134. apotropaic


“I had just moved to New York and was wondering if I was going to be alone for the rest of my life. Part of the problem was that, according to several reliable sources, I tend to exhaust people.”
— David Sedaris. “See You Again Yesterday.” Me Talk Pretty One Day

It’s weird thinking that at this time last year I was passed out on my friend Emily’s couch. We were both spending Easter as single adults, me still freshly emotionally raw from the ghastly episode with Seth on my birthday and her having recently separated from her husband. Life was not going particularly well for either of us at that point (one could justifiably say that conditions haven’t changed that much, at least for me, since then), and that ended with us getting fashionably drunk and passing out.

I’m getting sick of referencing my birthday. Doubtless anyone who reads this with any degree of frequency is thinking the same thing.

Tonight I watched What About Bob? with my roommate Mark. It’d been a while since I’d seen it, having grown up with that movie. We were actually introduced to it as a family by an individual who closely resembled Bob in many ways. She claimed to be a survivor of a Satanic cult in Shakopee, and at the time we knew her was going through treatment for dissociative identity disorder, although we later came to find out that this was not true. Most of the things she told us were not true, and yet like Bob she drew us in and convinced us to let her into our family.

As it’s been a while since I’d seen the film, there were several new takeaways in the story, especially relating to Bob.

Bob has, according to Doctor Marvin, a “multi-phobic personality characterized by acute separation anxiety and extreme need for family connections.” He’s like a big neurotic golden retriever, whose need for attention and acceptance is so profound that he pulls everyone around him into his orbit; and because he’s so well-intentioned (like a child, really) nobody can really hate him, even for making demands on his hosts, such as asking about a salt substitute at dinner or rushing in calling for a bowl of water for his fish (who is about to explode from rage over being locked up in a mason jar all day). If anything, they love him for his lovable craziness.

In coming under Dr Marvin’s psychiatric care, Bob begins to radically warp his doctor’s world. Everyone from the ladies at his building’s service to his family comes under Bob’s spell. He’s essentially evicted from his own life by a “textbook narcissist” (though a therapist like Dr Marvin should really know better than to throw around terms like that).

In some ways I can be just as destructive as Bob within my own relationships. Not to pull the victim card, but I did have a pretty toxic childhood and young adulthood in my fundamentalist Christian home. Ask anyone who grew up in a family like that and they’ll tell you that you basically become a master at pretending just to survive. Add the “figuring out that you’re gay mid-way through your teen years” element and on top of trying to be a good Christian kid, attempting to prevent your parents from finding out that you’re gay and possibly going ape-shit, throwing you out of the house and/or shipping you off to an ex-gay camp to “cure” you. Sure, I didn’t have a physically abusive parent. I wasn’t sexually abused. There wasn’t drug use in the house. Lots of people had it worse. But my home life essentially left me unable to truly experience any positive emotions, to form close bonds with other human beings (since my sixteen-year-old self is trying to keep everyone at arm’s length so they don’t find out I’m gay), and to give and receive love.

There’s a whole slough of other issues, but I have been somewhat of an emotional terrorist lately. What most people don’t realize is that bullying isn’t always of the active, playground variety. Sometimes it can run more insidious. I’ve functionally reduced the people closest to me to walking on egg shells lest they set off my trigger-happy anger that lately has been riding close to the surface. Part of it’s revisiting the Seth wounds through new acquaintances, and learning that he started pursuing a new no-strings-attached sexual relationship with another guy not three weeks after my birthday. It was beat-for-beat how our relationship began; and then just a few days ago I found out that he’s now dating someone (some closeted pastor here in the Cities whose music plays on the conservative Christian station KTIS now and again apparently).

And I’m still single. And the most important thing you need to know about me is that I’m highly competitive, so it’d be understatement to say that I’m feeling a tad lapped. Emily tells me that a relationship isn’t a race, but my limbic brain says differently. Part of it is just wanting to replace him with someone who I care about and who cares about me in return, but the louder part wants him to hear about how well I’m doing and that in spite of what he did to me that I succeeded. (In my world, the height of success is finding a boyfriend.)

What infuriates me is that, like Bob, all of this comes so easily to him. He just waltzes in and everything falls neatly in place for him, while I (like Dr Marvin) watch helpless as everyone unwittingly conspires to take it all away from me, evicting me from my world. And the awful thing is that I can’t beat him. He’s too charming, too sexy, and too lucky. Some people just have all those qualities. And some people, like me, are fucked before they even leave the starting gate.

I’m nearly 30. Only in movies does the protagonist find love late in life.

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