Yesterday a friend called. We hadn’t spoken for a while; I actually thought that maybe my relationship with her was too what—needy? I have trouble making friends; I think often I am too loud, or too imposing, or not listening enough. Perhaps just not very interesting. Or maybe too different. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of popular culture; I prefer audiobooks to TV, and I have no idea who the current singers or bands are. Sometimes so self-conscious that I want to melt into the floor, and othertimes overbearing.
So it was a BIG DEAL when my friend called. We were talking about the black swamp of the current news, what we missed most during this plague isolation, our health, and our families. We finally connected when she commented that sometimes she “can’t read” her husband; he keeps his emotions under tight control. Not emotionally intimate. My husband Tony was much like that. During our last years together, we each seemed to be on those damned ships passing in the night, and sometimes one of us was an iceberg trashing the other’s canoe.
I said that Tony’s self-absorption might have begun with his intense concentration on getting by while disabled. To be considered just one of the neighborhood kids, when he obviously wasn’t, with his crutches and braces, his years in hospital and rehabilitation from polio, his special schooling. It probably took a lot of internal strength to compete as a masculine persona on the streets of South Philly in the fifties. Yeah, self-absorption. Which often hurt a lot.
My friend said she thought her in-law family was not very demonstrative, and maybe her husband didn’t learn how to act differently. And I said that I was always angry that I have absolutely no memory of my parents giving me hugs, or letting me sit on their laps, or giving me encouragement, and how much that hurt. But I know they both had difficult childhoods with angry parents, and maybe they never learned HOW to show love that way. This is a new acknowledgement for me. A sort of transgenerational trauma. It’s real. It might even skew some genetic controls and be inherited. Gotta think about that.
Truth to tell Like Gotti the Teflon Don, my friendships never stuck. Paper dolls bored me at 7; I preferred riding after rustlers and scaling trees with scabbed snotty boys. No one taught me to dance; I thought Bandstand was dumb. At high school hops I was so damned shy I tripped over my tongue. At work I piloted a dynamic staff through niggling political storms. But when my health and family ripped apart, no one threw a helping hand or word; after 20 hard years I sank in a day. So I set my sights on books and dogs and tramping in woods, until one day my kid looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m nothing like you” and I knew.