The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “mother-child relationship”

Rational Fear

first published Sept 3, 2015Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Ru

I was born in an unfortunate time. As a very young child, I was taught to walk quickly, keep my head down, never look strangers in the eye and certainly never to speak to them. I learned to blend into the background and make myself invisible. I was too small to completely understand what was going on, but I sensed enough to understand that the adults were deeply fearful. As things got worse and as I began to become more aware of what was happening around us, the fear took hold of me, too, like tentacles. It did not let go. I felt the panic everywhere; it emanated from everyone. I could smell it in their sweat. I could sense it in the darting eyes, the furtive glances, and the hushed, secretive conversations which ended abruptly the moment they became aware I was in the room.

Over time, I could feel it getting worse. Grownups started to disappear.   Some neighbors – a father and son – went off to work in the morning and never came home. People said they saw them being taken away. My school friend’s mother went off alone to the market, never to return.

At first, nobody could believe the truth because it was too terrible to comprehend. They could not believe that such a thing could happen to them, in modern times, in a modern country. This was not the middle ages!

Soldiers shot an old man in the middle of the street and kicked him as he lay bleeding to death. They laughed. This news sent chills, waves of nausea, horror, terror through the community.

They started to search the apartments so we created hiding places, where we ran the instant we heard the first boot on the stairs. Mine was behind the stove.

One night, the soldiers came to our building. We heard them calling in the street and ran to our places. They weren’t afraid of our hiding. They were on to our game. I could hear them, banging on doors, kicking them in, shooting off their guns. I heard screaming of people I knew. “Why!? Why are you doing this?” they asked. “We’ve done nothing wrong!” they cried. It was like a mouse trying to reason with a hungry cat.

I knew what was happening. I’d seen it a few nights before, when they went to the building across the street. Shivering, terrified people in their pajamas stood outside in the cold, guarded by other soldiers with guns. But this night, I was in my place, huddled in a ball, trying not to sob or make any noise, though I was sure they could hear my heart pounding even in the street.

I heard them come into our apartment. It was empty, or so it seemed. Maybe on spite for not finding anyone, or for fun, or out of pure evil or because they were too lazy to really look for us, they shot up our apartment.    They laughed and fired bullets everywhere, as if they never had to worry about a lack of them.

Finally, they left.   I waited a long time to be sure before I pushed aside the panel and crawled out.

I found only my mother still alive. The soldiers’ bullets had penetrated the other hiding places and had killed my father, my brother and my grandmother. My mother wouldn’t let me look but I remember the blood dripping from my brother’s secret spot.

That night, my mother packed up a small bag with some clothing, photos, whatever small valuables she had, and a enough food to take us only until the next day. She said a few prayers – it was the best we could do, because we could not bury our family properly — and we left. I had no idea where we were going. I don’t think she did either, but we both understood in our own way that remaining there was impossible. I remember walking for a long time.

The next year or so was a blur to me. We moved all the time. We lived in hiding, like fugitives, like animals. Some people were kind. They gave us food and shelter, at great danger to themselves, but we were afraid to trust or endanger anyone too much.

My mother learned about some people who might provide false documents for us, and we traveled to see them. It was a far and dangerous journey but we had no choice. We were among the lucky ones.   We got the papers and my mother found a way for us to leave the country. I don’t know how she did it. She never spoke of it. When I brought up the subject, she closed down completely, overcome with such obvious sadness and pain, I quickly learned never to ask.  It was a secret she took to her grave. I always suspected she gave herself to a man in exchange for this favor, and could not bear to think about the shame she felt at betraying my father. She did it for me. This I know. She would not have done it for herself, alone.

We went on a boat, across the sea. And later, another boat, across an ocean. We started a new life in a new land. We assimilated as best we could, and had, by outside appearances, a normal life.

My mother never remarried. She lived to 91. The sorrow and fear never left her eyes.   I think, until the day she died, she always expected them to come for her and her family again.

I married and had children and tried my best not to transfer my lingering mistrust of strangers to them, my mistrust of life in general, nor my paranoia nor my deep sense of loss of the life I might have lived had my world not been turned upside down. I’m not sure I succeeded very well. I think it was all well-embedded in my genes.

