Tag Archives: relationships

My Way Back Machine

I spent several hours today transcribing my old journals.  Most of them are written in bound composition notebooks and they take up about a foot and a half on a closet shelf.

The journals have been bothering me for awhile now.  What if something happens to me and whoever settles my affairs reads them and is hurt by some of my words?  I have especially worried about any family members that I may have been venting about.  I wouldn’t want venting to be the last thing I ever “said” about a loved one.

Since there was nothing else to do today, I decided now was the perfect time to start the journal transcription project.

I began with journal entries from 1998–twenty years ago!  I was 37 years old.  That is the year my oldest son graduated high school and my youngest was in sixth grade.  I worked at a job I mostly loved for a boss I mostly had issues with.

I expected to be rather annoyed by my previous self.  But it has turned out that I’m not all that different as a person from who I was in those days.

Serious depression was beginning to rear its ugly head by then.  Encounters with people that I now recognize as having some issues with narcissism began to be a problem for me.  My lack of firm boundaries is readily apparent.  It turns out my awakening began earlier than I realized.  All these years I saw that time period as a time of many failures.  But in fact, I was figuring things out and doing my best with less than ideal circumstances.

I’m working backwards for now, so I ended my day with an entry from Fall of 1997.  My youngest was beginning to have issues with his peers in school and I decided that is a topic better saved for the morning light.  Now I know that his social woes turned out to be temporary, but in the moment it was heart-breaking not knowing how things would go.

It seems that I had forgotten more than day-to-day events.  I think I forgot for awhile who I am.  I lost my way for reasons of mental health, some betrayals, and a few really hard losses.  I expect this project will help me to heal my wounds and dust off my true and unique character which I have been pushing down for far too long.

I thought I was transcribing my journals to spare the feelings of others.  But it turns out I will be taking good care of myself at the same time.

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Filed under art therapy, boundaries, depression, emotional health, family, getting along, growth, healing, history, journey, progress, self-care, self-respect, stress, Uncategorized, wellness

Aunt Dee was the Spoiled One

Aunt Dee lives far away from home, in Texas, and I am the only relative who still speaks to her.  She was the youngest of the four sisters and she is the only one with more than a high school education–Bachelors, Masters, and PhD.

Aunt Dee received dance lessons, music lessons, new clothes rather than hand-me-downs from the boy next door.  There was money to pay for these things for her because relatives would send money especially for that purpose.  Her father, my grandfather, who had always been self-employed, was old enough to be on Social Security.  This meant that for the first time there was reliably steady income, and that the house was paid-off, having been purchased a couple decades before her birth.

Aunt Dee was the only sister still at home when Aunt Brenda was dying of cancer.  Dee had a bird’s eye view of the ugly side of mortality at the age of fourteen.  And no one actually told her what was going on.  She found out what the deal was when, one Sunday in church, the minister asked everyone to pray for Brenda who was dying.  Aunt Dee had gone to church by herself that Sunday because her parents were home caring for her sister.  She was surrounded by friends, neighbors, and strangers, but no family, when the worst news of her entire life was suddenly announced from the pulpit.  No one knew this had happened to her until recently.  In my opinion, this event was a critical turning point in her development as a human being.

My mother often talked about the inequality between Dee and the rest of them.  She loved her baby sister, but resented their parents for the differing ways they were raised.  Now, though, Dee herself is resented due to her own adult flaws and foibles.

Aunt Dee has always been a remarkably cavalier person when it comes to the feelings and spaces of other people.  For example, she has this thing she does with bathrooms.  When I was younger she stayed with us a couple times during her years of world travels.  She somehow managed to flood our bathroom during her shower every single day of her visit.  My mother had a carpet in there which became soaked with each flooding and it created a ton of clean up work for my mother.  No work for Aunt Dee, though, who would laugh and leave the house rather than help mop up the mess she made.

For several years she rented a very nice apartment in town.  She disliked the landlords and would create floods in her bathroom that leaked downstairs into their home.  She would just stopper-up the tub, turn on the shower full-blast, and leave for the day.  This was funny to her.

She would regularly stay with friends when she moved to other parts of the country.  They all ended up kicking her out and banning her from their homes.

Aunt Dee had a dog for several years that she allowed to piss on other people’s beds and couches.  She would laugh and say, “They’re rich, they can buy a new one!”

She borrows money, never intending to pay it back.

She accuses other people of things that she actually does.

Since I am the only one in the family who will still speak to her, it has become my responsibility to alert everyone if I think she may have gone off the rails and become a danger to the rest of the family.

Aunt Dee was the sister with charm and charisma.  She had opportunities the others lacked.  She often received or just took what she wanted.  I doubt she will change at this stage of the game because the things she does give her the results she desires.  Even if her desires alienate every single person she has ever met or loved, I think it is likely she will live this way until she dies.

