October 18, 2000

My mind whispers, "Don't relax..."

I've been having this odd, unfamiliar feeling, sort of eminating from the pit of my belly, or maybe my chest. I've been feeling it, off and on, for the past week or so. It's usually warm, sometimes sharp, and it's altogether scary. I'm afraid to acknowledge it, because I might know what's causing it. I'm afraid to face it, because then I'll have to deal with it. I'm afraid I might be...

...happy.

Great. Now what am I going to do?

I'm one of those people who severely distrusts happiness. It's not that I don't want to be happy, it's that every time I start trusting that feeling, or think it's going to last, something in life comes along and punches me in the stomach. Truthfully, I'm afraid to even put it in writing. What if Life is watching? What if it's paying attention? What if it's on to me? If I don't express my fears of death, loneliness, tragedy, heartbreak, pain - will they be kept at bay? If I just go through life assuming something awful is going to happen, "prepare for the worst" and *expect* it, will I cancel out Life's evil side? If I don't allow the good things in my life to lull me into a feeling of peace and contentment, and continue to live in a state of anxiety, will Life consider that as payment received?

On the outside, I'm a diehard optimist. Out of all situations we're faced with, the best *will* happen. And if it doesn't, hey, we'll deal with. We'll beat it. We'll be okay.

On the inside, my cynical, pessimistic self quietly lies in wait. It sabotages my outward optimism with thoughts and plans and assumptions that the worst case scenario is actually bigger and badder than can be consciously realized.

I know most people battle with feelings like these. I'm pretty convinced, though, that I battle with them on a greater scale than most. The first memory I have of feeling insecure was when I was seven. My mother was talking about moving to a new house. I had just received a new kitten for my birthday, and I was very worried about him because the new house would be much closer to the main road. I spent a long time talking to my kitten, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, explaining that he was expected to stay away from the street, and always come in in the evening. None of that staying out all night garbage. And I remember thinking "All of this is going to do no good. He'll be run over anyway." And as he got older, and did stay out all night (he was a hunting Tom, after all), I would actually pray "God, please make him come home. Make him meow so loud at the window that even if I'm asleep or in the basement, I'll still hear him. Don't let him be run over or caught in a trap or something. Please God..."

We didn't end up moving, but the feelings of insecurity remained. (The cat, by the way, lived to a very ripe old age, cared for by my Grandmother at her home in the country, and contributing to his portion of mouse and mole control.) My mother passed away when I was eight, and of course I wondered what would happen to me. My grandmother moved in with me and stayed at my mother's house for another full year, so I would have the stability of the same school, same neighborhood, same friends, while I dealt with her loss. It was a strange time. The day she passed away, I remember my mother's oldest brother picked me up at school, along with my sister, who was eighteen at the time. I remember thinking it was very odd that they were there, but the whole week had been odd so I really had no idea of the impending bad news. My mother had been in the hospital already for a while, and the evening before I had stayed with an aunt while the rest of the family waited at the hospital during my mother's operation.

When we got home, I saw many other family members and friends there, and as we came in the door, they all *looked* at me. I started feeling very uncomfortable, and everyone was strangely silent. My uncle took me into my bedroom, sat me down on my bed, and put his arm around me. "Honey," he said, "I'm going to tell you something that may be very hard for you to understand. We won't be able to see your Mummy anymore." I remember looking at him, confused, and he started to cry. Now, understand, my uncle *never* cries. He's strict, he's got a booming voice, and he's invulnerable. So when he cried, it scared me, and I started crying, too. Then I began to realize what he meant, and I cried harder. I vaguely remember my sister coming in the room at that point, and we were all hugging and crying. They were talking to me the whole time, but I don't remember what else they said. Surely something to the effect that they'd take care of me and everything would be alright. The rest of the morning is a vague memory to me. All I remember is wandering around the house and watching everyone in their silence and sadness.

Later that morning I remember asking if I could go out and play with one of the neighbor girls. And I don't remember ever crying about my mother's death again. Call it childhood resilience, call it a defense mechanism. It seems odd to me now, though.

