My Legitimate Excuses

My mother gave no quarter. If it ever appeared like she had, she was merely playing the long game with you; a marker to be collected at some later date. She never forgot a perceived debt. For herself however, there was no end to the reasons that she wouldn’t/shouldn’t/couldn’t do the thing. Some of her favourites were:

– her awful childhood;
– she was poor;
– they did a bad thing, so she didn’t have to.

I don’t know the truth about her childhood. Most everyone involved is dead. She told so many stories. Although i’ve been able to disprove some, i can believe it was at least somewhat rough. Her family was the only non-practitioner of the favoured religion in a small community – in all the surrounding communities. Her father refused a business opportunity with his neighbours, temporarily putting the venture in jeopardy. Her mother wasn’t interested in church teas or local gossip or community activities. She was adopted, and it was during a time when such children were viewed with a jaundiced eye. Her parents were distant and not affectionate. She was of above average size for a girl, both thick and tall. Add to all that, her little brother was everyone’s favourite due to being the local baseball star.

While i don’t remember much until i was around 3, i can guess based on the memories that i do have that she probably used me as an excuse from the jump. I wouldn’t put it past her to have had me in part for that reason. In fact, i think she popped out 4 babies in quick succession with my stepfather so that she could avoid work, and anchor him to her. She may have tried to use me to keep my biological father, but it didn’t work. I was the reason she couldn’t get ahead, why she wasn’t living up to my grandparents’ expectations, why she couldn’t keep a man. I know she loved it when i was diagnosed with a moderate/severe form of childhood epilepsy, because i heard her expound at length to anyone who’d listen about my seizures and doctors appointments and how much time and worry and how was she supposed to pay for all the travel and special diet and medication? And when she began piling on the pounds and withdrawing from society, we were all constantly reminded of how tough she’d had it and how much tougher we were making it for her to be… Anything. Happy, healthy, financially stable, accomplished, attend some event she was invited to, be on time for an appointment. Everything. Excuses.

My takeaway was twofold. Because i was the “reason” my mother couldn’t achieve success, i learned that i needed an excuse for my very existence. I also learned something more insidious – that there were no excuses for me. There was a subconscious level at which i understood that my mother’s proffered exemptions were, as my generation might put it, lame. I couldn’t acknowledge, contemplate, or in any way live out that awareness, because it would put me in actual physical danger. But as it was for me with many things, i was able to tuck it away in a hidden compartment of my mind, that i’ve since been able to access and use. The insidious part of it was that, while i wasn’t aware of it, it seeped into my self-perception. The result was that for decades, i knew that there was no excuse for how fucked up i was, due to those unconscious, internalised messages. Well, that and growing up observing my mother’s liberal use of disingenuous ones.

What i know now is that, for me, there is no excuse for her level of abuse and neglect of me. As for the rest (e.g. whether or not there’s an excuse for how dysfunctional she was, or how abusive and neglectful she was to my sibs), i either don’t concern myself with it, or don’t consider it my place to judge.

~Background, set.~

Today, after decades of therapy and internal work, i’m learning to apply the knowledge i’ve gathered, using methods i’ve developed that suit the way my brain works. I’m an overthinker, which is part my personality, and part mental illness/neuroatypicality. When thinking deeply about myself, life, the universe, and everything, this only becomes a problem if i get stuck in the mud and i’m just spinning my tires. I can easily recognise that state by rising anxiety, and the same thoughts echoing, over and over inside my head. I’ve even found a way to test if my perception is accurate. I pick up whatever book is currently on my side table and start to read. If i struggle to finish a paragraph, if fragments of the sentences are repeating, bouncing around in my thoughts and i’m unable to catch them and make any sense of the words – then i know i’m in Overthinky Land.

These days of global self-isolation have afforded me even more time than usual to think. At first i felt dread, Oh no, here we go again… I worried that i’d become so entangled in my thoughts that i’d lose myself to them. Lose control of my thoughts, my brain, my system. Lose control of the face, lose time, lose myself. I didn’t, though. Being an introvert and a veritable hermit when the pandemic hit was a boon. I didn’t have to change the way i lived, much. And my reasons for living so long in near-complete seclusion had both prepared me for our current reality, and allowed me to continue my personal inner work.

~End Scene One~

What i’m experiencing in my life over the last year would be my mother’s wet dream. The pandemic would provide an easy and legitimate excuse for any and all purposes. She had a tough childhood, she’d experienced severe poverty (not with her parents, but at her own doing), she had health issues (which were also, to some degree her own doing), and now OMGTEHPANDEMICSHALP!!!!11!1

I, however, am not my mother. I am, through serious, long term effort and commitment, a decent human of my own creation. I see where i came from and how that moulded me into the dysfunctional adult that i was, and i’ve gone to great lengths to become a functional human. A decent one too, i think. There is more work yet to do though (of course, and always shall be), and here i stand, seeing the choices arrayed around me, like open, upturned faces in the audience at my one-woman show.
They’ve watched the prologue, and sat silently through the first act. The lights are dimming on their expectant faces and i’m moving to centre stage to begin Act Two.

