in an open prison
I think as I muddle through all of the junk mixing around in my head I have managed to actually start the process of discovering a few things. Of course it all keeps going back to the same root cause, which unfortunately seems a little one dimensional, but I don’t think i can manage to get away from it. life is full of trauma that creates all the idiosyncrasies that rule the daily decisions of individuals, some trauma has a greater impact than others good or bad (hard to say if the damage that accumulates makes us wiser individuals, or just more paranoid screwed up ones)
on to the topic of dependency and the horror I felt watching it’s impact on my family.
I guess I’ll start with my childhood and my very strong mother, she seemed like a god of endless strength when I was a child. she held everything together and never seemed to fall apart. I was always much more like my father, even as a child: fanciful daydreamer ruled by my emotions. I listened to my mothers repeated teachings however. She always told me that no one could make me happy, that happiness came from inside of me. She wanted me to be a strong independent individual and repeatedly tried to make me understand that I had to be the one who looked after myself, that i wouldn’t find what I was looking for in other people. she was right of course, and maybe not an entirely original bit of sage advice but she was (to me) leading by example rather than just reiterating something she read in a self help paperback.
the perception of a child however doesn’t always understand the complete picture of what is real in life. my rose coloured kiddy glasses saw a a woman of unimaginable strength that was supporting a family through an maze of insanity and the creeping threats of poverty. although that turned out in someways to be a lie it did help inspire my own feelings of self worth and desire for independence… or so i thought.
we are after all a social animal that is evolutionarily programmed to be dependent on our fellow monkeys, we don’t have the physical prowess or the biological tools to live completely solitary of our species like a cougar or shark. we are physically weak compared to most of the animal kingdom, and rather vulnerable to the elements…. no claws or sharp teeth, and a rather pathetic coat of hair. We need each other to survive, herd, pack, group, whatever you want to call it. we can not survive alone therefore we are instinctively driven to seek one another out and form bonds (as inadequate and as sloppy as our social skills are at keeping us peacefully cooperating )…
My mother and father were highly dependent on one another, i didn’t always see it but when my mother became sick the first time it was plainly exposed. her strong exterior became a paper husk that contained a weeping fragile mess. I acquired a new appreciation of the bond between them . I’d always seen my mother as putting up with my fathers antics and irresponsible dreaminess. I thought it was pure love that was responsible for her endless tolerance, now i saw a different side of the story. she needed him to hold her emotional state up when everything was sucking her down. his claims that he would die for her provided her with a security knowing she wasn’t alone and someone would care for her in sickness or whatever….. all very heartening, but somewhat frightening too. i began to really think about how we were really all trapped by the same needs for security, and how being independent was a lie….. our entire society is constructed on co-dependence. how dependent we were on even simple things we can not control like our garbageman, our doctor, the guy down the street to shovel his sidewalk…
My relationship was struggling at this time. we had been separated in the same house since my daughter was 1 . i began to realized how much i needed him, not just needed but wanted to need. perhaps i was finding my own fragility. at the time this seemed like a good thing. i was ready to open up, wanted to invite him in. although i may have never admitted it, I had never really wanted too, being vulnerable has always made me very uncomfortable. other people (in my experiences right from early childhood) were not to be trusted and were horribly cruel. my defense was to shut most people out, keep them in the outer ring of my person (this self preservation mechanism is still alive and well. one reason why I can exist without friends and human interaction for reasonably long periods of time) I was suddenly afraid however I would lose him forever and be alone…. really alone… and because the unknown outcome of my mothers disease the thought of losing both of them was something i did not want to face.
This was round one, and my mother survived, i survived and my relationship survived. round 2 was an entirely different beast, as I was forced to face the dark side of dependence one that left my father without anything to live for. one that left me feeling more vulnerable than I ever had.
When my mother actually did die the 45 years her and my father had spend relying on each other for support of course came to crashing halt. as I mentioned before I realized how much I had also depended on her to be my savior from life’s uncomfortable trials and truths. but it was my fathers predicament that i think really effected my outlook. ultimately it wasn’t the anger and depression and all those stages of grief we go through, but the reality that he had nothing left, not just the feeling of it, but he had no world that was not intertwined with her. nothing he enjoyed doing, no income, no reason to get up in the morning or even go to bed at night. since my mother had retired 2 years before her death they had spent everyday together doing little projects and entertaining each other. in many peoples romantic ideal this sounds like a dream. 2 people so in love that when they have time they spend every moment just being together….. but what happens after? when everything you’ve built your life around is all of a sudden gone? when you shell is old and broken, your vision fading , your brain slowing, but your body is refuses to die, and you are alone without purpose?
