Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Crackling thunder....

(If you want to see what's going on with the "Accentuating the Positive" carnival, please read the previous post. )


This morning, I received some interview questions from Emily at Wheels on the Bus. I know a lot of you might be getting weary of the interview questions, but please do read. Emily asked me some challenging questions. Given her consistent honesty about her background, I've decided to follow her lead.

This is the first of five questions.

1) I know you are far from family. Please tell us about one family member you do not often write about. Share a story or your feelings about your relationship with this person.

Wow. Well, it is a bit more than "far" from family. For all intents and purposes, I do not have a family.

Before I talk about the relationship I've chosen, I need to put this into context. Otherwise, it will leave people thinking "big deal" without realizing what a big deal it was for me.

My family of origin was possibly the chilliest, coldest collection of people you can imagine. As I've mentioned before, I was raised in a particularly affluent neighborhood and the entire focus was always on materialism and competition. There were no cozy nights around the fire. There were no "warm fuzzies" to be remembered. There were no pet names or hugs and snuggles. There were no bedtime stories. There were no birthday parties or sleepovers. No stuffed animals or hot chocolate on a cold night. There was no time for emotions or warmth. I jokingly talk about having grown up in an emotional refrigerator.

It wasn't really a joke.

My brother and I were accessories, kind of like the electronic gadgets in the entertainment center or the silk plants in the cabana in the back yard. We were part of a picture that was created for the outside world.

There was very little physical contact, positive or negative. We were not hugged or snuggled. My brother and I were to be seen and not heard which was an axiom rather commonly repeated to children when I was one. I don't think I am exaggerating to say that my brother and I were entirely emotionally abandoned and neglected.

This kind of thing leaves scars, no matter how much we might like to deny or diminish the impact. I still live with many of those scars. As adults, we try to minimize it so that we won't be perceived as just one more dysfunctional Beverly Hills dilettante who believes her life was horrible, horrible.. even in the face of all the opulence. No one would hear anyway, let alone believe any of us. Christina Crawford might be believed because that was physical abuse. People like me, no. We would just be perceived as spoiled brats, whining about not getting what we want. So I hid my background like a dirty little secret, even if I had to make up stories to conceal it. The stories kept me warm and made me believe that maybe I could even be "normal" one day.

It is as one writer put it, "My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don't expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie." (The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield)

And make up stories I did! I never told anyone where I grew up. The question was answered with a terse "Los Angeles" and I never discussed childhood memories. There were none worth relaying. I pretended to understand things I didn't understand. I played at sentiment like a child plays with a little animal. I pretended to understand. The "Oh I understand and isn't that nice" smile worked.. as long as you didn't look into my empty eyes.

It was exhausting, to say the least. Living a lie is exhausting.

It is only within the past several years that I have begun to tell the truth. That came with what I refer to as my "shattering" in Tucson. My personality literally shattered into a million tiny pieces and I had to rebuild. I spent hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars on soul retrievals, shamanic journeys, New Age classes and meditation, trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I even tried a mainstream therapist. I ultimately had to accept that telling the truth was the only way out. The authenticity doesn't bring comfort but it brings me something more important. It puts the scarred, damaged person I am into proper context. At the end of the day, it is more satisfying to be known for who I truly am; flaws, damage and all. I don't have to pretend anymore.

"I love you" is not something that was ever said in my family. Ever. I never heard it as a child or as an adult from any member of my family, aside from the person I am going to talk about.

My aunt M. lived in Tucson but I didn't really give it much thought. I'd definitely stop by to see her but my expectations, to say the least, were low. I figured she'd feed me and send me on my way.

Aunt M. was probably the other family misfit if one had to classify her. She was small, tomboyish, loved yard sales and horses, had three big dogs in a house that was less than 600 square feet. She loved books and dogs and cooking. Oh, that woman could cook! She smoked like a haystack and was an alcoholic. Looking back now, I suspect she was a closeted lesbian. In her day, "coming out" wasn't an option.

My visit with her turned into a year-long relationship during which I took her for eye surgery, made sure she got where she needed to go as her eyesight began to decline even further. (I had no idea at that time that I would ultimately deal with the same eye disease.) I rented a small house near her so that I could walk over to see her often. We visited at least once a day. Sometimes just a check-in. We exchanged books. We baked bread together. We went to thrift stores. We played with the dogs.

But that first night.. the night I arrived.. is what stands out in my mind. She did feed me. She fed me pork chops, a baked potato, green beans, fresh garlic bread and milk.

It was delicious! We talked. And talked. About many topics.

She insisted that I stay with her rather than going to a motel. Although her place was small, she wouldn't accept any answer but "yes".