Will it be more of Act One? It could be. I could still weave an interesting tale. I’m entertaining and charismatic, and folks would walk away feeling they’d seen a good performance, probably even (dare i say) excellent. But i took big risks my first 2 appearances in the spotlight, just by the straight up telling of it. If i give them more of the same, well… I’ve already given them 2 sad songs (you’ve gotta know my show is a musical, right?) Why not take another chance, and why not make it a big one? I could strut out on that stage and give ’em a real showstopper. A number that’s not exactly a twist, more like an exciting plot development.

If you come to my show you get more than the price of admission. You’re going to get my best. I’m headin’ to Broadway for a long run.

Cue music!
Curtain up!

Aaaand LIGHTS!

NO EXCUSES

IMAGE: Barry Weatherall

Poem From a Woman*

sittin’ in my jammie-jams because hey
at least i got up
and that is a THING
and as i gather myself for whatever i can put into the day
sitting on the red couch that i always wanted
-who knew it’d only cost me fifty bucks?-
i look to my right to adjust the ponytail-loopy-messybun
that’s designed to keep my hair somewhat cute
with a minimum of hassle and no brushing
BONUS
and i catch sight of my ankles
and the tops of my calves
the mirror is floor length – not even my biggest one
i have them all over the house
because my house is small, broken down a bit
a dream house built for a grandmother-in-law that i never knew
decently built in the fifties but now in need of repair
sorry house but mine comes first
and the renos have been a nightmare
so for now what you get are mirrors
because back when i thought you weren’t good enough
i was binge-watching HGTV
and they all said mirrors make spaces look bigger
and i am so bigger
too bigger
and i knew i needed bigger spaces, even if it was an illusion
so my little crooked house thanks me sarcastically for the band-aid
by showing me my cankles and tree-trunk calves
-but wait now-
i’ve been tapping my pontoon feet on my old hardwood floor
listening to Amanda Palmer while jigging my body on the red couch
as i pull bits of my hair here, there
pleasing myself with the arrangement
i watched so many videos
and tried so hard
but i could never master the casual flare of the messybun girls
i gave it up long ago like it did the makeup toots
-holy christ so many hours of that!-
i discovered i was almost as unskilled at drawing on my face as i was on paper
and my Twin and i realised i’m not that girl
and she even gave up collecting makeup we never used
and i discovered that i like a defined brow
and lipstick
and a bit of blush
and that’s pretty much it
just as i like my weird loopy-ponytail thingwe
i’m staring at myself in my smartass floor-length mirror
looking at my ankles, my calves
feeling the hot acid accusations being thrown
hearing decades of admonishments
i turn into it
and i am become the mirror
and in it we are infinity
i can see me all going back
further and further and further still
and i see that i have made these ankles thick
and i see that i have carved these tree trunk calves
they are me – they are who i am
they are who i want to be
i put down the magazines as i have turned off the makeup gurus
and the hair tutorials
and the home decorating channels
and the goddamned celebrity interview programs
and the accursed diet mavens
-omg god could they fuck the most off already?-
i stand up and move into my kitchen where there are more and bigger mirrors
i face them – daring their judgment
standing on my hideous stained linoleum with walls in desperate need of paint
clownfeetthickankleshugecalvesthunderthighsfatassmonkeyarms
tootalltoobigtoomuchtooloudtooweirdtoopoortoodirtytoolosttooalone
and i turn
and i leeeean into it
the images repeat, each folding into the next
i grew this big because life worked me out
i grew this tall because my children needed shelter
i became this loud to drown out the hate
i became this weird to survive poor, dirty, lost
and alone
i always wanted a red couch and i found one for fifty bucks
i filled my house with mirrors because i wanted my house to feel BIGGER
i filled my house with mirrors because i wanted it to SEE
my house is exactly as it should be
the decorations are not tricks or masks
they are adornments
we are all of us decorated as i intend
i had thought i was just beginning to create myself in my own image
but as i look from breakfast-sausage webbed toes that are so well suited
to both gripping the earth and swimming in deep waters
to my Amazonian body
to my tattooed lips and brows
to my wacky-ass hair conglomeration
i see that i am fearfully yet wonderfully made to my own specifications
standing there in my faded pink, Paris-themed pyjamas that make me feel cute
i look just as i should just as i want just as i wish
i have been creating myself all along
and no fashion or lifestyle or home improvement magazine
television show or internet channel
could have even come close to doing this spectacular a job of it
i square my fantastic football shoulders
and walk into the kitchen
i’m hungry
I believe a grilled cheese and ice cream are in order.

~ Mine, November 2, 2020

* Decided last night i was going to post “poem from a girl”. This morning as i went to do it, this piece came flooding out of me. I almost like it, and i no longer hate the other one. There’s an obvious lesson in that of course. It’s a lesson that i am, and will continue learning.

IMAGE: Christian Mack