m throwing my deep purple scarf in the air, ’cause I’m gonna make it after all.
Narcissists have an uncanny understanding of others and can always be counted on to find some ally somewhere whom they can convince of the lies that the narcissist believes about themselves
I’ve been listening to the How Stella Got Her Groove Back audiobook at bedtime for a few nights now. Stella is a 42 year old divorcee single mom who goes to Jamaica to get away from her stressful life and ends up meeting a man half her age even though she really wasn’t going there to meet a man. It just so happens I am also a 42 year old divorcee single mom and I am going to Jamaica this summer to get away from my stressful life and I’m really not going there to meet a man. I’m waiting to see how the book ends (literally and figuratively)
Life has been stressful and I’m ready for some beautiful beaches and reggae and guided tours of marijuana farms. I’ve had flying monkeys coming at me from multiple directions. I speak, of course, of the vampire-narc’s flying monkeys. The people in their lives that do their dirty work for them, like they did for the Wicked Witch of the West.
Hmm, well now I’m mixing together vampires and witches and that just isn’t fair to witches. Oh well. Apologies to the witches reading this (and their allies). Now where was I? Yes, I’ve had some different flying monkeys using differing tactics this month. One was the nice kind and the other was the malicious, aggressive kind. Harassing and fairly incoherent texts were received. A slight twinge of feeling betrayed followed by a sadness for my children that this is the world they live in. One where vampires are common and hard to spot sometimes. A world where vampires make more vampires.
I have to say I’ve had many, many monkeys sent after me over the years but they’ve always been the nice kind. They try to lure you back into the orbit of the narcissist with flattery, defending the narcissist, encouraging you to try again, and guilt tripping. Looking back, it’s truly mind blowing the sheer number of monkeys and how unlikely some were (because glamour). I’d be impressed if it weren’t for the fact it is an act of manipulation by the very old undead creatures that they use to feed on humans longer and, therefore, not something to be impressed by. Disturbed yes. Repulsed yes. Impressed no. But the monkeys were always nice then. Having an attack monkey sent after you is something else entirely.
So, I shooed the little flying primate away and blocked it from texting me and told its vampire to keep it on a leash. Which they said they’d do (although see here for why I shouldn’t believe them). The same sorts of things that kill vampires kill flying monkeys too. Not engaging in their imbecilic drama, pointing out reality, being rational. They’re simple creatures. Just annoying at times.
The vampire in question made the right call moving from nice flying monkeys to mean ones. I see the vampire for what they are and no amount of flattery or manipulation or guilt trips or empty promises of a glittering future from a flying monkey will change that. Not anymore. Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me; fool me daily for nine years, that’s one very big therapy bill. But I am the fool no more.
So, let the very old, tired looking undead creature send their mean monkeys with their angry confusing text messages. I have plenty of sage and selenite to clear the energy after I delete them. And a little reggae and a good book will take my mind off of it nicely.
A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly And is, also known as a buster Always talking about what he wants And just sits on his broke ass, so
-TLC “No Scrubs”
I was watching a nostalgic show recently about movies in the ’90s. Dances With Wolves, Thelma and Louise, Austin Powers, Titanic, Being John Malkovich. So many good movies. And of course, Fight Club.
“The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is you do not talk about about fight club.” Who could forget that one?
And as I’m watching it, I think, “the first rule of dealing with narcs is to keep in mind they’re pathological liars. The second rule is, keep in mind they’re pathological liars.”
If you’re not a vampire-narc, you don’t lie constantly. All damn day long. You don’t look someone in the eye and just balls out lie. So, it’s hard to keep in mind. Some of their lies are so absurd it’s obvious. But many are not. After all, this vampire-narc may have been lying like this for almost 50 years. Half a century. That’s a long time. Longer than you’ve been alive. Much longer than you’ve been alive.
Ah but I digress. If you’re a normal human being you have to constantly remind yourself. It’s difficult and annoying but it is the one absolutely essential thing to remember when slaying vampires. They will lie to scare you, lie to manipulate you, lie to make themselves look good/fit/smart/successful/a great parent/ a good Christian/a victim/ someone who hasn’t cheated on their partner. Sometimes they lie for no reason at all other than the fact they’re pathological liars and liars gonna lie.