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The Short Life of My Very Good Aunt

Aunt Brenda was the second oldest of four sisters.  Her two younger sisters considered her to be the good one in their family, the one who was more of a mother to them than their actual mother.

Aunt Brenda left home as soon as humanly possible, like all the sisters did in turn.  She worked, went to church, taught Sunday school, took her little sisters to the soda shop and movies, invited them to her apartment, and basically mothered them when she could.

Then right after she turned 33, she was diagnosed with an especially aggressive form of breast cancer and five months later she was gone.

Aunt Brenda had never married because the love of her life cheated on her with another woman.  He had gotten the other woman pregnant and “did the right thing” and married her.  He still lives in town and I know who he is.  When I was old enough to drive, I got a fill-up at his gas station and he recognized me as Brenda’s niece.  He made a point of bringing it up, though this was the first time we had met.  It made me think that he still carried a torch for her all those years after her death.

My own memories of her are the fragmented impressions of a pre-schooler.  There was the time she gave me a Nestle’s Crunch Bar–I held it in my hand so long that when I opened the wrapper to eat it, the chocolate had completely melted onto the foil liner.  There was the Christmas Eve at our house when I sat on the living room floor and untied her shoes over and over again while she kept re-tying them.  And after she got cancer, there was the time we visited her at my grandparents’ because she’d had to move back home.  I remember her sitting up in bed and she had white bandages wrapped around her entire rib cage.

After she died I think everyone stayed alone in their grief.  It was a tremendous loss which just got stuffed down, and it stayed down.  That’s how we tend to handle all the kinds of grief in this family.

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My Aunt Louise

Aunt Louise is the oldest of four sisters.  In her day, she was very beautiful with a beaming smile.  She was also quite awkward in many ways.  As an example, when she graduated high school, her fiance still had a year to go, so she kept going to school and audited classes so she’d have something to do while she waited for him to graduate.  She didn’t feel free and excited and have all these girlfriends to do things with.  She waited for her fiance to graduate high school.

The following year, they did indeed get married.

In the wedding photo she looks quite happy.  He looks kind of bashful.  The article in the paper is typical for 1949 with descriptions of what everyone wore and the several bridal showers she was given, including one given by the office girls of the place she worked.

Her life afterwards turned out to be very, very difficult and sad:  dysfunctional marriage, death of a three-year-old daughter, poverty, divorce, more poverty, then a good husband who died years ago, abusive relationship in her later years, and finally death of another daughter from brain cancer.

I would read the wedding article sometimes and wonder where it all went wrong….

Aunt Louise is due to turn 90 this coming January and my mother recently remarked that she has been quite talkative the last few times they were together.  Louise has said surprising things such as:  the reason she never worked after getting married was because not one person had liked her at the job she had.  She knew it the very first day she walked in the door.  They hated her at first sight.

How strange.  I wouldn’t have guessed that she was hated at her job.  According to her wedding announcement she had worked there for two years and “the office girls” had even given her a wedding shower.

I had always thought she had two lives.  The one before marriage and the one afterwards.  Instead, those “two lives” were part of a familiar pattern.

Her life turned out like all the other women’s lives in this family.  A beginning seemingly full of promise and light, beauty and hope.  Smart, sensitive, active girls who end up as victims on some level wondering where it all went wrong.

I suspect the clues to the future were right there all along.  We just missed them in the quest to do the right thing, please the people around us, be good girls, and basically give away our power until there was no more to give.

There are more women’s stories in my family and I hope I can do them justice.

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Princess Stella

Many moons ago I wrote about the cat my sister was giving me, even though I didn’t really want it, but I didn’t really tell her that, so… it was pretty much my own fault I would be taking in a cat I didn’t want.

The cat’s name was Stella and she was a princess.  She came into my house in September and immediately took over.  Other than those first moments out of the cat carrier, her paws never touched the floors.  Instead, she leaped through the air and flew from table top to counter top to buffet top to… you get the idea.

Although I am aware that MY cats occasionally sneak onto these forbidden surfaces, they wouldn’t dare do it in front of me because it is against the rules at my house.

And so my cats were stunned and hurt to see Princess Stella getting away with these shocking maneuvers.  She basically took over the house, all their special spots and hiding places, and she took over me, their human mother.  And she lorded it over them.

Hour by hour, day by day, they became more hurt and dejected.  They started staying outside as much as possible to avoid the princess.  And I felt guiltier and angrier about it by the minute.

I began to see that a pattern from childhood had repeated itself in the present day and I needed to break that pattern.

This cat, that I never wanted in the first place, was clearly not working out.  I had to tell my sister “no” for the first time in my life.  I had to do it fast and I had to mean it.  In spite of the possibly good intentions she had, in spite of the trouble and expense she had gone to, in spite of my almost-out-of-control panic that had been triggered by this situation, I had to say that the princess was just not fitting in and would have to go.

