Thursday, October 25, 2012

Things that Go Bump in the Night: Guilt

Guilt demands its due.
Contemplating this I say,
"Perhaps I'll pay...."
Anything it wants, I'll give--
all my haunted, familiar places--
rent in form of rents on me.
My body, twisted inside out
might die. 
And with face to foot, elbow to knee
scalding regret and caustic remorse
will mark my aching flesh,
my rippled, riddled
rotting corpse.

People tell me not to feel guilty, but I do.  I can't help it.  I stuff it down to the point where it is only a dull throbbing that can go unnoticed for a long period of time until something brings it up again.  Even the smallest of bumps pushes the pain front and center.  It's a bone deep ache, a chronic hurting that nothing ameliorates.  I carry it with me every day, a hidden disease of the heart and soul.

People tell me it wasn't my fault.  That it was meant to be and that Fate decreed it to happen.  But I know differently.  I know that if I had not been selfish and had stayed home it wouldn't have occurred.  I would have been there to change the course of events.  I am responsible for it because I chose myself over my obligations and now there is nothing I can do to quiet that voice that tells me every day, "It's your's all your damned fault."

And I am paying the price.  Everything in my reality seems to be fraying at the edges.  What once held light only holds shadows and shade.  Guilt tinges everything with a slightly bitter, acrid scent of culpability and shame. I can't shake it.  It revisits again and again...quickly becoming a familiar, unwanted friend.

I don't know what I am doing.  I don't know how to change how I feel.  I don't know that I ever can move beyond this secret I hold...that I am fundamentally a bad person who causes bad things to happen.  I hate myself for not being there.  If it had been anyone else, I would have forgiven them immediately as there would have been nothing to forgive.  But I cannot grant that grace to myself.  It is the penance I must pay and I must pay it silently.  No one understands and no one deserves the worry of knowing.

Usually I am optimistic about life in general, about the goodness and beauty of this particular existence.  But right now I am so damned sad I don't feel any optimism whatsoever.  Hope abandoned me months ago and I am coasting on fumes, on ideas I held dear a year ago.  I am not who I want to be.  I am not who I used to be.  I don't know who I am anymore.  All of my touchstones have disappeared.  All of my references have changed and morphed into something else entirely and I am not navigating this new course with grace and aplomb.  I am failing myself miserably, a completely derailed train ready to crash and burst into flames.  I just don't want to take anyone down with me.

And I can't apologize enough.  A lifetime of sorry wouldn't suffice.  But I am sorry.  I am more sorry than anyone will ever know.  I am more sorry than anyone will take the time to hear.  Every atom apologizes for failing, for not being there when you needed me, for being selfish and absent.

I dream of you at night.  I almost wish I didn't.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vicious Circle

I have a confession to make.  Perhaps it is something I should really keep to myself because I know it will engender dislike for me on the part of some people, a dislike so intense as to border on hate.  I will offend pet parents everywhere who see their animals as family.  I might even alienate a friend or two.  Nonetheless, after picking up the eighteenth pile of poop in as many days and surveying the wreckage of certain areas within my home, I feel compelled to state it loudly and proudly.  I HATE MY DOG!

I cannot stand this animal.  He is stupid to the point of actual retardation, but cunning enough to know exactly what buttons to push to drive me absolutely insane.  I hate the fact that he will spend hours outside and then the minute he comes indoors he poops in the hallway or my sons' room.  I despise that he chases and molests the cats at every opportunity.  I loathe the way he jumps and licks both family and company.  I detest his habit of chewing anything of value to me, knowing exactly the destruction of which shoe, piece of furniture, book, or clothing will upset me the most.  I am exasperated with cleaning up the mud he tracks in, the food he deliberately spills, the endless amounts of dog hair found on everything.  Most of all, however, I really hate the way he makes me feel like a complete failure at being a pet owner.  A person is supposed to love their pet and cherish the animal's unconditional love and affection.  I just flat-out don't like him, and it makes me feel as if I hold some deep character flaw or emotional defect.  In sum, I hate myself for hating my dog which  makes me hate him more.  It's a vicious circle I want to stop.