Here is what I know: There is no such thing as permanence. The life you think you are living can be pulled out from under you at any time. You comfort yourself with the belief that although such atrocities might have happened in the past,  they could never happen again.   Humans can be so bitterly cruel to each other, it’s hard to comprehend they are of the same species. Without vigilance, life quickly becomes tragedy.

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Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

 

 

photo: Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Love, The Way He Wants It

Originally posted July 23,  2014

 maria ospenskaya

Cle

What did I ever do to make him hate me so much? I was good to him, or so I thought, but I see now that how I loved him was not how he needed to be loved. I suppose I smothered him. That’s what he used to tell me, but I never understood how. All I wanted was for him to be happy, successful. I wanted to teach him how life must be lived, to achieve was he was destined to achieve.

When he was a child, he loved me. He was my special man. He took great pleasure in making me happy. He was obedient and considerate. But as he grew older, he became more independent. He no longer took my advice even though I knew he was making mistakes. It pained me to see him on the wrong path.

But he did OK for himself, anyway, and I was happy for that although I admit I felt cast aside. I felt useless because he no longer needed my counsel. And each time I tried to help him, to offer some suggestion, he would get angry, as if I didn’t respect his choices.

It wasn’t a matter of respect for his choices. It was that I was his mother. I needed him to need me, and it pained me that he didn’t.   He didn’t need my advice, didn’t need my money, didn’t need my comfort, didn’t need my love.

I think there is no greater rejection than a child for a mother, except perhaps a mother for her child.

I am just starting to understand that he would have needed me for the most important thing of all if I had only offered it: unconditional love. Instead, I only grudgingly accepted that he was perfectly fine without me.   I never really rooted for him because I was too concerned trying to figure out a way to make myself needed. Whenever he achieved something good, I’d be sure to let him know that it might have been even better if he’d only done it a different way.

If I’d only told him that I trusted him to make the best decision for himself things might not have ended as they did… not really talking for decades, save some meaningless conversation at the occasional wedding or funeral or other family event.

This was the greatest sadness and frustration of my life…that my one and only child had no love for me, not even at the end.

Sometimes, I try to talk to him, differently now, but I’m not sure he hears me. I think the only voice of mine he hears in his head is the one I put in there when he was young.

He seems happy and well-adjusted. I suppose I should be grateful for that, but of course, this was not my doing. Perhaps if he’d failed in his life, I could have thought, “See, he really did need me after all,” but in fact, he was right all along. He didn’t need me because I never gave him what he wanted most: to simply be accepted as he was.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

A Late Lesson

old-woman-with-cane

NEW!

Zor

We were a love match.  School sweethearts. We married young and within a few years, together we opened a men’s haberdashery.  We worked hard and slowly made a success of it.  A few years later, we had a son.  He was a clever boy.  We put him to work in the shop when he was old enough to wait on customers and handle money.   You could say he grew up there.    My husband expected him to take over the business.   Our son had other ideas. The store was stifling for him.  He had no interest.

Eventually, he went off on his own,  pursuing a line of work more suitable to his talents.

We had a falling out.  It was mostly with his father, but since he regarded us as an indivisible unit,  he stopped talking to me, too.  He moved far away.  We never repaired our relationship. We were not close. I barely knew his wife or his children — my own grandchildren.

My husband didn’t seem to mind this loss too much.   If his son had no use for the business, he interpreted it to mean he had no use for him, either.  The business was his baby.  Over the years, he nurtured it, dedicating many hours to making it thrive.  I was always at his side, doing whatever I could do to help.  But the vision was his.  He knew where he wanted the business to go, and he was good at finding ways for it to get there.   I did not resent that my own dreams never had the opportunity to manifest because, to be honest,  I did not have any big dreams.  I was content being a mother (until I wasn’t any longer), and being my husband’s helpmeet.  This provided me all the satisfaction I needed in life. The business grew into a successful enterprise which allowed us to live an agreeable and secure life.

We grew old together,  still working side by side in the shop.  We continued to live, as we always had, in a comfortable apartment above the store.  Over time,  the world changed and it was harder to keep up.

Business had not been good for a few years already when my husband suddenly died.

I was completely lost.   I had little idea how to run the store — what to stock,  how to negotiate with suppliers,  how to balance the books.    We had almost nothing in savings – every last coin had been spent trying to remain afloat.  My husband had been good at treading water.  I began to drown immediately. It did not take long for the store to fail completely.  Without any source of income, I soon lost the apartment, too.

