Wednesday, October 26, 2016. 21:30 hrs.
In the midst of midterms, and homework, and Billy Bob Jones.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and the only reason I haven’t touched on this yet, is because I’ve grown so accustomed to a blog filled with “cryptic” poetry, that it seems far too revealing to have this dialogue with myself. I’ve never felt that it was one that needed to be had, but in the last few days, it came to a rather funny conclusion (well, funny for me since I have a warped sense of humour), and I think it will also be helpful for those who feel like they’re the odd one out so to speak, in how they interact with…certain…people. (Trigger warning for those proceeding.)
Anyone who knows me, is at least remotely familiar with the fact that I have a “complicated” past with my father’s younger brother. I suppose you could say it bothers me on occasion, but for the most part, it’s a blip on my radar that I really don’t pay attention to. Has it altered my life irrevocably? Well, yes, but that’s another situation all to itself, and anything I have to say on that would probably disturb a few psychologists 🙂
The above is a comment from my uncle, posted on the new profile picture I’ve uploaded to Facebook. When I logged in, and saw the message, I was a little flabbergasted. Mostly because I had spent a few days prior thinking about the very disturbing trend that governs our social media relationship–I mean the man poked me on Facebook (pun unintended obviously -____-) a few years ago, and I ignored it. And while that did get my goat; all in all, it was a mostly hilarious thing that I did not take seriously, and I figured that would be the first, and last, of our social media interactions…until the above occurred. Now some may ask why this fellow is even on my Facebook friends’ list, and I would say that this gets to the heart of my post.
To have grown up in a society where family is first, and foremost in your interactions, is not something I’m sure everyone will understand. You are trained to be respectful towards your elders, to mind your manners around older adults, and to only be “boisterous”, if you are of a precocious nature. There is no “I don’t want to go there.”, or “I don’t feel comfortable around so, and so.” For the most part, that is something that you grow accustomed to. Uncomfortable hugs, awkward pats on the back, the usual. It doesn’t lessen the irritation, or discomfort, but with age, you learn to mask that, and appear less uncomfortable about the whole affair. In my case, this has had little impact on my day-to-day relations with actual relatives because I was never much for physical interactions, but it did make me appear to be a rather queer sort to extended family, and family friends who were raised to expect specific types of greetings.
I am sure there are many who can relate to the above, and if they have had truly traumatic pasts, I can only empathise with just how upsetting that may have been. It’s a delicate balance walking the line between holding your life together as you know it, and wearing the right masks, and attitudes for appropriate social events, and whether it be from your social media interactions (“Why haven’t you responded to your uncle?” *Insert bland smile*), to (“Why don’t you ask him for help with your Math homework?” *Finds self going to do so*) or not, in time you find yourself falling into a “comfortably uncomfortable” relationship with the person who has altered your life completely.
Those looking in, who are aware of the past, or have heard stories from you, are often confused by the type of reticence you seem to have about the whole relationship. They find themselves unable to comprehend why you would have an amicable enough relationship to one day make the life-changing discovery at 21 that you just so happen to share musical tastes, handwriting styles, and stationery preferences with this person. (Like…what?) And for some, it is even harder to comprehend that you can have perfectly normal trivial conversations about school, “Hey, how are you doing? What are you studying now? Have you improved in Math? You’re a smart girl, you know, you’ll get it eventually.”, while wondering, “How was my family so blind? How are they not remotely concerned that the person I once accused of such, and such, continued to be my occasional babysitter when they still considered me too young to stay at home by myself?”
It’s complicated. With family, especially in certain cultures, you are expected to act, and be a certain way in their presence. You hover between wanting approval from an elder family member, like any normal child, while a completely different part of yourself steps back, and eyes the very disturbing fact that you, and your (former) molester(?) have an uneasy understanding. There are the “Do you remember anything?” flashes across the face, while you look back, and return a “Remember, what? The information that could upturn both our lives as we know it, and possibly distance me from my actually awesome other family members?” And in all of this “confusion”, as you age, and reach the age where you look around, and realise that there are other friends in what amounts to abusive family relationships that have also found this “uneasy” balance between being the daughter, the niece, the grandchild, the cousin of some person who also happens to have screwed their lives up, you arrive at the conclusions that no one ever really explores. No one talks about those fringe-land people like three of the friends I care about a great deal, who are compelled by the laws of nature to look at, and seek approval from parents who can, and would be defined as having been “text-book” described abusive, except as a footnote, or offhand comment. They only speak of the souls who have been taken away from dangerous situations, from lives that felt normal (until they learned what the healthy, untouched others were blessed enough to have), and looked back on the horror of their past experiences with all the emotional range of a tornado, a hurricane, and an earthquake put together. They don’t speak of the complexity of forgiving a molester, or abuser (whether sexual, verbal, or physical), and how “easy” it can be to fall into walking the tightrope of “This won’t happen again…But wait…if it happened before, what makes me think it won’t happen again?”. They definitely don’t talk about hanging out with, playing basketball with, being thrown together with, or some other such totally “normal” relative to relative interaction happening on a weekend, or having tattoo conversations with, that person. So instead, we find, well, at least, I have found, that there are all these fringe-land people who have internalised that it is “all in the family”, while looking at another situation, and thinking, “My God, how horrible! But my life is nothing like that.” not realising just how troubling their every day interactions can be to those who have healthy, normal, perfectly untraumatising familial relationships.
