Some stories are like laundry. The longer you put off telling them, the bigger they grow.
This story, the one about my earliest adulthood and my relationship with Jacob and Abbie’s dad, has reached the ceiling, toppled over, and begun to spread across the hall and into the bathroom.
So now the whole family is going commando, the house is smelling a bit putrid, and I’ve written half-a-dozen versions of part four of this story, none of which feel, precisely, like the truth.
In any case, this story, the one about my relationship with Robert, is not the one I set out to tell. I was trying to find my way into the tale of Brian’s and my messy start as a blended family and how we screwed up everything that could possibly be screwed up and were just beginning to get our feet under us when Carter was born. Carter being Carter, his arrival tossed all the pieces back into the air and left us lost and gasping until last week.
Not really; we’re still lost and gasping, but not as much as we used to be, so I’m calling it progress. The level of stress/pain/anguish rises and falls, but overall things get more difficult as time goes by. Such is the nature of a mental illness like Carter’s, but we are less surprised by the shifts now, more aware of the beast who lives here with us, inside our little boy. Less surprised = better.
I wasn’t especially interested in the story of Robert and me because I thought the life had drained out of it by now. This Monday it will be 14 years since he moved out of the house we’d shared, so the wounds have healed by now, even if some of the scars are twisted, lumpy things. I don’t feel much when I think about those years now except a sort of wistful regret.
When I started to write the story, I ran into so much ugliness—not the top-level ugliness, but the underneath; the stuff that makes up the whys and wherefores of it all—that I got scared. It was like somebody turned off the word-faucet.
This is the power of writing and telling stories, and this is also the curse of the story teller. The telling is an act of peeling away, of revealing, but the problem is not that one finds oneself in front of a crowd, bare-assed and raw. Ultimately, the problem is finding oneself bare-assed and raw in front of a mirror.
Much of what I see in the mirror hurts, and not in a distant way. The pain is now, today, because what I did then, I do now. Who I was then is who I am now.
The sameness is not obvious, which has enabled me to tell myself that I am different now, at least until writing the story stripped me bare. Robert treated me badly (Even now I hear him, Jesus, what are you complaining about? It’s not like I beat you or anything!), in ways I would not tolerate today.
Except that I do tolerate that treatment today. What the hell are you complaining about? It’s not like you deserve better.
Not Brian. Never think it. Far fewer people now than in the past, and still.
I turned off the words and put my clothes back on not just to protect myself, but because Carter needs me. He has bugs in his hair (not really) and the dogs destroyed all of his toys (they never did). His teeth are growing in wrong (they’re fine) and there are gorillas hiding in the bushes in our backyard. He needs someone with him every minute of the day, and me with my face in the computer does not match his idea of with.
So my story stalled, and the words backed up, and last week I had a sloppy, obscene emotional breakdown. I wailed to Brian that Carter is eating me, consuming everything that I like about myself and my life, including my ability to use words to make sentences and sentences to build stories and stories to make some kind of peace with the chaos swirling inside me.
Telling stories heals me, but telling stories requires two things of which I have a critically short supply: time, and emotional energy. Sometimes (as you well know if you are not new to No Points for Style), I stall out altogether.
Eventually, No Points for Style starts to hang over my head like an obligation, as if I’m a high school junior and I should be studying for a math test but instead I’m watching TV. My God, how I hate that feeling, when something I love, something I created and that fulfills me and of which I am deeply proud, feels like a burden.
Eventually, Carter starts to hang over my head like an obligation, as if I’m an employee and he is the job I can barely tolerate. My God, how I hate that feeling, when someone I love, someone I created and who fulfills me and of whom I am deeply proud, feels like a burden.
Come what may
I won’t fade away
But I know I might change
Nothing comes easily
Fill this empty space
Nothing is like it was
Turn my grief to grace