At 83 years old, I was alone,  without a home.  I reached out to my son who was kind enough to send me a pittance, just enough to pay for a roof over my head, but not much more. I was grateful not to have to sleep on the street but in all other things, I was completely at the mercy of strangers. Most were not very merciful.  I was sick and frail.  I was consumed by the pain of loneliness.  I’d worked hard my entire life.  I’d been the good and faithful wife of a good and faithful husband. I’d lived in relative security and comfort.  I did not understand how all this misfortune had befallen me so quickly.  I resented the world for taking everything away from me.   I became increasingly forgetful. Confused.   It was easier to let go of reality which had become simply too painful to bear.

I was dead within two years. Two years which seemed to stretch out to an eternity. Two years which, looking back,  defined my life more than the eighty three years lived before it.

Sometimes,  life lulls you into a stupor and doesn’t give you the lesson until the very end.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

I, Golem

New!

bridge-to-nowhere

Riv

I was just eighteen when I married.  My first child,  a boy, arrived ten months later. Another child came quickly after that and by twenty-three, I was the mother of four. My husband offered little support or help raising them. They were all left to me, these young, hungry, screaming, clamoring, curious, mischievous, needy children.

I’d led a sheltered life within a religious family in a like-minded community.  I had not had much sense of myself to begin with.  I was raised for one purpose: to become a wife and a mother.  Once I was both, I had even less idea who I was except breasts to feed and lips to scold and arms to carry and hands to cook and legs that itched to just run and keep running until I was somewhere completely different, and all alone.

I felt no love for my children, no love for anyone or anything.  I knew this was wrong, that I was deeply flawed. It was one of the greatest sins for a mother not to love her children.  Love is what makes humans human. If I was not capable of love, then I was no better than a golem, an automaton. I was less than human.

But, in fact, I was not less than human.  I was painfully, achingly, tragically human.  I was simply numb to my own pain. I was too exhausted to live; too completely without ego to care about anything.

Perhaps, then, it is not love, but ego that makes us human. Without ego, there is no point to human life.  Nothing to drive us forward along our path.  Nothing to give us purpose.  No pain or joy to teach us lessons.

I was, therefore, nothing.

It followed, then, that my children were also nothing.  I regarded them as merely attachments to my appendages. If I had been capable of regarding them as individual, unique human beings, I would have had to also conclude that I, too, was human.  After all, a golem cannot create human babies.  But since I was certain that I was a golem, it followed by my logic, that my children must also be made of mud and clay. Empty. Hollow. Unable to feel.  Unhuman.

Given this line of logic, I did the only thing that made sense to me.

When my husband was off to work, I gathered my children for a trip. Only the oldest was curious about where we were going, but I quieted him by telling him we were going on a secret adventure.

I drove around for a while, in growing outward spiral, circling further and further from home.  I knew where I was going, what had to be done, but I needed to approach it obliquely, to work up my courage.

And finally,  the children fell asleep and I finally found myself where I was heading all along.

I drove to the big bridge.  Halfway across, I turned the wheel sharply and stepped on the accelerator. In an instant, we were over the edge and into the river.

It was where we needed to be. There, we would dissolve and return to what we were: just mud and clay.

 

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

The Aging Heiress

originally posted 4/27/14

glamorous vintage woman

 

La  

I was vain, it is true. And my vanity caused many others to suffer. I was vain about things I had no right to claim as my own – my looks, my status (which was inherited, and then enhanced by marriage.)

In my 20’s, I was known as a great beauty. I was invited to all the right parties. Men desired me.

As I got older, I took care of myself as best I could, to maintain the illusion of youth as long as possible. After a certain number of years, however, age simply catches up. A woman loses her sexual power over men. If this is all she has, if she’s put all her eggs in this particular basket, she ends up with nothing.

I had four husbands and excellent lawyers, but even money doesn’t fill that void, though I worked hard to prove that statement incorrect.   Still, it was better to have money than to be poor.

At 79, I was still elegant; still invited to all the right parties. My last companion was 53. It was obvious to everyone except me that he was playing me. I wanted to believe that I still had enough wit, charm, and charisma to attract such a witty, charming, charismatic man.

