Saturday, April 12, 2014

Things that shouldn't be hard, but are.

I'm in the handicapped stall in the Bertucci's bathroom, staring at the same four little tiles underneath my feet, trying to breathe, afraid to do anything more, anything other, than that. Outside are 4/5 sisters, a handful of my niblings and not my brother. Inside the bathroom, an older lady who'd held the door open for me when we were both coming in, is coughing in her stall. Peeing.

I'm just sitting and breathing.

In the movies, or books, when a character goes into the restroom to have a breakdown, it is conveniently huge, echoing and empty, or otherwise a single stall with someone rudely banging away on the door. Here, it's me and these four tiles and the old lady in the stall next to me.

And I couldn't have a breakdown even if I wanted to, because everyone is counting on my to be an adult, there has already been enough drama. My brother and older sister already had a disagreement that ended with him leaving the restaurant before we'd even been seated. There was no actual yelling, and it was probably better that he left, because restraint is SO not his thing, but the kids are on edge, the remaining adults are feeling a little awkward, a little off. (Or at least, I am.)

I have not slept - and I mean in any way for more than three minutes at a time - for over eighty hours. No real reason; just a shitty painsomnia cycle combined with brain overload and pills that stopped working all of the sudden. Not completely unexpected or unheard of, just another joy of life with chronic illness. I know I've made it over 100 hours with no sleep before, but it's been a while, and it's definitely disorienting. Everything seems either too close or too far away - as if I'm looking down the end of a spyglass, or as if they are all looking down the end of one towards me. Sometimes both, at the same time.

I've left the table rather abruptly, but when I get back, only one of my sisters notices. She claims I have a weak poker face "The worst poker face", she says. She has no idea how wrong she really is. If she can see through it even that much though, imagine if I had just started bawling in the ladies' room? Imagine if the one who puts everybody else's pieces back together - who can see that my brother's leaving is worrying my nephew and attempt to joke him out of it, who can see that the sister who tried to plan today's visit is poaching in self-recrimination (our first restaurant had been too small, too hot & unable to seat us quickly enough for my brother's patience; this next choice seemed to have no food options for our nephew with multiple food allergies) & try to give her a bit of a bolster (as the one whose plans USUALLY blow up in her face, I know that particular stew too well); who can see which little one is jealous of the baby and which big one is itching for his phone; who notices the fake smiles plastered on and rushes to fill the cracks in between - Imagine if she were to suddenly lose some of her own? 

It is not a thing that any of us wants to find out.

I know I don't always have to be the strong one, or the bossy one, or the one who notices, or the one who tries to help.  It feels like I do, but I don't. Usually, almost always, I WANT to be that one. I don't ever want to be the indifferent one or the one who doesn't care, or the one who walks away. Still,  I try to step back and give people space, and let others step up and fill different roles.

 But sometimes, like today, sitting in the Bertucci's bathroom, staring at those four tiles, trying to pull myself together enough to go back to the table instead of collapsing into a large puddle, I wonder "Why doesn't anybody ever put my pieces back together?"

I hope, some day, that there'll be someone I can depend on to do that for me. With me.

It's a lonely feeling, and I know it's not even 100% valid - I DO have people who care, who help, who fight with me to put my pieces back together: Even today, my sister noticed, asked, tried to help. But sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like I don't have that help, that I can't accept it. And that's a hard way to feel.

And if it took me a little bit longer to put my poker face back on, then I'm just going to have to be ok with that. Because I managed. I pulled through, and ate food, and coaxed smiles out of infants and adolescents and adults alike. I put a smile on my face that was semi-natural and I made it through. And we all made it home.

And that's today's triumph. And I'm going to take it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TBR Mountain? Meet TBR Universe

So if you've been reading here for any length of time, I hope you know enough about me to know that I am an avid reader myself. Of everything. And anything - shampoo bottles, literary tomes, complicated scientific articles, every kind of novel ever (romance, sci-fi, fantasy, crime, thriller, YA...), obscure biographies, how-to books, and so much more. But up until last week I had avoided getting entangled with fanfiction.

