I am on vacation. Vacation. Can you believe this? I am getting paid not to work. I am getting paid to wake up and pretend like I don’t have a job. This is the most glorious thing. I don’t need a pay raise; give me all the vacation days instead. People always want more. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person on the planet who is perfectly happy with less. Not all this; I don’t need all this.
Maybe two people cannot live together without ruining each other. Maybe it is just human nature. Not that we want to ruin another, but that we are inherently ruined and thus ruin everything we come into contact with. Poisoned and contagious.
I’ve been getting absurdly angry with my housemate. I recognize this habit, and earlier bouts of it, as an ugly side effect of my depression. A channeling of my helpless feelings into something I could feel in control of–how I make another person feel. I also recognize this as a symptom of past abuse. A lifetime of being manipulated by my parents’ emotions. Me doing everything in my power to be better, to be easy, to be good– because that’s what my parents wanted. Only, I always felt like my best was never enough. Somehow, I still disappointed them, hurt them, let them down. Somehow I was still unworthy of their love. I don’t think my parents intended this lesson exactly–for me to feel like I was unworthy. But I think they did intend, I think they did know, I wanted to be good. They might not have known how much, how badly, to what extent I wanted to please them. They took it a little too far, let me take it to the extreme, and now I am forever scarred, in a sense. Charged by feelings of righteous anger; threatened by feelings of abandonment, of being unloved–as if you can stop loving someone on command, without effort.
I babysat for a friend the other night. That teenage dream of being left alone in an adult’s house, and it was almost boring. It was anti-climactic. I came over, right on time, and watched them eat dinner. The mom gave me the directions–bedtime, ritual, caveats. Sure, yep, got it. I’ve put children to bed hundreds of times. They left and I got no surge of excitement. You know, that feeling like, this is all mine for the next few hours. I played with the kid. We sat on the carpet in the living room surrounded by her blocks and her toys and I got this weird feeling of deja vu. I had this sudden moment of sympathy for my mother. A thought of, “This is fine, but I could be [fill in the blank].”
Not that I didn’t always have extreme sympathy for my mother: I think that was a failing in my child self but it has been an asset to my adult life. So many other things I could be doing, other than playing with a child to whom I have no real obligation–other than the temporary one of keeping her safe and alive. I did not feel much pride in the hours of responsibility I had. I didn’t feel much of anything about babysitting. Rather, I felt comforted knowing it was only temporary. This was not something I experienced as a teenage babysitter. What has changed?
Well, I was taught to glamorize motherhood, first of all. A certain kind of motherhood. One with authority and power. Mother is to power as babysitter is to boss. And the second thing? Well, I am an established independent person now, who owes no one nothing.
What do I mean by that? Who owes no one nothing? Well, the people who raised me, the people who were around while I was raising, seemed to think I owed them a lot. They treated me like I owed them my very existence, and well, I’m not reminded of that on a daily basis anymore. I’m reminded of that never. I don’t even know…The people who were around while I was raising wouldn’t recognize my existence, I don’t think. At least, I’m not sure my existence now really matches up with what they envisioned for me then. When I was small and under their thumb.
I grew up under a lot of thumbs–to summarize.
I put the kid to bed and wasn’t even bothered by her angry screaming. Her mother had warned me, “her bedtime is 8:15, she will try to convince you otherwise”; but it was more than this. I’ve listened to so many children cry at bedtime. I’ve been sitting in the living room while a kid cries at bedtime for years. This is nothing new. This is not the end of the world. I let her cry for 20 minutes until I decided the nice thing to do would be to go in and calm her down, help her reset. So, I did that. And then I returned to the living room and the kitchen and still felt like…I could be [fill in the blank]. Anywhere but here. I opened the fridge with a brief thought of, maybe I’ll find something exciting, but there was nothing. Nothing that wasn’t at home in my fridge.
And the parents came home and invited me to hang out, but I thought of the sleeping kid upstairs, and I thought of my quiet house a few minutes away, and didn’t see much point in staying. Nah.
It was just such a strange feeling, such a change. I guess this is growing up.
Every question I ask is an answer I already know: Was being in charge the high of my teen years? Was it something about not knowing the kind of adult you would be, the kind of life you would have, and so being immersed in someone else’s life was the epitome of possibility? Am I so disconnected from parenthood and family life that I’ve forgotten how to be, how to act? Did I just stop subscribing to that magazine? Who says you have to be, have to act, have to know? My adult life is better than any stand-in. Better than any dream. Better than the examples I see around me.
It was just such a feeling, of nothing special, of a regular night in my regular life, of complete unmemorableness. Nothing to see here, folks.
And I got paid for that. I’ve got cash in my wallet. Money I can do things with. And that’s the incredible part. That someone paid me to hang out with their kid. How funny is that? Here is the most important person in your life, that you need to get away from, and so you pay me to sit with them, and so I do, even though I don’t feel strongly about this person in any way. And I substitute for you until you can be back, and then you come back, and then I get to leave. No strings attached. Because it’s the leaving that’s memorable to me. To leave without guilt–what a treat.
That, my dudes, felt like freedom.
I’m not sure love is the healthiest thing. Maybe love is the poisoned and contagious bits of us.