When I died, he and my children (with whom I was never particularly close), got into a protracted legal fight over my estate. From where I was, I didn’t care who won. I could see how utterly pointless their battle was. The loser, in the end, was the real winner, although it took a while for that understanding to sink in.

***

note: Today I was out for a walk and ran into two women I haven’t really spoken to in over a year.   The first woman is a neighbor, and though we usually have a quick hello when we see each other on the street, today we ended up chatting for an hour. Mostly, she talked about her mother, who had passed the previous year.  There was nothing unusual in that.  It made perfect sense in the context of the conversation we were having, although it was the longest conversation we’ve had, probably in two or three years.

From there, I went to the supermarket.  Right in front of me in line, was someone who’d worked for me very briefly over a year ago.  We have not been in touch.  I asked her how she was doing, making light conversation.  She told me her mother had just passed away. While waiting to check out, she started telling me all about her mom, her personal history, her days as a political organizer.

I didn’t think anything odd about either of these encounters at the time. Later, however, I wondered if this wasn’t something more than mere coincidence.   They hadn’t simply mentioned their mother’s recent deaths. That would have been the normal kind of news one might share in such circumstances. But thinking about it,  it seemed unusual that they both spontaneously told me their mother’s story, in far more detail than what was warranted by our casual relationships, as if it were important for me to know. 

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Gen

Originally published  April 18, 2014

 Woke up this morning with a “story” in my head, demanding to get out. I “wasn’t allowed” to eat or get dressed or turn on my computer until I’d written this down, long-hand, in the notebook beside my bed.  I’m still not sure if I’m “writing” or “channeling” them. Either way, I have decided to keep a journal as they come to me.

The nature of the stories is changing. Previously,  I was shown a scene and was imparted with information about how the person died.   Now, I am getting feelings and translating them into words.

Most of these “narrators” do not tell me their names, and I don’t ask.  I like the idea that they could have lived almost anywhere in the worldThis makes their stories more universal.  However,  going forward,  in order to be able to distinguish  one narrator from another,   I have given each a one syllable name.  I have made the names purposefully vague and cryptic so they do not imply any geography or ethnicity.   They are indicative of nothing.  Please do not read anything into them.

From time to time, however, I am given a name or other identifying information. In those cases,  I include that with their story.

*******

argueing couple

Gen 

I debated writing down my feelings when he finally left me and the boys, but by that point, I had no feelings left.

I suppose if I felt anything, it was relief. I was exhausted from trying to make it work. Years and years of forgiveness and sacrificing my own needs to the needs of the relationship. I knew it was going to be a long, hard slog, raising two young boys on my own, but at least we’d all be pulling as one unit, in the same direction,   instead of working against each other, draining each other of happiness, sucking each other dry.

In the long run, the boys would be happier, too.  Br was an angry and selfish man. The boys saw him in the clear pure way that children always see the obvious truth. Their dad was an insecure bully and though the kids had no respect for him, he was their father and he still had the power to hurt them. He wasn’t worthy of their respect, but they still wanted his. They thought, in their innocent way, that if he could just stop the anger in his head long enough to really see them for the terrific little people they were, he’d realize what he stood to lose. Then he’d change and everything would be OK.

Maybe I hoped for that, too.

Br  was very good with words. He was a real poet when it came to asking for forgiveness. An irresistible force.   But no matter how many times he promised to do better for us, no matter how many times I reached deeper into my soul to find a little more love for him, he would invariably disappoint us and hurt us again.

It was better apart. He would no longer have to face, on a daily basis, what an utter failure he was as a husband, as a father, as a functional human being. He just didn’t have the energy any more to try and be someone better.   I thought my love, our love, would be enough to change him,  but none of it did any good.

The kindest, most loving thing he ever did was to leave us so we could forge the bonds of love, stronger, among the three of us.

And so we did. We were bound in a way that I suppose many single-mother families are.

I could now devote my full emotional attention to my boys. They’d always craved more of me. They were happy and relieved to finally have it. They healed me, they did, with their humor and insight and childlike wisdom that so often brought things into perspective when I felt as if I were spinning out of control.

When my youngest was in the second grade, I forgot to attend his school play.  I knew it was coming up, but forgot about it the day of.   I was overwhelmed at work. I’d been working 12 hr days for the past few weeks and had barely gotten to see the kids. My mom sometimes watched them. Some nights, they went home with friends. Sometimes I paid for a babysitter — a girl who lived down the street.

