Doubtrage

young, humorous, and grieving


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Let’s All Just Calm Down

(I started this September 30th)

Many times in my life things have drastically not gone the way I planned. I didn’t expect my dad to get sick when I was 9. I didn’t expect to get told at 19 that he could die at any moment. I did expect him to die, but not in his sleep while my mother, brother and I ate tacos while listening to Lykke Li. I didn’t expect to fall in love and move to Oregon. Didn’t think I’d get hit by a car while riding my bike through downtown after a climate change activist meeting. I didn’t expect that not being with Z would be this painful.

When I was in high school I remember thinking I wanted to be unpredictable, spontaneous, out of control. I actually proclaimed I would give up inhibitions for Lent one year. I’m not even Catholic. I still want to be out of control, ask anyone who drinks with me. And I guess I’ve gotten my wish.

After my dad died I stopped planning. I didn’t see the point. I still only minimally see the point. There are so many assumptions you have to make about life in order to make a substantial plan, a plan worth having. I don’t want to make those assumptions because I think the more flexible the easier I can handle chaos, failure, problems. I gave up control in my family in order to make life with them as easy as possible, it was a mix of being invisible, but accommodating. It sounds ideal, and I guess maybe it was for my parents.

There is a part of me which knows I must let go of Z, who I thought I was with him, what I thought our relationship was, the flickering idea of a life with him, but in a carnal part of me I shout, “No, no, no, no, no, no more, not another one, not another loss, another change, it’s not in me, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” I go to sleep with it, an ice pack over my head in hopes my eyes won’t be puffy in the morning, and it’s still there later in the day, when I carry my bike up the stairs of my apartment, when I cut up cauliflower florets. I am good at rationalizing, minimizing my feelings. I can talk myself down, through, out of a feeling, put up against something else and scoff softly, but I’m not able to treat this as an academic exercise.


 

(This is me in present day)

I feel very similar to how I did in the earlier part of this post, but I’ve let Z go. I won’t say I’ve established new “rules” for future relationships, I hate that start to any romantic comedy, but I know how complicit I was in my pain. I know I ignored the fact I sometimes thought he wasn’t fully in it, that there was something about me which was too much for him. I said that in therapy the other day and my therapist treated it like a paranoia instilled by low self-esteem, but it was really how he felt. He told me after we ended it that my emotional expressiveness caused him anxiety, he didn’t know how to support me. I could tell I was still far too deep in the pain when I found myself thinking, “It’s fine if he can’t support me, if I’m always questioning whether me being me is too much for him, I just want to be with him.” Calmete. The second I thought it I realized how far off the deep end I’d gone. I forgot there is a point when you’re in pain when brief relief is the best case scenario, anything, anything to make it subside for a little while.

I’m not in that degree of pain anymore. The pain is muffled by necessary everyday interactions, a trusting that the wick and kerosene are still there, I just have to find a new source of fire. By that I don’t mean I can only be exuberant when I’m with a partner, and I was actually shocked in a way when I’d lie in bed and realize I was still exactly the same. Rather, I recognize any mourning period. This mourning period is very similar to what I felt after Baba passed away – there’s a rawness to my emotions, an edge of reactivity. I know I won’t recall Z the way I do my father. I know I’m probably about six months away from my super esteem, it’s like the passing of a comet. I like that me, but I like me now too. Right after the breakup I couldn’t even fake good cheer, a first for me! I didn’t try to maintain a smile or even necessarily act happy for strangers at the coffeehouse, my face never got tired from grinning the way it has in the past. And it was fine. It’s okay to not be a laughing jester all the time. What a relief.


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Oh Good God, a Post about a Breakup

I’ve always detested practical breakups. The idea that people would break up, not because they no longer loved each other, but because of logistics, or they were too busy or there was some desire not being filled seems like really a way of saying, “I don’t love you, but I’m going to blame it on this very tangible reason, like you won’t do the kinky stuff in bed I like.” I guess because if you really love someone that stuff should be less important than the love, or else people are in relationships for other reasons than I am, to get their needs met I suppose.

