I am sitting here in my kitchen, listening to the voices of my small children play, making sweet southern tea, and wondering about this new path I have decided to travel. It always amazes me that those things we spend our lives fighting, those things in life that we try with all our heart to traverse, at the final moment can hurt more deeply than all the needles life quickly pinches into our skin. How is it that sometimes the right thing is the worse thing? How is it that life allows us to find whispers of strength only to break us in half in that next crucial breath?
I don’t have answers to these questions. The poets don’t have answers; the songwriters, the artists, those noble and those with the stink of evil don’t have the answers. We spend our lives learning; about ourselves and about the world around us. For the most part we try to keep up, to make a good showing but ultimately we often fail more than we pass. And there are times when the lessons, the lessons that take decades to learn and practice, destroy us in seconds. What takes decades to build is destroyed in a single spark. When it takes decades for us to find a particular strength, as there are thousands of strengths, and we find ourselves instead lost. The surprise is not in what we learned but in what this life has forgotten to tell us.
I have spent my life pleasing those around me. When my parents split I worked all I had learned in my considerable fifteen years to try and not play favorites. Even when my sister condemned one of my parents, I didn’t join in or encourage her. Although I never discouraged her from her feelings, I simply wasn’t capable of disparaging them. When I was in school and received an award it make me feel uncomfortable, strangely disgusted, because I always, always believed there was someone who actually deserved those awards. No matter if they were popularity contests or a special gift from a teacher, to me it was the worst thing that could happen.
I picked my college major based on what my parents thought would be best. I went to the doctors they thought would help and never, never spoke up when those same doctors were abusive to me. My parents picked those professionals and there wasn’t a spot of dust in me that would have given me the courage to say anything to them. I idolized in my life those people who were bigger, more sparkly, had more ability to stand on that stage and shine. I didn’t fight. I didn’t ask. I have never, when it comes to those around me, expressed anything but exactly what they needed to hear.
My mother wanted me to go shopping, I went. My father wanted me to hike a mountain, I did. My parents thought sports would change me for the better so there I was in a soccer uniform, a baseball uniform, a gymnastic leotard; anything to please them. I wasn’t the child that complained when I was forced to go to a friend’s sleepover. It literally got so pitiful that I never told my parents that I hated pizza. It took them well over thirty years to learn that fact. I am just not a disrupt-er. I am not one who wants to be singled out and I will never be one that signaled someone else out.
And then I stuck my big toe in the adult world of expressing my opinion and I have felt the change to my core. Its a change that isn’t pretty, yet, it misses the mark on the darkness that can so easily become a part of me. It is a change that twenty years of therapists have begged me to make. It is a change that friends who have come and those who have gone have believed that somehow I was capable of precipitating. It is a change that is so radical I find that the only thing I can do is bury all these feelings deep in my feet and hope somehow I will learn to walk around them.
I have an aunt who is toxic. That actually isn’t my word, it is the word of my therapist. It would probably be the world of my husband if he felt that he could actually say it to me. It is a word that is so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated. It is a word that describes a woman who is at her core a narcissist. It is a word that describes a woman who takes putting people down, making them feel horrible to an art form that you usually only read in a book. It is a word that describes a woman who has no problem hurting children, hurting bystanders, hurting those she professes to love simply to make her own self feel better. She is not evil in the traditional sense because she will never see a jail cell for the words and actions she so easily dispenses. She will forever be that person that can’t or won’t see the hurt she loves to make others feel, and even if she could she would be able to easily talk away or ignore all the damage that she professes she doesn’t do.
I am a particular favorite target of hers. One, because I am a pleaser and those surrounding me know I will never stand up for myself. She comments on my looks, my children’s educations and manners. She likes to treat my husband like he is stupid even when it is she that espouses such untrue knowledge; knowledge we all know is wrong. She hurts my mother to get to me. She simply does not think that I am worth the air I am breathing and the world would be better off without me there.
Some have espoused that it’s jealously raging through her. As she gets older I am the reminder that she will never be as skinny as I am. She will never have as many degrees as I do. She will never have gifted children. She will never lose all the weight she feels that her advanced years have burdened her with. But I do. I can carry on a conversation that she doesn’t understand, more because she believes that she already knows all the answers. I can wear a two piece swimsuit, something that she will never again feel comfortable wearing. I can find my path with the exceptional help from my husband, a kind of relationship that is built on need and trust, rather than servitude. To her I am what she once was, the promise that she could have become.
Others believe that I am trying to take her spot in this world. That by who and what I am, I am taking her oxygen. I am taking her from the people that she wants to dominate and I am taking away the carefree laughter that she can’t seem to gather to her anymore. If she knew me at all, she would easily see this is not a position I have ever wanted to become. I like my little world and have no interest in living in hers.
But I recently turned the big 4-0 and something in me started to grow. It was a gradual growth, not spontaneous nor all that comfortable, but rather something that just started to happen. A couple months before my 40th birthday I realized that I was an actual adult. I don’t know why the marriage to my husband, or the birth of my children, or even the gray hairs I now have to dye didn’t do the trick; but turning 40 did. All of a sudden I realized that I could make decisions about what I wanted. All of sudden a light shined down on my life and I realized that it truly is in my hands; not my doctor’s, not my husband’s, not my parent’s, but mine. All of sudden I realized that I didn’t need to change who and what I am, I just needed to continue to be the person I am. And that realization caused only one reaction; days of crying.
For awhile I hid the emotions that the realization that maybe I was free brought to me. For awhile I tried not to think of the overwhelming realization that maybe I was really in charge of my life. For awhile I tried not to think of all the things I wanted to do in this world that even I knew I probably would never do. Despite the fact that I may have finally felt freedom, I knew it was never going to be that simple. I could do things but I am simply too small to ever actually do them.
But my aunt, that toxic woman, kept intruding. She kept pushing and making it difficult to reconcile the fact that I was finally old enough to do something and that I actually wanted to do something. I am not one who, at her core, can talk to anyone but my husband with any kind of honesty. I am not one who, at her core, can find forgiveness nor a reason to let anyone know that my forgiveness was there for the taking. I am not a person who is strong. I am not a person who is in control. I can sit for days in the dark and be perfectly happy; but coming into the sunshine takes a courage I lack.
But then I did do something. I finally said “enough” to the woman who is such a toxic person. I made the decision not to come to family events where she will be; I made the decision to avoid her and find ways to continue my somewhat strained relationship with my mother (her sister) without destroying the whole. I made a decision that my kids and my husband weren’t going to have to deal with this toxicity that I was bringing into their lives.
And you would think that I would have felt that freedom so many promised. You would think that I would be able to be at peace with what I finally said after 40 years of misery. But any of that joy, any of that happiness or peace, didn’t come with this one act. Instead I find myself besotted with fear; fear of the future and what this will do to my tenuous relationship with my mother. I find myself desperately trying to determine what I am going to do about holidays and traditions. And while I know there are new traditions to be made, there isn’t any anticipation in making them. I thought there would be relief, but honestly, she still is winning by causing me to come to the conclusion that just because something is right doesn’t mean something is easy. Maybe that’s because I have always gone to great lengths to get it right. And I have never confronted easy.
I don’t know where these insides are going to take me although I recognize that I have to find a way to accept that the path won’t be easy. I don’t know what else is inside of me. I don’t know if I can live or I will spend my life just surviving this one moment when those wild horses finally dragged me to where I always wished I could go.