Monday, October 22, 2012


It's a funny thing about shame. So many people don't feel it when they should and in so many innocents it crops up where it's been neither earned nor warranted. It seems unfair, doesn't it? Shame has a bad track record on checking those who need checking but it's managed to linger as the constant companion of those people's victims.

Oh, shame.

I wonder how long it's going to take me to stop being ashamed of things that aren't my fault, to acknowledge in my heart the things that my logical brain knows to be true?

Maybe never.

That would suck pretty badly. And it would make me frustrated with myself.

Because whenever my former illness is brought up in a derogatory manner--and that's the only way it's ever brought up--I know my first reaction should be one of righteous anger at the two people who, twenty-four years in, continue playing the role of bullies. The fact that I still shrink away, that I still draw in on myself and still have the urge to apologize, is something that causes me further shame, shame at my own cowardice.

I've gotten better at hiding this fragility, of course, and tonight I was quick on my feet.

"When we have our Halloween party this Friday, BB, you and your father are not going to get into politics," my mother commanded this evening. "I'm not going to have that discussed."

A legitimate concern, I grant you; with the presidential election two weeks away and my father regularly referring to the President of the United States as a "dumb nigger," the policy debates between us have been heated. But had I just heard someone tell me what was allowed to come out of my mouth?

"Okay, first of all, why do you think I'll even be here?" I asked. "And second of all, don't tell me what I can or cannot say. I'm twenty-four years old. That's not your place."

There followed a roaring argument wherein my mother essentially posited that she could dictate anything at all to anyone under her roof and I essentially told her where to plant her lips.

"Oh, honey, you are cute but you're not that cute," I said during one exchange. "And you are fucking with the wrong bitch. I pay you to live here, which means that this is my house, too. And in my house, I'm the only one who decides what I say. Not that I want to hang out with your forty-year-old engineer friends, or whoever the hell they are."

"Really?" she countered. "Because our whole lives have been you right there, not knowing where the fuck you are half the time, asking us what's going on!"

There it is. It's never far away when we fight. And I suppose that for someone who's entitled enough to think she can mandate what topics other adults are allowed to speak on, bringing up a childhood illness to score some emotional gouging points probably isn't that big of a leap. But it still hurt.

"Oh, really?" I countered with a quickness that I hoped belied how deep the wound had sunk. "You mean when I was twelve? Well, I'm sorry that when I was twelve and you weren't getting me the help I needed my disorientation was annoying to you. But I'm not twelve anymore. And twenty-four-year-old BB doesn't take this shit. Try me."

And then I went downstairs and got in my shower. And cried. And then felt shame over my shame.

And tried to remember what my therapist had told me several days before.

"You know," she said. "I almost wonder if the diagnosis was wrong. All these things you tell me about, exploring new places with your friends, driving around, flying out to Pacific State by yourself..."

"'With your friends,'" I smiled. "That part is key, though. The instinct to panic is still there. I focus on the people and it keeps me grounded."

"You went to Pacific State by yourself," she pointed out.

"Oh, I know that," I acknowledged. "And it really doesn't present a problem anymore. But what I'm saying is that the tendency to sort of lose track of what's happening to me in new surroundings, to freak out, remains. The diagnosis wasn't wrong. The symptoms are just very controlled."

"Very controlled," she said. "More than I've ever seen. Which, given your lack of treatment, is pretty incredible. I've actually used your story, without divulging anything too specific, of course, to give other families hope."

I couldn't help but laugh.

"That's pretty cool."

So I know I'm better. I know that sick little boy is not the person I am anymore, and I know that I can't be taken advantage of the way I was even at eighteen and nineteen years old.

But with a few words the pain and the mortification can come back so easily.

Will that ever end?

Maybe the only thing for it is distance, distance from them and from illness and from the undeserved shame that all victimizers rely on to prop themselves up.

I want that distance. I can't wait to make that distance as big as possible.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Anniversary Worth Noting

I keep insisting that I'm going to write a post about my birth-mother Anne's unique family history and, dependable academic that I am, I keep being aggressively uncommitted to actually sitting down and writing it. Given that presenting my readers with any kind of coherent narrative would require not only significant research but also a fair amount of interpretive analysis--we've been a contradictory group of people--my years-long streak of never producing entries on these ancestors is likely to continue.

October 14, however, presents an anniversary at least worth noting: it's our birthday.

Well, kind of.

Our family did not, strictly speaking, pop into existence on the fields of Hastings 946 years ago. It was on that fateful day in the fall of 1066, however, that one of our distant ancestors, a cousin of William the Conqueror whom the Norman prince inducted into his retinue, proved himself in engagement against Harold and was subsequently awarded extensive lands by the newly crowned William II.