It can be extremely dissonant from the inside looking out, and realising that somehow you are not normal, and while I haven’t had the terrible misfortune of actually loving this particular family member–thank God for that, although I’m not sure I love any family member–I can look out, around, and across from me, and acknowledge that there are a population of people who are not so lucky. They are encumbered by years of parenting, and emotional attachments. They have been left to feel that something was wrong with themselves for having had any emotional attachments at all–whether the emotional attachments existed prior to, during, or after, someone became an abusive prick–rather than having been reminded that there is very little wrong with them, but instead, it is the people they have had the misfortune of being emotionally attached to, that are clearly the sick, unhealthy ones.
Don’t confuse this with Stockholm’s syndrome, or assume that people who are genuinely terrified of their rapists, abusers, molesters, etc., are secretly harbouring some kind of love, or affection for the person(s) who destroyed their lives. And don’t assume that this conversation is about people who have had difficulty understanding just how (*insert appropriately descriptive adjective*) their past experience(s) have been. While it is possible to love, and fear someone at the same time, this is not a discussion of those types of relationships, and it is not a discussion about grasping the severity (How severe is severe?) of a traumatic past, and how it should colour the relationship you now have with a relative, or some other close individual. This is a discussion of the complexity between growing up, and having to answer questions like, “How is your uncle? I heard he’s doing such, and such now?” while thinking, “Will I ever get away from having to act like all this is normal?”, and for those who have lived day in, and day out with someone who eventually became an abuser, or performed an act (in some instances, a one time act) that can be considered abusive, during the course of their interactions.
Is this a completely in-depth discussion? No. Does it really go into the myriad of complex feelings that exist about all of these things? Hell, no. But it is a snapshot for those friends, psychologists, therapists, etc., etc., who think it’s fine to trivialise certain situations because you have done so (Don’t. Leave that to the person dealing with the situation.), or are always caught on the “WTF?” loop when trying to understand how someone can yo-yo between “I need to get the hell away from this/these person(s)”, or “I can’t be around so and so without having this horrible pit of fear in my stomach.”, to cracking awful jokes about past situations, and saying things like, “I just had so and so drop me off at the copy shop.” (Like what?)
Author’s note: I live nowhere near my uncle at this time, and I definitely am no expert on the psychology of…any…of this.
They said I was too sensitive;
“Some infinities are larger than other infinities…”- The Fault In Our Stars
Originally, I had made plans to see The Fault in Our Stars with a friend. As anyone who has ever spent more than half of their life reading understands, sometimes you really feel the need to read the book before you see the movie. So, I spent between eight to sixteen hours (time is rather vague when you’re trapped between pages) voraciously pouring through this novel. I did so, partly to see why everyone was so obsessed with it; mostly to see if I too would fall under its spell; and mainly, so that I would be able to watch the movie with that superior air many readers wear upon hearing their favourite book has become a film.
I was stunned.
Stunned because it was so simple, and yet it was not–no Salman Rushdie this John Green fellow. Stunned because it felt a tad pretentious, as if it were trying too hard, and yet it was not–coincidentally, this is the sort of thing a certain Hazel Grace might have noted. Stunned because it was about death, and dying…and yet it was not. In the words of the story, “Some infinities are [greater] than other[s].” And in the case of this novel, the infinite presence of its aphorisms are far greater than its infinite hamartia.
Hamartia–the fatal flaw.
I have spent so much time musing, and contemplating the various impressions, and phrases which have resonated with me from this tale, that I’ve discovered my own hamartia. I’ve found the hamartia of my love. I’ve found the hamartia of my thoughts. I’ve found the hamartia of my reading. You could say I discovered the very essence of hamartia. Perhaps, I’m being hyperbolic, but hey, a girl has got to enjoy the one moment something from literature class (hamartia) actually develops some usefulness in everyday life. What I will say, is that every new thought led to another, and I felt a marvellous need to pick up a pen, or open a new document, or write a new blog post (ha) just to document my musings.
