Change the Rubric

My entire life I’ve felt unsettled. Is there something wrong with me or is that how everyone feels? It didn’t help that we moved seven times before fifth grade. Each move tinged with the excitement and possibilities of new friends, new teachers, new adventures. But the excitement soon wore off, fluffy frosting on top quickly devoured, leaving ordinary cake behind. At home, whichever home we resided in, my father kept long hours, hiding away at work or in a bottle. My mother slipped off to her ‘office,’ pencil and paper pad in hand, etching stories, graphite on white and dreaming of author fame. One by one my elder sisters bolted. The eldest scarped to illegitimate motherhood, exchanging school and future for hazy ganja plumes. The next with high school diploma in hand went off to college like a good girl; but an unexpected pregnancy sealed her departure. She did eventually snag a husband, forming an instant family with his two children. A glimmer of hope there, but her tireless efforts could not extirpate his escapades, ‘research’ into his field of study, perhaps, being a Psychologist with specialty in sexual addiction.

The next two girls in line blended into hippie crowds, free to be you and me, peace baby peace, galavanting across the American continent by thumb. That left two of us to fend. Then, the last before me slipped into the cycle. Her reputation preceded me. In my transition to high school, I worked as hard at my studies as I did at eradicating the image she left behind. At every turn unsettled, always scraping to deal with baggage I didn’t earn, but somehow inherited. I looked hopefully to adulthood assuming then I would finally be in control.

But, I had been mislead. I had allowed myself to be mislead. As a child, in black and white, I watched old episodes of Father Knows Best, Jim reclining in a chair, newspaper in hand and Margaret standing by his side. How can that be? Was that perfection? My experience couldn’t measure up. Then, there was Leave It to Beaver. Ward and June managed their family with ease, a team, cool, respectful…and so happy.  I watched. I laughed. And deep down, I calculated, measuring my lack. Those relationships appealed to me. They were simple and logical. The characters fit together easily, puzzle pieces snug in their places, confident in their belonging. A nice formulaic approach to life, school, job, marriage, home, kids, and eventually retirement. Bewitched, The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie further confirmed my musings. The expectations I developed dazzled me. By the time I grasped that these were constructed families, the damage had already been done.

No wonder I always felt unsettled. I lived my life comparing it constantly to what I thought it should be. In some ways, I suppose that is not such a bad thing. But the models I had placed in mind were not real. They were fabricated relationships. Someone wrote the plot, another filled the script, and actors played the roles. It’s good to strive, to aspire to something better. But only so long as you can still maintain gratitude for what you have. Rather for me, my lack stood an open, slimy pit before me. A space of deep dejection in which to wallow. A pit of my own creation, where my expectations romanced reality, but found they were incompatible. I needed to change the rubric by which I assessed my life and learn to let go, or…sink.

Letting go meant understanding that there is no control. As social beings, we can affect by tireless effort, but, even then, we are not entirely in control. So long as we live socially, we need to interact, delegate, and rely on family, friends, and community. But, we can’t control any one of them.

I can only control me.

I can prepare.

I can choose.

I can be satisfied with my life. Expectations are just expectations. They are not reality.

My Daughter

As I place the dishes in their space, and the cups in their space, I think of her. I sort the forks, knives, and two sizes of spoons. I have a system for how I put them away. Designed for efficiency. Why do I need to be efficient about this? Why do I try to be efficient about anything I do? But I order steps in my mind and whiz through them in such a logical fashion, like driving to a place you drive everyday and, at one point, lost in thought, you realize that you’ve arrived and honestly, you don’t remember how you got there. That’s how I put the dishes away.

I send a kiss and a prayer to her. She always replies quickly, but in a few syllables, then finished. Simply, “I love you.” Her response has closed the door. If I initiate with a further question, I imagine her annoyance sizzling through the inactive screen, a groan and an ‘ugh.’ So I conjure what she may or may not be doing. I look at the clock, 8:30 am, and consider what I know of her schedule. I think, ‘She’s at work…behind a desk, her face staring into a computer screen, designing pages for strangers, attending to their wishes.’  Sometimes, I send a kiss, a prayer, and a ‘how are you’ in one swoop hoping to initiate conversation. But her reply, “I love u …fine,” leaves no room for further chat. I close my heart and turn to other things, back to chores, to cleaning dishes, setting the meds, and making cream of wheat for my mother.

She doesn’t miss me like I miss her. I know this because I did pretty much the same. Busy in school and work, I only felt my own immediate world, not my family’s anymore. Although I didn’t have a message system nor a communication device snug in my pocket, I did have a phone. At that time, our conversations  connected by squiggly wires hooked to sockets in the wall, rooted us to one space. Still I couldn’t see beyond the radius of me, myself, and I any more than she does now.  Understanding that doesn’t make it any less painful.

My heart is empty where she resided. I walk through my days and my routines feeling a shadow of an ache, just there, behind today’s chores–a soreness that happiness can’t relieve. In that space, all my hopes of our future together twirl and bow in a frenzied dance of dreams, thousands of scenarios that never came to be…possibilities.