I was raised to be a pessimist, see the glass half-empty, believe that no good deed goes unpunished, not trust anyone, always expect the worst in any situation, and live in fear.
I’m tired of that shit.
Self-realization has been a long time coming and it’s something I will probably work at the rest of my life. As children, there’s something hard-wired into us to believe that our parents know everything, that they love and care for us, that our needs are paramount to them, that they would never harm us and never lie.
Until they do.
Once that trust is broken, it’s broken for good. Once the “gods” tumble off their pedestal, there’s no climbing back up.
But, man, I fought like hell for the right to keep those blinders on. “This can’t be happening.” “I must be mistaken.” “They didn’t mean it THAT way.” “It must be MY fault.” There are all sorts of things I told myself to keep my eyes averted from the truth. More lies . . . except this time I was the liar.
Despite the way I was raised, I actually believed I was a naturally happy sort of person, an optimist. (A Pollyanna, as an ex-boyfriend derogatorily called me — I’ll refrain from suggesting where he can stick that remark.) I can admit now that it was all a sham, a facade I put on to fool myself and everyone else, to keep the world at bay so it couldn’t approach and see the shadows in my life.
Singing in the dark.
I’m 54 years old. What I want for the rest of my life is genuine happiness. I’m well away that I probably won’t achieve maximum joy 100 percent of the time, but it gives me something to shoot for. I’m having to find my way along a path overgrown with nettles and thistles and pricker bushes. I’m learning to recognize the difference between false joy and true, between the bandaid I put over my emotions to keep the wound hidden and what I really feel.
I’ve given the pessimist in my head a name. I call her Phyllis. When she sticks her nose in my business (“That’ll never work,” “You’re not good enough,” “What if you fail?”, “Aren’t you afraid?”), I tell her to get lost and go bother someone else. When the focus turns down and all I see of the world is muck, I know Phyllis is at work. Sometimes she’s lodged into my skin like a tick and I have to really work to pry her loose. I no longer care if prying makes her bleed. I no longer care if it makes ME bleed. The only way I can go forward is without her. I’m really hopeful that one of these days I’ll wake up and find a ‘Vacancy’ sign where she used to live.
So, with that in mind, two bits of genuine joy that happened today:
1. This morning, our nesting pair of cardinals returned. Male and female, flashing scarlet and rosy brown, side by side on the trellis. They give me hope.
2. Some months back, I wrote about how people affect us, and I wrote about a man I knew when I was a child. Robert Adsit was a friend of my sister Rhonda and meant a lot to me, but he was much older than I and he moved away and pursued his art and died young. I wrote about how, against all reason, I miss him to this day, that there’s a Robert-shaped hole somewhere in my soul. Well, a package arrived today from my other sister, Colby. (Our mother, who is slowly vanishing beneath dementia, has been cleaning house. She gave a bunch of stuff to Colby who, in turn, passed some of it on to me.) In the package were four envelopes from Robert addressed to my parents, handmade Christmas greetings and announcements of his art shows. All but one contain messages directly to me:
“Melissa – HI!”
“Love to Missy.”
“Would really love to see Missy. I miss Missy.”
I miss you, Robert. I never saw these letters, never knew of the messages he sent, never had a chance to send a message back. And now he’s gone.
There’s reason enough to be sad (or so Phyllis tells me). Instead, tonight I will celebrate this touch from beyond the veil. These letters could just as easily have been destroyed long ago. But they’ve survived almost forty years to come to me today, to let me know there was love sent my way even when I didn’t know it.
I like to believe it’s still there.