Anne's people have commemorated the day ever since, sometimes with large public spectacles, sometimes with private parties, sometimes with pilgrimages to sites sacred to our House. It's a part of who we are.

My consciousness of this was, naturally, not quite so developed when I was fourteen, and I was wont to drift off when my grandmother started mentioning glorious deeds and noble history. She had the tact to let the subject drop when she sensed my disinterest, but as an adult I wish she'd insisted a little bit more.

Grand Ma Weird Family is gone, of course, taken by cancer in 2009. With her died a tremendous reserve of knowledge about a family that has spent much of the last millennium either imposing colonial tyranny or fighting with moving eloquence for the cause of human liberty. That dichotomy is a part of their legacy: the same group of people who strove to end slavery in the British Empire committed atrocities in the British colony of Jamaica; the same group of people who gave everything for the cause of American independence entered the 20th century as banal socialites and gaudy kingpins.

It's hard to pin them down.

So, perhaps feeling guilty that I should let yet another October 14 pass unrecorded, I set myself this weekend to an Internet search and was pleasantly surprised by what I found: photos of family residences from the Old World, places where my flesh and blood actually lived.

It's not as if we don't have any such ancestral seats in this country. In fact, the Weird Family presence in 21st-century America is still bizarrely prevalent, from the Independence City skyscraper that bears the symbol of our bank to the weekend-home-turned-museum that displays our silverware to the family vault that is a national historic site. Even Washington's National Cathedral holds personal meaning; it was the site of my great-grandparents' wedding.

But the buildings across the Atlantic are much older and have seen much more. A few of them are still standing. One, the castle shown at the top of this page, became a heritage center after serving as the seat for an ancestor who died defending King Charles I. You can take a tour for about five dollars.

Most of the structures, though, proud palaces and austere castles and solemn chapels, have fallen to ruin and decay.

"This place is kind of like our family," Innocent Cousin joked in 2007 when we visited the family vault in Independence City. "It's falling apart and no one cares about it anymore."

I'd laughed at the time, but in the crumbling walls and weed-choked floors of our former strongholds I saw a chilling, beautiful testament to time: even the strongest and proudest, which we surely were, will one day fall, and before their glory is an evening old their names will be forgotten by all but a few. Look at us: we spent several centuries dictating Western history pretty much at will and arguably got the American Revolution over its hump, yet today anyone with a few bucks and a fanny pack can be master over the seats from which we reigned. Well, the seats that aren't covered in manure, that is. Because a lot of them are.

Given the brevity of anyone's time in the sun and the near-total anonymity that will descend once that moment is over, one would be tempted to ask what the point is of trying.

My grandmother had an interesting answer.

"What made them matter wasn't their money," she told me before she died. "Never. Certainly, they had means--but so do plenty of people. My father had more money than ten men could have spent in a lifetime and he was still an abominable idiot. What made them matter was their attitude. It was their selflessness, their dedication, their virtue. You know what our motto says about virtue, don't you?"

I've always secretly felt unequal to that standard, and been somewhat relieved I was not raised to bear it, but one can't help but admire a good quality when one sees it.

In our best moments we've been marked by a level of brilliance and self-sacrifice that is truly exceptional. My sixth great-grandfather died in 1781, a casualty of malaria, after spending the Revolutionary War pouring his vast economic resources into the fledgling U.S. Navy and advising General George Washington as a faithful aide-de-camp. His own great-great grandfather gave his family estate and then his life in the defense of the doomed King Charles I, to whom he was fiercely loyal even unto death. Both men suffered the indignity of having enemy forces tear their houses down. And there were many more like them.

When I think upon my Weird Family heritage, that's the part I'd like to remember. And if I ever get around to profiling them in anything approaching a competent manner, it's what I'd like to depict.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Straight Up

She was nestled amongst the blankets and pillows, her brown hair tumbled around her smooth, round face.

"Der-Der, come on," I said, shaking my nine-year-old sister by the shoulder. "You have to get up."

She said nothing, just rolled over and buried her face deeper into a mass of fluffy comfort.

"You have to get uuuuup," I accosted her a second time, still to no avail. "You little hobo! I've never known a child who sleeps in until eleven o'clock!"

She turned again, her eyes twin slits of tiredness and irritation.

"What do you want?" she croaked with all the fatigue of a middle-aged waitress called out of bed to cover a shift in the dead of winter.

"You're going to the movies," I said. "And it's considered bad form to still be asleep when your ride gets here."


She sat up and considered me a moment, then opened her hand and with her right palm lightly cracked me on my left cheek. Then she opened up her left palm and did the same thing to my right cheek. This pattern, so rhythmic I took it for a game, continued for several cycles before I broke in, "Pie, what are you doing?"

Her expression and voice were completely flat.