I guess I was feeling the practical two weeks ago because that’s when Z and I broke up. It made sense to me in a very Lucy Way (copyright pending) – neither of us wanted to get married, we were house sitting so someone would have a place to stay while we figured out how we would both move out of the apartment we shared, we still weren’t sure if we wanted to spend forever together and I guess didn’t want to leave forever up to chance? As Z put it, for neither of us really caring if we were in a relationship, we shouldn’t stay in a relationship because it was convenient. We hadn’t fought in over a year. We got along great, but was that enough? We love each other, but is that enough? Are these kinds of conversations happening because of the spread of psychology and mumbo jumbo healthy relationship jargon? I’m just kidding, I am very down for healthy relationship mumbo jumbo. The reason I never wanted to break up before (the two earlier times Z tried, but failed very quickly because of my adorable crying eyes), was because I love Z and that seemed like enough. Is it terribly naive to think love should be the reason people build lives together? I feel like people say, “Well that’s why a relationship starts, but if you’re going to stay together you have to have common interests and your needs met.” Maybe my threshold for dealing with the people I love’s shit is way too high, not that I think people will love each other forever without any work. About a year ago I started thinking about what I thought love was. I’m gonna lay this down now like I’m a Christian couples’ advice columnist: Loving someone really means agreeing to try to love them every day. *Boom* This is the real pact people make (I hope) when they get married. Basically you might one day think you no longer love that person, but you agree to keep acting like you do because you know there is something you will always find lovable in the other person. And when people get divorced (within reason obviously), I feel like they’re saying they don’t want to try to love that person anymore. It’s too hard to pretend and live a boring life in the increments when they don’t feel that sparkle. They don’t want to wait, they want that now.

Me and my glass of wine here are probably spiraling down a long long road of post-breakup contemplation, which is of course normal. Maybe this is why my mom stayed with Baba. I sometimes thought he was completely insufferable, difficult to please, self-centered, but she made a promise to try to love him every day and she kept with it. She clearly saw something in him most of us never did, at least those of us closest to him (his friends and acquaintances heaped praise on him like none other – my favorite scene from that theme is my grandfather telling us to listen closely to my dad’s story of escaping from China because we could learn something and we should appreciate his struggle – first time in my life I had to count down from ten to prevent bursting in to rage) who had to be on the receiving end of lectures and demands. My love for my dad, and that of my siblings, wasn’t a choice, at least it was never posited as a choice, it was inevitable, a byproduct of our existence. To be a family and not love each other was not possible. To me my mother’s choice to love Baba and stay by him seemed like a waste of a perfectly good freedom. How American of me!

She was allowed to choose how she felt about him and she decided to do the most difficult thing, to support him and try to understand him despite the cultural differences, the sickness, the change in personality once he was 45. As a child it made no sense, wouldn’t you do whatever resulted in the most processed foods and TV time? Then as a teen I followed suit without thinking much about it. You were in a relationship with someone you loved, therefore if I was in a relationship I must love that person and therefore be able to overlook my needs and desires and make the choice to stay with them. That choice was the real definition of love, and if I was willing to make it it meant I must love them. It was a vicious cycle, looking at “Only to the extent…” makes that clear. Afterwards I didn’t trust relationships, I trusted love, because I knew I hadn’t loved Izzo, I knew that wasn’t what clouded my judgement, it was the relationship, it poisoned any effort at perspective. I didn’t trust myself in a relationship, clearly I couldn’t be trusted, I didn’t know how I would react under the effects of love.

I took quickly to it.

(years of soft music playing)

And now: This level of misery has allowed me to shed one thing, at least for the time being, the Persona. I can’t pretend to be happy and I don’t have anyone who depends on my good humor. No one is relying on me. I am a floating mass, anchored only by the necessity of going in to work. The rest of the time, I watch TV to pass the nights, write sloppily in my journal, talk in circles with E or M – trying to decipher what is the right or the wrong thing to do, what is the worthwhile pain, what is cognitive dissonance and what is posttraumatic growth (bullshit sounding, supposedly real thing).

You’d think love wouldn’t be so confusing, says the woman eating a cup of yogurt and finishing off her third glass of wine.


