There’s new writing on the way; I’ve been held up by an injured hand. Also the fact that after weeks of having nothing important to say (and feeling lame about it, too, such that I wrote a bunch of inane fluff about my dog just to be writing something), I suddenly have too much to say. I’m having trouble sorting it out into anything coherent.
While I wrestle with this, I have finally started something I’ve intended to do since I started this ‘new’ blog several months ago: retrieve the best of my older journal entries, and make them available again.
I’m reposting them without edits, except for reducing most of the names to initials. I’m also adding them under the date that they originally appeared, so you won’t see them show up as new entries here. (Not sure about the RSS feed.) You can find them by the nine lives tag, though, and there’s a permanent link on the ‘Past’ page as well.
They’re coming in non-chronological order; I’m choosing things that I think are important for some reason. In some cases — but not all — this means they’re backstory for something yet to come.
This is number three in an indefinite series. You may wish to read forward in the archives from ‘reaction junkie‘ (or even ‘cast of characters’) before continuing.
• • •
I lied constantly as a child. I lied up, down and sideways. Mostly in hopes that it would get me out of trouble, though sometimes just to get something I wanted. Sometimes it did get me out of trouble, and sometimes it got me in more — but then the same could be said for telling the truth. A reliable coping strategy did not exist for the situation I was in.
I don’t know, but this may be part of why I have such a weird thing now around being believed. Whenever I’m interacting with someone I’ve recently met or don’t know very well, there’s a small part of me who expects to be disbelieved on very basic facts. Like where I live, or whether my friends or sweeties actually exist. For example, a friend visited Seattle last weekend, and we met for the first time after something like three years of online acquaintanceship and reading each others’ web sites. When we came back to my apartment after dinner the ‘proof track’ was running in the back of my head, “See, I really do have a cat named Misha. See, I really do have a roommate named R. See?”
I do this a lot. I’m aware of how absurd it is, but that doesn’t keep it from happening.
I didn’t stop lying all at once. It happened very gradually, over a span of years. It probably started sometime after I graduated college, and it was really the Internet — first my web site, and then this very journal — that pushed it all the way to the extreme that I now inhabit.
There was a time when lying didn’t bother me particularly, but somewhere along the way it’s become acutely painful for me to be deliberately dishonest. I’ve lied exactly twice in the last two years, both times in an attempt to extricate myself from awkward social situations. In each case I was bothered for weeks afterward. In the more egregious instance I felt compelled to write an email to the person and ‘come clean.’ (I had hoped this would help repair the situation caused by my falsehood, but it didn’t seem to. I, however, immediately felt much better.)
I take a lot of pride in my honesty.
• • •
What follows is part of a correspondence between myself and N. (Yes, I have her permission to post it.) There’s more, but I have to deal with this one piece at a time.
… you sent a note to your list that, perplexingly, said i was ‘kindhearted and caring’ — and then followed that up with what i can still only read as an accusation that i was deliberately withholding information that i didn’t want others to know. which — given who i have chosen to be and the way i live my life … the fact that i consider complete and utter honesty to be of such paramount personal importance that i have given up all privacy in its service — is probably one of the most hurtful and antagonistic things you could possibly say to me. ‘kindhearted and caring’ pales before ‘dishonest.’
Well, this will be hard for you to hear, but I do think you left things out, in your choices about what to tell about your relationships with A and S. I’ve heard from A about this, mostly. I’m sure you felt hurt by his actions toward you, but have you considered that he felt hurt by your actions toward him? My point, in writing that comment to my list, was that your account was subjective, and that A and S each saw it differently. You wrote about them to a list of well over a thousand people; I thought I should at least stand up for them to my list of eighty. The thing is, “complete and utter honesty” is not possible when telling a story that involves other people, because you have no way of knowing the entirety of their motives. To assume that you can know other people’s motives that well is to be dishonest with yourself. Maybe you didn’t think of it as withholding information, and maybe this is what you believe is the absolute truth, but the way the story came out made it look like A was insensitive and closed off, and you never did anything that could harm the relationship. He believes that he was being sensitive and understanding, and that your actions were sometimes harmful to the relationship. Is your belief always the true one, or can there be different opinions about what is true?
• • •
I’m honest and I’m genuine — I’m not omniscient. Honesty means that I’m not lying, and I’m not deliberately deceiving anyone … including myself. It doesn’t mean that I’m always right, or that I have (or believe that I have) some kind of magic insight into other people’s motives. I do believe — based on years of feedback, some of it from trained professionals — that I am more perceptive and more self-aware than most people. But I still have my blind spots and my predispositions, and I don’t always know where and what they are. (Though I’m in therapy again, among other things, to try and find out.)
In A’s case specifically, he had given me bloody little to go on. What I said is what I believed based on a) my experiences and b) what little communication we’d had since the breakup. I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t really sure I understood much of anything about him or what happened. My comments about S were more charitable because she’d been more communicative and open, so that I had the opportunity for a more balanced understanding. (Not, mind you, that there aren’t still some gaps there too.)
My experience of A is that he was insensitive and closed off. Not nearly always, or completely, but certainly in some major instances. If he believes he was sensitive and understanding, my first guess would be that we are using different yardsticks. Like, the amount of sensitivity he offered was low for me, but high for him. That hypothesis doesn’t clash with anything else I know about A or myself. It could also be that A and I mean different things by ‘sensitive.’ Though mind you, I still think that in most respects, A is possessed of greater-than-average sensitivity. I also think that he’s got so much self-image tied up in his perception of himself as ‘sensitive’ that he’s not very open to recognizing instances where he’s been insensitive.