The interesting part is when you catch them lying and confront them. They will use every narc trick in the book to distract you: word salad, projection, what about-isms, insults, false equivalence, triangulation, glittering generalities, flattery, threats and of course, more lies. Internally, they are panicking. You see, the vampire-narc is him or herself a lie. A walking talking lie appearing to be a human being. Recall from my previous posts, the narc is in fact a really old blood sucking undead creature who devotes constant energy to pretending to be human and in perpetual need of the life force of actual humans to survive and keep up the lie. So, when you call them out, it destroys them. Their entire sense of self collapses and they begin being sucked into the black hole of shame that lies deep within them where an actual person should be.
They panic and roll through all the defenses I referred to above. They will begin piling on more lies. And as you make it clear there is no way getting out of this, that they are busted, they move on to defending themselves, making excuses, minimizing, attacking you and, of course, more lies. Always more lies. Someone get out the circa 1870 guy on stilts because some gas lamps are about to get lit.
But when none of that works and you walk away and leave them alone with themselves, they realize there is a stake in their chest. They assume you put it there. In reality, they’re the ones who put it there. But, projection, ya know? Nothing is their fault. Most of all, their destruction. Hopefully they make it to their coffin in time and they can sleep it off and send that memory express delivery to the narcissistic amnesia mail room. If not, it ain’t pretty.
Some would call it karma. Others, the natural consequences of their actions. Vampire-narcs don’t learn from mistakes, so it’s definitely not a painful opportunity for personal growth. Some would say it’s the wrath of God, but Jesus surrounded himself with lepers and prostitutes and liars so I have to assume he has love even for vampires and narcissists. They’ll probably go to hell since they’re not capable of repenting but I don’t think He’s the type to punish them while they’re still undead.
Whatever it is, it is a dark spiral. But we mustn’t let pity keep us from calling them out on their lies. They’re very good at playing the victim and seeking attention and pity using more lies. We can’t fall for it. Vampires are dangerous predators with strong powers of glamouring and we must stand up to them in the name of truth and love and life. Vampires make more vampires. We can’t tolerate it.
So, remember, the first rule of dealing with vampire-narcs is to keep in mind they’re pathological liars and the second rule is to keep in mind they’re pathological liars. It is the foundation of defeating the very old undead among us. Without it, they win. If we can keep it in mind and call them out, they will eventually not make it to their coffins in time and will have to face who they really are. And they will realize, they don’t actually exist.
I recently asked a patient how their Mother’s Day had been and they replied, not good. Their mother had found out her partner had been slowly poisoning her. I asked them if this person seemed the poisoning type, any history of violence or mental illness? No, they responded. It was a total shock. And I thought to myself, why would someone poison their spouse instead of just divorcing them? And then I thought about what divorce is like and I wasn’t as stumped.
My friend told me about a prominent pastor who’d slowly poisoned his wife and made it appear as though she had a terrible chronic disease so he could garner attention and sympathy (narcissist much?). Another friend related to me a tale of a man who had poisoned his wife (by slipping it into her prenatal vitamins) right before she got into her car, hoping to make it look like a car accident but the poison kicked in too quickly and he was caught.
And then a friend told me the tale of Aqua Tofana.
Giulia Tafana lived in 17th century Italy. She made cosmetics and holy oils for women by trade. But, she also helped over 600 women kill their husbands with a poison she made called Aqua Tofana. She succeeded for decades but in 1659 she and her daughter Girolama Spara were put to death for their crimes. Well, by one account anyway. Another has Tofana dying peacefully of old age and her daughter taking over the family business.
Spara operated as a kind of “cunning woman” who sold charms and cures to the gentlewomen and nobility of Rome. These activities would not only have introduced her to potential customers, but would also have given her a shrewd idea of which of her clients were happy in their marriages and which unhappy – not to mention which might be desperate enough to seek drastic remedies, and be able to keep a secret.
