Night Frets

Went to bed, couldn’t sleep. It’s his 57th and we were watching, Midsomer Murders, he fell asleep so I went to bed. Then he went to bed. I got up to mess with blog, couldn’t find it. Edited his website and he got up to say, “You on Facebook, what time is it?” 11:26.

Got my marking done yesterday, a professional day, all the stuff that was messed because I needed things on Parent Night Thursday. Anyway, cloistered, holed up in classroom, blind down, only Edna, next door working as well, after Social Studies conference-morning at ours. Gem came for a lift, post appointments, and I felt good, things all squared-off for next week.

Nice morning today, breakfast at a caf on Marine, lunch with Ian and Sam at Montana’s in Coquitlam. Got home just in time for Gem at ours. We talked, watched a forgettable Dustin Hoffman movie about a New York Jewish family. Gem said it was King Lear. Drove her home to 7th & Cambie.

Reflecting on life. In the dark. Post-cola at Montana’s, and hot chocolate tonight. See, I know the reasons I can’t sleep, but that doesn’t stop me wrecking my sleep. And then I have a fret that is clarity, that writing down will crystallise. The writing will be meaningful, so. Get to the point here.

A person can stop growing. I think that was the sum of it, that a person is affected by their circumstances. I stopped at around 14. My mother was preoccupied, my friends had turned into people I didn’t know, understand or admire, and then at 15, probably four days before my sixteenth birthday, around there, my father left. I thought it was great, my mother had been complaining what a child he had become, I thought she would be relieved. She was bitter, mechanically made meals for me, smoked while I ate, asking me about my day at my new school in our new town. “How’s Dad?” in a musical voice, followed by a drag on a cigarette, if I visited them. I was alone. Not really, but my resources were limited and taking care of myself was job-one.

Sam’s dad died at 42, when Sam was 11. His mother left to organise things, which took a few months on the other side of the planet. His sisters went bananas at home, parties and boys. Uncles and aunts kept away, perhaps because there were so many of them. He stopped growing. Not enough resources to take care of anyone but himself.

I’m sure it’s a well-known thing with clinical psychologists. People can remain juvenile, self-absorbed, finding it a big enough investment to simply look after themselves.

Cigarettes may have been my mother’s first love. She said, after Dad and she quit smoking (when I was about 4, because I can remember him with a pipe) that she continued to be miserable. One day he offered her a pack, and she accepted it. She said, ‘He loved me and didn’t like to see me miserable.’ I thought, but didn’t say, that the story was more likely, whether he knew it or not, that he was indicating, “Me or cigarettes?” and she chose, and was happy.

About eight years later we were on a driving trip, all in the car in a mall parking lot and she backed into a light-standard and he had a fit. My brother told me this, in explaining their eventual break-up, but I think also that I remember. I think at the time I was fascinated and wondered, Oh, so this is what it is like between them? The trip carried on but I think the trust was broken, snapped like a stick. If I can’t trust you not to shout and demean me then, I can’t trust you. The man/woman theme:  I’m big, you’re small, I’m loud, you’re apologising. No one gets anywhere, because traditionally, historically, both parties in these cases saw it as valid. Maybe starting October 5, 2017 there is now a cosmic shift (after Weinstein allegation started the current landslide) but it was thus up until now.

Years later my husband told me, Don’t talk to me after a nap, my mind is in a fog! One time when my father was snappy with my step-mother I said in awe, “You just woke up didn’t you Dad, you woke up from a nap, and that’s why you are cranky?” He admitted he had woken from a nap, and seemed to reflect on my observation–my husband’s observation from another time–and that it was true. In the car on our driving trip, since Mother was at the wheel, quite likely my dad had just woke up from a nap, snapped at her and, crack–like a stick breaking–that was the end of the trust that was their marriage. At the time I bet he surprised even himself in shouting at her. Perhaps he felt his knee-jerk reaction must have been justified, simply because it happened, “It must be true, she deserved a yell, she backed the car into a parking lot light standard!” And never apologised, and soon forgot it. But she didn’t.

My mother’s parents–same thing, as my aunt told the story. One summer day my mother’s 17 year old half-brother was washing his car, with the hose coming from an uncovered hole (meant for dumping coal down into the basement). My three year old mother fell into the basement and hurt her face and broke her nose. My uncle’s father had died and my grandmother, Mae, had married her second husband, Wil, and they had two girls, one was seven and the other was three. That night at the dinner table things were tense and then broke.

My aunt was very funny, a good story teller. She said she remembers continuing to eat from her plate, as her short father chased and then beat on her tall half-brother, “How could you?” The apple of his eye was all broken in hospital and Uncle Bev was to blame and blamed himself; his sweet little sister could have died. I don’t think Mae could forgive her husband’s outburst against her son. Hearing Aunt tell the story–continuing to eat her dinner, shouts, fists and tears of helpless grief and rage, Grandpa’s heart was broken, but in being angry and physical he broke the trust with his wife. Like a stick, it doesn’t mend.