When I came home that evening and realized what I’d done, I was horrified, sick and full of shame. I could barely look at myself in the mirror.

The play was on a Friday afternoon. Saturday morning, I came down to breakfast, eyes swollen from crying at the mess I was making raising my kids; feeling sorry for myself because of all the pressure on me.

I sat my baby down with the intention of begging forgiveness, as his daddy had done of me so many times. It was a scene that my kids had witnessed too often in their short lives.

“I’m soooo sorry, baby…” I began.

And in the sweetest, most loving voice, that little boy said to me, “It’s OK, Mommy. I know you feel bad about my play. I know you are worried that I think you don’t love me, but I do know how much you love us because I can see how hard you work to take care of us. A school play is just one day but a job is every day.”

I can barely describe the relief and love I felt at that moment! Just seven years old and he already had more love, more understanding, more wisdom than most adults.

Maybe that’s a stereotype – kids of divorced parents growing up, emotionally, very quickly.  It’s a kind of Hollywood trope that such kids are preternaturally wise beyond their years. But it does seem to happen that way in real life quite a lot. Now I know the reason why.

They are literally old souls, or perhaps more accurately “more connected souls”,   born to people like me who need some spiritual guidance. They are the spiritual adult to their biological parent.

In those days, I had no time to think about spiritual matters. I was working long hours, topped off by parental responsibilities. In the very early days, there was the additional stress and nastiness of a messy divorce.

Br had started drinking again, in earnest now and without brakes. When we were together, he would fall off the wagon from time to time, and that was bad enough, but now he wasn’t even trying to stay sober.   On several occasions, he didn’t make it to the lawyer’s office for meetings. When he did, he was usually at least partly drunk or hung over.

Whereas in the past, I might have tried to reach in and “save” him or at least make the effort to understand the psychic pain he was trying to self-medicate away, I no longer felt him as a part of me. He wasn’t my emotional responsibility anymore. If he drank himself to an early grave, I wasn’t even sure I’d feel sorry.   I simply had no emotional energy left for him. He’d frittered away all my concern and love for him.  If and when he ever needed it again, there would be nothing left in reserve.

Ironically, when I died years later, he was still alive, albeit not so well. The boys were already grown. My oldest was married with a new baby girl, who I was so happy to get to meet before I left.

My husband came to my funeral and sat in the back. He was sober then, but years of alcoholism had taken their toll. He looked 87 not 57.

Our youngest child was the first to speak to him.  He was moved by his father’s genuine tears.

“Your mother was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he told him. “but I wasn’t good enough for her. I had to leave, otherwise I would have destroyed all of you.”

He was right of course, and I was glad that he understood it.   My boy nodded and gave his dad a hug, because he knew it, too.

 

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

-Adrienne

The Lure of the Jungle

Original publication date Feb 23, 2015

baby_monkey_2

Ca

I once had a pet monkey.  I loved him but he did not stay long.

He was just a baby when I found him. He was hurt and frightened. He’d been orphaned or perhaps abandoned. People believe that every mother has a biological drive to protect her child, but I can tell you this isn’t always so.  So I took him as my own child. I nurtured him and taught him as best I could.

After some time, he began to run away.    The first time, he was gone for a whole day. I looked for him everywhere! I called his name through the trees until my throat was sore.   I was mad with grief and panic! I was sure I would never see him again. But then, the next morning, there he was in his favorite spot on the porch. He greeted me as always. I was so happy to see him, I forgave him for putting me through all that.

As he got older, he began to run away more often. Each time, he stayed away longer and longer. Each time, I was sure I’d seen the end of him but he always came back. For a long time, each time he ran away, I would cry and worry but after a while, however, he was gone more than he was with me. When he went away, I simply shrugged my shoulders and went about my days, without giving him much thought.  I stopped looking for him.

He would return when he returned.

When he did, I let him inside, but I did not hold him close. I stopped feeding him. He didn’t need that from me anymore. I did nothing to keep him bound to me.  I did not allow my emotions to be stirred. I knew he would be gone again soon.

Until a year passed and I realized he was gone for good.

Eventually I moved away from that place. If he ever returned, he did not find me. He could no more stay with me than I could have lived in the trees in the jungle.