The thing to keep in mind is that in 17th century Europe, women had no rights. Your husband could beat and rape you as much as he pleased. Your father could pick your husband for you. Women had very little control over their lives and divorce was not a thing back then. What was a girl to do? Giulia Tofana had the answer.
Aqua Tofana was a unique poison. It was colorless and flavorless and only 4 drops was enough to kill a man (or, as the primmer source goes, “sufficient to destroy a man”). The wife would put the first drop in his food or wine and he would feel a bit off, a bit tired. Then in a a day or two she would slip him the second drop and he’d feel worse. By the third drop, he was vomiting and diarrheaing all over the place (which she probably had to clean up) and calling for the priest. And the final drop did him in.
Administered in wine or tea or some other liquid by the flattering traitress, [it] produced but a scarcely noticeable effect; the husband became a little out of sorts, felt weak and languid, so little indisposed that he would scarcely call in a medical man…. After the second dose of poison, this weakness and languor became more pronounced… The beautiful Medea who expressed so much anxiety for her husband’s indisposition would scarcely be an object of suspicion, and perhaps would prepare her husband’s food, as prescribed by the doctor, with her own fair hands. In this way the third drop would be administered, and would prostrate even the most vigorous man. The doctor would be completely puzzled to see that the apparently simple ailment did not surrender to his drugs, and while he would be still in the dark as to its nature, other doses would be given, until at length death would claim the victim for its own…
To save her fair fame, the wife would demand a post-mortem examination. Result, nothing — except that the woman was able to pose as a slandered innocent, and then it would be remembered that her husband died without either pain, inflammation, fever, or spasms. If, after this, the woman within a year or two formed a now connection, nobody could blame her; for, everything considered, it would be a sore trial for her to continue to bear the name of a man whose relatives had accused her of poisoning him.
She initially disguised it as cosmetics but soon moved to hiding it in holy oil bottles marked Manna of St. Nicholas of Barri. This was appropriate because a priest, Father Girolama, was getting them their supplies. (A crooked priest??? Shocking, I know, but it’s true). It was also appropriate because what gal doesn’t want jolly old St. Nick bringing her some Aqua Tofana? Slip a bottle of that potion under my tree, Santa!
We don’t know if any of this is true, of course. The witch hunts were still going in the 17th century as part of a broad and violent effort to suppress female healers, midwives, artisans and craftspeople. Maria Mies refers to this process as Housewiferization . European women were being removed from the public sphere and confined to the private sphere of the home. It’s possible the tale of Aqua Tofana is entirely a result of the times. But I think most women would like to think it’s true. Not because we’re homicidal, but because, well, patriarchy sucks. Being powerless sucks. Why shouldn’t those 17th century men have at least been a little afraid their wife might poison them if they treated her like shit?
We don’t have to poison our husbands these days. We can just divorce them. There’s less vomit to clean up. But it doesn’t make nearly as good a story.
I was thinking about bats. You see, I’m part of a local group that is creating a community garden. My practice is sponsoring an herb garden (which I plan to name after Gwen ferch Ellis, the first woman killed for being accused of being a witch in Wales. She was, of course, an herbalist and traditional healer. Which was the point of the witch hunts: to get rid of midwives and female healers to make way for the new institution of modern medicine). But I digress! We discussed at the most recent meeting perhaps putting up a bat house since our town has quite a few of them. And so, that’s how I came to be thinking of bats as I drove into work this morning.
My next thought, naturally, was vampires. This idea that vampires can turn into bats and fly away and then turn back into a vampire. Of note, my vampire likes bats and has a bat box which I will be removing when I move back into the marital home after equitable distribution is complete. Ahhh I digress again! Maybe I need a snack so I can focus better.
So, what does this ability to go back and forth between being the blood sucking undead and a flying rat translate to in our narcissist analogy? If you’ve ever lived with a narcissist, you know.
