Most of the time I am a positive-thinking, optimistic little lark, looking up and enjoying the beauty and wonder of the world I’m in, knowing how fortunate I am to have made it this far and in the company of those I love.
There are other times when I fall into a trough of gloom and dissatisfaction. I cannot say it is depression; maybe it is, I don’t know. All I know is that when I am there in that trough, it takes a great deal of effort to escape from it and return to the path of my usual happy journey through life. This is because I feel so responsible for things, for ALL things, and when things do not pan out, I grow upset with myself that I have failed. Failure is a thing to me, you see.
When I was a young teen and my older sisters were off being wild and carefree and doing dumb hedonistic things, my mother told me, “You are the one I am counting on to do the right thing.” She did not argue with them to correct their haphazard lifestyles because she did not believe they would listen anyway. She raised them as well as she could and tried to teach them life lessons, but she could not ride herd on them forever. I, however, heard a different lesson: I had to do the right thing. I had to make the right choices. She was counting on me not to screw up, and I must not let her down.
My sisters changed college majors like changing shirts, dropped in and out of college and seldom used the degrees they eventually earned. They were told they “could be anything they wanted to be” but were not told just how to achieve their goals. Mama did not know how to show them how to achieve goals, either. Their lives have been unexpected maybe, sidetracked occasionally, but they seldom dwell on their decisions. Life just happens, that’s all.
Mama liked the way I wrote stories, and instead of teaching me how to do domestic chores efficiently and thoroughly, she encouraged my creative efforts. By the time I was a teen, Mama actually had time to talk over my goals with me, and I was willing to listen. I wanted to be a writer, and a screenwriter or producer. I didn’t want to act, I wanted to be behind the scenes. I went to college and studied Liberal Arts, did not change majors, dutifully did all the THINGS that a good obedient kid was supposed to do, and even when I was unsure, I learned enough in acting class to know how to appear to be confident.
It was all an act. I didn’t know what I was doing, I only had an idea. I planned to go to California and work for a studio in some way – as a janitor or go-fer if I had to – and eventually I would work my way up, maybe get into film school or in a production office, get a story or a script to the right person, and I’d be on track.
Yeah, but in college I met a young man and was swept off my feet, and ended up marrying what turned out to be a narcissistic asshat who promised we would go to California so I could pursue my dreams, but he lied and we remained in Oklahoma because it suited HIM, and the years passed and my dream took a hit. But I did not break free all the many times I should have/could have, because I MUST NOT FAIL. I must not screw up my marriage or my family, that would be just one more thing her children did not do, and I must not let my Mama down.
I tried to be what he wanted me to be, but the going was rough because not only did I have my own expectations to contend with, I had to shoulder his as well.
“That’s not how my mother cooks that,” he said. I looked around.
“Well, it’s how I’m going to do it, unless you want to magically transport us to where you grew up and I can do it the same way she did, with the same tools and same surroundings.”
Another time, “I don’t see why you have to re-arrange the furniture every time you vacuum,” he complained.
“I don’t do it every time, but sometimes when I move the furniture to vacuum behind it, I like the new configuration,” I explained.
“I don’t like it. It’s confusing and I hit my shins on the furniture every time you change it.”
For a fellow who claimed housework was “women’s work” that he shouldn’t have to do, he certainly had his man’s opinion on it.
Another time he found me refolding the clean towels he had just folded and put in the linen closet. He threw a fit. “I never do anything right, I tried to help and now I guess I’ve done it wrong!”
“No, you did fine, really. But I found out the towels fit on the shelf better if they are folded in half and then in thirds. There’s nothing wrong with the way you did it, they just fit this way.”
He decided he wouldn’t fold towels anymore. Whatever he did had to be accepted without comment, but if I did something better or easier by my way, he blamed me for being confusing or a perfectionist. HA, being a perfectionist housewife was NOT, I repeat, NOT, in my wheelhouse. I made mistakes left and right – but I learned quick and corrected myself. He chose to drink, which gave him an excuse to make his mistakes.
