Monday, February 14, 2011

Napoleon 2: Electric Waterloo


That title has nothing to do with this post.
In related news, my most recent _____ (bout, battle, some other choice that sounds less stupid) with my old friend depression appears to have ended. It'll come back. Maybe next week, maybe in five years. But it'll come back. I feel like I have some clarity for the first time in seven months, though, and it feels pretty good. Even when I was having a good time this past half-year, I felt like my brain was encased in used plastic wrap that formerly covered an elaborate casserole. I had to accommodate for the layer of wrapping and bits of onion, dried melted cheddar, congealed cream sauce, and black olives dotting my brainscape every time I tried to think about anything. Any damn thing. What to do with my life, how to pick up a glass, what would happen if I died, what's on TV. Every thought was a clouded, foggy obscurity, not even sadness or frustration or anger but a blurry, confused half-realized idea of sadness, frustration, or anger. Then, a few weeks ago, the obscured blur gradually went away, like tired revelers after the keg is tapped out. The depression party is over, baby. You can go somewhere else, but you can't stay here. We're all out of cups and the only things left to drink out of are this cereal bowl and these snowshoes. As ersatz goblets go, these shits are pretty lousy, so you gotta want it, dudes, or out you go.
Okay, so I'm not feeling depressed anymore. I'm not exactly happy. In fact, my problems are even worse. The substitute work has dried up for a variety of economic reasons both national and local (short story: massive teacher layoffs next year, teachers afraid to lose jobs, not taking any days off), which is good in that it means I don't have to do it, but bad in that my money is mostly gone and I'm back to mooching off my wife. My job search for writing and editing and proofreading work is inviting either silence or rejection, and I also received my first rejection from one of the seven or eight grad schools I applied to. Here's the difference between then and now. My thoughts are clear. Three months ago, if I'd dropped a plate of food on the ground or sat in traffic too long on my way to or from an errand, it would have been enough to fill me with despair and I would have been couch-ridden for a week. Now, I'm focusing on the present and doing what I can.
I know this shit's going to come back, though. The brain fog does more reunion tours than Ozzy.