My reasoning was not snobbish - I do not consider any kind of reading to be better than any other, after all, and a person who takes immense joy in selecting picture books as presents for people of all ages has very little in to say about other people's reading choices. If you like it; it's worth reading, is my basic reading philosophy. (Which does not mean, if I don't like what you're reading that I'm not going to find some way to build a literary bridge between your (poor) taste and mine, because, really if you like fairy tale retellings, I can find 72 better fairy tale retellings than the one you are reading and then we can talk about it and fangirl together, and won't that be more fun? Yes: yes it will.) Like every reader, I do have issues of personal taste when it comes to books - things that make a good book amazing, subplots I have had enough of, characters I wish would show up more, things that make a good plot go bad - but I'm no literary snob (despite the English Lit department's best efforts).

No: my reasons for abstention from fanfiction were varied & personal  -
  •  A) I didn't know a lot about it, except that it's not always finished & I HATE waiting for things to be finished*;
  •  B) some of the pieces I had wandered upon were ... poorly written/edited/solely smut (not that there's anything wrong with that except for - ) 
  • C) I tend to have my own head canons about things - certain favorite characters, primarily - and I don't like to see those get messed up and
  •  D) the sheer amount of reading material I already have on my plate & an unwillingness to open the Pandora's box of literally ever written character I've ever fallen for having an infinite number of more stories told about them.

But - even with these well-thought out & well-intentioned self-preservation techniques in place - I threw it all out the window one day last week when I started reading a phenomenal Avenger's Fanfiction series. Which I found completely by accident, and which I am very upset there are not more stories in. (See star below.)

But, as often always happens in reading - one thing leads to another and here I am, a week later, having barely put a dent in the multi-verses of fanfiction that's out there, but having a ton of non-canon Avenger feels and ignoring all my other reading responsibilities. 

Literally - I barely have read anything else in a week, and that's unusual for me, because I've always got three-four things going concurrently.  In this case, however, if I don't want to be reading Avenger fanfic, I can just switch over to Sherlock or GoT or virtually any other thing I am even the tiniest bit interested in. Not to mention crossovers. (No seriously: let's not mention them because I maaaaaaaaaaaaaay have spent an entire day and a half stuck in the MCU, and now I'm mad that the Avengers, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four don't all play together in the movies, because of stupid studios.)

There is fanfiction for everything, and for a person who reads as much as I do, this is Very. Dangerous. Information. Favorite author fan fic; favorite character fan fic; favorite book series/movie/television series fan fic; I don't play video games, but if I did? Fan fic.

And it was somewhere between the Nora Roberts/GoT crossover fanfic and the Star Trek reboot fan fic where Bones was finally getting his due that I realized something - some of the first things I ever wrote were fan fic. The Little Women retcon  FIX where Laurie does not end up with whiny Amy and Jo does not marry a professor we know very little about. The Tiny Toons Adventure scripts where they got to hang out with the Animaniacs. The alternate ending to It (spoiler alert) where Bev - who is 11! - doesn't decide to have sex with her friends for no goddamn reason, just because they're lost in the freaking sewers and Stephen King didn't know how to get them out of there without being a creep. (I was 11, and I can guarantee you that it would not have entered my mind to lead the group out of the tunnel that way.  Even if I was a slow learner - and I'll admit I was - 11??? Also: I still think that was a shitty thing to do.)

I've been re-writing endings (And middles.  And beginnings.) of stories since I started reading them.** And while I am extremely relieved that publishing as I was writing was not an option for me (although it may have been and I just... don't share what I'm writing, so it's likely that never would have happened anyways), I'm so glad that the Internet has introduced me to YET ANOTHER group of my people.

I can only rue the fact that it did not include some wormhole that enables me to read while also accomplishing other things, or an extra 52 hours in a day, so that I can devote them solely to reading and actually accomplish something else. As always, there is just so much more to read, and so little time to actually do it.