I soon forgot the pain of loving that monkey but I remembered the lesson: no matter how much somebody loves you,  if it suits them better to be elsewhere, they will leave. Sooner or later, everyone seeks to exist in the place where they are most comfortable; to live in their natural habitat.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

 

Skin Deep

First published February 20, 2015

vintageglam

Ga

I was a great beauty. All my life, I was grateful for this. It opened many doors which never would have opened to me if I’d been born plain.

My mother had been a great beauty herself as a girl, and was still beautiful as I became a young woman. She’d been divorced from my father since I was small. For my entire childhood, she was obsessed about finding a second, wealthy husband. She studied, calculated, plotted. She was singular in this goal.

She was not above telling men that I was her baby sister; that she was raising me alone after our mother died. This, she believed, made her seem saintly and nurturing without the taint of “used merchandise.”   She dated a lot of men, but to her great heartbreak, promise seemed to vanish just as she was feeling most hopeful about permanence.

To the outside world, she remained gay and carefree, but alone at night, while doing her evening beauty regimen, she’d examine herself in the mirror and fret that her looks would run out before she found a suitable man. She had no means of supporting herself. Her only skill was to convince a man to take care of her. If she lost that advantage, she’d have nothing.

She taught me everything she knew. She showed me how to use a coy glance to bring a man to my side. She taught me how to tease a man with promises of his own imagination.  She taught me the trick of giving just enough to make him want more, but not so much as to ever satisfy him. She dressed me to accentuate my natural assets (which were considerable.) She showed me the secrets of maquillage, which, when used skillfully can make a woman appear to be more or less than what she actually is.

When I was sixteen, I fell in love with a sweet young man. We talked about running away together. Mother quickly broke us apart and forbade me to see him again. I was devastated.   A woman’s status, she explained, was completely dependent upon the status of the men in her life. She had great hopes for me. I would use my beauty to marry somebody powerful and wealthy. She would not let me throw myself away on a common boy who would never go very far.  There would be more suitors, she promised, of far higher caliber.

And so there were. Mother made sure of that. She pushed and preened and schooled me; she insinuated me into the right circles. She invented a story for me to tell about myself. I met rich, handsome men. Captains of industry and their sons. Famous entertainers. Influential politicians. Mother married me off to the best prospect. I was elated. I had won the prize! My life was exactly as it was meant to me.

But soon I was no longer happy. We had both conquered each other and no longer had need of each other. An unhappy wife makes an unhappy husband. And vice versa. We ended in divorce, but not before I had acquired property and position. I did not want to make the same mistake my mother had made.

I was a divorcee but I was moving in more rarefied circles. I leapfrogged from one man to the next, each more powerful and wealthy than the last. I accumulated status and money. All that was important to me was to rise as high as possible above my standing at birth. I swore I would not end up like my mother.

Over the years, Mother’s fret gave way to worry. The worry eventually blossomed into full panic. By the time she was in her late forties, she was finding it difficult to hold her desperation in check, even though she knew she must — nothing sends a lover fleeing faster than the fetor of desperation.

Eventually, she found a much older man to marry. To my mind, he was a soft and ugly beast, but he was well-off and kind to her,  and she was grateful for him.

I did not want to become a woman who waited for men to choose her. I vowed to always be the one to chose. Even as I got older, I carried myself with confidence. I was an aging beauty but a beauty nonetheless. When I wanted to, I could still be quite charming. But I was selfish; I was vain; I was spoiled (as beautiful woman often are.)   I was perfectly willing to use anyone who could be helpful without a single thought to the consequences for them.   I was very practiced at extracting what I wanted from others,  as quickly as possible, with as little emotional investment as possible.

I married three times. I had two children both of whom met tragic ends, ravaged by the plague of a selfish, vain, spoiled mother. I can’t say I mourned very deeply at the time. We’d never been particularly close.

Few, if any, of my ex-lovers or husbands had much good to say about me. Once my spell on them was broken, all my ugliness became apparent. I made no effort to hide it. I didn’t try to be polite or kind. It mattered not what they thought of me; they were of no use to me any longer.

One evening, when I was in my late 70s, I came home from a gala, went to sleep and never woke up. Some acquaintances might have shed a polite tear or two, but there was nobody to truly mourn me. I’d only grazed the surface of the lives of others.