When you finally leave a narcissist you find yourself spending a lot of time trying to explain to people who know you both that the narcissist is a very different person behind closed doors than they are when they’re in the outside world. Narcissists can be very charming (recall the glamouring) in order to get what they want. They have spent their entire lives (some for as long as 51 years–almost 52) studying human beings and learning how they should act in any given situation to get what they want. Often times what they want is to be admired. Or pitied (they are the ultimate victims when they want to be). Sometimes they want money. Sometimes they want a job. Sometimes they want to gain your trust in case they need you as a flying monkey later. (A flying monkey is different from a flying rat; we’ll get into that soon enough). In any case, they put tremendous energy into containing who they really are. They remain remarkably lifelike. When someone from their home then tells you, no, they’re actually a really old blood sucking undead creature, you find it hard to believe. You find them hard to believe. And then you remember how the vampire confided in you that his entire family has mental health issues. And you think, poor woman, out of her mind and thinking her wonderful husband is a very old blood sucking undead creature.
And so, when the vampire violates the PFA, you hold onto the warrant she went through hell to get and don’t serve it. And when you hear whisperings around town about it, you say “well it’s a he said, she said so we really can’t know. They’re probably both partially right. Divorces are like that.” Because who wants to believe a vampire lives in their neighborhood anyway? It’s really so much easier to take comfort in the glamouring and try not to think about it.
But as time goes on, the vampire can’t keep the image going. He is too entitled, too arrogant, too self-centered, too mentally ill to not begin to slip up. Rules don’t apply to him and neither do boundaries. So, one day he borrows something from your shed without asking while you’re not home. He knows better than, well, everyone, so he begins to challenge your authority in the local club you’ve been running for years that he just joined. And when you politely attempt to contain him, he pushes and pushes and pushes until his glamour starts to wear off and you realize how cold his hand is and how pale his skin. He does you favors you didn’t want him to do and then becomes upset when you don’t thank him. And you just generally begin to realize he’s full of shit.
And so, he must move on to another neighborhood. Another church. Another job. One where he can glamour again. In a cloud of smoke, he turns into a bat and takes flight in the night. He is the fastest, most beautiful flying rat you’ve ever seen. He eats more mosquitos than any bat. He has better sonar than any bat. And when he finds a new hunting ground, he lands and transforms back into a very old blood sucking undead creature with a large nose and an increasing number of gray hairs. And goes about glamouring again. All the people who rejected him in his old neighborhood fade away and he is happy once again and full of fresh, warm blood.
Vampires are lustful and very good with women. They cheat. And they think no one knows. But people do. And when the human they pretended to love finds out for a fact the vampire has cheated, she makes sure everyone in the neighborhood knows. And everyone in the church. And so, it’s good that he left before the humiliation began. There, in his new home, he is the image he wants to be. And this time, it will be different. This time, he will settle down and be almost human. For the vampire slayer that ruined him did not follow. He is safe from her here in his new home. and he’ll make sure not to take up with another one.
My therapist and I realized the other day that although I’ve been in therapy with her off and on since 2014, we’ve never discussed my childhood. “Well,” she said, “I’m sure you’ve discussed it with the other therapists you’ve seen in the past.” “No,” I replied, “I haven’t. Never.” She asked. if I thought we should and I paused and took a deep breath and said, yes. My life has been a series of fires to put out for so long, this is the first time we’ve had time to get into it. She is clearly not a Freudian. And I have clearly been avoiding this. (My mother’s voice ringing loud in my head “someday you’ll grow up and go to therapy and talk about what a terrible mother I was,” making a pit in my stomach big enough to swallow me whole. The guilt. The shame. You don’t talk about the family to anyone outside the family.
Soon after this, someone tweeted about writing about your childhood and your parents’ reaction. It was a lighthearted tweet but some jackass replied that if one is going to write something negative about one’s parents, they should discuss it with their parents first as he had had an experience counter to this and was not okay with it. Here’s my response:
He has since deleted his comment as you can see.
I mean what I said and yet, I have held back on discussing certain things here. But I’m reminded of the quote:
So, fuck it.