The only reason the dog is still part of the family is because he brings joy to my children.  They love playing with him, sleeping with him, dressing him in outrageous outfits, walking him and just in general having him in our home.  The children would be terribly upset if Gus were to go anywhere, and I love my children far more than I hate my dog, so the dog stays.

I love my cats, enjoy the guinea pig, and even miss the fish that died a few months ago.  I am a kind, compassionate woman in most regards, but this dog drives me to distraction and brings out every negative or bad quality I own.  I mutter terrible things under my breath when I am cleaning up yet one more pile of strategically placed poop or chewed up treasure. I feel such anger and rage that I become even more upset that I get that angry in the first place.  I am not that kind of person, and I don't want to engage in that level of negativity, but Gus seems to magnify all the awful things about my personality which I try to keep subdued.  I hate him for that too.

I keep wondering what lesson I am supposed to learn from this dog.  I think it must be patience and acceptance and maintaining tranquility in the face of stress.  I constantly strive to take Gus' behavior in stride, to breathe deeply when I really want to yell at him, and to maintain my composure regarding my feelings towards this animal.  I think I've grown quite a bit in my ability to maintain my temper, and I suppose that is a good thing.  It shows emotional development and control, although I would rather not have the stressors to begin with.  Perhaps there is a larger lesson to be learned as well.  I am not quite sure what it may be, but he has a minimum of another ten years with us based on the average lifespan of a dog, so I am sure it will be revealed to me as some point.

I am certain over the upcoming years that we will continue to refine our relationship.  Gus and I hopefully will develop a peaceful coexistence. I am hoping I learn to control myself and to react to situations from a place of positivity rather than negativity.  To move in all things, especially when dealing with the dog, from a place of love and patience and generosity. I am not sure, however, that he is smart enough to learn anything new at all.  Oh, that was mean. Oops! As evidenced by the previous sentence, this positive attitude development regarding the dog might be harder to achieve than I originally thought.  I am going to have to work hard and stay vigilant about my comments and emotions.  It's going to be a tough row to hoe, and in thinking about all the work I need to do in this pet/owner relationship, it's just one more reason to add to the list of why I really hate that dog.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lessons in Karaoke: Listening Skills

We definitely hear things, but do we really listen?

I went to karaoke last night with my best friend.  I actually didn't want to go, but felt compelled to be her wing man.  She has the serious hots for a man who also goes to karaoke frequently. Therefore, after longingly eyeballing my pajamas and new novel, I reluctantly got dressed, grabbed my purse and headed out in the rainy night to have a beer, sing a few songs, and hopefully help her further her budding relationship with "the dude".

After spotting her prey, we got our drinks and sat down, and chatted about a variety of things, but primarily "the dude." Growing a bit tired of the conversation, I watched people entering the bar and my attention focused for a few minutes on a group of eight loud, drunken men.  They lost my interest rapidly as they moved to a corner of the bar near the pool tables and proceeded to challenge one another to a punching bag competition.  From that point, the evening proceeded smoothly as we sang, visited with bar friends and laughed quite a bit. As my friend went to get two more beers and flirt with "the dude", I fiddled with my phone, unaware that all hell had suddenly broken loose next to the karaoke stage.  A full-on,  Thursday night, alcohol and machismo induced bar fight happened and I had front row seats.  

I think at least twelve or thirteen people were involved in hitting each other, throwing punches and bar stools, yelling, and posturing. The group of drunken men at the punching bag had a few moments earlier begun to hassle another group of young men playing pool. The ensuing fight would have been comically cliche and rather entertaining if people hadn't gotten hurt, but one poor man was blindsided by a chair causing a large gash on his forehead and another unfortunate soul managed to find himself stabbed in the arm.  After the bartender announced the imminent arrival of the police, the group of men who started the fight scattered and ran out the door.  Along the way, one of them threw a gun onto the roof of the building.  I only discovered that nugget of lovely information after the arrival of the authorities who questioned each bar patron as to what they had witnessed.  

