excogitate, verb: 1) To think out; devise; invent; 2) To study intently and carefully in order to grasp or comprehend fully.
And nothing would be worse than a scholarly analysis. Erudition. Interpretation. Complication. Now is a time for simplicity. Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness.
I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see that I have been found out.
— Margaret Edson, Wit
I’ve always been a solitary sort of person. Just ask my roommates. Like the stereotypical scholar, I can hole away in my room for a day or two, seemingly without the need for human company. The west end of my bedroom is lined with books up to the ceiling, and my headboard is currently filled with volumes that are in the process of being read. I often emerge having forgotten how to actually talk to people, or converse with them in a way that isn’t on paper or screen. Such is the peril of the writer.
When I was about twelve years old, I distinctly recall driving to church with my family. I don’t remember specifically why, but on this occasion I can remember being angry with my father. That isn’t particularly notable since I was often angry with my father. Aside from the occasional connection over music, we’ve never really gotten on well. That in itself is also probably not particularly notable. It’s the age old theme, isn’t it? Father against son? Son against father? The Jungians were fascinated by “father hunger” and the pang felt for an absent parent, physically or otherwise.
My own father was physically present in the home as much as he could be. When we were younger he literally worked across the street at the Christian community college he taught at in rural Kansas. My two younger sisters and I were homeschooled during our entire stay there (1986-1993), so we’d see him when he came home for lunch some days. But he was largely absent emotionally. He and I rarely spent any time together, and if we did it often ended in a fight and me getting sent to my room. I don’t know if I even knew what was going on, if I knew to ask for his attention, or if he even knew how to reach out. Likely he did not. His own father was distant, from what I can hear, and physically abusive towards his own children.
So that afternoon, driving to church, sitting behind my dad with my sisters in the backseat of his blue Saturn, I suddenly decided then and there that I was going to have nothing more to do with love of any kind. (Yes, I know, very Ring des Nibelungen. And yes—das Rheingold is a gimmick.) It was messy, nonsensical, human, and left the lover open to getting taken advantage of and hurt. The best course of action was to shut myself off from the world; to be hard and untouchable; and all that sort of thing.
But the sad thing is that it rather worked. Now, this is around the time that I started to enter puberty, and was also starting to get an inkling that I might not be heterosexual, despite all the indoctrination and against the expectations of my family, so this may have been an unconscious tactic to guard against them finding out.
Part of it was too that I was tired of not being accepted by my family. Shortly after this my parents started attending parenting seminars and began to see all of the mistakes that they’d made, but it was rather too late for all of that. The damage had been done. And to keep myself safe, I shut my family out. I refused to let any of them love me, because for so much of my early years “love” meant getting hurt. Sadly, this also meant that attempts on my parents’ part to make amends for that glanced off, and were met instead with violent resentment from my child-self.
Even now, I still resent my parents for what they didn’t do then; but there’s no going back to change anything. They’ve apologized, but I doubt it will ever be enough.
Yes, other people have had much worse from their parents—years of physical (and even sexual) abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. But it feels as though they left me half-formed as an adult. Most people miss out on those things from their parents, but find it in friends or other parental figures. My younger sister and I were homeschooled up until the 9th grade; but aside from some friends from church and a few kids in the neighborhood, I didn’t have many friends. My younger sister had many friends from dance, and my youngest sister had friends from band. For me, I threw myself into the only thing I was decent at: piano. I practiced a lot, sometimes up to four hours a day.
For me, love, self-worth and acceptance are tied up in what I do, and how good I am at those things. Any failure (perceived or real) is viewed as a personal defect that downgrades my personal worth. The only way that I felt I could get my parents’ approval was to be really good at piano. And for a while I was. Then I was good at composition. And then I wasn’t getting commissions, and getting rejection letters from competitions and contests and artists.
And the sick thing is that I know intellectually what’s happening. I’m writing about it in an almost auto-narrative fashion! But I can’t seem to do anything about it.
As desperately as I want to be in a relationship, there’s no way I could be in one right now without unconsciously sabotaging it. I can’t believe that anyone loves me because I don’t truly love myself.
So much for being smart.