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The American Way

Last night, while reading a new novel on Chinese cooking, I suddenly started sobbing. There was only a passing reference to death in the book, but it struck a match, illuminating a memory. The memory of my family not waiting for my Chinese family before cremating and burying my father. I never put any significance on it before. When we told them the memorial would only be about a week past his death they were shocked. They said there wasn’t enough time for them to get tickets to come to the US from Guangzhou. We had never expected they would consider coming to the US, the expense, the time. It had probably only been months since they had last seen Baba. The oldest sister had lost her husband a few weeks before after months in the hospital. Now they would never see their brother again. I think about how I would feel if my brother died in a foreign land and there simply was no time. If the people around him had to go on as quickly as possible through the process of grieving, planning and executing. The rush convincing them they were coping well, getting things done. I hope they forgave us. Maybe they decided it was the American Way.

On my walk back from buying a new bike tire today I thought about cutting M out of my life completely. It wasn’t too drastic for other people to stop talking or seeing someone they felt a profound connection to, if it were in the name of self preservation. When I hear that phrase I think of Cher in Moonstruck, talking about how Nicholas Cage’s fiancee was a trap and he was a wolf who had to cut off his own foot to get away from the wrong love, but that’s what he did. I wouldn’t gnaw my foot off in a trap, I’d probably start decorating it, drag it around, convinced one day the springs would rust and open. That’s what I did with Izzo. I thought eventually he would grow sick of being depressed in a relationship with someone who clearly didn’t feel the same way as he did. When I brought this up with M the other night he said, “I don’t think Izzo would have ever broken up with you because he really liked you, even though it made him insecure and…I can’t think of the word…not good, I wish there were a better word, but you know what I mean, being with you. And you didn’t break up with him because…well maybe you were afraid…and so one year became two became three.”

Fuck, me and pain.

I remember after I was in the bike accident a few months ago I told M how silly insurance is.

“You pay a company to try to protect you from something which in the past would be chalked up as a freak unfortunate accident that you had to deal with and suffer through. Now we want to be paid when something inevitably goes wrong? It makes no sense. I’ve been dealing with crap my whole life, why should I be compensated for it now?”

“Well you’re hoping you won’t have to use it, but you pay for it to help if things do go wrong,” he said. “…and don’t tell the other car insurance company you feel that way.”


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Broken People

“I told her, I’m not mad at you, but she says, ‘Don’t punish me for something that’s not my fault,'” R says.

“But it is her fault…right?” I say.

“It’s complex PTSD, basically what happens is during her most vulnerable time once a month she relives all the worst shit in her life. She was hiding it for a long time because she didn’t feel comfortable with anyone around her, but now…because of my proximity to her it all gets put on me.”

“I see.”

A day before this he told me he couldn’t do it anymore.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.

“Now it’s gotten physically abusive,” he said.

“Oh, wow.”

“Not on my side.”

“I didn’t think it was you, but from what I know of L, which granted isn’t that much, I’m very surprised that would happen.” I knew L had an abusive alcoholic boyfriend at one point. I don’t know what happened to end it, but now she was dating and living with R, granted an ex-alcoholic, but one who was filled with the same amount of self-criticism as myself (he once said we were cut from the same cloth). R and I bonded over imagined offenses to other people, apologies weeks later which were unsought and unnecessary. We worried. I also knew he was a guy who prided himself on making women feel safe.

Here he was telling me his girlfriend had physically abused him. A 36 year old man doing nothing to hide what he was going through.

“I thought everyone was like me,” I joked with Z later that night. “You know, push it down and ignore it for a couple of years.”

“Well he’s an adult,” Z said. True.

****

After talking with R for a week about this I got a text from L.

“Hi lucy! Its L. Sorry to send you this in text and for it being Unexpected. Hope it is not too much either. Im not doing so well, R and I are going through an issue. I dont know if he mentioned it. I feel a little Weird Coming to you about it being R and you are friends. So if you feel uncomfortable I understand. You have expressed a little to me about your past so i feel ok coming to you. I feel awful and hope to get through this with him as he means so much to me. Anyways..maybe we can talk sometime? Just trying to reach out. Ive always felt comfortable with you and E:) hope you are well.”

It was pretty bizarre and I was immediately taken aback. Not because I thought it was an unfair request, but it seemed like an out of the ordinary display of vulnerability. This is what people do in the movies. My immediate reaction was to say no. She hurt my friend, I don’t need to help her in anyway, I’m not on her side and she should know that. True, we share past abusive boyfriends, but that’s it. I would never physically hurt someone I was dating. I wondered if she wanted to talk to someone about how her past abuse made her act this way, how it’s affected her now. I would understand that in a way.