The sacrifices to readers (and writers) make. ;)

*Please see: Actual Comic Books, a literary art form that I truly love, but only in retrospect. I do not appreciate a bi-weekly serial. I do not like the cliffhanger versions of stories where I'm supposed to wait to find out if favorite characters survive. I get enough of that in my television watching, thank you very much. And also in my book series reading, which I both love and hate: Love spending so much time with characters and revisiting them, hate having to wait for the next book to come out. Am not patient about this, for some reason.  (And this is why I have a half-year's worth of Batgirl comics to catch up on: because I want to be able to read them all in one gulp.)

** One of the many books my mother saved from my childhood is a revision of The Monster at the End of this Book, the first book I remember reading out loud by myself, the first book I loved, as a reader. So, the fact that I then did my own version of it, way back when, suggests I was a little slow to pickup on the whole "fan fiction is for you, you dope."

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Don't ask me why I watch shows that seem specifically designed to piss me off, ala Dr. Phil & Judge Judy

When I watch a show like Dr. Phil (which: see title) and I see him talking to a person whose behavior is abusive - maybe physically, maybe verbally, maybe emotionally: doesn't matter - and they reach the point in the conversation where Dr. Phil thinks he has broken through to the 'truth' of the matter, that he is making the abuser SEE that they are abusive and that it is unacceptable, and the whole audience sort of breathes a sigh of relief like 'finally: this guy gets what he's doing, he SEES it, and that's going to be good enough," it makes me ... livid? Shake my head? Wonder how a 'clinically trained psychologist' can be taken in by such blatant pandering? All of the above?  Yes: all of the above.

Which is my way of saying I have had yet another 3 1/2 hour 'conversation' with my dad about unacceptable behavior. Mine, to his line of thinking; His, to the rest of the world's.

It seems that my short answers and 'pulling faces' is unappreciated by him - to which I responded "too bad." Short answers and resting bitch face are my least offensive options for interacting with you on a daily basis - a thing that is required because you have gone back on your word yet again and haven't left yet. My tightly drawn mouth is a direct result of having to bite my tongue against the things I'd like to say to you, the names I'd like to call you, the disrespect that the bullied part of me wants to heap back onto you in any effort to expel it. (And which I control not for your sake, but for mine, so that I do not become the bully I hate in others.)

"I'm not even sorry for the faces" I said, at the conclusion of our 'talk': "They're the closest thing to self-control I've got towards you, at the moment. And you're just going to have to deal with that."

That was after three and a half hours of frustrating round-and-round, never-ending saga that anyone of my siblings could basically repeat to you right now, if I called them up, despite not having been at this latest one.

It is, in fact, our family's own special version of the ouroboros - the snake eating its tail, for infinity - He is emotionally distant/abusive/threatening, screws up, calls people names, explodes (usually in a huge, terrifying and abusive way)... there is a 'calming down' period, which is to say a living in denial period where people avoid all mention of the latest incident, then eventually, he is 'forced' (by someone's behavior - not going to lie, usually mine) to 'discuss' it, to 'apologize', to seemingly take responsibility while at the same exact time explaining away his bad behavior by a) becoming the victim rather than the perpetrator (which is how he ALWAYS feels, guaranteed: "I was trapped; you don't understand; I grew up with X...") and b) blaming the actual victims ("Those meds that she's on make her unreasonable"; "Nobody appreciates the shit I do do, everybody only talks about how I screw up" - Well, when you're version of doing stuff is 'making sure there is a roof over our heads' and your version of screwing shit up is 'kicking people I supposedly love out of the roof I am putting over their heads' then, yeah: You kinda have to expect that.)

And round and round and round and round (literally ad nauseam) it goes.

Yesterday's discussion started with my 'bad attitude' which - I am pleased to say - I did not once apologize for. It's not a bad attitude to have boundaries, and to react when they're constantly disregarded (parrots the Adult Child of Alcoholics and Psychology Major, in an effort to actually feel that way, instead of just saying it all the time). It's not a bad attitude to be unwilling to risk being hurt again by a person whose only predictable responses are to lash out at the people around him, particularly when he knows he has a temper (but takes no steps to address it, because "I'm 65 years old" a refrain I have literally been listening to since he was 45 years old) and has a drinking problem (but doesn't see it as one or care to curtail it). It's not a bet I am willing to continue anteing up for - and I said that straight out.

