Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pulling Away From the Brink

Originally uploaded by BlackenedBoy

Mountain Town
Originally uploaded by BlackenedBoy

My last full, non-journal entry was fairly grim, and I thank everyone who left me comments and sent me messages of encouragement.

Since then, things have improved considerably, though they are by no means where they need to be. After my father confessed his suicidal thoughts to my mother, she took him to see a mental health professional, a therapist whom he has apparently been going to on a consistent basis since then.

Although I am not at home and so can’t accurately judge what’s going on there, he seems in the very few telephone conversations I’ve had with him since the earlier crisis to be in better, if not swinging, spirits.

Following the collapse of Solar Explosion Construction Company, where my father had until very recently earned a six-figure salary, he was looking for jobs. For the better part of the week before last he engaged in phone interviews from the safety and comfort of our living room, and on Monday he began his first day at Extended Barrier, a business very similar to Solar Explosion and at which he’ll do essentially the same thing, selling decks, fences, and other construction materials.

I know very little about this establishment, but it is prevalent throughout our region and is certainly, if the advertisements that abound everywhere are any indication, a legitimate place of business. I can only hope that he will do well; his self-esteem, our lifestyle, and our family’s overall wellbeing really depend on it.

I wonder, though, if he’s gotten off to a rocky start; failures in one area of his life tend to be translated into irritability, inflexibility, and pettiness in others, and he demonstrated all of these usual qualities during a conversation we had several nights ago.

I had called home on Mother’s Day, both to give my mother best regards for the holiday and to let her know that my last exam for the school year would be on Tuesday, May 13th (today) rather than on Monday, May 12th as I’d previously believed.

Because she had made clear her intention to pick me up on Tuesday anyway, I didn’t think this would present a problem. For her, at least, it didn’t.

She seemed a bit annoyed that I was informing her of a schedule change at so late a juncture, but responded only that she would have to pick me up on Wednesday since she had intended to get me Tuesday morning and would no longer be in this area later in the afternoon. I told her that was absolutely fine.

Then she asked about Anne.

Anne is my birthmother, whom I see about twice a year. This is not because we don’t get along, or don’t enjoy one another’s company, or even because my parents don’t care for her. It’s just that our lives are both very packed, mine as a college student and hers as a part-time waitress and eBay saleswoman, and so the only parts of the year when we can realistically visit together are summer vacation and Christmas Break.

I haven’t gone to Anne’s home since December, but I typically spend a week with her in May or June. This year she has asked me to accompany her to Horseracing State, where my cousin Annoying Perfect (a girl) will graduate from Prestigious Southern College. Following that, we’re going to head for my aunt and uncle’s house in Country Music State and spend several days with them before heading home, me to Southern State and her to Decaying State.

This will all take place the first week of the summer holidays, and seemed to me a perfectly reasonable diversion.

Not so my father.

My mother had merely been inquiring as to when I would leave with Anne, as the exact date was and is still unclear.

In the background, though, I could hear my father bellowing, “He’s not going to go with Anne!”

“What is he yelling about?” I sighed, already annoyed.

“Nothing,” my mother lied, attempting to steer the conversation back to my plans for the summer.

“He needs to get a job!” my father burst out irately from somewhere near the phone.

“We have company,” I said, remembering that it was Mother’s Day. “Right now, don’t we?”

“No,” my mother said humorlessly. “Why, did you think he was putting on a show?”

“I assumed,” I answered coldly.

“Well you know what, BB,” she said, growing irate. “There’s gonna be some strict rules around here this summer. We’ve already talked to Powell and we’ve already talked to Thomas. Before you leave with Anne, I want your room cleaned.”

This is the point where she usually promises, “And if you don’t do it, then I’m going to go down there with a trash bag and just start chucking things,” but that day she didn’t.

“And the water bill her is outrageous,” she continued. “So, you might not be able to take showers when you’re alone. You might have to wait until we’re home so we can time you.”

This was the point where I really had had enough, and I said, on Mother’s Day no less, “Okay Mom, you’re giving me a headache, I have to go.”

She seemed so used to and so unfazed by this dismissal, probably from years of doing it to us, that she said without any anger or sadness at all, “Okay, well, bye.”

That’s just the way things are.

My father, however, couldn’t leave well enough alone, and before long my cell phone buzzed next to me beneath the computer console at which I’d been doing an assignment. It was him.