At the end of the day and a long, full visit, she said, "I hope you're comfortable. Don't let the dogs bother you. Please don't smoke in bed." She pinched my cheek and said, "I love you" before going off to bed.

I slept that night on her couch, cuddling with one of the dogs.

It was very significant for me. Aunt M. died in 1996 of cancer. She was diagnosed and died a few months after.

I think of 1996 as the year my mother died.

I was 44 years old and it was the first real "mothering" I'd ever experienced. Needless to say, I am very grateful for having an Aunt M. in my life, however brief it might have been. I think of those who didn't have even that.



painted maypole said...

Oh Chani. Thank you for telling this truth, no matter how hard. It is so true that the best thing we can give our children is love. I'm so sorry you didn't have that growing up. Thank God for Aunt M.

crazymumma said...

She sounds like the guardian angel who shook you awake to face the light of your new day.

I am so sorry you lost her so soon.

slouching mom said...

I wish I could take that little girl you were and mother her, really mother her. Cuddles, board games, reading books together, watching family movies, baking cookies...all the things you didn't get but should have.

This breaks my heart. Of course it was abuse -- you're right that physical abuse gets more attention, but emotional abuse/neglect is just as damaging, and some think more so.

And what a pity that so soon after finding a caring family member you had to lose her.

I'm sorry for that girl you were, for your brother, and for all the children in similar situations.

slouching mom said...

PS I know how tough it must have been to hit "publish" on this one, and I applaud your bravery in doing so.

Rimarama said...

I am so glad that you had Aunt M in your life, even if briefly. I have a feeling that you were a blessing to her, as well.

This post was so compelling, and gorgeously written.

PeterAtLarge said...

A truly moving story, Chani. Thank you for sharing it. Since I have only found your blog recently, I'm not sure whether you ever made peace with those who hurt you so much as a child through their inability to make emotional contact and their consequent neglect. It sounds to me like they were also deeply wounded people--something important to recognize, as I see it, not to excuse THEM but for your own heart's healing through compassion. Or does this sound sanctimonious? I hope not. With digital hugs... PaL

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I'm glad you had your Aunt Mom, too, and I'm sure that you gave her the experience of a loving daughter, so there was perfect reciprocity. Not that love requires it, but how especially nice when it happens.

It sounds as if your parents tried to fill their own lives and hearts with things because they were on such distant terms with love. It's a particularly sad legacy to bequeath ones children, but nothing is ever lost.

Your aunt provided a glimmer of how healthier people relate to one another, which you have incorporated into yourself and now have more to give others.

Aunt M would be pleased.

ewe are here said...

I'm so glad you had an Aunt M after your own family failed you in so many ways. It's no way for a child to be brought into the world and raised, as an accessory.

I suspect your Aunt M would be delighted with your openness and thoughtfulness...and honesty... today.

Thank you for sharing this.

Julie Pippert said...

What it sounds like to me is that you gave her as great a gift as she gave you, which in turn gave you something wonderful, and her too and so on in a great circle. If I am making any sense. LOL

Your Aunt M story is moving and beautiful and I'm so glad you shared her and it with us.

As far as I am concerned, the whole "children are resilient" and "children must be taught their place, and it's of no importance: is such BS and I'm sick of hearing it. It's a get out of jail free card, a way for people to soothe themselves.

What you describe is emotional neglect and abuse.

But yeah, it's true, we are a race of concrete creatures and the intangible is difficult to quantify for many people. So yes, people think emotional and physical abuse is negligible.

I think more truth like this may help with that.

Using My Words

Julie Pippert said...

Umm sorry, got distracted, I meant emotional and VERBAL (not physical) abuse is negligible because we're just supposed to slough off words or whatever. Physical abuse is easier to catch, quantify, identify, and figure out damage.

Julie Pippert said...

ARGH and once again, hit publish. Sorry Chani!!! (I am having "help" from a small child.)

So anyway, IMO, the abuse hurts and lasts and harms, whether it is from a hand or a mouth.

Using My Words

Tricia said...

Girl, I love you for finding the courage to post this!

Hugs through the blogosphere,


meno said...

I understand much of this.

"Seen and not heard" was something my mother said, in all seriousness. She has never told me she loved me, not once.

So, while i did not have your experience, i know some of it.

I think sometimes people come along in our lives when we need them. I'm sorry you lost your mother.

Jan said...

Your childhood sounds so cold and hard. I'm sorry. I'm glad Aunt M. came into your life. Surely she was "your mother"--bless her. Thank you for sharing about her and being brave enough to talk about your first family.

Snoskred said...

Thank you for sharing this, Chani. I am sorry you had such an unhappy childhood.