I was reading my fave Viktor Frankl a couple of weeks ago. There’s a book newly translated to English of some talks he gave in 1946, shortly after leaving the camps. He writes about getting out and choosing to stay in Austria and the experience of having so many people there say, oh we had no idea what was going on in the camps. He calls it a deliberate not knowing and says it’s essential to the success of authoritarian regimes. Ordinary people must deliberately turn away from what is happening so that they don’t have to accept responsibility for it, don’t have the moral imperative to do something about it.
And as I was reading it, I thought of my mother. I thought of how much energy she and my father have put into not knowing for my entire life. You see, my greatest fear has always been that my children will turn out like me. They most definitely got some crap genes from me (nature) so I have to know that I am raising them differently than I was raised (nurture). And so, I have to remember what it was like and all the glaring red flags and cries for help and all that that they purposely ignored. Because I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t ignore my kids’ cries for help and red flags and all that.
I used to make excuses for them. It was the 1980s, it was rural Appalachia, not a place mental health was talked about. We didn’t have health insurance a lot of the time. But it’s just excuses. I had a lot of friends, of all classes and varieties, whose parents got them help (tried to anyway). The truth of it is, she didn’t want to be embarrassed and she didn’t want to be bothered. It’s messy, ya know? I remember writing a story in college about a girl who kills herself by slitting her wrists but makes sure to put newspapers down so it won’t make a mess for her mother to clean up. I had no idea the story was about me. I truly didn’t.
When you cut yourself everyday with razor blades, arms and ankles and shoulders and thighs, it is bloody. It wasn’t a thing back then. They still called it “self mutilation.” A friend of mine turned me and my boyfriend onto it and I loved it. I loved it for a lot of reasons, conscious and subconscious. I tried to hide it but apparently something happened that made it impossible to ignore. So they told me to stop. And she said, “You don’t need to see someone do you? You’re all right aren’t you?” And there was only one acceptable answer. “I’m fine.” Because we were always fine.
But my cuts were a reminder we weren’t actually fine. An intrusion into the beautiful little house where she kept her china dolls, four daughters, four dolls. And so my sisters would say that I needed to stop upsetting mom. And they would check me for cuts. And I would find new places to cut that they weren’t willing to look. And in time it blew over. She honestly probably completely forgot about it pretty quickly. They do that, ya know? People like her. They just dissociate out the bad memories that don’t fit their picture of the perfect little life. Just put the cut up doll in a new long sleeved dress and back in her place and everything’s fine again.
Fine. We’re fine. Everything’s fine.
We came home drunk, came home high, came home tripping balls. And they didn’t notice. I thought I was really good at faking them out. My other friends’ parents kept catching them but not me and my sister. We were so much better than them! Of course, we weren’t. Of course, if my kids came home like that I would know instantly. And have to deal with it. And admit things are not fine. And I would. But not her. Not them.
And if my four year old came to me asking for protection because her older sister was bullying her, I wouldn’t say “Toughen up. Life is hard,” and go about my day. If they locked her in a room with a static-y TV meant to terrify her at age 5 because she’d seen Poltergeist, if she was so scared she literally ripped the door off the hinges trying to escape, I would do something about that shit. For her sake and for theirs. I prefer not to raise any of my kids to be dickheads. But she loved her flying monkeys because they did the work for her.
I have to think about these things to remind myself I am a different mother than she was and that my kids won’t turn out like me. They’re already turning out differently. They don’t pretend everything is fine (not at my house anyway). They get mad and sad and worried and frustrated and bored. And they notice when I’m unhappy and ask me if I’m okay and what’s wrong and they try to cheer me up. These things happen daily, generally multiple times a day. And it occurs to me how many millions of time I have stuffed down sadness and anger and guilt and confusion and shame and just generally not being fine. And how many times I have stuffed down the urge to say, what’s wrong, Mommy? Because no matter what I said or how I acted, I knew things weren’t fine. I just didn’t know how to say it. For decades.
I look at my daughter and think, wow, she’s so perceptive. She spots manipulation or insincerity a mile away and she calls you on it. And it’s taken me a year and a half to realize I was that perceptive too. I just didn’t allow myself to admit it. Because I had to survive. Because children die without adults to take care of them.
