Someone recently told me to stop saying certain stuff about certain people because it hurts those that love them. Some years ago I was present on the day my best friend's mother told her not to talk shit about my own mother because, whatever else happened, she was always going to be my mother and talk like that could hurt me.
I can't escape the feeling that my friend's mother was covering her ass very well.
When trying to come up with a reason why the stuff I was saying about those "certain people" had to be said, I forgot the basic argument of it: they are dangerous. At least, that's been my own personal experience with them. My friend says it best, "she's been so kind lately, I forget". I forget too.
I've had this nagging sense of impending angst and depression all day, like something was about to snap and I wondered. There are things brewing in my life, certainly. But funnily enough, every time I went to check the metaphorical pot, it was merely simmering. What is it?, people kept asking me. You look tired, they said. What's wrong?
My mother came back from an extended trip last week and I'd been completely unaware of the load that I had dropped off my shoulders those 20 days she was gone. I'd been able to deal with exams and friends and essays and all sorts of tensions with only my own interests to worry about. I'd been able to fall down some stairs and nurse my poor, mangled ankle in relative peace, with my own resources, at my own pace. I'd been able to breathe in deeply and make some decisions and work and rest and then accept the fact that I'm not nearly done with school and pick up the slack once more.
Sure, it was stressful and tiring, even with the end of the semester marking a significant reduction in my workload. But I managed. Years ago my therapist told me that I had to learn to do things in my own time. That's what these last months have felt like, stepping into the rhythm made for me. And I'd made the mistake of forgetting how badly this one person can screw up my rhythm. It's a particular thing for everyone, we all have this person in our lives. They can be parents or siblings or no family connection at all. But this person, this one I'm talking about, who everyone should recognize, this person can, with a few choice words, upset the order of our entire world.
That's what makes them so dangerous.
There'd been a distant rumble of thunder during the week. I'd finally talked to my mother over the phone after days and days of her being away. I wasn't shaking after that conversation, somehow I've managed to protect myself at least to that extent. But I felt helpless and discontent and, oh, wonder of wonders, not enough. This has been the entire tune of my life: feeling like I'm not enough. After talking to her that day I felt an outstanding number of not-enoughs: I do not earn enough money, I'm not graduating fast enough, I'm not studying enough, I haven't fixed my life enough yet, I'm not trying hard enough. The entire herculean effort that this last month has been for me became a thing of the past. How could I forget? No matter how much you work, how smart you are, how much weight you've lost, how much better you're feeling... it's just not enough. It never will be.
Well, that's not entirely true. Whenever I care to remember that this will, literally, NEVER be enough, I can then begin to visualize freedom. If whatever I do or don't do will NEVER satisfy, then, why keep trying? At least with that realization you can stop struggling.
But it's never as easy as that with my mother. It hasn't been that bad for many years, ever since I realized that wonderful "never", but it can still be upsetting. She gives you this illusion that you can do whatever she's asking of you. Just try a little harder, just be a little earlier, just stand a little firmer. It just takes this tiny amount of extra effort on your part, that you're just refusing to make for no earthly reason whatsoever. With this surreal litany going through your head, it becomes really difficult to remember that, right now, at this very moment, you are doing the best you can. There's no further effort. There are no other "ers". This is the end of your strength and it will have to be enough, because you can't really do much about it.
All through today's ride on the subway I felt this strange, horrible, sour taste in my mouth, like I was going to be sick. This is one of the main reasons why all my life I've had to carry a book wherever I go. Even if it's the shortest journey. Music just doesn't cut it, I have to have something I'm able to think about that is not this sour taste in my mouth.
When I got home to my mother everything seemed fine. She wasn't upset anymore and we talked and I tried on my new gifts and we ate dinner and everything was basically decent. No problem. I can handle this. It's a breeze.
The problem with forgetting is that these people are insidious. You don't know how they're going to screw you over next time. Well, the main strategy is recognizable and the message is always the same but... only in retrospective. So there's only one axiomatic rule which must be honored above all, in these situations: always protect yourself.
Unfortunately, I forgot the one rule.