I mentioned several posts ago that watching The Sopranos and listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast has been a help. A fictional gangster and a non-fictional stand-up comic/radio host are helping me understand my own problems with depression better, among many other things. I want to write about this in more detail, but I probably won't because I tend to get sidetracked and follow some other strand of thought and never get back to what I meant to write about. So? Sew buttons. I bring it up now because I was listening to Maron's interview with Judd Apatow today, and Apatow's handful of comments about his parents' divorce sent me spinning off in thought about my parents' divorce. My situation is an uncommon one, in that my parents split up after about 25 years of marriage when I was in my twenties. I know a few people who share this experience, not many. Most of my friends in the divorced parents club went through the traumatic aspects of divorce early. They were children or adolescents, still living at home. First, they went through the mundane hell of it, then it became normal. My experience is the opposite, though I don't know how many of my fellow later-in-life kids of divorced parents share my experience. I was sad when my parents split, but once the initial shock wore off, I got used to it fairly quickly. As the years go by, the trauma of it seems to increase for me. My sadness, bitterness, and anger about my parents' split seems to grow stronger as time passes. Why?
My daily life didn't change much after my parents split up, but my thought patterns, my whole outlook on how to handle living my life in my own way, that changed a lot. For me, my parents' divorce was the world's slowest erupting volcano. For a while, it makes you feel like the reason you exist is a mistake, if not a lie. Two people who shouldn't have been together made you. That's a hard thing to think about. It makes you doubt everything else in your life. Everything, everything is a slowly crumbling foundation. Then you get past that idea. Every person is full of contradictory, warring ideas, whether their parents are together or not. Some people have divorced parents who remain friends, some people have parents who are still married and hate each other's guts. No generalizations work here. I can only figure out why I feel worse about it every year through my own lonely experience.
I don't want this to get too self-indulgent or maudlin or self-pitying, so I'll start with the petty stuff and then move on to the tactile, physical part of it I meant to write about earlier. Petty and selfish, but worth getting off my chest. When your parents split up, your duties as a son or daughter double. Instead of making one phone call home to catch up, you have to make two. Instead of getting one phone call, you get two. The time you have to set aside for these things doubles. Petty, yes, but annoying. When you visit, you have to become a diplomat. You have to make sure you spend enough time with both parents so one parent doesn't feel bad. Instead of the normal quality time with both parents, you get half the time, and that time feels rushed, truncated, or oddly stretched out. Then they move in with a new person, or let a new person move in with them, and your time gets cut into another wedge. Not that they shouldn't move on with their lives, but, you know, they decided to have some goddamn kids. It wasn't forced upon them by some overlord.
Middle-aged divorced people make bad choices, which you have to watch in agonizing detail. They enter into relationships with people who aren't good for them, they get absent-minded and forgetful, they try to turn you against the other parent (sometimes on purpose, sometimes unconsciously), they alternate between being too needy and ignoring you, they make it harder to spend time with your other relatives because of the ridiculous scheduling you have to do just to see them. These are petty complaints, and I apologize to anyone reading this who has lost a parent. Some of you would gladly trade your non-bullshit for some of this bullshit to be able to speak to both parents again, I'm guessing.
It sucks, though. It just sucks. I don't think divorced parents realize the constant, ever-present, low-level stress their kids get stuck with permanently due to a decision these same kids get no goddamn say in and only get to hear about after the fact. This may be a ridiculous point of view (except for the low-level permanent stress thing, which is very real), but you can't help feeling this way. I can't help it. It makes me sound like a petty, selfish jerk, but I think some people feel the way I do sometimes and want to yell it out their windows once in a while. Maybe I'm wrong.
I wanted to write about this in a more detached way, but I get angry when I start thinking about it. I was very supportive of my mother's decision to leave my dad, and in a lot of ways, I still am. Sometimes, though, I think, "Why couldn't they have tried harder to communicate? For the sake of my brother and sister and me, at least? Why couldn't my mom have really laid it on the line and told my dad exactly how she felt, because he still seems confused?" Was it worth it? Maybe my mom did tell my dad exactly how she felt and the fact that he's still confused about why she left is the perfect proof that she needed to get the hell out. It just makes you feel lost sometimes.
Here's the tactile stuff. The sensory shit. My dad remarried a while ago. It might have been five years ago, and it might as well be 500 years ago. Shortly before his remarriage, he sold the house my siblings and I grew up in and moved in to his new wife's house. A few years ago, two close relatives died a few weeks apart. After I stopped mourning them, something strange happened. I started mourning my house, almost like it was a person. I thought about my house all the time, and I felt these sharp pangs of melancholy and sadness. I didn't know why I was doing this until enough time went by that I stopped doing it. My house was a center of activity for relatives and friends. Now that my mother no longer lives in my hometown, I barely see these relatives and never see these friends. But that's not why I miss the house. Those are normal life changes. I miss the house because I was a kid in that house. Because I was a kid in that house, I had a relationship to that house that was more detailed, more physical, more thorough, and more complete than I could ever have with any other physical space. Though my parents found the house, bought it, decorated it, remodeled parts of it, decided how it should look, their relationship to that house could never come close to the relationship my siblings and I had with the house. How could it? They were adults when they moved into it. It was a house for them. It was a world under a microscope to me, and I'll never be able to experience anything like it again. You have to be a kid to have that kind of experience with a house. (I'm including the yard, the trees, etc.). When you're a kid, you're short and close to the ground. You see parts of the house in ways that teenagers and adults never see it because your face is right up against it and you don't really understand it and you're curious but you want to make up your own story. You don't know how things work, you're at your most unselfconscious, and you're at a stage in life where it's socially okay to pretend, play, roll around on the ground, spazz out, daydream, make stuff up, be lazy, get lost in thought, etc. I know every inch of that house in detail. I know what the grass looks like when you press your face up against it, I know which parts of the floor and carpets made better deserts and oceans and urban street scenes and battlegrounds for Conan and He-Man, I know what the crawlspace under the stairs looks like, I know what it's like to hide in the closets under blankets and behind robes, I know what the ceiling looks like when you sprawl on the ground or the couch upside down and pretend the ceiling is the floor, I know what those weird green bugs in the trees in the front yard look like both before and after getting exploded by firecrackers, I know how my dad's garage smelled when he was working on cars and motorcycles, I know what it felt like to crawl into my Dalmatian's doghouse, I know how it felt to pelt the annoying neighbor kid with crabapples from the crabapple tree, I know how it felt to jump off the porch and onto the lawn, I know what a strange and mysterious place the attic was and how I wasn't allowed to go up there because it didn't have a floor and how the blast of cold air from it hit you in the face when you popped your head in and how much the insulation looked like cotton candy. I know what summer sweat and snow felt like in the backyard. I know what it felt like to get sprayed by the mosquito trucks going down the alley before they decided that method of bug killing was a bad idea in the mid-1980s. When I came back to visit in college, I liked to look out the window at my old high school if I was lucky enough to catch a late-night snowfall. The high school had installed new light posts after I graduated, and I loved the way the falling snowflakes looked on late nights when the lights picked up their outline. I could watch the snow until it stopped. What's my point? That I miss my old house, my childhood, my dead relatives, my parents' marriage? That everything ends someday? That all sounds pretty facile and obvious. I wouldn't want to go back to the past for more than a day or two. I wouldn't want to live a single day between 10 and 19 over again, that's for damn sure. I'm glad so many things are over. I'm glad things change. Someday, your parents will sell your childhood home, and rednecks will buy it and put trampolines and pickups on the lawn. That's life.
I guess I have no point here, except to say that everything ends. Like this post.

4 comments:

Dan said...

I think I was in middle school when my parents divorced, high school when they remarried, so yeah, a bit different situation. But I understand your feelings about your childhood home. I was away at college when mine was sold. It then deteriorated and eventually ended up condemned. The last time I saw it it was boarded up. It was difficult to see. I walked around, looked in the windows, contemplated breaking in. In retrospect, I wish that I had, though that might have been even more depressing. I hear it's fixed up now but haven't seen it.

For a while there neither parent lived in my home town nor in the town where they grew up and where much of the rest of our family is. I lost touch for a while with many of them and wish that I hadn't. Now my mom lives back in her home town so I see them when I visit. But I was out of touch when my grandmother died and that was really hard and still depresses me when I think about it. I will say that it all gets easier over time. Worrying you will offend one parent for visiting the other more never really goes away, but that time becomes easier to manage and I don't think my parents have ever thought that I spend more time with the other. They also understand how difficult it all is.

Well, there you go, a long comment for a long post. Not sure if it helps any, but if you ever want to talk to someone about any of this, I'm here.

Dr. Mystery said...

Hey, Dan,
Thanks for the comment.

Dr. Mystery said...

Thanks for your comment, too, RS.

Mary P. said...

Dear Dr. Mystery,
I've felt anxious about hoping my parents didn't feel like I spend too much time with the other also - especially right after their divorce. For me, the way I dealt with it was knowing I have love for each of them and they know that and if they feel upset about it they will have to speak up or deal with it as they are adults. It helped me cope better thinking that I am not responsible for how they feel or their reactions to a situation.

I am glad to hear you are feeling less cloudy. It's great to hear.
Mary