“I took a fresh grip on my cardboard case, turned towards the exit from the square and set off, left-right, left-right, left-right, on the road for home.”
“Vet In A Spin”; James Herriot (1977), last sentence.
“All I’ve ever done is slit my throat from ear to ear and convinced myself I was smiling. I’ve learned, but I can’t quantify what that knowledge is… it has been incorporated into who I am, to define what I have learned from these events and these people I would have to define myself.”
something I wrote last year.
I was eleven-years old the first time my mother heard me laugh. Maybe ten. I was reading one of James Herriot’s books. She rushed into the living room and told me she had never heard me laugh — not “laugh so hard” or “laugh in that way” but “laugh… for real.” I can remember being surprised, it had never occurred to me that laughing out loud was something people did.
After she went back into the kitchen I turned the pages backwards and read the funny passage again and actually tried to laugh like I had just done. For the next while, whenever I read something remotely funny, I tried to laugh in the same way. It wasn’t just a matter of trying to get another positive reaction from my mother, I was also hearing this sound for the first time. Or, at the very least, I was hearing this sound for the first time as something important. It was something necessary, that Other People thought not only note worthy but noticed was missing from who I was.
I sat in my grandfather’s easy-chair and sporadically laughed out loud for another fifteen minutes or so… until my grandmother asked me to “quiet down” because she and my mother were trying to talk.
When I was a child people used to say things like “he’s such a serious child”, then it was “he’s such a serious boy” then “he’s such a serious young man”. I was always “ten turning thirty”. I was always alien, different. But I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t understand what they were saying. I thought, after hearing it so often, they meant there was something special about me. That I was an adult, at least more adult — more special — than the punks in my grade.
But what they were really saying was “why is this kid so fucking depressed?”. I didn’t grow up trying to figure out who I was, I grew up trying to figure out how I was different than everybody else, because for so long I confused ‘depression’ with ‘maturity’, as if the more tragedies I could list off the more adult I became.
The result is I’ve never properly dealt with the abandonment by my father and his side of the family. Or the loss of my friends from moving — escaping — from my father. Or how I’ve been kept from two of my sisters and a brother I’ve never met because of the insanity of the people who raised me. I’ve also never dealt with how my grandparents took out their long outstanding issues with my mother on me and my brother.
I was eleven when I first laughed, it was also about the same time I cried for the last time. My grandmother had invented another reason for my grandfather to take us to the shed for a spanking. When we got there he picked up a chunk of wood and I cried out and I begged him not to hit me and I blamed the whole fucking totally-invented incident on my little brother. I can remember my grandfather standing there in shock — watching my little brother and I just bleeding tears and snot. I can also remember being so ashamed of what I was doing — pointing at my little brother and begging “hit him not me” — that it was the last time I ever cried.
I’ve never dealt with, talked about or written about any of the events which have made me who I am today… with anyone. My grandfather cannot remember one incident during which we worked together on his hobby farm. We planted over a hundred thousand trees up there ten or twelve years ago. I worked in his fields, drove his tractor… he taught me how to drive when I was nine. It’s not age. It’s not dementia or disease, it’s a mental block put there by his relationship with my mother when she was a child because they’ve never dealt with the shit done to her… or the shit my grandfather went though when he was a kid, or the insanity that was my grandmother’s life in Alberta during the Great Depression. It just keeps going…
And now, every time my grandfather tells me about a project he and my young cousin have just finished, about what a Man he is becoming, I am absolutely crushed and driven to the point where I am jealous of a fourteen-year old kid for having a father who taught him to skate and not only put him into a league, but took the time and trained to become his coach… and for having my grandfather’s pride as his blanket at night.
“He works like a man”… it’s like a punch to my heart and it makes me ashamed to feel like that way. But here I am, with a Father who loves his two daughters and abandoned his three sons, and a grandfather who never wanted to be my father and has forgotten who I was, who I am, but has always shown his love and pride for my young cousin and his two sisters.
As a child I substituted my lost-father for my missing-grandfather and thought everyone had what I had. And it is only recently that I have been without the manic depression as an everyday blindfold that I have started to put together that, no, I did not have what Everybody Else had. But I didn’t put any of this together until this past Spring.
My grandfather being more involved in my cousins life than mine was not something I thought was… different. My grandfathers absence and unwillingness to be my father-substitute wasn’t something I considered Unusual, partly because that level of neglect was something I expected from the men in my life as I grew up. But also because I believed the ‘suffering’ was what made me mature. Sure my cousin was becoming a Man by working with my grandfather, but my grandfather’s neglect was part of what Other People told me was my maturity. I was a Man because my grandfather and my father neglected me.
Until maybe last year this is how I defined myself, because the manic depression had been untreated for so long I have never been able to make connections between events in my own life. Actually this is still how I define myself, but at least the pills and the appointments are allowing me to see what kind of bullshit I’ve been wrapped in…