I stayed out of school for a week, and my teacher sent home a packet with cards drawn by all of my classmates, expressing their sympathies in their own eight-year-old ways. When I went back to school, everything carried on pretty much as normal, or at least I was pretending pretty hard that it was. Much as I tried to deny them, though, my emotions still took over at times. I remember once, a few months after my mother's passing, I handed in a writing assignment of twelve sentences copied from a textbook. My teacher looked at it, looked at me, and said "The assignment was for you to write these all in cursive. These are all printed. You'll have to do it over." It seemed like an insurmountable task - I mean, it took me *forever* to do those sentences, and now I had to redo them, and in cursive even! I took the paper back from her, numb, and started back toward my desk. All of a sudden I felt overwhelmed, and I told my desk neighbor to tell the teacher I was going to the bathroom. Now, you *never* left the classroom without the teacher's permission, but that's what I did. I sat in one of the stalls and cried and cried, until I heard the bathroom door open, and my teacher's voice calling me. I opened the stall door, and she knelt and put her arms out to me. She hugged me for a long time and assured me everything would be alright. She said it must be hard to have lost my mother like I did, and I insisted that didn't have anything to do with it, I was just frustrated. She listened well, but I don't think she believed me. Looking back on it, I don't believe me, either. I also don't remember having to re-do the assignment.

Other incidents and feelings, which at the time I never stopped to question or analyze, were also probably examples of suppressed fear, loneliness, and grief. My need for a whole summer to keep my most precious belongings in a suitcase under my bed, in case the house caught on fire. The hysteria I went into when my dog ran off into the woods one day chasing a deer (I was convinced she wouldn't come back, but she did in about a half-hour). The strange numbness I felt when, at 11, my closest friend and next-door neighbor (also 11) was killed in a horrible accident. The paralyzing fear I carried with me that I would lose my grandmother, too.

As a teenager, I always found myself hovering on the outskirts of family situations. I would love to go to my best friend's house, because her parents would insist that I call them "Mom" and "Dad". And I'm pretty convinced that a very big part of the reason behind my marriage at the age of 17 was so I could belong to a family, and be cared for (hah - what a joke that turned out to be), and be secure (hah to that, too).

It took me a long time to acknowledge that I wasn't as strong, safe, secure, and confident on the inside as I would like people to see on the outside. I have very few memories of my childhood before my mother's passing. They're starting to come back, though, little by little. I never talked about these sort of things with my family - we're a pretty closed-mouthed bunch. My ex *certainly* wasn't supportive or even interested in my thoughts or feelings. It wasn't really until my friendship, and later love, with Calvin that brought many things out into the open. And this is certainly the first time I've ever written about any of this stuff. Now I'm coming to terms, and I'm not afraid of my past, and I can see with a clear mind all the developments of my life that made me into who I am today.

I alternate between being an excessively needy creature (poor Calvin doesn't quite know how to deal with my "pay attention to me" demands sometimes), and being so self-sufficient that I want to take everything over and do everything myself, so it'll be "done right". Sometimes I can let things flow and let life go where it takes me, but most of the time I feel like I should have more control than I do. And sometimes, just occasionally, I feel like things are completely out of control and it'll never be regained.

Which brings me back around to the topic of this entry. Is it my childhood that makes me so fearful? Have I not dealt with things to a complete extent? Is there a monster lurking under the surface? Is there some hidden thing I haven't uncovered that is going to drive me insane someday? Am I *this close* to snapping, losing it, going off the deep end?

Probably not. What I probably have is a healthy dose of skepticism and an ingrained doubt that life will deal me a good hand. So does that become a self-fulfilling prophesy? Am I sabotaging my own life because I can't believe that, in the end, things *will* work out okay? Life seems to work out well for a myriad of other people, why can't it work out for me? Just because it seems to be working out well right now, do I have to feel like it'll inevitably come crumbling down? After all, it's my life we're talking about, here.

And then I come to that last statement. Yes, it is my life, which, aside from the obvious painful occurences, has been pretty darned great up to this point. I have a very loving family, and a grandmother who took wonderful care of me. I had horses, and vacations, and adventures while growing up. I had good friends and good life experiences and a *great* childhood. Even my first marriage can be chalked up to being a good learning experience. Right now I have (almost) a beautiful home, a loving significant other, and step-kids who seem to actually like me. I have a good job, as secure as any job can be nowadays, and the wherewithal to do what I want with my life.

Yet my mind still whispers, "Don't relax..."


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Original content belongs to ME. Exceptions are noted.
©Laura Charon 2000.