When my kids were young, I stopped everything to play with them whenever they asked me to. The house didn’t get tidied, the floors didn’t get vacuumed. The dishes sat in the sink. The kids were listened to, taught lessons on the fly, developed their worldview and storytelling techniques and basked in their mother’s love. I was lousy at housework, but I loved interacting with my children. I also tended to compose stories in my head during the day, then had to scramble to do the housework when my spouse came home. He complained about my lack of housekeeping, so it baffled me that one of his big arguments to me in the downward spiral of our relationship was, “yeah well you never do anything wrong, you’re always right! You always do the right thing and know just what to say about everything.”
“No, I have done something wrong, I married you,” I snapped back. He was surprised because I’d never snapped back before, and he stalked off grumbling.
For the record – we should have never married. I wanted something more than simply being married and a hausfrau so my spouse could enjoy his vices and expensive hobbies, and he was delusional for thinking that anyone born with a uterus must automatically know and enjoy cleaning, cooking, homemaking and all the other “wifely” domestic duties. – Come on, man. The world is a mystery to every single person born, no one instinctively knows how to perform tasks and if they are not taught, then those things are not learned.
But when he said that – “you never do anything wrong, you’re always right” – it hit me then that I still thought I was responsible for everything, I had to do things his way and never complain. I had to pretend that all was quiet and act with confidence and surety, and if it wasn’t, I was to blame for always being right.
NO. NO, NO NO.
He screwed up, I screwed up, everything went to hell in a hand basket in so many ways. Eventually everything was screwed up so badly that it had to end. Nothing was right, everyone was unhappy, and I always put my children first so for their emotional well being and mine, I filed for divorce. The children were relieved, because their relationship with their father was terrible. He didn’t care for them nearly as much as he cared for his friends or for himself, and we all knew the hierarchy: him, then his friends, then his parents, then his kids, and then me. They were young but they knew how to read a scorecard in life.
I divorced him, and then set about showing my children that yes, people are expected to pay rent and not presume that Grandmother and Grandfather would always foot the bill for a roof over our heads. No, I don’t know why Dad doesn’t call or come by, but that is his choice; it has nothing to do with you children. It is not your fault. But this is how we live now, this is our reality, and we are going to get through this together.
I worked two and sometimes three jobs, raised my kids, and remained single. They learned from my mistakes, they made mistakes of their own and they dealt with the surprises of life. They also learned about displaying confidence even when you don’t have a clue what to do, because it buys you time enough to figure things out. Sometimes you don’t figure things out. And that’s okay; that’s just how it goes.
They are great kids; they are the greatest successes I have ever achieved. I have never and will never regret having them. They have gone on to careers and loves and lives of their own.
Now, I have to finish raising myself. One of the things I need to work on is to stop beating myself up for every disappointment I face or cause. I forget something or lose an item or neglect a thing – SHIT HAPPENS, folks, things just go awry and you know what? If it’s not going to matter in five years, let it go. If it’s not going to matter in two years, let it go – hell, if it will be forgotten in six months’ time, LET IT GO. Fix it if you can and if you can’t, let it go.
We are not perfect. None of us get it right. I don’t know squat about so many things in life and tend to forget things if I’m not careful. I am a stubborn, persistent fellow and if I died tomorrow, not a soul will know all the ways I think I’ve messed up in my life. That is because I have worried too much about temporary matters, matters so insignificant they will be absent during the remembrance at my wake.
I did not make the same mistakes my sisters did – I made All New Mistakes, fresh out of the box and not experienced by my siblings before! I shouldered a responsibility that i should not have assumed. I was never supposed to be The Representative of my siblings, I should never have been made to feel that way, either. I took Mama’s off-the-cuff remark to heart, and that was not her fault. I simply SCREWED UP by thinking I and I alone was responsible for not letting her down? Even now when I do something that disappoints or annoys someone, mainly my children, it feels like the weight of the world, no matter how fleeting it may turn out to be.
I have a feeling that if my mother is looking in on me from the dimension after this one, she is not judging me and she is not keeping score. Stuff happens. We can all be depressed or disappointed in how things are turning out in our lives, but the world does not have to be on our shoulders. None of us are Atlas, and never were.