I also told him that he's in denial about the way he actually lives as opposed to the person he thinks he is.
  •  He thinks he's the person who shows up for people, always no matter what. He's actually the person who made the summer my grandmother was dying 3000% worse by picking fights with my mother and sister, threw my sister out of the house the night of her wake and then didn't even come to the funeral. That's who he actually is. 
  • He thinks he's the guy who didn't abuse his children because he never made us go hungry or put us to work at the age of 9 (as he was forced to do when his father abandoned his family). And that's partially true - we've always had food on our table, even when it was tuna, white bread and deviled ham. And while we may not always have been grateful for that (I guarantee that I was never grateful for either tuna or deviled ham), I also don't think he deserves a trophy or cookies or a special award for meeting the bare minimum standard for decency.  I told him that while he may not have been the guy who left, he certainly was abusive. IS abusive. He's actually the guy who told me I was a "cold hearted bitch, just like my mother" and just recently explained that, had it not been for the "burden of me and my 'disability'"(which he put in goddamn air quotes), he and my mother would not be breaking up. He's actually the guy who made me* afraid to EVER make a mistake because who knew how out of proportion the punishment would be; the guy who doesn't know how old his children or grandchildren are; who thinks his relationships are fine even though he puts no effort into them at all.   
  • He thinks he's the guy who puts every single dime he earns into other people's needs. He's actually the guy who went out and bought himself a new TV-set for the basement because he "didn't appreciate the cold shoulder" my mother was giving him in the den (even while dodging calls for the past-due mortgage), who goes out and blows ??? money on drinks and food every night, who asked the daughter he "physically can't stand" (and is on a highly resctricted income) for loans so that we could keep the electricity on for Christmas (and won't explain how the money slotted for that bill just disappeared).

I pointed out all of these inconsistencies last night, and at times - like the Dr. Phil guest - he seemed shocked into silence. Into agreement: "I know I'm an asshole" he would say, as if it were news to me. And then, five minutes later there would be the "But what you don't understand is...." and I would sigh and shut it down.


Which I had to say at least 15 different times and at least 15 different ways. And in the end it was still "I don't like you being mad at me" and "We at least need to be civil."

No: I am not civil to people who speak to me in abusive ways. No: I am not civil to people who speak to my mother (sister, brother, friend, stranger on the street, lady on the telephone, aardvark in the zoo) in abusive ways.

No: I do not placate bullies any more. Because I have done so: too many times to count. And it's ridiculous to pretend that that does not play into his cajoling routine, that that is not, in fact, a vital element in our tail-swallowing-snake-swallowing-tail loop.  But the fact is that I am determined not to do that anymore, and no amount of bullying on his part (or on the part of my other family members, who continue to make me feel like the unreasonable, bitchy, judgemental one) is going to change that.

I have a right to build boundaries, and have them respected. "It's not fair that you won't at least be civil to me, when I keep asking if you need things or cooking or..."

"No: It's not fair that you continue to ask me questions when I've told you to leave me alone. It's not fair that you use my illnesses (and inability to sometimes preform a task like cooking) as a ransom if I don't behave the way you want me to. It's not fair that I have constant anxiety whenever you are in the house, that I'm always waiting for the next big blow up - those are things that are not fair. Me telling you to show respect to the limitations I've place on our relationship? Is beyond fair. Me, not responding in kind when I have any number of names I could - in all FACTUAL honesty - call you? Is beyond fair. You're getting more from me right now - with all the looks and bitten tongues - then I feel you are entitled to already, so you need to just leave me alone, and let it be."

So: +10,000 points for me, for sticking to the script (and yes, you know I write the script for this sort of thing in my head - if not on paper - at least a million times) and not giving in even when he tried to make me feel uncaring and cold.

But -10,000 points because I know he will do absolutely nothing with anything we talked about yesterday, and I'm just going to have to keep having this conversation until we can finally move out.

*One of the hardest things I do in these 'discussions' is stick to "me statements" because I can't speak for the experiences of all of my siblings with 100% accuracy. But I know damn well that 3/5 of us would say he's been abusive. And the other two would describe abuse while saying "he did it for our own good", which... speaks for itself, in my opinion.