Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who me?

It's funny the things that terrify me. I expected to get a lot more comments on yesterday's post and I expected them to mostly be negative. Instead, I got relatively few comments and they were mostly positive. I was so worried that my fight with Owen was much worse than it seemed and I was missing it.

I have a hard time not thinking the worst when situations get ever so slightly negative. Here's an example. (Patience, it takes some background.) My parents were divorced when I was 12. Not longer after that, my father started seeing Susan,the woman who he would eventually marry. She is a nice lady and was always kind to me but I never cared for her much (these days, we get along fine). I spent several teenage summer with my father and Susan in Berkeley, sometimes joined by an assortment of step and half siblings. I was undeniable dour, sour and miserable. I did an exceptionally fine job of spreading my unhappiness wherever I went. Why was I so unhappy? I was 13, 14, 15 and 16 and I had no friends in Berkeley. I barely knew my step-sisters and one of them, the one closest to my age, though still 4 years older, got all kinds of attention from boys--boys who completely ignored me. I was terribly jealous. Even worse was the one summer B1 (my eldest half-brother) came to stay and showered all kinds of affection on my youngest step-sister. Attention that I felt I deserved. Oh boy, was I unhappy! Dad frequently took me aside and asked me to be nicer to Susan--who I jabbed with many fine, sarcastic barbs. Once he even asked me to stop talking about my mother so much around Susan. As you might imagine, that request had pretty much the opposite effect.

Now, the impact of all of this on me was that I felt excluded from the family. I was the crazy one. The troublemaker. I grew to feel that if there were a problem and I was involved, it was my fault.

Years later, when I was in my early 20s, I was visiting Dad in Berkeley. My angst was gone for the most part and there was at least detente with Susan, if not actual affection. This particular day, I'd woken up with the flu, though Susan left before being told I was sick. (Dad knew and was in touch with me off and on through the day.) I spent most of the day napping and watching movies on cable. When Susan got home, I was watching the 1950 version of Cyrano de Bergerac with José Ferrer. It's a good movie and I hadn't seen it before and Susan came in just as the movie was reaching it's climax which comes in the very last minutes. She had a bag of groceries in her arms and sad, "Can you help me unload the car?"

I said, "I'll help--but can I just watch the last five minutes of this movie?" I was sure she'd understand since she speaks French and likes old movies--but before I got a chance to tell her the name of the film she stomped out to get more groceries. On her second appearance, seeing me still in the same spot, watching the movie, she proceeded to yell. "Why is ok for you to just sit there and do nothing all day! I'm tired and I need help! You can't just sit around!"

I don't think Susan had ever yelled at me before. Without saying a word I jumped up and ran out to the car to get the rest of the groceries. I left the tv on and then I'm sure she saw what I'd been watching since she asked me about it when I came back in. I told her I was sick and then did my best to help put away the food. As soon as the task was done, I went down to my room and got hysterical crying.

It sounds crazy to me now, but I was completely distraught because my stepmother yelled at me. I was sure I'd done something wrong. I thought, "what did I do this time?" As soon as I calmed down a little, I called my mother, who didn't answer. Next, I called Audrey. I told her what had happened and she was confused, "Wait, I thought you said you did something."

"I did. I must have."

"No you didn't. She was wrong. She overreacted. It's not that she's a bad person, she just lost it and yelled at you. But you weren't doing anything wrong. You were sick and just wanted to watch the last five minutes of a movie."

"You mean...she was wrong?" After all those years of everything being my fault it was hard to fathom that someone else had acted badly. Upside down world! I felt a little better after talking to Audrey but I was still upset and stayed in my room. A while later, my dad came to see me. He gave me one of his awkward bear hugs and thumped me on the back. He said, "Susan feels bad about what happened. She is sorry. She didn't realize you were sick today."

It was surreal.

So, sometimes, I think, everything really is my fault and if I just try harder and do better then I can fix it. I'm ready to change--or to try to change. but maybe I expect you to be ready too and no one really is, are they? But, seriously, don't feel sorry for me. I had it so good and others had it so much worse, I hate to complain for even a second. Which may explain why I'm often so blind to serious faults of boyfriends (and sometimes friends) until long after the fact. After all, maybe there was something I could have done....

Grateful for: knowing it's not always my fault.

Drop me a line.

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