Door Number Three?

A couple things happened this past week which don’t particularly seem related but are if only because there’s either the familiar, self-destructive way to deal with them or the way that I can say lots of really smart things about, but seem unable to actually do.

These couple things are also about writing; what it is I’m doing here writing this blog where I take pause and look at the sorrow of my son having died and what all that means because it’s not only changed whatever I thought the future was going to be, it’s changed the way I see the past. And it’s forced me into constant reckoning with the fact that there only, ever is Now.

I work this out here because we’ve all an ancient need to tell and to hear our stories, and we live in a time where we’ve got virtual communities to do so.

A couple weeks ago I started a short term writing class about how to publish personal essays, which I thought would be easy since I’ve a got a blog full of them. Except it doesn’t work like that.  After reading aloud the couple pieces I’d brought in, the woman who’s running the class said – and in the gentlest way possible – that what I’ve written doesn’t work in the way I’ve written it and this should go here and that should go there and the rest of it isn’t necessary and on and on until I felt like she was taking what I’d written and making it into something I wasn’t trying to say. But the worst thing about it was that I didn’t hear it. I thought it worked, exactly as I’d written it. That I can’t hear what I’m writing is beyond dismaying.

And into the mix came a cryptic email from a long-time long-distance friend X who I haven’t heard from in a month and a half or so and who wrote that she’s “been reading my blogs” and decided that “Natalie must feel like not only did her brother die, but her mother has as well. She must be very lonely;” and that she’s an “innocent victim of my grief.  Why else would she want to spend more time at Phil’s.”

And, she says, her only reason for saying this is because she’s worried about Natalie, who I’m not sure she’s ever even met and if she did, it was when Natalie was a wee bit of a thing. Because had she met her, the last thing she’d call my scrappy, in-your-face, don’t-mess-with-me daughter is a victim of anything.

But reading that shook me up and began an obsessive chain of thinking that echoed back through the years of when I didn’t know better. The years spent locked in relationships (not only romantic ones) where I swore I was the victim and the closest I got to seeing what my part was was to say, well, I must have a part ‘cause it takes two but I’ll be damned if I know what it is because she is so doing that to me.

Obsessiveness and writing don’t work for me, in spite of my writing teacher suggesting the reason I keep writing about Philip is because I’m obsessed. I see “obsessed” as blinding and shortsighted which maybe isn’t at all how she meant it, but that’s how I took it and so twice in one week I decided I was the victim of a world that I always knew I didn’t belong in.

I’m not obsessed with Philip. When he first died, and for at least that first year – that’s obsessed. What the hell else would I be? And for that year, I – who at the time of his death was 150 pages into what I saw as a hot and sexy memoir – was not able to write a word because the grief-obsession duo made everything move too quickly to capture in words and drained me of both the will and energy to do so.

So now I feel like the contestant in Monty Hall’s Let’s Make A Deal who has to choose between Door Number One or Door Number Two or Door Number Three, except that what’s behind them is no secret to me. Behind Door Number One is angst and depression because I am what I write and if I can’t make a goddamn essay with the thousands of words that I’ve already written, then what the fuck am I here for? Behind Door Number Two is self-righteous victimhood and insecurity because how dare she and who the fuck does she think she is but maybe she’s right and what kind of mother am I, what kind of person with my goddamn tale of woe and what’s wrong with me that I still haven’t gotten with the program?

Then there’s Door Number Three, which is where truth lies and you’d think it’d be easy to walk through that door, but it isn’t. It hasn’t the obsessive seduction of tearing X apart and stomping through her bloody remains, or of watching myself whither away because the Teacher likes everyone but me and I can’t write and I can’t live without my son and life’s a big suck ball so why can’t I please just fucking die.

Behind Door Number Three lies the meaning of “it takes two.” Because first there’s the fact of what happens, and then there’s the way I choose to look at it. And that is how one creates a life.

A blog post is not, in fact, an essay. There’s the possibility of it turning into one, but it’s hard. I can choose to try to do that, or I can work on an essay instead of a blog post. I can choose to put my energy into what it takes to get published now, or I can continue to learn about it and try to make it happen later on. That’s all; there isn’t any drama here. There’s figuring out what I want to do, then figuring out how to get it done.

And this situation with X, which is too perfect: here I am suffering a death I consider way more tragic than my own, and what I thought was her loving hand was really holding a knife. And when I tell this story like that, I can get my goddamn ego stroked because no one should treat a grieving mother like that and how much better am I ’cause I’d never, ever do such a thing. And there was a time that would have satisfied me, but at the price of having to repeat my sad story until it grew flimsy and full of holes, but then sure enough along would come another injustice and I could start all over again.

But how about I change the story. How about I say…nothing happened. It’s a fact, of course, that X wrote those things. But what’s that change about me or my life? If I think it matters that much and I attack back, then I must think I’m small and weak and that someone’s words can threaten me, can change something fundamental about me.

What if I changed the story to understand that X is in her own pain, because people don’t lash out if they’re not. And if that’s true, why do I want to make it worse with a counterattack? Contrary to the laws of this world, we have what we give. If I shoot poison at her, I have that poison, which comes from an ever-replenishing well where the more I give, the more I have.

AA talks about detaching with love. Whatever, I used to think. Not so much any more. And I mean love as in keeping an open heart. I’m not saying I have to send flowers to X and tell her what she said didn’t matter and everything’s all Kumbaya. I’m way too human for that, and the fact is, it does hurt. Detaching with love means seeing this friendship has been fraught with difficulty and if I don’t like the way I’m treated, I end it. But I keep my heart open because when it shuts down in response to the pain I blame someone else for, all it does is shut that pain deep inside of it. That’s what the light’s about, the diamond Philip offered me. That’s the light that burns through the suffering and transmutes it first into something bearable and eventually to the joy that’s its other side.

And I am working on it, because no one feels the deadliness of my anger more than I do.

© 2013 Denise Smyth

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