The Ugly Familiar 3.1: I Won’t Fade Away

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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

Part 4

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19 thoughts on “The Ugly Familiar 3.1: I Won’t Fade Away”

  1. Pingback: The Transcendent Familiar 3: This One Goes Out to the One I Love[ed] | No Points For Style

  2. Oh how I can relate to the word faucet being turned off, the horrible feeling of NOT doing something you feel you should do. I’m glad Carter has stabilized a little.

    I know you didn’t ask for advice or tips, but perhaps you could just write whatever you want to about the subject, without editing or thinking. Sometimes all the emotions, thoughts, feelings are too much to come out ordered or readable even and it helps to just vomit them out, bit by bit or all in one go. That way you can get it all out, and take a breather, before diving into a more ordered version for the blog. Hugs!

  3. Again thank you for sharing. I am glad you and Carter are having a better time of it now. Writing can really be cathartic, getting whatever it is that causes you pain off your chest and into words. Sometimes the word faucet trickles to a stop, but given time it will start to drip, trickle, and flow again. I will be here when it does.

  4. Oh God, you nailed it Adrienne, that feeling of guilt for blogging when I should be completing that long list of things that need doing or paying attention to my children. And yet, in the grand scheme, that time at the keyboard is just a wisp. A much NEEDED wisp at times and a burden at others. We started this thing, there are times you want to write and times you have to write and times you feel like you ought to.

    I’m sorry Carter is having such a hard time right now. I feel for you.

  5. Been there, felt like that – and no, it is not pretty! I think sometimes we need to come to that place in order to see things clearly, to look at what is truly important, and what needs to be changed. Firstly, YOU are truly important, and without you, this whole ‘mess’ would come crashing down. So while you see Carter as your No. 1 priority (and believe me, I know how this happens, and why) your first priority should be to YOURSELF. As a carer of a child with a disability who is in palliative care, and a parent of a 21 year old with a mental health condition, I know how their needs can overwhelm. But in order to truly love them, as they deserve to be loved and cherished, you first need to take care of yourself. Even if it is just for small blocks of time, that being ‘off duty’ needs to become something you are comfortable with. It is important that there is someone else in your community to whom you can entrust care of Carter for short (or longer) periods so that you do not feel as if you are depriving him when you do what is essential for your own wellbeing. The writing of your blog is one example. I am sure there are other things you would like to do if you had the time. So the gift of someone else’s time to you is what you need to search for. You are special, you are precious, you are loved.!!!

  6. I don’t know if this will help but here is what I can offer to you. I have you in my blog feed. I know when you post because it comes up there. If you take weeks, nay months, to write your next post I will be here. What I have to offer is my loyalty.

    oh, and lots of virtual ((((HUGS))))


  7. I do want to say, that even when you are having a rough time with them, you have a wonderful way with words. Gorillas in the bushes! (and the fact that there was no qualifier for them) had me L-aughing. Yes, literally OL. I know the feeling of blog-ligation too. I reached that point with illustrations–taking too much time, too much creative energy, which were being drained elsewhere. I also think your analogy to looking in the mirror is apt. It is hard to write about oneself as honestly and eloquently as you do. So I will wait patiently for part four. It will come, and it will be just right when it does.

  8. Oh, Adrienne, I have only a glimpse of what you have with Carter in my life with Jake – and I know how hard it is, the being so constantly so needed. I really loved having infants and young toddlers – when they were infants and young toddlers. But having a 9 year old who still needs you as constantly and intensely as a toddler does? Grows so wearying. (And our sons’ birthdays are mere days apart, so I know EXACTLY how long you have been doing this.) These school “holidays”? Killer. Just. killer.

    I love my son to pieces but am weeping at the thought of all day again with him tomorrow answering the constant same questions over and OVER and over again. Yesterday we were at a wonderful party and he swam in a lake for 3 hours and there were very active lifeguards so I didn’t have to be in the water with him the entire time, so it was wonderful. But at the end, this year they did not have marshmallows to roast over the fire like they did last year, and so I had to endure the final hour and a half with Jacob asking for marshmallows every 2 minutes in a constant stream of obsessive need. Sigh. And this is just autism, not mental illness, whose intensities I can only begin to imagine. (Although there are those days when Ethan is way off and I feel we will be landing in “mood disorder” ville some day, but not quite yet.)

    Anyway, sorry about the ridiculously long comment, but this is my way of saying “I hear you, I feel for and with you, I understand and am sending you constant mental/psychic cyber-hugs.” Hope you feel them. You may disappear from your blog from time to time, but never from my heart and mind.

  9. When everything around me is so needy, I want to scream. And sometimes I do. I started my blog to free my words, be myself. But as it evolved, it seemed just another need. I’m learning how to give enough to still have Alex left.

  10. Something in the white space between the letters, words and sentences is steadier. The strobe of your desparation has hit a rhythm maybe. Not quite as frantic as you felt when you started NPFS. The reality isn’t any easier or more hopeful, but you’ve shifted somehow that feels like a good direction (to me). You may know what this is. I don’t but I feel it in there.

    Hang on, Sweetpea. All you can do is one foot in front of the other and you’re doing that with as much heart and wisdom as you know how. That’s as much as anyone can do.

    Ant Judy

  11. What Alex said. I have a very, VERY hard time with things (people) that are incredibly needy on me. And I have a hard time with no one needing me.

    Too much clinging or being ignored.

    Things I fear.

    And you? I am hugging you right now. Can you feel it? Good.

  12. Carter being Carter, his arrival tossed all the pieces back into the air

    Love that line. I am currently writing a novel, which of course incorporates some of my own experiences. When writing, it is amazing the clarity and lessons that can be learned. It is a beautiful and horrible thing that writers are blessed with. I love your honest writing.

  13. I can totally and really, really relate to the feeling that the person w/ the mental illness is eating you, consuming you alive !!! That is exactly how I feel w/ my adult bipolar daughter and I have never heard it said before by anyone – in fact, it is as if you went into my brain and captured my words.

    Thank you!

  14. Pingback: The Transcendent Familiar 4: Give Yourself Away | No Points For Style

  15. Pingback: The Transcendent Familiar 5: Down Comes the Night | No Points For Style

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