After the initial excitement of the fight and it's aftermath waned, I grew irritated with being unable to go home until the police finished their investigation.  As my annoyance built up, I became even angrier at the idea that these so-called "men" entered this fun, outgoing place where regulars enjoy each other's company and good music, with knives and guns and stupidity in mass quantities.  How dare they violate the sanctity of karaoke with chips on their shoulders, alcohol-induced bravado, and a desire to fight? Their mere presence threatened the safety of everyone in the building and I resented them for having placed me and my friends in a dangerous situation.

Physical violence solves nothing.  Being strong enough to hurt another person doesn't prove someone's worth or value.  It doesn't make you a big man or an important woman.  A person who uses strength to injure someone intentionally and for no good reason only indicates a distinct and fundamental weakness in that person's character.  It also shows a profound lack of intelligence.  As Confucius once said, "He who throws the first punch, admits he lost the argument."  If a person provokes a heated situation through words and cannot resolve it through words, then it illustrates an inability to think properly and deeply in my opinion. In sum, those men were drunken idiots who had no concern for anything or anyone but their all-consuming machismo and male pride.  Seriously, how stupid is that?

I planned to categorize this entry under a "Lessons in Karaoke" theme, but I am still trying to figure out what I learned last night.  Maybe it's a few things I already knew like testosterone and alcohol don't mix, stupid is as stupid does, or when everything is telling you to stay home and read a book, I should stay home and read a book. I think the last one might truly be the best lesson of all.  If gut instinct whispers to you, tells you, or actually yells at you to do something, you probably should follow it's directions.  People always discount their intuitive feelings, looking for more rational explanations. They should definitely develop better listening skills. I suppose I should too.  I firmly believe we have instinct for a reason and that we should listen to it, but I completely ignored my own last night and ended up in the midst of a tawdry and dangerous bar fight.  If I had paid closer attention to my instinct, I would have enjoyed a quiet night in my fuzzy jammies, sipping a hot cup of coffee, and reading a compelling novel.  Instead, I put myself in a potentially seriously dangerous situation, and came home too late, exhausted from stupidity and miffed at the general dumbness of drunken men.  

From here on out, if I get a niggling sensation telling me to do something, I am going to listen much more closely to it.  I guess karaoke did teach me something last night, or at the very least reinforced a lesson I already knew to be true.  And on another up note, my friend made further progress with "the dude." I have a strong instinct that that particular endeavor will yield good results and fortunately, it's one feeling I am happy to listen to.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Playing the Hand You Are Dealt

"I just want to let you know, that even though he isn't responsive, he can more than likely hear every word you are saying."  The nurse said this to my friend as she visited her step-brother in hospice.  In a coma-like state for the past few days, he had obviously begun his journey towards death and she had come to make her goodbyes to someone with whom she'd shared part of her life, but with whom she had no real relationship.

I watched silently, as different emotions surfaced on her face and in her eyes, only to be pushed down again by some steely desire within her to remain in control.  I could see her struggle for the right words, and I empathized with her difficulty in saying and doing the right thing. I could tell she felt infinite compassion for this shell of a man who lay on the bed in front of her, mixed with ample amounts of pity, regret, and even anger.  What does one say to someone else who has shared some of the same trauma as you, but also created chaos and trauma for you as well?  Merely being victims of the same perpetrator doesn't necessarily make two people friends or allies.  Sometimes it just makes you enemies that share a common hatred for someone else.

The entire scene depressed me.  So much so, that the next day I felt drained, overly-emotional and full of existential angst regarding the meaning of life.  The episode affected me rather deeply for several reasons.  I felt pity for the man dying of a slow cancer who had obviously led a life made complicated and difficult by circumstances in his childhood that left painful scars never completely healed.  He constituted one of those people that seemed destined to be born only to suffer through life and to die suffering as well.  I felt sad regarding my friend who has worked diligently on recovering and enriching her life for having to deal his death and the resurfacing of dormant memories and accompanying emotions caused by this event.  I confronted my own feelings concerning death and loss from which I had been hiding.  Emotions regarding my father's sudden passing this spring and my recent estrangement from my sister surfaced and made me thoroughly sorrowful.