“He did mention it,” I replied. “I understand. I would be open to talking later this week? Let me make sure this wouldn’t cause any distress to R first though, I wouldn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable either.”

I hoped meeting and talking with someone who had emotionally and physically abused their partner would be therapeutic, give me more insight in to Izzo, and why/how someone could act that way.

****

I meet her with my friend’s dog and we walk the neighborhood for hours. I don’t know if I am supposed to be sympathetic or give her a talking to.

“I never know what to say in moments like these. Do you want me to listen? Do you want advice?” I ask after a few minutes.

“Either one. I tell my friends at work, but they don’t know R or us as a couple, but I feel like you do. We’re so happy most of the time, we’ve always been there for each other. You’ve seen us.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I was thinking today about how only a week ago we were all at the potluck and you guys were leaning on each other.”

“Yeah, and that’s how it normally is. This happens every month, like for a week two weeks before my period starts, always two weeks before my period, we get in huge fights. We usually come out of it, but this time it’s different.”

“I’ve talked to R before about it, but this is different, you know that, you had an abusive boyfriend-”

“Awful, truly terrible,” she says.

“And…I had a boyfriend who hit me, you know how things change after physical violence. Things can’t be the same.” It felt condescending to have to spell this out for her, but how does she not see that being emotional and going through past abuse is vastly different from physically abusing someone?

“He keeps saying he’s done, but I mean, I have my shit, he has his shit, he’s been there for me through it, I’ve been there for him through all the stuff he was going through, I just don’t get why suddenly he doesn’t want anything to do with me. He talked about how I tricked him into falling in love with me, but he already knew all this stuff about me, and it’s not like we’ve never been happy together.”

“I know you guys were happy together and I know you’ve supported him so much through the past few months, but this is different… what happened exactly? R never told me.”

“He said something that really pissed me off and I attacked him. I attacked him. I told my friends at work and they couldn’t believe it, but I told them, it’s in there. I’m not trying to say it’s not a big deal, because I know it is, but now he doesn’t want to support me all of a sudden, but I think we could get through this together. He won’t even look at me, if he hugged me it’d be a huge deal because he hasn’t touched me since that night.”

We went around and around like this. “Attacked”? I wanted clarification but thought it’d be rude. “What exactly do you mean by attacked?” Can’t do it.

“Do you think he’s worried you’d do it again?” I ask.

“Definitely, but I’ve told him it’s very unlikely it’ll ever happen again.” Hmmm, that definitely could be more convincing.

“If the roles were reversed and he hit you, I know you’ve got more of a history of that kind of behavior so it’s different, but if that happened, would you stay?” I say.

“Hmmmm, probably, because I’d want to work it through with him.”

“I’d leave Z.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, once that happens everything changes. It definitely turns so much up on its head. It makes you wonder if they are the person you thought they were, which might be what R is thinking. And unfortunately you can’t really make someone trust you again, you have to see what happens.”

“I’m trying not to rush him,” she says. “I know it’s up to him, which is why I’ve been giving him space, but it’s hard.”

“It’s good that you’re doing that.”

We walk in silence for awhile before I say, “Unfortunately I think you have to wait.”

****

He ended up moving out after another week of insomnia on their couch.

He got up one morning and told her, “I can’t do this anymore, we’ve been having the same conversations over and over again, nothing is changing. You’re broken, I’m broken, two broken people can not help each other.”

“I don’t know if that’s true,” I said when he told me. Probably not the best response, but I think there is some kind of romantic beauty to two people who both need help propping each other up. Maybe that’s a fantasy, maybe what really happens is one kind unbroken person accidentally entangles themself in the “exciting” world of emotional turmoil and is the sand the waves break on. I certainly can’t say Z and I are two broken people helping each other. Z is solid, easily one of the last tortured people I know. The two broken people scenario is most likely a fantasy.

R says he feels relief.

“How do I always end up in these romantic shambles?” he says when we’re hanging out over coffee.

I sigh, “Probably because you don’t have many boundaries.” This is an issue I have been talking with my therapist about. Obviously I think he has the same problem.

“Not with everything,” he says.

“True, but in romance, definitely. You moved in with L after dating for a few months! Most people won’t do that.”

“Yeah, well not again, okay? Make sure I don’t do it again.”

“I’ll try, but knowing you…”

“I know, I know,” he says grunting.