A has also admitted to me that he was feeling uncomfortable in the relationship, but deliberately ignored it for some weeks because he didn’t know exactly what was wrong and didn’t want to figure it out. Outwardly, he was focused on the good parts … and that’s all I got to see, until it was too late. Does that qualify as closed off? To me, it does.
Did I do things to harm the relationship? Well, I have some trouble with the phrasing of that, because it seems to imply cognizance when I never knew the relationship was in any danger. But I’m sure that some of my behavior contributed to A’s unhappiness. Until I know more, I won’t be able to make any kind of judgment for myself about whether my behavior was ‘wrong’ or simply ‘incompatible.’ But it’s not as though I’m disavowing all responsibility in either case. I mean, for the first few weeks I was taking so much blame on myself that my psychiatrist thought I needed to be pushed back in the other direction.
I am constantly trying to figure things out, piece them together, make logical sense out of events and other people’s actions. I want to know the causes for every effect. I take my own experiences, and what other people tell me, and attempt to formulate reasonable hypotheses (about myself and about other people) upon which to base future behavior. If you think you don’t do the same thing, I submit that you just aren’t aware of the process.
I also try to revise those hypotheses as new data comes in and it becomes appropriate. N has just given me a whole chunk of new data, and I’m processing into overtime, here. (If I could afford it, I think I’d see my therapist three times a week instead of once. I’m impatient.)
• • •
After considering, I have concluded that I disagree with N in this one thing: I still believe that complete and utter honesty is possible when telling a story that involves other people. (Which, in my opinion, all the most interesting ones do.) No one can ever tell any truth other than their own … but so many people don’t even do that much.
I think I get more letters from readers admiring the honesty I exhibit here than any other sort of response. I didn’t imagine that I needed additional disclaimers, but perhaps I do:
Nothing I say here is ever representative of anyone else’s internal truth, except as they have presented it to me, or as I have hypothesized it based on external observation. I can’t document everything that happens, because I’d need a couple of extra lifetimes just for that. But I never, ever omit things in an attempt to deceive, or skew the story unfairly, or (as N’s original post put it) because there’s some part of the story that I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t dissemble and I don’t lie.
And I so very desperately want to be believed.
‘A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth …’
This is number two in a multi-part narrative. For those of you who are joining our story already in progress, you may want to go back and read ‘reaction junkie‘ in the archives.
• • •
I was beaten so often as a child that for several years I had huge thick calluses on my butt and upper thighs. I almost always had a couple of large bruises or the splotch of broken blood vessels on my back or belly or some other less frequently beleagured body part. Occasionally I had small burns on my arms or face. I often had bruises and scabs on my throat or upper arms where my mother’s fingernails dug deep enough to break the skin.
It’s the stories of my physical abuse that people usually find most horrific. I mention the scope of it here only for context, so that you will have some frame of reference when I tell you that comparatively, the physical abuse was a cakewalk. As counterintuitive as it may seem, I’d have endured twice as much physical pain if it would have saved me from the mental and emotional abuse.
• • •
For most of my childhood, my father worked long hours in an office and my mother stayed at home. I had no siblings. No family lived nearby, and my parents rarely had visitors of any sort. So much of the time it was just my mother and me.
My mother used disposable dishrags in the kitchen, these striped paper-cloth things that we used until they fell apart, and then threw away. It was very important that they be squeezed out properly and laid along the side of the sink to dry out so they didn’t sour. That much I knew.
The exact placement of the dishrag was a different matter. We had a double stainless-steel sink. My mother told me to lay the dishrag out along the center divider (perfectly flat, of course, because any wrinkles might cause mildew). So I did.
Until she went to wash her hair. My mother washed her hair in the kitchen sink, rather than in the bath or shower. And she would find the dishrag on the sink divider and fly into a rage, because it was in her way. How could she wash her hair with the dishrag in the middle like that? It was supposed to go on the side of the sink.
So I did. Until the next time she went into the kitchen to rinse a dish, and found the dishrag on the side of the sink and flew into a rage. She couldn’t set the rinsed glasses on the counter because the dishrag was in her way. It was supposed to go in the middle, between the two sinks.
She’d scream and hit me for the one thing, and then scream and hit me for the other. If I protested that she’d told me to put it there, she’d deny it and tell me I was crazy, that it had always belonged … wherever she currently wanted it. If I persisted, she’d beat me for lying.
Take that incident, and multiply it times two or three per hour, every hour that I wasn’t in school or asleep (and I didn’t get a lot of sleep). For almost seventeen years. “Wash this load of clothes, and use a half-cup of detergent and cold water.” Five minutes later she’d open the washing-machine, look at the quantity of suds, and demand, “How much soap did you use?”
“Half a cup.”
“I told you to use a quarter cup!” And I’d be punished for having not paid attention, and again for wasting water because the clothes would have to be washed again, and again for talking back when I protested, sobbing, that I only did what she told me to do. Next time I’d get the soap right but use the wrong temperature water. Or I’d put an item in the wrong load. Or she’d decide there were chocolate cookies missing, or the thermostat had been moved. A million tiny things, each a punishable offense. I’ve hated chocolate my whole life. Who ate the cookies, then? I don’t know. It must be me, because there was no one else.
For years I thought I was crazy. Then I thought she was crazy. Sometimes I thought we were both crazy. Reality was utterly fluid. No safety anywhere, in anything. Just me and my mother, and no one else.
• • •
Today is my mother’s fifty-fifth birthday.