Saturday, May 30, 2009

High Drama

I've spent the past week doing anything but working on my essay, which I at first attributed to deep personal failings. Because, you know, who wouldn't? As of this morning, however, I've been wondering if there is a far more reasonable happenstance to blame.

My parents are arriving tonight for a week-long stay. Now, my parents, as a pair, rarely stay with us. They're people who like hotels, and I'm happy to let them stay in one (honestly, our humble little abode doesn't really compare to a schmancy hotel by the airport. It's just no contest). Furthermore, they're not even going to stay long in the town; as die-hard Westerners, they come to the East to look around. That looking, however, has taken on all sorts of possibilities over the last two weeks: a variety of states, coastal and mountain destinations, big cities and small villages. To protect the innocent (namely me), I'll use Western U.S. geography for an allegory. Imagine if you lived in Phoenix, and you had visitors who were going to stay for a week and wanted to rent a car and see San Diego, Santa Barbara, Catalina Island, Utah's national parks, and maybe Mexico. In theory, they could do it, right? In practice, however, as the local, you imagine that it might be a bit taxing. That's been the on-going conversation with my mother for the past two weeks. Almost every day. For an hour or so at a time. Mr. Fluff's joke is that at breakfast tomorrow, they're going to announce that they want to go to North Carolina.

As I went into emotional overdrive this morning while making oatmeal and planning to clean the house, weed the front lawn, etc., I realized that the issue with their visit and my unfinished essay is not, as you might imagine, the sheer number of hours that I've spent on the phone with my mother. The issue is the way that this instance is entirely representative of a family dynamic that we've inhabited since I was 12. My mother and my step-father were married when I was 14, and were together for years prior to that. Inheriting a growing teenager could not have been a picnic for him, I have no doubt. And while I'm reasonably sure that I made all of the appropriate noises about welcoming him into the family, etc., my guess is that I was less than accepting, and pretty passive aggressive about it (because that's how I roll, yo.).

It's always been the case, I think, that my mother has had to negotiate between him and me, that we have little ability to communicate with one another, and that each of us demands that she put our needs and desires first. Mr. Fluff, always the Freudian, pointed out to me this morning that regardless of the biology, it's a pretty classic Oedipal conflict here (without the need for the penis, of course). And I can acknowledge that, even as I recognize that there's a slight twist: I think there's a good deal of anxiety on the part of my step-father, as well, that he might be the one forced to separate from the mother. I think that it's incumbent upon me to realize that, and yet it's difficult to do when his needs or desires condition everyone else's actions (case in point: as of yesterday, my mother cancelled reservations at City A so as to spend more time near City B, because she was pretty sure that that's what he wanted, although it had not yet been approved. Twelve hours til touchdown, plan still in progress...). There's something else in the mix too, that I can't quite wrap my brain around: my step-father was the only adult in my adolescence who was deeply invested, I think, in proving me wrong, or making sure that I was punished. He was the one who questioned my motives, read my diary, grilled me, etc. All of which, of course, put my mother in the enviable position of having to defend me, or to carefully consider whether he had a point (which, to be fair, he sometimes did). He may or may not have consciously thought that this was his contribution to parenting. It's also the case, however, that these may have been attempts to tip the balance of my mother's regard and affection toward him and away from me. Which is a pretty shitty thing to do to a 14 year old kid. To say that there's some lingering resentment and habit of suspicion, then, would be an understatement.

In other words: I think part of the trouble focusing on the writing this week has been because I was cranking through all of the turmoil that this situation creates, and they haven't even shown up yet. And all of this is a crying shame, because I so enjoy seeing my mother, and to the extent that it's possible, I think my step-father has attempted to radically revise his relationship with me. What that might suggest as a way forward, however, eludes me, except to say that I suspect its the case that I need to find a way to communicate my feelings directly to him, without involving my mother as the third, mediating party. In other words: I think I need to be the person that my 14 year old self couldn't be.

Maybe that's the point at which the essay will miraculously write itself.

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