Answering questions raises more questions, and I have one which you may not want to answer publicly but you might want to answer inwardly.

Does their materialism and competition make you not want to own things and not compete?

This would be letting them control you in another way, if that makes any sense?

Me, I like owning things. It's not to have more things than someone else, it's not to make myself feel better, it's not any of that. I own things for me. Some of my things aren't worth a lot but to me they are so precious. I have this cobalt blue glass thing, I'll put a photo of it on today's post when I post it later. It cost me $10AUD. It has sparkly gold flecks in the glass. I love looking at it. I'm not prideful about it, it just gives me a pleasure inside to look at something so beautiful. If I didn't own it, it would still give me that pleasure. It is like going to the art gallery and seeing all the beautiful things.

When I was young my Grandmother used to take me to the museum, and there was this wall of rocks. They were beautiful, some sparkly, every color you could imagine. I never wanted to leave that room. I could stand there for hours just looking at all the beauty.

I realise now that the reason I used to go to the museum instead of school was not only to look at the beautiful things but to feel that connection with my Grandmother who passed away.

When I was old enough to earn a salary, I wanted to buy some things that were truly beautiful. They did not have to be expensive and most of them are not. Now I have that connection with her without having to leave the house at all.

I would hate to think that your parents have killed any joy you could have in beautiful objects in your life due to their materialism.

I hope that is not the case, and I hope you can see the difference between owning things for their reasons and owning things for my reasons?

As far as competition - they say it's not whether you win or lose but how you play that is important. I sort of agree. I think it is more like you win just by showing up and having a go at it.

Look at NaBloPoMo for instance - some could see that as a competition. I see that as the way I found so many wonderful bloggers, including yourself. If you hadn't shown up it is unlikely I would ever have found you. So, we both win right there - and everyone who found you that way wins too. :)

thailandchani said...

Snos, I can answer you. It's okay.

The answer to your question is "no" on both counts.

I do own things. I just don't own a lot of things. And I don't own things to impress anyone else. The things I do own mean something to me which is why I have them.

I have hundreds of dollars worth of clothing from Thailand because it means something to me. I have hundreds more dollars in Thai jewelry.

That's not to mention my books.

I live simply.. but I'm not ascetic.

As for competition, no.. I don't do that with anyone. I prefer cooperation. Competition by its very nature indicates there must be a winner and a loser, much as you have alluded to.

I don't think of NaBloPoMo as a competition in any regard. If there is a competitive aspect, I am unaware of it. I am doing it because I like the interaction of going to many new blogs... and having people come to mine.

It's just an extension of this blogging hobby. :)

Thanks for the questions. You do ask good ones.



Angela said...

Chani ~ Yes, you definitely were born into a difficult home. Why is that? I'm sure that I could not begin to tell you, but I sympathize with a household that is never questioned because the *appearances* look good. Life is not about appearances. It spoke to me when you talked about telling the truth being the only way out. I have found the same and continue to wish you the best of blessings on your journey. I am glad that your Aunt M. was in your life. Those people are our heart sustainers, even after they've passed. That kind of love is beyond the boundaries of time, I believe.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you had M. And even though I believe that people who are not related to us can be very important in our lives, I also believe that having a significant connection to someone who is a blood relation has a magnitude all it's own.

Anonymous said...

we all need someone to show us what love really is. I'm glad you found it, I'm glad you had an aunt M. I'm near tears at the thought of so many without even the slightest hint of an aunt M.

flutter said...

This makes me understand you more, and I have to applaud your bravery in sharing it.

Christine said...

that girl, little chani,. how hurt she was. it makes me so sad and angry for her. for you.

and i'm with flutter--you are so , so brave.

KC said...

wow, what a wonderful time you shared with her. How nurturing that must have been for your soul.

jen said...

what a beautiful story about a woman who managed to reach into a girl who'd been treated so unfairly and show her geniune love.

what an important relationship to have had. and my heart breaks for the ones you did not get to have.

Pam said...

I can relate to a flawless fa├žade hiding the truth of despair. Your Aunt was a Godsend, a real person whose warmth and love gave you hope.

MsLittlePea said...

Emotional neglect is abuse whether one grew up in a palace or a shack. And to speak about it would not be whining. I'm glad you had your Aunt M. It's those kinds of relationships, however brief that sustain us.

Janet said...

My heart hurts for you today, Chani. It's easier to tell the high-level stories on these blogs of ours. I applaud you for sharing at a much deeper level.

mitzh said...

You are so brave, Chani and I truly admire you for being YOU.

Emily said...

Wow. That was a fantastic answer. Talk about "getting to know you"!

Anvilcloud said...

I'm so glad you had Aunt M. The account warms my heart.