One of the first things I noted to myself, once I was finished, was that this novel was not what I expected. The story was no great epic; no Romeo and Juliet; or Othello, or Ramayana. In fact, it’s not even The Notebook. Yet, it would be unfair to judge the book against the contents of these wonderful works of literature. Primarily because this novel is life without its favoured euphemisms, or the larger than life issues that exist in the average literary masterpiece. It portrays life in the disillusionment which comes from having your greatest wish fulfilled. It walks upon the edge of life’s inevitability with the very real presence of death’s weight. The story trudges determinedly through mortifying humiliation, and children who are more adult than adults. Adult not in the sense of love, or responsibility, but rather with their lens of clarity which long-term suffering, that sets one apart from the rest of the healthy child to young adult population, creates. These characters, a small circle of cancer-ridden adolescents, are so beautifully involved in their love, that one cannot help, but dream with them. Unfortunately, neither they, nor we, are allowed to dream. Why is that?
Even at the very beginning of their developing affections for each other, I was left thinking that they had fallen in love too soon. Grown too fond too quickly. Skipped far too many stages of adolescent “love”, for me to take them seriously. And then, it hit me. These were not people with time. These were individuals who had seen mortality virtually every day of their diagnosed lives. Hazel Grace, and Augustus Waters could die that day, or three weeks later. Therefore, why in God’s name would they waste time with the usual overtures of adolescent dating? Where could they find the precious time to send coy text messages, or meet “accidentally” at a place they’d never heard of, much less seen? How could they sneak out after curfews to enjoy some time at a mutual friend’s party? How could they randomly bump into each other in the hallways at school, when the very idea of attending school carried so much weight? I’d say the words of Augustus Waters sums up the entire situation:
“I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence.”
Certainly not the most profound thing to have been said in this novel, but Augustus leaves a few words unspoken:
“I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence [because there is no guarantee of extended time. There is no certainty that tomorrow, you, or I will be there to enjoy the little things that so many others take for granted.]”
When viewed in the context of their lives, it weighs as heavily as a live grenade in the hand. The grenade Hazel Grace fears she will be to those that love her. The grenade a certain someone turned out to be upon an inevitable surrender to death. Except, it wasn’t a destructive explosion which that someone left behind in the wake of loss; rather, it was an explosive revelation. The revelation that physical pain does not transcend love. That even the most torturous moments leave room for the gallows humour that can make one more day easier. That even death can bring a gift for the living.
In short, I understood it. Their rapid fall into a pure, less-infantile love than most display today made sense. We were given just enough to dream of love, but even in the act of loving, it was impossible not to see how little this was a dream. This was the raw courage of knowing that there could be loss at any moment. It was the contrasting vision of an oasis, woefully surrounded by the sands of the desert.
One could say that I fell in love with this book the way Hazel Grace fell for Augustus Waters, and his beautiful blue eyes:
“I fell in love with [it], the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
There are so many things I can say about this book, so many quotes I could post. I could rave about John Green’s sense of humour which runs rampantly throughout this book, both intentionally, and unintentionally (to be honest, I can’t say there are many ways that an illness like this can make anyone laugh, especially for people like me who have seen its effects on loved ones first hand, but by Jove, I laughed at so many places). Green’s stark contrasts of health, and illness; the varying degrees of being healthy we all take for granted; and his habit of prodding all the right places, do so much for the overall story. I can’t think of another novel about death, dying, illness, heartbreak, and the very real struggles of being both the “leaver” and the impending “leavee”, that offers such a balanced dose of moroseness, and sweet gratification.
This novel has “An Imperial Affliction“, and it is that you will fall prey to its hamartia. You will think, and you will muse. You’ll find yourself unable to fall asleep because you either can’t stop thinking about the book’s characters, or can’t stop musing over how any of the wonderful lines in there simply keep coming back to you over, and over again. Although you might think, “Well, this was a royal load of horseshit.”, you’ll remember the quiet wonder that comes from having that little “space” on the phone where only you, and the one you’re speaking to exists. You’ll notice things about death that you hadn’t noticed before. Though you’ll say, “None of this nonsense would ever happen in real life”, you’ll constantly remember that there was at least one part of this book, where you had “it”: that epiphany. That grandiose moment that returns over, and over again to haunt you, and remind you why you adore reading so much. I’ll simply end here, with one very teenage moment; nothing profound, or great, just two kids being kids:
“Do you have a Wish?’ he asked, referring to this organization, The Genie Foundation, which is in the business of granting sick kids one wish.
‘No’ I said. ‘I used my Wish pre-Miracle.’
‘What’d you do?’
I sighed loudly. ‘I was thirteen,’ I said.
‘Not Disney,’ he said.
I said nothing.
‘You did not go to Disney World.’
I said nothing.
‘HAZEL GRACE!’ he shouted. ‘You did not use your one dying Wish to go to Disney World with your parents.’
‘Also Epcot Center,’ I mumbled.
‘Oh, my God,’ Augustus said. ‘I can’t believe I had a crush on a girl with such cliché wishes.”
**Author’s Note: I tried to be as spoiler-free as possible. Forgive me if I wasn’t.
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