Ah, sweet emotional illness…. I was a wreck.

But I did it!!!  I gave that damn cat back!  It’s kind of funny now, but at the time it was completely stressful and traumatic.

Even now, seven months later, I consider the whole episode to be a significant turning point in my development as a human being with a sense of agency.  It gives me something to build on as I move forward in life.  And it gives me a way to know better what I want for myself and to believe that I deserve to have what I want.

In a strange way, I owe this turning point to a little black and white cat.  Thank you Princess Stella!

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Oh What a Night

Last night I checked on my passport a final time in preparation for today’s trip to Canada for a baby shower with a good friend.  Imagine my surprise to discover that my passport had in fact expired two months ago.  My first thought was, oh, she is going to be furious at me.  Mistake number one.

There was no other option but to message her about what happened and apologize.  We generally text with each other so it never occurred to me to call her.  Mistake number two.

There was no answer, so I texted again twenty minutes later.  No response.

Waited up until midnight in case she got her messages late.

Went to bed with my phone so I wouldn’t miss her message.

Worry grew and grew with each passing hour of no response.

Texted again at 9 am this morning.  Waited an hour and still no response.

My anxiety was really ramping up by this point.

She’s not speaking to me!  Oh no!  It was just an oversight.  Nooooo!  This seems familiar to me.  I remember two past friendships that were ruined by similar thoughtless mistakes on my part.  But that was in high school and there was hell to pay for those mistakes.  And it clearly left an impression on me.

Then something else came to the surface of my boiling thoughts and memories.  My mother does this to me.  She does it to everyone, really.  Innocent and thoughtless mistakes can never be forgiven.  Ever.  Because her feelings get so badly hurt.

Grudges will be carried to the grave.  Ten, twenty, thirty years later, an innocent and thoughtless misstep will be thrown back at the offender like a lightning bolt and nothing can ever be the same again.  Healing and forgiveness never happen.  An uneasy truce can be established and that’s the best one can hope for.  That or the end of the relationship.

I sent one more message to my possibly former friend at 10 am and the phone rings immediately after.  She wasn’t mad.  She just hadn’t checked her phone in twelve hours.

I told her what I thought was going on.  No, no, no!  She was not mad at me.  She wouldn’t get that angry over something so small.  Don’t worry, get some rest, do some yoga.  It’ll be okay.  When I tell the others at the baby shower about your passport, they will probably laugh.  Who even thinks about a passport for Canada anyway, right???  It will be fine.

Maybe there aren’t any mistakes.  Maybe things get mixed up sometimes and then you work it out and get past it.  And then you leave it in the past once and for all.

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In Defense of Me

I had a little text exchange earlier today.

My sister sent me a picture and two videos of the kitten she is giving me in the fall.  I did not want a new cat as I have three and that is enough.  But my sister cleverly sent a picture first and then asked me if I would like to have a new kitten.  She would pay for all the shots, the spaying, and bring her to me from N. Carolina since they were coming up anyway.  It was a cute cat, and my sister always gets her way, and one of my cats is 19, so how long would I have to wait to be back down to three cats anyway.  So, I said yes.

Now my sister sends regular updates via text, which is considerate, I suppose.

Today I felt compelled to thank her for her efforts which are allowing me to see my kitten grow up even though she is hundreds of miles away.

Instead of responding with a “you’re welcome” she texted back with “You’re welcome to come down and see her and bring her back with you.”

Gahhhhhhh!

Why would I want to drive myself all the way down to Asheville, NC to pick up a cat (that I probably shouldn’t have said yes to) when you’re coming up to New York anyway in September???  In fact, all of this was your idea to begin with.  In fact, about a hundred whyshouldI’s raced through my mind when she responded the way she did.

The safest answer I could come up with was, it wasn’t in the budget to make a big trip this year.

Her answer:  Budget?  It’s a couple of tanks of gas!  We have plenty of room for you.

Gahhhhhhhh!

This convo was exactly like nearly every exchange with my mother.  No matter what I say in answer to any question, large or small, my answer is up for grabs, correction, improvement.  How did these people get so far into my brain?  Why do I have to defend everything all the time????

It’s the boundaries again.  I never learned good boundaries.  Neither did they.  But they are okay with it and I am not.

I can not be okay with poor boundaries.  I will never get better if I don’t firm up the boundaries.

And why am I still thinking about it and turning it over and over in my mind an hour later?

I get so stuck sometimes.

I probably should have sucked it up weeks ago and turned down the kitten even though she is super cute.  But I didn’t and now I am entangled.

My answer that shut down the exchange: I would have to fly.  That’s a hell of a drive and I’m not up to it these days.

She had nothing but an “oh, okay” for that one.

Score!

Such small successes in this journey, but I’ll take it.

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