Uncle Bevy visited when I was about 4. A kind, tall man, jokey with his little sister, my mother, who was delighted with him. He died in his 40s from heart disease, common in the 1960s. Working, drinking, smoking, lousy diet, lack of exercise were typical lifestyle hazards that killed people in a socially acceptable way. “Over-worked” and people knew that was necessary. A couple years before or after Bev’s death, my grandfather moved to England, on his war pension (he served with the British during the First World War) saying  it was for his health. But Aunt indicated that his nurse, Vickie Taverner, was maybe more than a nurse. Grandpa wrote letters to my grandmother saying how he missed her and the girls and he was in England for his health, it couldn’t be helped, and that he loved her. My aunt found a use for those letters when some authority threatened to cut off her mother’s pension benefits; because her husband left her, his benefits were not hers. I love you on paper was what it took, and Grandpa had provided that.

I reflect on my good luck in tapping a boy on the shoulder to ask for a dance at a university street party in September. He was with two friends. Watching him that evening I learned to dance, plant your feet and feel the music. He lived in the student ghetto, phoned our floor from the phone booth on the corner, so someone had to answer and I went to pick up the phone puzzled, ‘Well, should I come round?’ ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘just called to talk.’ But I am not a phones person, never learned to chat, ‘I will come down?’ No never mind. He sat beside me in psychology. I made a bag lunch in the caf, we were allowed fixings for two sandwiches, so I put those together and we shared. It didn’t feel right. I was over-tired and worried about achievement and where were my goals? Everyone seemed to know theirs. I even went to student advising department, saw a chain-smoking young advisor and wept in a tired mess about my past, my parents, and my lack of a career goal. (She looked very concerned through the whole thing, and sent me for a career test, which I never went back for the results because in grade 11 the school counsellor had given me one, and it suggested religious work or teaching, and I knew neither of those would suit me). First year university I did not have the resources, unaware that I could really, really use an early night’s sleep, and half-aware that I only had enough personal resources to look after myself.

The evening at the street dance the boys told us, ‘We’re in pre-med.’ I am sure it was a planned pick-up line, a joke between them. And Jeannie said, ‘That’s what all first year science students say,’ and we all laughed self-consciously. He was from Syracuse, in science, played the trumpet, bilingual. It took a few weeks to figure, he doesn’t know his own mind, the girl for him is in science, plays jazz, bilingual, smart and loads of fun. Not reflective or doubtful. Echos from childhood, unchangeable truths, ‘Only a girl,’ and, ‘Don’t worry, smart isn’t everything,’ resigned and supportive was mother. Facts according to brother, ‘Stupid and ugly.’ Being tired and one’s past take a toll. In junior high on Friday nights babysitting, we would watch MASH and I wasn’t after any alpha, Hawkeye, Alan Alda. I worried I was nobody’s arm candy. Hawkeye wasn’t someone you could imagine being serious about anything, wondering about you, or able to explain a complicated world.

One evening we went to the Yellow Door and he played a set. I figure I was overtired and on leaving, right outside the coffee house, I told him it was because he smoked, and he said, ‘But I play trumpet (very well)?’ and I said, ‘Smoking may mean you could be even better?’ As he walked away I asked myself, ‘Will I regret this? Will I regret this? No.’ He didn’t say he would quit, he didn’t turn around. Clearly a lack of compatibility. I saw him subsequently lots of time, did I want to go see ‘Jaws’ at the Student Union Building? I didn’t feel into movies. I am a doer. Or, probably overtired. Before the Red & White Review revival, I asked the girls if he might play trumpet for our Andrews Sisters cover of Bugle Boy, but they didn’t go for the idea and I told him I thought it a good idea, and so did he, but then I told him too that the girls had said no and he seemed disappointed. Why did I tell him? A month or so later he or Kirk got the idea to replace the pink sheer curtains in his window in the ghetto and out of the blue brought the fabric and I was so chuffed to be asked to sew. Our residence had a sewing machine in the basement.

But that was all and I didn’t turn it around. I saw him a year later, when I was in town from another university, on second year reading week, crossing University Street with a girl early on Sunday morning, and I thought with confidence, ‘She looks like the one,’ and I greeted him gladly and with interest but they both looked crushed. I thought someone must be dying somewhere so it was a big hello and small good-bye. I wrote him a letter that I was getting married and how had it gone with him? But the university sent it back saying they didn’t forward mail. Gem said, as with Max, she understood. Too much? Too good for you? And I remember that-nice-boy-Max, who seemed to take a shine to her in grade 11, and agreed. It was nice but you can do them a favour and cut loose to find a match you can’t match.

The foundation has to be there, of a stable family, a sense of confidence and resources that make it possible to look out for more than one. Gem, of all people, is the one that looks out for others. The only eldest among us (reminds me of Auntie Paula), stuck with moody, shouting, nuts. Formerly shouting nuts, now that Sam has grown older, along with a diagnosis, stray electrical impulses in the brain, that might explain some. As strong as she is, I haven’t given her as little as my own mother provided for me. “We had 21 good years,” Mother said of being married to Dad. She nurtured the four of us in her way, although she acknowledged she had post-partum depression after I was born, which I figure resumed when all the fun was over.

My daughter is the mature one. My mother would be so proud, she wanted a writer. I hope my daughter never gets it in her head to write any of this.

12:30, it’s written now, and same as back-in-the-day, I can sleep now it’s done. Write it and it’s gone. Peace.


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