Monday, April 26, 2010

Who Am I?

"Who are you and what have you done with Gwen?"  John was watching me lay out my clothes for the next day before I got into bed.  The things I planned to take to work were by the front door, both lunch (leftovers packed right after dinner) and breakfast yogurt parked neatly on a shelf in the refrigerator waiting to be put in a sack in the morning.  I found myself thinking I really should get one of those insulated lunch bags.

In the morning I would know right where my car keys were, my glasses, and my cell phone.   An Obama style no drama departure for work.

Half joking, half serious I came back with, "No, the question is, what have you done to me?" A reasonable accusation, actually--he's an engineer (which means you can always find a pencil around the house) and ex-military.  Which does not mean he doesn't lose things; it just means that wherever you find--wherever I find them--they will be in formation..

Never, not really of my own free will, never have I been tidy or organized.  Chaos has always been my natural state and you could track me through a house or office by a trail of forgotten coffee cups, misplaced glasses, and lost keys. Fear, pressure, my mom, my ex, the prospect of company, and  a kind of frail optimism have led to the short term wow clean up, but never long haul order.

Please understand, I never did this deliberately and 99% of the time without any intention of pissing anyone off.  It wasn't, I would try to explain, that I thought being organized, tidy, neat was beneath me; it was beyond me.  I didn't just frustrate the people around me--I frustrated myself.

A good survival strategy was cultivating a drifty artist, aging hippie persona.  Not too far off--I'm a writer and I do live in my imagination a lot.  And I was usually the third or fourth to point out my failings.

Now I'm 63. Medicated with a mood stabilizer, an anti-depressant, and more than enough other meds for the various mental and physical issues I am blessed with.  I'm in a good relationship with a funny, cantankerous, loving, nonjudgmental man. I mostly live at his house which isn't haunted like the home I've lived in since 1969.

It isn't cluttered.

My anxiety levels are down.  I've learned that my fear of failing turned my brain into an untuned, static filled radio station.  And, besides, it was easier to screw up and disappointment everybody earlier rather than later.  Saved time for everyone.

So what happened?  An overdetermined result? Medication.  The people in my life--including John but not exclusively him, who keep reminding me that they actually love me no matter what.

Which is a wow all on its own.

It's nice to know where my keys are,

So why, why, why do I sometimes feel like screaming that I've been taken over by aliens?  Possessed?  My mind not my own?

And that I don't know who I am.

The woman who lays out her clothes, remembers the papers, CD, and such that I was asked to bring to LA the other day. Who gets up and plugs in the charger for the cell. Who does these things almost naturally.

Who is she?

The thought processes are alien. It isn't that I haven't done these things before; I have never done them with so little effort.  Never done them before without almost complete confusion, frustration, and a kind of inner resistance.

Is there a self? No self? What self?

If I am not Gwen the *charmingly* drifty and disorganized, who am I?

If my mind works in a way that feels completely alien and yet natural am I just a chemical soup modified by other chemicals and my self an illusion?

Who am I?

For that matter--who are you?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dialogue in Several Voices

You don't know everything.

Well, duh. Tell me something I don't know.

You don't know everything.

That's not news.

You think you do.

(Pause.) I've never said that.  I make mistakes.  I know that.  I do things I shouldn't do. I don't think I know everything.

You think you know how things should be.

How things should be?  In a way, doesn't everyone? Peace and love and everyone getting along and being with a person they love and doing jobs they want to do and food and health care, well, all of that, sound trite but aren't they really the answer? To how things should be?

You think you know how to get there. What will make people happy.  How to make people happy

Oh, come on.  I've always been very proud of my humility.

And you love to help.

What's wrong with that?  Isn't helping good?

On the off chance you know what you're doing?

I suppose, but....

Oh, humility.

I'll tell you a story.  Once upon a time, half a lifetime ago to a human, eons to a fruit fly, and nothing to a rock, there was a young girl. Teens her own age described her as *different* and a little weird. For an adult--which you  were supposed to be at the time--she seemed...disconnected.  As though we were alien life forms that she visited, finding us *different* and a little weird. She lived in a Star Trek world, scored by the Beatles, and embraced--one way or another--by Spock.

By the way and somewhat as an aside, speaking to "you" is tiring and a little confusing; remember this is a story and it's about you, but I am telling and it is also then about me. A first person P.O.V is easier. The pronouns become simpler.

Her younger sister was my oldest son's junior high girlfriend at the time.  She encouraged--almost begged me--to ask her sister to sit for my four kids. Which of course I did.