Yesterday, I spent a great deal of time going over questions in my mind for which I have yet to find reasonable answers. Why must people suffer as they do?  What causes an innocent child to be born into a family that neither deserves them or treats them humanely? Why do people consistently make stupid decisions which allows evil to flourish? Why do good people die early and heinous people continue breathing other people's air? Why are some people consistent survivors and some chronic victims?  Why does humanity exist and what's our purpose?  What's the point of being born, living and dying?  Is there something we are meant to accomplish during this all-too-brief period?  What lessons are we meant to learn? Suffice to say, I had too many thoughts and not enough room to think yesterday and fell into a fairly melancholy and morbid state.

I have ideas that partially answer these questions, but I have yet to find anything that answers them completely.  All I know to be true is that life can be totally random, tediously scheduled, cruel, generous, ugly, beautiful, short, divine, mundane, happy and sad.  In a nutshell, uncontrolled. We have to figure out how to handle the mercurial nature of life to minimize the negative aspects and maximize the positive elements. But, damn! Staying focused on living in the present and living positively can be exhausting, even for the lucky ones like me. I cannot begin to imagine how incredibly difficult it can be when hardship and chaos dominate a person's life for no apparent reason.

I am proud of my friend.  She's a survivor and maintains a perspective regarding life that is both pragmatic and hopeful.  She has made the best of the hand life has dealt her and in spite of all the hardships, she still maintains the capacity for generosity, compassion, and love. Her indomitable spirit allowed her to gather the emotional reserves to put aside her bad memories, the effects of childhood trauma, and painful feelings regarding family to gracefully and graciously say goodbye to her step-brother.  Her acknowledgment of him and the past that they had shared did not go unrecognized by the dying man.  He knew she was there and I think he appreciated her presence.  And maybe that's all we can do.... maybe it's all we are meant to do...Maybe the ANSWER I've been looking for is as simple as that--being present, acknowledging our fellow man and woman and their journeys, and playing the hand we are dealt in the best possible way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bright, Beautiful and Over-The-Top

 I love green things.  Living in southern New Mexico, even with all of it's unique desert beauty, a person can become starved for vegetation.  If you know where to look in the desert, you can find all sorts of living things, but most come in shades of tans, rusts, and brown. There exists a distinct lack of vibrant colors.  Everything is muted except the brilliant blue sky. The desert possesses an austere beauty, stripped of all pageantry and flash. Green things are few and far between and when I get the opportunity to spend some time in the midst of living, beautiful plants and flowers, it rejuvenates my soul and my mood.

I love pageantry and flash.  I miss the vitality that green things just exude.  Being around plants and flowers and water makes me feel alive.  Colors put a song into my soul and brings me joy.  We went to the botanical gardens in Albuquerque this weekend and I had the most amazing time.  Just being in the middle of all the green grass, flowers, trees, plants and water features made me so incredibly, stupidly happy.  I think it must be a throw back from living in South Carolina as a child.  Everything green seems to grow wild there.  Lush and humid and beautiful, the deep south can be a paradise for lovers of nature.  I completely understand why people who move from somewhere green have difficulty adjusting to Alamogordo.  Everyone goes through a transition period where they hopefully become accustomed to the low humidity, the lack of water and vegetation.  Quite a few people, however, become depressed to be in such a dry area.  If they are lucky, they start to see how the desert itself can be quite beautiful, but it takes time and a focused mindset of appreciating differences to really feel comfortable here.  Those things and a heck of a lot of chapstick and a good humidifier!