“Hello?” I said once I’d exited the computer lab and stood on a balcony overlooking the rest of Central Building.

“BB,” he said, his voice filled with the provocative and self-righteous anger that it carries whenever he is feigning disgust or openly looking for a fight. “I don’t think you should go with Anne this summer.”

“Okay,” I said neutrally. “Thanks for your opinion.”

“So, you’re not going?” he asked with bullying aggression.

“No,” I answered. “I was just thanking you for your opinion.”

“So,” he continued in an openly coercive tone. “You’re not going?”

“Oh, no,” I laughed. “No, I am going. I was just thanking you for your opinion.”

“So you’re just gonna dick around for a week?” he asked, his sickened distaste for this unconscionably irresponsible decision clear in every syllable he spoke.

“You know what, Dad,” I said slowly. “I’m not going to do this with you right now, because I was in a good mood earlier today—”

That was as far as I got before he hung up on me, and we haven’t spoken since.

I just don’t see anything wrong with going with Anne for a week, and, typically, he’s amplified a simple issue to make it into a crisis. There will be literally no impact whatsoever on my employment prospects this summer, if, in the middle of May, at which point my siblings will have nearly a full month of school left, I go to Horseracing State for a few days.

This summer, my mother has informed me that I will need to pay a $50.00 car insurance bill and a $25.00 cell phone bill once a month, amounting to three or four installments of $75.00 over the course of the summer.

I have repeatedly told her that I have no problem with this, and yet she has reiterated it on countless occasions, literally every time we talk. This, along with the fact that if I don’t have a job within three weeks my car will be sold, has been pounded into my head so relentlessly that I’ve been ready the last few weeks to find a cliff and jump off of it.

Finally, yesterday, I could take no more.

I called my mother and told her that our conversation the previous evening had greatly upset me, and that, for my own good, I needed her and my father to back off.

“I am twenty years old,” I said to her. “I am not a little boy anymore.”

She countered this with a remark to the effect that if I am not a little boy then I should stop acting like it.

"And I don't want to hear from Dad how I need a job," I said viscerally. "He's jumped from place to place my whole life. He didn't work for six months when we were in Deep South State! He's about as dependable as a sixteen-year-old, so he has some nerve to tell me about my life!

"He was forty-some years old, with a wife and kids, and he wasn't working! He couldn't even support his own family!"

To which I hastily added, "And don't tell him I said that!" because of her tendency to turn around and repeat my every word to him the moment we're done talking.

"Well," she said quietly, the way that gets when she knows I've said something true that there would be no point trying to refute. "Maybe he doesn't want to see you make the same mistakes."

"I won't," I said with a bark of a laugh.

I had to refrain from continuing, "I don't see how I could."

What she and my father fail to realize, though, as neither knows quite as much as they believe they do, is that telling someone to grow up on a schedule, and, what’s more, on their parents’ schedule, is like imposing democracy at the point of a gun.

Adulthood, like the liberal form of government, has to take hold on its own. At the end of the day, forcing someone to make “decisions” only enforces adolescent tendencies and a dependence on the parents, since it is they who are artificially spurring a development that would not otherwise have taken place.

Of course, these are the same people who were complaining that I didn’t have a license at a time when I was too young to legally obtain a learner’s permit, so I don’t know why I would expect anything more out of them.

From literally the moment I turned fourteen, which in Native State is the legal working age, they were hounding me ceaselessly to get a job. My mother, as has been noted, took on uncommon duties at an uncommonly young age, and the legacy of her burden cast a long and increasingly ridiculous shadow over my own teen years.

Today I don’t know what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s normal, what isn’t. I have not been given the privilege they enjoyed, to arrive at my own conclusions and simply trust my judgement, because they’re constantly over my shoulder second-guessing me where even I wouldn’t.

“Listen to me,” I said as I loitered outside of the laundry room on campus. “I don’t want to come home. I don’t want to be there, but right now I don’t have the money to move out, so I’m asking you and Dad to please not make my life a living hell while I have to be with you.”

“You make our lives hard, too,” she said. “I have anxiety about you coming home.”

“I have nowhere to go,” I replied flatly.

“You could stay with Anne,” she suggested with the air of someone genuinely trying to help.