"Slapping you in the face," she answered, and sauntered out of bed.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Verdict

"I don't think you were psychotic," said my therapist. "But I think you were approaching a line where you were maybe a little detached from reality."

"It was scary," I conceded.

I wanted it to be like a vacation. But it wasn't.

"It sounds terrifying," she said.

No shit, I thought.

But my conscious, responsible self said, "I just don't want to be fat."

"And you're not fat," she answered.

"But I am," I insisted. "I know you think I'm imagining this. But I'm not imagining the jelly rolls."

"There's a spectrum with OCD," she said. "And you're having moments where you're on the severe end of it. I know those fears feel real. But they're not. And it's important to remember that. An eating disorder interacting with severe OCD can feel so real. You need to maintain perspective."


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Be Gentle

There have been very few times in my four years on Blogger when I've felt genuinely conflicted about putting up a post, but this is one of them. It's not because I did anything bad, not because I feel guilty. But I do feel ashamed. Ashamed, as usual, of something I can't help. Or maybe of something I don't want to help.

No, that's not true. This is beyond my control and has been for years. Who the hell would want to live the way I do? Sure, my world has some fantastic elements to it--great friends, a relative degree of financial stability, a budding career--but there's always been this inner track that's been able to supercede everything else when it rises up.

And at this point in my life it's just so damned undignified to talk about that. I'm twenty-four years old, and, in theory, a young professional. I'm not naive enough to think that my age means I should arbitrarily be past these issues, but is it feasible that maybe my age means I should endure them with quiet grace, maintaining a respectable facade?

I'm not the nineteen-year-old boy I was when I began here. Back then, my periodic bouts of depressed introspection and, let's be honest, total mania, could at least be painted with the romantic veneer of youth.

He's a troubled young man. A teenager trying to figure himself out. He's a confused boy. 

A college student fighting the wars of existentialism and self-hatred. How original.

But at some point that fashionably tortured nineteen-year-old grows up and stops acting like such a drama queen, right? Or he has the good sense not to engage in the gaudy display that is sharing.

I'm afraid.

I'm afraid of making myself look self-indulged and maudlin, ashamed that my employer or a client will somehow find this and decide without too much debate that I'm unfit.

But this is my place and always has been, and what did I promise you (and myself) from the beginning? An honest portrait of my life.

So I may, within the next few days, come to you with a post that will be difficult for all of us. I'm not sure yet. But if I take that step then please, honor just one request: be gentle.

Monday, October 1, 2012

That Time of Year

They say the first fall after university is a difficult experience. Changing leaves and cold winds bring back memories of dormitory shenanigans, and young people bearing backpacks stand as a stark reminder of one's own mortality and the inevitable march of time. The say that, at this time of year, you pine for the recent past.

I'm not sure what the hell they're talking about.

Sure, I miss my university friends well enough. But with sleepovers and barhopping in abundant supply (see my posts for literally the entire month of September) and a blowout party scheduled two weeks from now in the Goldlands, it's not like those old comrades have exactly ridden off into the horizon.

The things that have been out of my life are a whole lot less laudable: courses and professors and freezing early-morning walks to chilly classrooms and a flu season that intersects perfectly with fall midterms. I suppose fall midterms are coming up, aren't they? It is October now.

Ah, the joys of being out.

Perhaps because I'm one of the few recent graduates to have embarked (I say embarked because I don't have a paycheck coming yet) on a promising career path, I have greeted the turn of seasons not with nostalgia for the glory days of '09 but with a feeling of glee not unlike a thief would enjoy after making off scot-free with your grandmother's jewels.

I get to have fall without exams. I get to have fall without studying. I get to have fall without homework. I feel like I'm stealing something.

It's so delightful.

And just in case I had any delusions that autumn could begin only with notebooks and satchels, the onset of cold weather was particularly early this year. School did not start anew, at least not for me, but the first week of September brought an unseasonable chill, the leaves duly commenced darkening, and, two weeks ago, I found my mother at the stove whipping up a batch of her famed chicken-noodle soup.

Fall had come after all.

That's not to say that all's been well this new season; work and money worries abound as always, and the other day I had an episode that can only be described as disturbing, one I've refrained from sharing here for fear of looking like a total lunatic.

But all in all things are better than they could be. The wonderful friends I made at university are still in my life, though their role is truncated. In a world of burger-flipping bachelor's-degree holders I'm neither unemployed nor working a menial service job. In time I will sell my projects and make my money and have a great deal more freedom than I do now.

In time.

The problem is, of course, hanging on until time decides to keep up its end of the bargain, and if I run out of money before time runs out of excuses then I will be in a fine pickle, indeed.

Anxiety aside, I'm trying to enjoy myself.

I love this time of year.