I don’t spend much time writing about my family on this blog (I think I only gave any specifics here and here) because 1) I’m concerned with my privacy, 2) I’ve worked through all that shit in very expensive therapy and I don’t think there’s anything new to be gleaned from going over it—the land has been mapped, as it were; and most importantly, 3) other peoples’ families are usually boring as hell to read about.
However, something concerning my parents happened this week that I think my readers will find both entertaining and insightful.
I will return to the faraway, barbaric land of my birth for the Thanksgiving holiday. In a recent email to my mother and my brother, I included several digital photographs of my neighborhood and me running about town. They were recent photographs, and a few of them have been published (in edited format, of course) on this blog.
Through my own error, I CCd the email to my father (my parents are long, long divorced). I don’t communicate with the man and haven’t done so in years. We are quite literally estranged. If he
reared parented controlled your childhood, you would be estranged of him too, gentle reader. I assure you. (Some people find the notion of terminating contact with a parent to be offensive and appalling under any circumstances. It is my experience, however, that the only people who get judgmental and angry with you for cutting off a toxic relative are the ones who are too cowardly to do the same thing themselves. They resent you for liberating yourself).
Anyway, I got back a response from my mother. I can’t quote it here for obvious reasons, but basically the tone of her note was cheerful and she wrote that she was glad to see me looking so happy, healthy, and contented.
My father wrote back as well (I opened the email after much hesitation). His reaction to the photographs? “Are you eating well? You look kind of undernourished.”
Indeed, and it was you who undernourished me, you asshole. How do you like your blue-eyed girl? I thought, but of course I did not respond to him in any way. My anger, though intense, was ephemeral. I am told by my analyst that eventually the man will mean nothing to me, one way or another. I will be very glad when that happens.
(For the record, I do not credit—or “blame”—either one of my parents for the choices I have made in my adult life, or for any of my happiness or lack of it. My father’s contribution to my life was almost entirely detrimental, but that is only a partial explanation for who I am and what I have done in my life. It is not an excuse. The distinction is crucial.)
I bring all this up because it perfectly, and hilariously, demonstrates my mother’s chief psychological defense mechanism: denial. Her capacity for denial is truly exceptional. If there was a Denial Olympics, she would definitely bring home the Gold medal.
My brother—who is different than I, and understands our mother, I think, more astutely than I do—explained to me once, with characteristic frankness: “Mom doesn’t see what Mom doesn’t want to see.”
At the time (this was a few years ago) I didn’t understand what he was telling me. Not see? What do you mean, not see? She is successfully employed for decades in a profession that requires considerable and unrelenting powers of observation. Nothing escapes her notice. The woman has eagle eyes, I’m telling you.
Shortly after that, I embarked on a little experiment. Mom and I went on a long, long trip together, where we were in each other’s company constantly. I decided to put my brother’s observation to the test: I decided that I wouldn’t eat, and see how she would react.
Of course, I ate something. I couldn’t not, nobody can. We shared every meal together. Just the two of us. I ordered a salad, dressing on the side (untouched), no protein. Every time. Every fucking time. I kept waiting for her to say something. Sometimes I would order soup, too. By the end of the trip, I was practically egging her on—like I’d order the vegetable beef soup, and pick out the chunks of potato in front of her, and put them on the side of the plate and not eat them. (I was also, incidentally, going out of my mind with hunger by the third day and sneaking candy bars out of the vending machines at the motels at night, wolfing them down in the parking lot. Pretty funny.)
By the end of the road trip, I’d lost six pounds.
The first thing my mother did when we got to my apartment was to start cleaning it.
The only thing she said about my eating habits? The result of my little experiment?
“Boy, you sure eat a lot of salad! I’ve never seen anyone eat as much salad as you.”
Quite a laugh. I mean, really.
A person could die laughing.