Touched

“When your parents die, you will never see them again. You might think you understand that, but until it happens, you don’t. They say that you come into the world alone and that you leave alone too. But you aren’t born alone; your mother is with you, maybe your father too. Their presence may have been loving, it may have been demented, it may have been both. But they were with you.” —Mary Gaitskill

I got 663 words into drafting this post when I realized I was lying.

Maybe not lying lying, but I certainly wasn’t telling the truth about what I thought I wanted to say.

Then it occurred to me that what I was avoiding saying was much closer to what I wanted to say, so … here I am.

Pushing RESET.

These photos—recently digitized by my brother and, to my knowledge, the first time I’ve ever seen them—got me thinking. They were taken when I was an infant, with Mom, then held by Dad, and lastly, as a toddler, reprimanded at the dinner table in front of grandparents and the entire Family Project.

Seeing them has led me to something of an ah-ha moment.

First, a long-held assumption: that my parents were not openly affectionate, nor particularly tactile. These pictures seem to refute that, although as Mom and Dad aged they became more wary and withholding.

Second assumption: that I’ve always considered myself a fairly affectionate person. I enjoy hugging my friends. With past lovers, I’ve have had no compunction about holding hands or enjoying public displays of affection. People have remarked: “You’re a great hugger!” Assumption: reinforced.

The ah-ha moment came while rereading the original draft of this post.

Its tone was “authorial” and circumspect. I yammered on about the five senses, about how touch was always vying for my top sense along with sight and hearing. Hot, cold, how we sense energy through our skin … all that was getting away from what these photos extracted from me—that I was raised with care and affection, that I depended on assurances of that affection and, since then, how I’ve trained myself to avoid the frightening intimacy of touching other people.

Wacky, huh?

Again, it’s likely I’m overstating things, but I know myself well enough that my first choice is to rationalize and talk myself into (or out of) just about anything. This is probably true of most people.

In fact, in order to avoid something, you must have had some experience with the object you’re avoiding in the first place. Hence these pictures. They’re reassuring and unnerving at the same time.

First, my tiny fingers exploring Mom’s arm. I felt more connected to her than I did with Dad. But she could be emotionally tentative, and that must’ve confused me at times. Just a feeling; nothing I can point to.

That’s Dad in the loud red shirt, shortly after my birth. The cigarettes and coffee, Jello bars and pumpkin pie lead me to think the photo might be from Christmas 1959, since I was born in late November.

But what kills me is how gentle Dad looks. This is not the man I remember growing up. Although he softened greatly with age, he’s not the daredevil young man who cares for nothing—he’s confidently holding a baby. He’s confidently holding me.

Crap, I’m doing it again: Another gutter ball of explaining away, completely avoiding what these pictures are saying to me.

Which brings me back to the senses, since it’s the theme I sought to understand in the first place: touch and its importance to me and how it has shaped me now. It seems learning about being human also involves learning about boundaries—who you are, who others are, and how you interact with them.

So who am I and how do I interact with others?

Not as openly as I assumed. I wonder if my withholding had something to do with the openness I first learned from Mom and Dad, but was somehow later retracted? I’ve always wanted openness, honesty, and the willingness to engage, but worried about how it would be received.

The last photo at left is telling. The only faces we don’t see are Dad’s and mine. Grandma is looking slightly away; Mom looks on with a touch of bemusement; Brian, oblivious to the drama passing between me and Dad.

I’d guess I had something of a meltdown prior to dinnertime and Grandpa’s photo op pushed me over the edge. Dad is likely not comforting me, but chastising. That I well remember.

He wraps his arm around my chair, but it feels nothing like a safe harbor.

It feels like the closing of a cage door.

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~ by completelyinthedark on November 3, 2012.

10 Responses to “Touched”

  1. Wow! We are around the same age. I’ve been thinking of childhood issues much more lately than usual. Maybe it’s a phase of life process? I like how you keep pulling yourself back from rationalizing, trying to get at the core.

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  2. Your mom is so beautiful just like I remember her-she took such good care of my mother when sick- so loving and caring

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First picture here of you and your mom is stunning- I love this post. The conflict/ discrepancy between memory and photographs is of huge interest to me. Thank you for your words!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for all the encouraging comments and memories, folks. This was a hard post to write but relieved I stuck with it. 🙂

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  5. I don’t remember when I started trying to make sense of my past. Your writings remind me that it is my reality, one that could lay there dormant or rise to the top like cream. Memories are odd fellows that with time become foggy, like a mirror after a hot shower. Aging, being the bitch she is sets in motion a call to make sense of what is under the rug. By helping oneself, one helps others. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and moving comments. Seems like there are watershed moments in every life, and mine came in 2008. It’s been hard losing my parents, but their passing has led me to reviewing all my diaries, letters and photos. It’s become a journey that I can’t see ending any time soon. 🙂

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  6. Wow! The kitchen photo is amazing: bright reds, cigarette smoke, milk, mayo, coffee, pumpkin pie, mom, dad , baby, Christmas. A revealing snapshot of another time. So much to discover from just one brief moment at a kitchen table. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading! As mentioned, that was one damn difficult post to write. I miss my parents like all get-out. 😦

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  7. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Taking a mid-winter hiatus after four hefty January posts, so reposting this chestnut. Back to all-new stories Feb. 6! Cheers, Mike

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