Thursday, June 27, 2013

A letter I can't or won't actually send.


When I told you I was engaged, you rolled your eyes. Literally, you rolled your eyes. This was a better outcome than what I expected, which is shocking to most everyone to whom I've told that story. 

Usually my response is to just say something along the lines of, "That's just my mom. She gets stressed out easily. She's still happy for me." The thing is, I believe that. I do think you're happy for me, or maybe I just need to believe that you are. But your happiness for me is blurred by a lens that has only gotten more opaque as the years have passed.

I wonder a lot lately when was the last time you were happy. I realize I can't remember anything in the past decade or so, so I wonder if you do. Was it when Paw Paw was still alive? I can think of times when you've had fun, but I don't remember the last time that you were deeply, joyously happy about something. That is a surprisingly difficult thing to admit. 

It has taken me many years to come to terms with your unhappiness. I'm probably still not there, but at least I have the perception and the toolkit to explain some of it and rationalize it to myself. I'm not quite sure WHY it's there, but based on things you've told me here and there, I have a feeling it began with a string of loves in your teenage years and really took root when you decided that you'd thrown away a lot of opportunities by marrying Daddy. You've told me countless times what you might have been if you'd gone to school--an art teacher, an architect. Even after going into the medical field, a kid at home and a drunk husband made you feel like you needed to be at home after work, instead of going to school for nursing. But even in my childhood years, I feel like you were happy sometimes. I remember dancing with you in the living room and I feel like that was happy. I want to know what broke and why it can't or won't be fixed. 

We've been fighting a lot about the wedding and it occurred to me that I'm a disappointment to you. You'd balk to hear this. You'd tell me how proud of me you are and how much you love me. I don't doubt those things, but I have to reconcile them with your disappointment. I am not who you want me to be. You rolled your eyes at my news because you imagined differently for me. Someone who could "take care of me," to use your words, someone with money who might support me while I got that Ph.D that you're still on me about. To you, my marriage means the end of my possibility too, means getting stuck in a rut that I will spend a lifetime sitting in, a rut so deep that it's not even worth it to expend energy to get out of. Is that how you feel? It's the closest I can imagine. 

You told me once that you wanted me to get my Ph.D because you knew, when I was a baby, that I would go on to do great things. You don't want to hear that people can do great things without a Ph.D, or that a Ph.D in my field would be useless to me, monetarily. You don't really even have a defined vision of "great," beyond "better off than me." You are not great, except through my achievements. I need to be great to somehow be worth all those lost opportunities. I don't think I'm capable of being that great. 

In a way, I think you think my marriage will make me sink lower than you, because I will still be worse off financially than you are. I think your desire to dictate every aspect of this wedding comes from the idea that you can at least make it what you want to see. Maybe that will be enough to make up for that potential greatness I'm flushing down the toilet. You are upset with me that I won't wear your wedding dress. I couldn't think up a better metaphor if I tried. Somewhere along the way (or maybe from the moment I was born), I turned into a vessel for all your lost hopes. I'm not the only person this has happened to--at this point it's a cliche. But it doesn't hurt any less to be held to a standard that judges me as unworthy for not meeting standards I've never been invested in. I quite honestly feel as though you love me less for not being good enough. It doesn't hurt me to not be good enough--I think (with the help of years of therapy, a lot of love, and the power of literature) that I'm just fine. But it hurts to think that you feel that way, that I have somehow thrown away the key that could even possibly unlock your door to happiness. 

Even before I could put those thoughts into words, I knew them on an instinctual level. It took me years to tell you I was going to therapy, because I knew you'd be disappointed in me for being so flawed and for thinking I was flawed. For not just getting over it. It is sickeningly ironic that you live in the kind of unhappiness you do without any help, just so as not to have to admit that you actually are unhappy. 

Years ago, you used to joke that you would never ask your patients, "How are you?" because it would turn into them rattling off their various ailments and complaints. I don't know how to tell you that you've turned into those people, without meaning to, without being old enough to be that damn miserable with life. 

I've had a buzzing tension headache for two weeks now. I suspect it has a lot to do with trying to shove down this rush of emotions and words that have come out of wounds long scarred, now ripped open. These are words I don't want to say to you, because I know you would only see them as a further burden, without ever acknowledging their meaning. I know you would cry and maybe you'd yell. I don't want to hurt you. I love you so much. I just wish that I could make you see. To see that your life is so rich, so full of love. To see that all I want from you at my wedding is to see you happy, for you to celebrate without barriers of anger, fear, and disappointment. You talk a lot of making the most of life, because you never know when you'll die. I don't understand how you can believe that, but treat every day like another step to the grave.

If anything, you've taught me that lesson. I don't always achieve it, but I try not to live in misery, because I don't want to bring down that burden on those who love me. I try to celebrate, to love, to experience, to be my very best, to see the best in people and in life. And I will always try, however useless it may be at this point, to make you see it too.

Love, me


  1. I admire your honesty, your resolve, and the incredible person you've managed to become despite all of this.

    Mail her a statue of Saint Jude with a note saying that you can't live the life she passed up when she got married. That choice created you. As long as she holds you up to the what-ifs of her life, she's telling you that that choice was a mistake. Her biggest mistake. And you're not going to allow yourself to think about that part of her anymore, because it will cast a shadow on all the happiness you find in your life. If she still has hope that your life will someday mirror the one she wanted for herself, tell her she can bitch about it to Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. And maybe, while bitching to him one day, she'll realize which lost cause you were talking about.

    Ugh, I just want to protect you from this. It's stupid, I'm sorry. <3

  2. This is beautiful and brutal. I wanted to thank you for posting this, both for the honesty in it--just a profound thing to read-- and because this resonates in strange ways with personal/family stuff I have going on right now. Definitely affected my day--for the the better, I think.

    All the good thoughts to you, my dear.