I think about that study where they replaced infant monkey’s mothers with these cloth monkey dolls and the monkeys bonded to them, clung to them. Those infants turned out much better than the monkeys without one, or with the ones made of wire instead of cloth. And I wonder, did those monkeys grow up and go out in the world and eventually realize their mothers were just dolls, and not real mothers at all? Did the monkeys marry monkeys or dolls? If you’re used to a doll, I’d imagine marrying a real actual monkey wouldn’t feel right. Until you eventually realized being married to a doll isn’t normal at all, and really not a good idea.
WILL YOU MARRY ME? I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK!
I am 42 years old. And up until a few weeks ago, I would have told you I’m not an emotional person. A lot of statements like this “That movie had me crying and I’m not an emotional person.” “I’m not a crier but when she said that, I ended up bawling.” And so on and so forth. I didn’t think I was an emotional person because that’s what they told me. I remember being at the Pittsburgh International Airport and my mom was either leaving for her prolonged trip abroad or returning from it. I was 16 or 17. And my mom was crying and my sister was crying and so on and so forth. And I wasn’t. And it was, oh what’s wrong with her? Why isn’t she crying? And so when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 22, it all made sense as to why she never seemed to express the appropriate emotions. And what it took me all these decades to realize, is that I knew it was all fake. The tears, the words they spoke, the situationally appropriate feelings they acted out. All a performance. A play we put on everyday for ourselves, for the world. I just couldn’t play along. Actual sadness, actual crying, I knew to keep hidden. Like a rabbit crouching down in the field, pressing its soft underbelly to the cool grass, hoping the wolf won’t rip its intestines out. Hoping it will pass by. Never, I mean never, expose your soft underbelly to them. Keep it locked away. Even from yourself.
It turns out, I’m actually really fucking emotional. I cried in front of patients in residency. That is not done. I cry on my way home from a hard shift with my addiction patients. I cry every time my son Max plays piano. I cry at movies, on almost every major holiday, thinking about the future, the past. I’m a crier. It’s taken me my entire life to 1) realize this and 2) let go of the shame around it. You’re not allowed to apologize for crying at my office. Humans are supposed to cry. And if someone feels safe enough to cry with me, I’m honored. Crying, real crying, not performance tears, it’s truly amazing. Every cry is a good cry.
Lena knows the difference between real tears and fake ones. She knows there’s a certain look he gives her that’s meant to make her feel bad for him and manipulate her into acting like she’ll miss him when he goes even though she won’t. And she knows how she’s supposed to act to make people happy. I think she knows she doesn’t need to do that with me. I hope. I’m actively working on it. Working on accepting emotions of all kinds from them and from me. On being honest with them when I’m sad or angry. On letting them know I’m there if they’re sad and that they won’t feel sad forever. Listening. Watching. Noticing. Remembering.
I will never understand how you can see your child’s body bloody and gashed and not want to do everything you can to help her. How you turn away from a four year old asking you for protection. How you tell your daughter she’s a crazy slut and a horrible mother and you’re giving her ex-husband money to get a lawyer and take her kids away. How you mention to her that her uncle googled “Elizabeth Fleming slut” and all kinds of things came up. Show her the tiny little AP wire article in the hometown paper about her turning in the pedophile and mentioning, accurate or not, details about her sex life, and talk about how humiliating it is and remind her how embarrassed her sisters are. And will never understand a man jealous of a ten year old. A man who belittles and degrades his children and his wife, plays them against one another, gaslights and lies. And do you know why?
Because they aren’t real people. They’re just cloth dolls pretending at being human. They’re badly behaved little sock monkeys and I merely, dear reader, relate the facts. Because everything was not fine. And every feeling and word and question and desire and lament and exaltation that I’ve swallowed down, that my children have swallowed down, that so many of us have swallowed down, deserves to come out whatever way we see fit. Y’all sock monkeys can go on deliberately not knowing, just work a little harder at it. The rest of us, we’re gonna be just fine.