Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday ramble

I saw a preview, on YouTube, of the Tonya Harding movie, which I won't need to watch as I remember the whole episode from when it happened. Watching the preview, I thought, 'at least my mother was never that bad.' Which made me think--and for a second, feel guilty about thinking--how much less stressful the holidays are now that my mother doesn't say much at all. I have little to no anxiety about the upcoming visit, even more so because my dad and I had a breakthrough over mom issues earlier this year. I guess I forgot to tell you about that, so I'll do that in a minute.

I was thinking about what the visit would look like--how we'd essentially have mornings free but the afternoons and evenings would be devoted to the visit. More of the afternoon than would be necessary if my dad were more efficient. This made me think about how little my mother would appreciate the effort that my dad puts into trying to make her feel human. Would she appreciate the fruit he cuts up for her? In fairness, she'd have an overall appreciation for that being who my father is, but she'd be frustrated that he's putting so much effort into something with little practical impact. I wouldn't disagree with her, except that I guess it makes him happy.

This disconnect and tension has played out since my mother has been noticeably sick and especially since she's been institutionalized: dad doesn't think I care enough, and I resent that he doesn't think I care just because I'm uninterested in symbolic gestures. When my father at one point said that if I were sick, my mother would do anything for me, reminded me of how my mother would often pointlessly fuss over me when I was sick when I'd have preferred to be left alone). This wasn't just for illness; she'd generally approach a problem with theatrics.

For a while, I didn't think there was a way out of this disconnect, where my dad could only see a lack of caring and I could only see a bunch of flailing. Then, in August (I think), we had a breakthrough. We had a couple of conversations that bridged the gulf between how he thinks I relate to mom and how I actually do. They were sparked by a comment I made in passing about something else. My father asked me a question about nuclear things, which led to a discussion about nuclear things. I noted that we never would've been able to have that conversation in mom's presence: she would derail to score a cheap political point; she would feel threatened by my knowing about something, and act out in defensiveness. So I would avoid substantive conversations around my mother, which my mother would pick up on, and this would further fuel her resentment. She'd call me out for not talking about anything substantive with her all while refusing to acknowledge her own role in making those conversations unbearable. 

This, I told my father, was just one of our numerous feedback loops. I told him about how her nagging and negging discouraged me from telling her what was going on in my life (I reminded my father how dispiriting and generally unhelpful she was when I was looking for a new job over a decade ago, and how diminishing and negative she was when I was offered the one I wanted--turning what should have been a time for celebration into a time of frustration). And of course my not telling her things made her more nagging and negging. Remember that horrendous Xmas week? Remember her going out of her way to create drama and acrimony

Can you blame me for not missing that at all? I went out of my way to make things work, but my efforts collapsed in yet another feedback loop: the harder I tried to maintain the high ground, knowing that she was who she was, the harder she tried to push me off the high ground because she couldn't handle it. She'd intensify her abuse, in quality and quantity, until I snapped. The woman was a drama-seeking missile: she just had to spew negativity all the time, which eroded my willingness and ability to be around her. For self-preservation, I had to draw some lines. My father said he remembered a lot of the incidents, but hadn't realized that they'd affected me "so profoundly" or that I'd been actively managing them/her. I told him that I didn't resent her and that I mostly felt bad for her, but that I had to minimize the damage to me. 

New Year's last year was also hard because I was dating a dude, and we'd missed each other with our respective visits to family (his over xmas, mine over New Year's). In a way it's nice to not have that attachment. I think about how quickly the strong feelings faded, or rather collapsed as I lost respect for him. I also think, not without schadenfreude, about how unenjoyable his visit to family this year must be, which says a lot because I normally have only compassion for other people with fucked up families. 

I think about how my mother, in her grasping at anything mean she could throw at me, would find increasingly creative and absurd ways to call me fat. Or, rather, grasp for occasions to do so, like over the phone ('you sound fat')--an ability Jay dubbed 'teletubby.' It's hard to say how much of that was grasping for something nasty to say and how much of it was a genuine but equally unhealthy fixation on my shape. I think about what a miserable person you must be to notice anyone else's weight gain/loss at that level. A friend once pointed out, not without friendliness, that I hadn't noticed that she'd lost weight, and I truly hadn't because it wasn't noticeable and I didn't give a fuck. I mean, I was happy for her but I wasn't taking mental measurements.

I think about how my friends returned that favor: I gained weight this past year, which I've just lost via active vacation, but it was super-noticeable to me while it was on and yet invisible to my friends. I was surprised that I didn't seem much fatter to them. Alex (with whom I traveled twice this year and whom I'd seen throughout the year) would've told me, but he was baffled that I'd noticed a difference.

Here's me this past year and the year before,* with at least five pounds difference. I can see it clearly even on my face. My cheeks went from chiseled to chipmunk in a year. 

October 2016
October 2017

*Each of those pictures was taken at a fabulous party. You'd be forgiven for thinking I go to a lot of fabulous parties, but like everyone else, I think everyone else goes to more fabulous parties.

I'm not one of those people who thinks anyone else pays attention to what I look like, but I couldn't believe that even my friends--even my gay-man friends--hadn't noticed that I'd gained weight. It wasn't just the camera angle; the scale confirmed the difference. It mattered to me, even as I knew that no one else gave a shit. In contrast, if my mother were more conscious, she'd take every opportunity to point out that I'd gained weight (though she would do this whether or not I had). I take no satisfaction in her state of health or consciousness; If it were up to me, I'd take hyper-critical, abusive, drama-queen mom over one-step-above-catatonic mom any day. But it isn't up to me, and it is what it is, and one part of what it is, is more piece of mind over the holidays. 

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