We discussed weight issues and my weight in particular and weight loss in general. My personal way of protecting myself is what my therapist used to refer as "closing the door". If you don't allow the noxious people in your life access to your tender bits then they are less likely to hurt you with unbearable pain. I am sorry to say that I opened the door this time.
I went to bed with the sour taste of defeat in my mouth and I phoned my boyfriend home, feeling dejected and hopeless with no true way of explaining it to him, other than "it's my mother, she just messes me up".I'd had this exact same taste when I hung up after talking with her on the phone this week.
It's a crescendo. Yes, you've lost some weight but now you're not losing as much. Ah, I counter, but weight loss treatments are useless, even doctors agree, diets have no long-term results. True, she insists with relentless pseudo-logic, but health risks still increase with your extra weight. I'm not sure, I continue pathetically, and even if they do, what can I do about it other than what I'm doing already? Bariatric surgery works, she suggests surreptitiously. Yes, I concede at last, it works. But, so her immediate cover-up follows, it's a radical option. Yes, say I as I desperately attempt to latch onto this last hope, it's not an easy choice. Of course not, she offers in that faux conciliatory tone, I don't claim to have all the answers.
Neither do I, neither do I.
We seem to part amicably. She has conceded to the difficulties and is as unconvinced as I am. So it seems.
But what follows are a few hours of self-loathing and over-analyzing and self-blaming that seem to undo and rent all the hard work I've been putting lately into accepting my body and myself and trying to work with that. How can I untangle this web of passive aggression? So we have decided diets do not work and are not healthy. But we cannot concede that my body is okay in it's current state. Therefore, if I truly cared, if I was willing to put that little extra effort, I would get surgery.
And so all the images and illusions I had banished, as unhealthy and dangerous, return. I remember what I used to tell myself when I was a purging, laxative-addicted teenager. Imagine what it would feel like to buy whatever clothing you wanted. Imagine what your belly would look like flat. Imagine how much more they would love you. Imagine how pretty you could be. Imagine what it would be like to break out of this horrible body, of this hateful thing, of this ugly layer of blubber and be, at long last, "one of those girls". One of those girls who wears halter tops. One of those girls who can buy clothing wherever they want. One of those girls who are not ashamed of themselves.
A few words and here I am, contemplating a surgery I can't possibly afford.
She's made me forget all I've learned these last months. That no one can buy wherever because the fashion industry has a problem. That there are no girls who are not ashamed of themselves because we live in a culture that is hateful to the female body. That even my mother, skinny as she was, knew this.
So the money story goes. I should earn more. I can't until I have my degree. Then get your degree already. I'm working as fast as I can. If you had worked a little faster in the past, when you had the opportunity, you wouldn't be in the situation you are.
If you had, then you might be able to afford your surgery now. Circular, relentless, labyrinthine.
It is that word "never" again. It is the fact that she acts like impossible things are possible if you just do that little more she's asking of you. There is no changing my body and there is no undoing the past. I must work with what I have or live a lifetime of longing. Of never being in the place I'm currently at.
"Never" is good, "never" brings you back to reality, "never" helps you see the place you are at, in this moment. But "never" has its limitations. "Never" can only tell you that those goals are unreachable, but it cannot tell you why they are undesirable in the first place.
"Never" can only tell you that, THAT is not your rhythm, that trying to follow it will only lead to ruin and heartache. But the possibilities are equally dismal: attempt to follow a rhythm not your own and end in ruin and heartache or follow your own rhythm which is all wrong and unacceptable, and end in ruin and heartache.
Lately I've been trying to make my rhythm work. I've been embracing it and deciding that it can, after all, give me exactly what I've always wanted. I can graduate in my own time. I can write whenever I am ready to write. I am beautiful, exactly as I am, no weight-loss needed. But she makes me forget. She makes the sour taste of all that is wrong and un-fixable in my life come back. Nothing is right in me, therefore all I can hope for is either a lifetime of fighting myself or a mediocre one, where I've let my limitations defeat me.
This is what "not so bad" looks like now. Years ago, when I was still under her power, when I still believed her, it was worse, much worse. Some of my friends are in that place, some of my friends are right here besides me, but either way, it's never a good idea to forget how dangerous they are, after all.