It was easy to bond over the Beatles and Star Trek.  And it became evident very quickly that she was a broken winged bird with a sad sad story.  The details are important, of course, for her life, but beside the point for the story.

I adopted her.  Oh, not legally and she still lived at home with the little sister, the dad, and the alcoholic mother--who happened to be another broken winged bird with a sad sad story. They fed her, clothed her, paid the bills, and took the brunt of her intense mood swings and terrible silences.

She was happy at our house.  Not effervescent happy, but ...happy.  In fact, she liked it so much that I just recently learned she told  her little sister to stay away:  "It's MY place now."

The church ladies (and, yes, I was one of them) took that sister under our wings.

Wait a minute--what was wrong with that?  If anyone needed  love and support, that poor child did.

No question, yep, she needed love and she needed support.  Couldn't get even a late night infomercial attorney to argue against that. .But--well--OK, define love. Start with that.

Caring for someone, delighting in them. Thinking of them before you think of yourself--you know, the whole love thy neighbor as thyself thing.  Caring. Trying to do right by them.  You know, love.

Warm feelings?  Needed?  Helping.

Yeah.  Warm feelings.  Caring.  Trying to help.  You know she didn't wear a bra because no one ever took her shopping for one.  

Poor baby.

Yeah, poor baby.  I know you're being sarcastic, but she was a poor baby, and a poor child, and lonely, broken, confused, angry.  She needed helping.

Did anything you did, collectively, individually, church ladies, you or me--did anything we ever did really help?

She got a bra.  

Now you're being sarcastic. Did she ever get what she needed?  Oh, and by-the-by and just wondering--who ever got the younger sister a bra? Back to the older sister, though.  Did she ever get what she needed? 

I don't know--no, probably not, no.  But we--I--tried . Really. Truly.

(Speaking in a gentler tone.)  I know.  You, they, I, we--all tried very very hard to help, to give her what she needed.  But--what did she need?

(Long silence.)  I...don't...know...I guess.  Love?  

How can you give someone what they need if you don't know what they need?  And, even  if you do know, how do you know you can provide it?  I mean I might know you need a heart transplant but that doesn't mean--

Finish the story.  I don't like the ending--never have--and I don't like the post script either, so you might as well get it over with.

OK, we'll skip all the middle part, the mother dies, the getting married, moving away--all of thatWell and some pretty bizarre behavior.

Skip to the phone call.  I know that's where you're going, so just go.

The phone rings.  After years, that voice, her voice.  From the past, well, once the past, but now in thepresent, the right now.

I can hear it in her voice, something is terribly, terribly, horribly wrong.

And she called you.

I'm here.  At a hospital.  They think I'm crazy. My therapist, my husband (she called him by name but I won't).  They're trying to put me in the hospital.  They think I'm crazy.  Am I?  Do you think I'm crazy?  I'm not crazy am I?  Not enough to have to be locked up, am I?  Tell me what I should do, should I...?  I'm scared, but I don't think I'm crazy...?

She really didn't want to be crazy, did she?  And she called you.  When the chips were done and she needed someone--

Shut up.  I know what you're going to say.

Because you said it, which means that--

I said it.  You said it.  We said it.She didn't want to be crazy, which is, you know, a pejorative word for mentally ill   And she did not want to be that.  

So we told her--what? 

That she wasn't.  That of course she had issues and problems and needed help, but of course she wasn't crazy and didn't need to be locked up.

Which amazingly and exactly coincided with what she wanted to hear.  You don't need to be locked up--you don't need, oh, what's that word? Oh, yeah, right--treatment.  I think that's what they call it.

How do you know?  That's what my husband said.  How do you know what she needs? You're not there, you have no idea what's going on.  How can you say anything?  Not your business.

But I love herI love her and I, I want to help.

She didn't go in the hospital.


No.  She didn't. At least not that night, not then.

Nice to be needed, isn't it?  And that used to be the end of the story didn't it?  Well, barring the subsequent phones calls of love, reconciliation, gratitude--oh, and the threats to bring a gun and shoot the entire family.
  That used to be where the story ended.  Kind of sad, but hopeful too because she did have a therapist and she wasn't all that crazy and...well, you could always figure that maybe someday and somehow it got all better.

And the unicorns were dancing on the front lawn, sparkling in the silvery moonlight, gleaming in the sun. 

Hey. That's sarcasm.

Yeah?  We used to wonder, you and me, how it all turned out.   Turns out nobody really knows, not around here anyway.  All the letters come back to the family--

No one here and not at this address.