Sometime during the day, at odd and peculiar moments, I experience memories and reminiscences. I associate to the old blinds with “pulls.” As I pull down the blind one more day is gone. And in the morning I raise the blind as if I have another day given to me as I inexorably march off to my end. At 71 I am saturated with all kinds of reflections of my childhood and all the concomitant cliches that come with that. I am drawn back in time like a receding tide and reminisce mostly of my dull relationship with my mother, a classic depressive. While I ponder about our interactons, I am drawn to a series of observations of myself as a child, unpleasant, unhappy ones. And then I extrapolate from who I was then and cast this pall over all the decades since and consider how the cards given me then have turned into the hands I’ve played. In short, for a large measure of my beginning years as a child, toddler and teenager I was incorporative as a human being. I had not acquired, nor was I shown, the tools of exchange, of embrace and engagement. I was not open to the world. Subterranean, I was all aquifer.
I will get to it quickly for after that it is mostly commentary. I feel I was not cared for by my mother nor did she engage me as her son. I could say I was abandoned by her but caring holds a greater valence for me. You need not consider my father, who virtually did not exist, either for himself or for me. The real measure of my humanity would be tied up with my mother and it is here that she failed me miserably. This is the wound.
I will cut deeper into the feeling. I experience myself then as devoid of emotional supplies, self-nutrients, the classic givens from which to thrive as a young human being. She never read to me, a childplacid and gentle in nature. I do so see myself as I look back. I was unobtrusive, a mother’s dream, especially for a depressive. I babysat myself. I had nothing to incorporate from my world with my mother, she was my moon, not my sun. I incorporated my environmental world as a child from friends and neighborhood, but I really cannot feel or sense that I received much in terms of parental affection, love or caring from my mother.
Only of late as I reconsider my life and the travail I have endured do I examine a little more deeply the lack of impact my mother had on me, and that very lack of impact has made all the diference in my life. After all, to age, by definition, is to recollect. Lucky is the mature human being who does this moment to moment, for he or she is express and in the world, an awakening of intelligence.
I will digress for a moment. The kind of wound I speak of here is the kind that defines us for the rest of our lives. [Have you asked that of yourself?] A wound that by definition changes everything that follows in our life. It is beyond being indelible, for it becomes the matrix from which the fabrics of your life are woven. To understand the wound intelligibly, thoroughly and with intense empathy and feeling is to give you a measure of understanding that explains most of the calamitous misfortunes of your experience. The wound is forever; however, it does become much less inflamed and after a while, amenable to consideration and thought. Growing old can help somewhat. I cannot imagine a human being extant who has not been wounded in such a way. Unfortunately we often come to our end avoiding the wound and its circumstances. I choose not to do so. As Nietzsche said, “knowledge is death.” It also sets you psychologically free. And in a special way, it may give you a compassionate stoicism to get on with the rest of your days.
In fact, as I see how I have lived as a passive-aggressive in my life, not sustaining relationships with men and women, too self-contained, private and self-sufficient if you will, not reaching out to others in communicable and feeling ways I realize that I was protecting what little nutrients I had for myself. It was an enforced self-sufficiency and that has proven most fatiguing as a human being. And the psychological and emotional costs are significant. And that is why I write, and that is why I became a therapist and teacher (unconsciously so) — to know, learn, reap and garner so as too fill in the gaping holes, the empty aquifer. I dreaded engaging the other, for the responses were unknown to me. I dared not risk, for I had no inner resolve for that. My negative perceptions of my fellow man and of others close to me have been shaped and configured by my first impressions and experiences of how I was related to by my mother, a maternal indifference. I have self-crucified myself on a cross of distrust. Benign neglect is ultimately malignant.
I imagine that I am in a morgue, an apt metaphor, and the doctor has spread open my rib cage with retractors, delving into my organs for a look see. The clamps attached to bone, sinew and flesh expose a gaping wound. It is here that he takes, in my mind, a measuring cup and dips it into my abdominal cavity and ladles out what liquids he can access. I associate to these liquids as an immense splash across my existence as I paraded through the decades. Ain’t much there to spread about and not wholesome at all.