My mother had convinced me that my beauty was a key that would open doors for me. I understand now that it was not a key at all. It was the padlock. It kept me a prisoner of shallow intentions.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

 

Friendly Fire

First published January 8, 2014

cowboy2

Po

From the earliest time I can recall, I hated my father.  He was a mean drunk who sometimes got physically abusive.  I remember him hitting my mother once or twice when I was very young,  but soon my older brother put himself between the two of them and voluntarily took the brunt of the blows upon himself.   I watched that sick theater from the sidelines, rarely finding myself in the middle of it, but hating him all the same.

When I was in my mid-teens, I quit school and started working as a ranch hand on local farms. Whenever possible, I’d sleep in the bunk house to avoid going home.

There were all sorts of men in there, mostly itinerant, rootless farmhands. Some were good men – kind, generous, funny; some were as miserable and ornery as my father. Many were from far away; some from other countries. It was the kind of life which made having a stable romantic relationship or family life impractical, unsustainable. And so, a subculture of homosexuality arose. These men were “homosexuals of convenience” not because of any innate proclivity. They wanted sexual satisfaction, and other men happened to be most proximate. Man-on-man sexual trysts were not discussed openly, but they were alluded to; joked about, judged as nonchalantly as masturbation.   This might have been what they did but it wasn’t who they were, or how they defined themselves.

For a young man my age, with few heterosexual outlets, this kind of easy sexual satisfaction had its appeal.  I felt no shame about it. I had no reason so. Within the limited micro-culture in which I existed, it was perfectly acceptable behavior.

Normalcy is always relative. What feels normal to us is simply what is familiar.  Whether one grows up in a family of straight-laced missionaries or a tribe of flesh-eating zombies,  with little outside reference, this is going to seem perfectly normal.  And so,  touching men and having them touch me felt completely natural.

My brother remained at home,  standing guard over my mother.  By the time he was 22, however, he’d had enough.   He joined the army. It was a time of relative national peace and it provided an easy and expedient remedy for his unhappy and stifling situation. Before he left, he sat me down and told me that I would now have to sleep at home every night and take over the responsibility for my mother’s protection.

I did this with mixed feelings.  Certainly, I wanted my mother protected from my father’s drunken furies. Since she refused to leave him,  the duty fell to me.  By then,  I was big and strong; my physical presence was enough of a deterrent.   He knew he raised his hand to me at his own peril.  I wasn’t worried that I’d ever have to fight him.  I just didn’t want to live under the same roof as him; didn’t want to breath the same air;  didn’t want to be subject to his angry tirades or sullen moods.

I’d been living at home for a year or so, hating every minute, when we got the news. My brother had been killed in a training exercise. We didn’t get many details but it didn’t much matter. He was gone and never coming back.

My mother was inconsolable.   She blamed herself for not standing up to my father,  thus forcing my brother to take the only option he felt he had available to him.  She blamed herself for not having chosen a better father for her children.  She was consumed with grief and guilt and pain until it literally ate her up inside.  She died of cancer within the year.

I stuck around until after the funeral, but had little reason to remain anywhere near my home town. I drifted for a while,  working on ranches, here and there.  It was a comfortable way of life for me.  I was good at what I did and I enjoyed the work and the camaraderie.

Eventually, however, the smallness of my world became claustrophobic. The wide open spaces closed in. I became fascinated with the notion of getting lost in a crowd; of becoming anonymous in a human crush; of leaving my baggage behind and reinventing myself.

I took a bus to the big city, ready to start a new life.

I hadn’t considered that I had no idea how to survive in this alien environment, nor did I know anyone there who could teach me.   I was such an outsider, it was impossible for me to blend in, to vanish inconspicuously into a crowd. I didn’t understand the pace,  the lingo,  the urban mentality. I had a limited education and no practical business skills. I was a naïf in place that chewed up people like me and spit them out.

I had only one marketable skill: I knew how to give a man sexual pleasure.

Fortunately (so it seemed at the time), there were plenty of men who were willing to pay for this and I quickly I learned where to find them.  For many, an authentic cowboy held a certain appeal. My skill with a rope was in demand and offered an introduction to a more discriminating and higher- paying crowd.