“Mom, I would blow my brains out,” I replied trenchantly. “There’s nothing to do there. That town is dead. At least here we have a decent mall in Western City.”

“BB, the mall’s not hiring,” she said. “I checked today.”

“Well,” I supplied. “Then I’ll apply for a part-time job in town and take the internship at the [local] paper at the same time. The movie store only wanted to give me twenty hours a week, but if I get the internship that would actually be really convenient because then I could earn college credit and make money at the same time. I’d actually be saving more money over the long term by knocking credit hours out of the way.”

I really have a two-pronged problem with my parents. The first is that I love them. The second is that I am not naturally discontented, and it takes a long and consistent strain of abuse to provoke me into truly significant action. And relenting of their nonsense, however brief, gives me hope and makes me think that my earlier opinions were misguided.

And then, of course, something happens again to make me as angry and hateful as before.

I know that eventually I will have to get away from them. It’s just that right now I’m twenty years old, in college, with no degree and no way to support myself other than taking a job for minimum wage that wouldn’t make me enough money to pay for rent in even a modestly-nice apartment in my area.

The sad truth is that I am financially dependent on them.

And, as terrible as I feel to admit this, I am afraid of being alone.

I don’t want to be in a strange city, separated from my brothers and sister and our comfortable home, locked tight in a dirty flat where I am too scared to even go outside (because, with what I make, anything I could afford would be in a very bad section of town).

At twenty years old, I still feel very much like a boy some times, and my growing instinct to fly from my home is fighting bitterly with the child’s desire for a place in the family and my own longing, during this uncertain time, for reassurance and authority. Of course, there is no doubt which of these will eventually win out over the other.

The question is one of when, and, being twenty, I am now in the flux where neither extreme is either preferable or feasible. I am not a child, but I am by no means a man.

I don’t know why anyone ever said that the teen and high school years are the most turbulent era of one’s life. Back then everything was so clearly delineated, and I fairly well knew what my role was. I am much more confused today that I was at any point during the time I spent attending high school in three states, and in my opinion the period between one’s eighteenth and twenty-fourth birthdays ought to be recognized the true test of merit, the true fires of life.

I’m sorry that fourteen-year-olds have to deal with puberty. But really, puberty is fun; how else would you be able to orgasm? And, to be honest, if the greatest of my worries had to do with getting taller and spontaneously developing the ability to masturbate, I think I’d be a much happier person.

As it is, I had a very frank conversation with my mother.

“Okay, Mom,” I said. “Just so we have this straight: you need fifty dollars for the car insurance and fifteen for the cell phone?”

“Twenty-five,” she corrected.

“And that’s it?” I asked. “Nothing more?”

“No,” she said.

“Okay,” I replied. “Then, I’m not trying to be rude, but I don’t want to hear about this again. I know what you need.”

“You’ll have my payment May 31st?” she asked.

“Well, I might not have a job by—” but I interrupted myself.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I’ll have your money. Even if I have to go to the bank and draw it out of my account, I’ll have your money.”

I honestly think that we accomplished something, and that maybe she realizes, finally, that the best thing she could do to further my development and allow me to emerge into adulthood as well-equipped and unscathed as possible would be to let go and trust me to make my own mistakes (that is, if “For my mental well-being, I’m asking you to please leave me alone” wasn’t explicit enough).

I crave a normal life, and much of my daily thoughts are cluttered with fears that I won’t grow up to be a regular person, that I’ll be somehow inadequate, that I’ll be tied to them and to this pseudo-childhood forever.

I should be enjoying this time, this unique combination of freedom and shelter, and yet I am filled with anxiety about how I will ultimately break from it.

I suppose that thinking about this now, as a Sophomore and with two years left before I graduate, is a bit much, but that’s the way I am.

“Mom,” I said more gently into the phone. “I hate how we’ve become. I hate the way we are. Do you know that I don’t even want to come home anymore? For the first time in my life, I don’t want to go home. I’m sad that school is closing in a few days. It shouldn’t be like that.”

The thing is that they’re not evil. They’re deeply flawed, but I love them, and I want to lead a happy and healthy life. I just need the space to figure out how to do that, and, yes, a little guidance along the way.

I hope that you will hope for me.

And I promise you that not all of my regular posts will be quite this intense or quite this serious. There’s a lot going on this summer, and there will be many exciting and uplifting things to write about.

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