he sits and he drinks. he stares at walls and sometimes at the tv. he survives physically because of her pension and because he has me. when he has no money for food or shelter he can come here and i will provide. but as he says (and i believe him) he has nothing to live for…. lets be honest with ourselves, family does not need you in the same way your lover does. they don’t provide what you need the same way, of course…. they have their own lives and you want them to. one day you will die and they will go on without you. it’s the way its supposed to be. the bond is entirely different; one is a bond of choice the other a bond of inherited circumstance. you found someone you really wanted to be with and then others came, sometimes unexpectedly and are now part of it even if they aren’t someone you would have given the time of day to in other situations (you love them but don’t necessarily like them). there is obligation and responsibility holding that bond together, and if you are lucky love, but it is a love of duty, not of passion and compatibility.
Ultimately i think that scares me more than dying like my mother…. living without any meaning, without any enjoyment. with nothing to do and no feeling of connection to anything. worse than dying alone is living without reason.
You see them everywhere the victims of dependence. the leftovers so crippled and purposeless unable to do anything besides sit in coffee shops or bingo halls, existing because they don’t know what else to do.
My father fully admits he is to cowardly to take his own life, even though all he’s doing is waiting for death… waiting for death, the line is long, grey broken bodies stretching into the sunset just waiting… hoping…. wishing… for death….. and this is what we have to look forward to in our state of dependency? who will be the lucky one that gets out first, leaving their zombie partner rattling the gates begging to get the fuck out….
I remember my grandmother saying to me during a visit she wished she’d just die, she meant it too. much like my father she had been left by my grandfather without any meaning or purpose. and even a decade after his death there was no joy left in her eyes, no meaning to anything she was simply waiting in line….
This scares the shit out of me. i was becoming one of them. i hated my job even though i desperately needed it, still do on both accounts, but i was doing it and leaving myself nothing else. i had my kid and the man i loved and a few mediocre hobbies but i was only really living for my relationships, that was all i loved. everything else in my life was somewhat meaningless. and i’m watching my father sit in his chair staring at the wall.. and i’m thinking why doesn’t he do something he enjoys? but he hadn’t left himself anything. he only had her and nothing had meaning without her.
So here i am today, regretting my decision to be alone but knowing i needed to prove to myself that i can be alone, without the love that was giving my life meaning, and still find something to live for. fearing the type of dependence that has left my father lifeless.
maybe i would be the lucky one and win the race to the finish line. both my grandfather and my mother were dead by the age of 62, I think my great grandfather on my mothers side was as well. so genetically i may have a 50% chance of being the lucky one and getting out first but if I’m not ,I want to be living until the last drop, because I want to, not because i just wont die. perhaps if i am unfortunate enough to make it to simply existing, i will have the courage to take my own life. but it seems to me not many people have that courage. and i’m still here even though i have been through some serious bouts of depression. so in all likelihood my nerve would shrink away, and all that talk of taking myself out would be so much meaningless bravado as it was with my father.
I have found something here inside myself. I know I can physically survive. i have enough money and even those things i fear, like how will i shovel the driveway when it snows, have been put to rest. because guess what I can still pick up a shovel… my back has grown strong with all the boxes i’ve been lifting at work. i am not dependent on others for day to day living, that makes me feel confident. I have taken up painting again more earnestly than i did before and even though i now require reading glasses to see the brushstrokes accurately. i have gotten much better and my work is selling, i can’t keep up with demand. if I had more time I could possibly take it to the point i could survive comfortably on my creations. of course more important than all the physical reassurance and new found confidence in my abilities, is knowing I have something that i love independent of any other monkey, something that could and does bring meaning to my life no matter how alone I am.
There were so many factors that figured in my ending my relationship but fear of dependence played a bigger part than i think i realized until recently. and though all the pain and regret i think I have to look at myself and see that it was an important journey i have been on, even if it was started for the wrong reasons out of fear anger and reactionism. I wish I had been more level headed and done it in a way that hadn’t broken someones trust and caused so much pain. had i been more rational and had a greater understanding of what was driving my actions, I would have done better. but who i am now, or rather who i am becoming, what i have learned, and come to understand are so important to how i will live the rest of my life. and hopefully my own happiness, a happiness i am finally finding inside myself…. with or without the love of my life standing beside me, I will live because life is worth living for me…. Thank you mom.