As I age all is pattern. I am not into blame at this point. It is a special sadness for what could have been and what was not done. I see all the lost opportunities between myself and my mother, of books, ideas, understandings between parent and child that were not openly said and not surmised or thought of, guesswork that is not good for the young person. A child needs to know through word and touch that he is seen, that a measure of who he is becomes important to mother and child; that an exchange of affection creates that irritant from which a pearl is formed. I lacked such an irritant, and what is grievous here is that I sought it out at some primitive level or need. And when I look back which is my task as a human being at 71, when I assess my pilgrimage to nowhere in particular, for I am not on a mission , I am intensely saddened. I am just merely engaging and experiencing as the blinds go up and down every day.
I believe my mother to have been vastly deprived as a child herself, for she could not engage me as her son, nor read to me, or play board games with me, or discuss my daily life with me. Although she never did go to work throughout my childhood and youth, I was home with her and played alone, as I recall. The more I reflect about it the more it exhausts and appalls me, the waste, the lack of attention to a child who would have touched the stars with the palms of his hands if he had been encouraged. I know now I was a gifted child left outdoors to rust. And I did rust well. I feel that I had so much more in me throughout my life that had gone unexpressed. I had been stymied early and being stymied is an unusually agonizing, frustrating feeling — at least it is so for me. I remember years in adolescence afraid to initiate or touch young girls of my age as if I was a crystal that might shatter. All my rearing led to an immature adulthood. The larger part of my life has been in restoration, planting trees in the forest, grading the soil, weeding, breaking new paths, using quarried stones for walks.
A few unexplained and nagging doubts, perplexities, come to mind when I remember the years from birth to about 10 years old, 1950, to be exact, on Brighton Second Street, in Brooklyn, Brighton Beach Avenue and the cranky el at the end of the block. I could go back to that place tomorrow and trace out the courtyards, lanes and hidden places I frequented as a young boy. On the avenue was the Lakeland movie house, a run down and seedy theater we all called the “Dumps.” Often I was sent to the movies here, admission a mere $.18 cents. When I recollect the pictures I saw on the screen, really conscious dreams, if you think about it, I wonder why my mother so often sent me to the movies. It was safe back then for a young boy to go to the movies alone. She didn’t have to work. I wonder today what she did with all her time. Was she having an affair? And that is a loaded supposition, is it not? That thought comes before the regret — the resentment of this moment — that she could have spent more time with me.
I recall seeing Citizen Kane and The Search, both films dealing with mothers essentially. In one the mother sells the son, in the other a GI helps a waif try to find his mother after the war has separated them. Of special note is a scene involving a park and swings. The camera comes behind the boy when he sees his mother but the swings, moved by the wind, befuddle him, he can’t get to her. The children swings moved sideways as the boy moved longitudinally, struggling to get at the mother who is awaiting him after all these weeks and months. A caring mother seeking her son, a despairing mother abandoning him for money, I had neither. In one a mother is invested in her child, and in the other the mother sees her son as an investment for twisted capitalistic needs, unthought out actions on her part. Perhaps his middle name, “Foster,” was more than apt.
My wound is one of indifference, a failure of my mother to mirror back my very existence. We all need to be mirrored. A horror of a kind as I think of it, quite chilling if I allow myself, after all these decades, to feel it. I was shut down so early. And I still feel it all now.
Mothers. It is here within the uterine, incorporative recesses of the maternal “hold” that the child is formed. Blame, anger, rage, resentment, surly, and incendiary feelings at 71 come nowhere near to what I feel. Allow me a reversal to get at what I am dimly feeling but wish to see so vividly in the light, blinds pulled up. I lost a daughter at age 34 by her own hand. Doubtless, what she felt from me was an absence of caring. And she would have been correct. I didn’t have the werewithal to express that, to give it, understand what she needed at the time. I know that. And so she experienced loss as I experience her loss today, for a suicide really kills two. No, I don’t blame my mother for that! I am responsible for my own grave limitations. And so I am beyond giving blame. And I am not in the psychobabble game of coming to terms, reconciliation or redemption. What I need I cannot even say, but I feel. I struggle with that inexact feeling each and every day, whether tomorrow sees the blinds never pulled up or not. I go to my demise troubled, hurting and beyond sadness. That is enough for one life.
I find solace in Epicurus’s epitaph: “I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”