I totally understand the depression, though.  I went through the same thing when I moved here. I missed the grass that just grew untended, the flowers that bloomed without hours of care and watering.  I  missed the greenness with a passion that few native desert dwellers understand.  I've been in New Mexico for twenty-five years now and I still have moments where I long to be somewhere else, where wildness blooms in the spring, where trees turn a hundred different colors in the fall, and where the smell of green permeates the air.  That's one reason why I appreciated the botanical gardens so much this past weekend.  It smelled green and beautiful and wonderful. I am definitely going to go back again when I need another reminder of how riotous and glorious nature can be.  It was a good weekend for all things bright, beautiful and over-the-top.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice

I know I can come across to other people as callous and unfeeling on occasion. I can be cold as ice--frostily, perfectly polite. I don't do it intentionally to hurt anyone.  It seems to be an automatic reaction to when I've been hurt or upset to reduce myself to manners, becoming completely devoid of warmth and sincerity, but most of all feelings.

Some people, when angry or betrayed, transform to heat,  full of fiery outbursts.  They let all sorts of things fly about, calling up a storm of words to express how they feel.  They become the moment themselves, losing rationality, burning everything with emotion.  I am the opposite.  Instead of expanding, I contract to the smallest, remotest point possible.  I retreat into myself and become logical and rational.  I use civility like a knife, cutting with precision strokes.  It is a cold passion, but just as destructive as the heated kind.

I think it is funny that my sister and I have such disparate fighting styles.  Raised in the same household with the same parents and enjoying seemingly the same childhoods, we could not be more different when it comes to engaging in or sustaining an argument.  I know it makes her crazy when I withdraw and refuse to become emotional. She interprets that as being completely uncaring about the situation. And in all honesty, I can understand how she might interpret it that way.  Rather than succumb to the feelings I have, I shut them down, put them in a drawer to deal with them later privately. I have never liked being "messy" in front of other people, including family, and being emotional is "messy."  It is uncontrolled, it is untamed and I don't like it one bit.

 She makes me nuts when I cannot get past her posturing and bombast.  She is all feeling and no logic and completely "messy." She feels so much that she refuses to listen.  I think her ears must be too full of fire to hear anything anyone says.  I hear everything, I just don't react to it. It is equally as destructive of a fighting technique or defense mechanism as not listening. When we fight, we embody the saying "oil and water."  We do not mix at all, bouncing off each other the entire argument. Dancing around each other and not resolving anything until she cools down and I warm up. It is fortunate that we do not fight much because we do not do it well.

My sister is all I have left from my original, very close-knit nuclear unit. For my entire life, she and I behaved as an inseparable unit.  We were best friends, confidantes, and each other's cheerleaders. As ugly as our fights could become, our love and friendship remained just as strong.  Things lately, however, have been incredibly strained between us.  Living in each other's back pockets had to come to an end sometime and I actually could sense a change in both of us over the past few years, where I became more of my own person.  As I've matured, I've become more opinionated and less willing to subsume the things I want to do in favor of someone else's desires.  She has changed a variety of ways as well. We think differently, we behave differently, and we are both our own women with our own ideas and beliefs.

I never thought, in a million years though, that the changes we've both undergone would lead to an estrangement between us.  For the past several months, our relationship has been strained by external factors, other people, our own reactions to situations, and differences in how we think about what constitutes good and bad decisions.  I think the differences in our outlooks were always present, but current situations have exacerbated them, brought them into the forefront and highlighted them.  It has become less easy to brush them under the rug and move on as if they did not exist.  It has become harder to accept those things about each other that make us so different and therefore, we've quit spending time together.  

I don't know when this estrangement will end.  Unfortunately,the one thing we do have in common is a stubborn nature.  She thinks she is right and I think I am right and neither of us has gotten to a point where we are willing to give up enough of our points to make it comfortable between us.  All I do know is that I miss her.  I miss her so much.  I lost a lot last year with all of the changes that happened in my extended family, with the death of my father, with just....everything. I never expected to lose her too.  

The past several months have been incredibly difficult in regard to my relationship with my sister.  I think about it all the time.  How we went from being so close to so very far away from one another. In all honesty, I don't think it will ever be the same again. She and I are not the same people we used to be.  I just want it to get to a point where we can be good friends, without any fire or ice, without too  much much messiness or precision.  I want a calm, peaceful, easy and enjoyable friendship with her and I am really going to work on trying to achieve that.  I hope she works at it too.  Life is too short not to have your family share it with you.