I had arrived just in time for the heyday of gay nightlife. Discos and bathhouses were teeming with horny men.  There was a never-ending supply of drugs which kept us up all night or melted our muscles or enhanced our orgasms or cured the diseases we passed back and forth to each other.

I cultivated some wealthy men friends who were happy to pay for my skill set but I never deluded myself into thinking I was anything more than a toy to them.  They were educated and refined. They read books,  went to the theater,  discussed politics,  understood the nuances of business.  They felt comfortable in expensive restaurants and knew how to order fine wine. They knew where to shop and how to dress.  I did pick up some refinement from them but mostly, these things remained foreign to me.

I didn’t care. I was in it for the fun. For the freedom. For the money. I was grateful to be half a continent away from my father, and having a great time of it, too!

Although I traveled with that crowd, I never thought of myself as gay.  I didn’t love men.  I didn’t have any feelings for them.  I never looked at a man with sexual desire.  To me,  they were merely a means of making a living. If a woman wanted to have sex with me, I was OK with that too.   They would suffice if I were drunk or stoned enough,  but women never wanted to pay for sex (at least not the ones I met)  so ultimately, they were of no use to me. The few times I did sleep with a woman,  things always got complicated in ways I didn’t understand. They weren’t like men.  I could have sex with ten men in a night without knowing any of their names, never see any of them again, and none of them would care.  I preferred it that way.

I suppose eventually I would have found emptiness in this lifestyle too but before then, the sickness came.  At first,  it was mysterious, disturbing. But soon it became terrifying in the way it spread, in its quickness and mercilessness. Friends and acquaintances became ill and died. If I didn’t run into someone for a while, I always suspected the worst and was often right. There was a pall on the scene. The bathhouses were closed.  We were shunned.  People said horrible things about us and perhaps some of them were even a bit true.  For the older men, this was far worse than the early years when they had to live in secret.

And then it was my turn.  When the night sweats started, I knew what was coming.  I’d seen it all too often.

I had no one.  Those older rich men — the ones who were still healthy — wanted no part of someone like me.  I had never been their friend and now I was a pariah.  The sick ones, rich and poor, had their own problems.  I had nobody, no place to go, no money, no way to make a living.

And so,  because I didn’t want to die on the street,  I did the only thing I could.

I went home.

In the years since I’d left, my father had found God.  He’d stopped drinking and, to his credit,  had developed compassion.  He wanted to make amends, to pay penance for the deaths of my brother and mother.  He accepted responsibility for the broken mess my family had become.  He felt it was his duty to take care of me during my final months.

The irony wasn’t lost on me.  I’d come full circle.   In the end,  the most significant relationship I had, the only  person I’d ever shown any vulnerability to, was the one person I spent my whole life avoiding.  I couldn’t get far enough away from and yet, in the end, I traveled halfway across a continent to die in his arms.

 

——————

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Also,  I have also started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.   When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word!  Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
-Adrienne

The Wisdom of Failure

First published November 28, 2014

Mother-and-Child-reading

Ye

I died while giving birth to my second child. This was how we arranged it before any of us were born. They needed to experience life without a mother.

Previously, we had also been mother and children. In that lifetime, I was very controlling. I lived a long life so neither of them ever learned to be fully independent. By the time I died as an old woman, my children were old themselves, with children and grandchildren of their own.

By then, they were fearful of everything, full of self-doubt and lacking all natural instinct. I recognize now how deeply I crippled them but at the time, in that life, I was only pleased and made secure by their need of me.

It seemed to be accepted by us all that I alone, knew what was best for them. They deferred to me on almost all their life decisions, from who they married to what kind of work they did to what they believed about the world.

Of course I always had their best interests at heart and usually chose well for them, based on their personalities, their abilities and their nature. They understood this and so deferred to me on everything.   But in doing this, I never allowed them to find the way on their own

They brought me all their problems and ceded to my advice. They were usually satisfied with the results, if only because they were content and secure in knowing the best decisions had been made for them. They trusted that I would always direct them to the best possible outcome, given the circumstances.

They valued me for my wisdom, and it is true that I was wise in many ways. I did provide well-considered solutions to their problems. But in the most important way, I was not wise at all. I kept them passive and obedient, willing to accept the wisdom of another, never motivated to search for wisdom on their own.

This time, they have no choice.

 

****

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