essays by Shé

Posts Tagged ‘father’

Memory Problems

In Love on August 9, 2022 at 11:10 am

My father seems to have memory problems. He forgets that his only daughter loves him and means him no harm. And so he writes venomous missives.

The first time this happened, I’d just published “Free Love Ain’t” in a national anthology of essays by folks who’d survived so-called counterculture parents. Back then I read and responded to his poison pen letters and bizarre accusations for months. Finally realizing his contempt was bottomless, and his words were killing me, I returned them to sender. He then sent a registered letter, which a friend of mine read. More of the same, she said, so I burned it.

Hiking through the mountains recently, I noticed that the intensity of his current wrath is similar to that back in 2000. Then a funny thing happened: it dawned on me that it has nothing to do with me. Not one thing. It was a huge relief. I’d heard this theory, of course, and understood it intellectually, but here, on this mountain, on this island in the middle of the Pacific, I comprehended it viscerally. And smiled. I’ve done nothing wrong. I do not deserve his disrespect. I never did.

I’ve heard him talk to himself. His self-loathing rivals my mother’s. I imagine that his thinking is much worse than anything he’s ever said or written to me.

I know I’ve inherited their bad behavior. I, too, have said and done terrible things to those I love. These days I talk to Rage instead of stabbing anyone with it; talk to Grief instead of drowning in alcohol; talk to Terror instead of sprinting down the road. They’ve been highly educational. Best of all? They dissipate after bit, and I am lighter. The tide of Happiness comes in, with waves of Compassion.

I wish him well, I always have. And I wish me well, too.

Shé with Dad and Mom, 1963
Shé with Dad and Mom, 1963

Essay #2: the monster is a puppet

In Love on March 14, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I recently watched The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas came on before the film to explain that this was a different version than had first appeared in movie theatres. In the original, he said, “the ice monster was a hand puppet.”

His comment struck me.
The terrifying monster that almost kills Luke Skywalker…was a small hand puppet.

How many of my monsters — or fears — are merely puppets?

Here’s a recent example: I couldn’t pay the rent on time this month. For days my mind threw up grim images of an angry landlord, eviction, living under bridges, homeless in the rain. When I finally got the courage to call him, he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you’re all right. We’d hate to lose you.”

Monster? Hand puppet, operated by my mind.

Fear contracts: muscles, vision, life. I’ve been stuck in a contraction, bracing myself against the next bad thing. Fear has run me down, squeezed me small, hidden me away.

I have been flinching at life, not living it.

Fear was no longer a useful message, but a screaming background noise I tried to ignore. I pushed past fear, moving fast, hoping she wouldn’t catch up.

During a difficult conversation with my dad recently he said, “You are living such a marginal life.” And he is right. I have been cramped and small and walking on a thin line, trying not to fall. Living on the margins, instead of within the full text of life, spread out, taking up space.

I marginalized myself, trying to be good, perfect, lovable, wanted.
Thinking I had to deserve happiness.
I didn’t know that monster was a puppet. I thought it was going to kill me.

During the same conversation, I told my father I used to try to be the daughter I thought he wanted, which is why we never had a truthful interaction. I was afraid he wouldn’t love the real me.

My father said, “You never had to do anything except be your own happy self.”

And that’s the real monster, believing I’m not enough.
Spending time and energy trying to prove otherwise.

Fear is afraid. And what should you do when, say, little kids are afraid?
Ignore them? Scream at them?
Condemnation is not a useful healing tool.

Lately I’ve tried something a little different: dancing with Fear. Listening to her. Holding her on my lap. Breathing.

This is not always easy to do.
It’s so tempting to run away or drown her out with distractions, e-mail, DVDs, whiskey.

It takes practice.
When I remember, I acknowledge instead of ignore, dance instead of fight, listen instead of run. I say to Fear,
Come into my heart and lie down
Rest your weary self
You are enough – right now.

The monster is only a puppet.
You can take your hand out anytime.

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