It's something that I think about a lot. The choices I made as a young person, how I lived like nothing mattered, because I had never been given a reason to try to be anything other than a pile of shit. Now that I am an adult, I have reasons to be good, and so I am. I had babies and they are the best and biggest reason anybody ever had to be clean and pure and good.
Somebody once argued with me when I said that Scouty saved me. This person thought that was an unfair thing to saddle on my baby daughter. She thought something like; as long as Scouty had saved me, she had an obligation to keep on saving me, and that isn't fair. Especially not to a child.
That's not what I meant, though, when I said that she saved me. She didn't do anything other than make me fat and then show up, a tiny, worked up, little bundle of softness, and she screamed and screamed and scared me and made me so tense and worried that I thought I was going to lose my mind.
She didn't do anything to save me. She was born, and that was enough. Once she existed, I was better. I was healthy. I was determined to live right and well and it was all set into stone. She can do anything she wants with the rest of her life. She can grow up mean and spit in my face and I'll still love her so much that I only want to be healthy and alive, for her. Of course, then Louisey came along, and that deal was sealed in concrete and blood. I don't credit my daughters with doing anything to save my life. I only credit them with being the most perfect beings to ever have walked the earth, which they are, easily, without feeling an sense of obligation. I don't need them to help me stay healthy. They exist, and that's all they need to do.
So, I think a lot about why I made the choices I've made. I think about growing up and how my father harassed and belittled me. How he took away everything that made me feel normal or comfortable. How he made me feel like a failure, like nothing I could do would be even remotely interesting to him. I think about how he treated my mother, and how she succumbed to him. I lived my entire young life with an entirely poisonous idea about what it meant to be a woman in this world. I had an entirely foul and decomposing idea about men and what to expect out of them.
I got into bad relationships with damaged, dangerous boys who I hated. They humiliated me, lied to me, scared me, pushed me around. I spent 5 years living with a boy who backed me up against the wall by my throat and held me there, who messed up the sheets of my bed with college girls who sometimes called my house crying. One of them had an abortion and showed up on my doorstep looking for him, clutching her abdomen. I felt so sorry for her, she was so small. I put my arm around her shoulders and told her to leave, but not to be afraid of me.
I blamed him, for all of that. The terrible boyfriend from a dark place in middle of America. I blamed my dad, too, and church. I blamed being poor and from a conservative, Christian town in the middle of a hidden valley on the edge of Appalachia. I have been off and on again about being mad at my mom for being too quiet, and for turning inward, turning on me when she should have been protecting me.
In The Adderall Diaries, Stephen Elliott says to his dad:
"We all think we're retaliating," I say. "That's the nature of conflict. We all think our actions are justified by someone else's actions. But actually, we're responsible for what we do."
First of all, this passage is genius because Elliott doesn't continue with this sentiment. He doesn't go on after this quote to say something like, "And I thought about myself and realized I had to let go of blaming my father for my own actions..." or whatever. He just left it dangling, and trusted his readers to be smart enough to understand why it's there and what it means.
When I was young, I made my own choices, but I didn't know that, yet. I was living in a weird, suspended state of being where I was mad that my dad hated me and my role models lied to me about heaven and music and sex. I was mad because my mom didn't protect me, and nobody encouraged me. My father made up lies about me, made fun of me, said that I was possessed by demons, that I was trying to drag our family to hell with my music and rebellion and drugs. Really, I was just a mad little kid who nobody loved and I got stuck that way. I didn't even know I was mad, anymore. I just knew that I didn't care if I died.
I loved a lot of things, too, even then. I loved the woods and water and people. I loved words and books and sprawling Russian novels because they were sad. I loved screw ups and misfits. I loved being alone, I loved my brothers and sister. I loved the highway and the city. I also believed that everything good in the world was untouchable, for me. That it existed for other people and they were lucky and had parents who wanted them to go to college and who called them on the weekends. I knew the world was beautiful, but I didn't belong to the world, and I thought I never would.
Now that I'm an adult and I have babies... now that I've had a chance to stop thinking about myself all the time, I understand that it isn't actually all about me. I realize that I don't have to be mad anymore, because those people who were bad and who crippled me as a child, they're still living somewhere, but the things they think and say and do have no bearing on me, anymore. I was forced to get up and out of there, and in doing so, I realized that I am made up of more than where I belong and of who appreciates me. I realized that who I am depends so much more on who and what I love than on who loves me. It isn't my job to lament the fact that my father never loved me. It's my job to be as loveable as I can be, and leave the application of that love up to whoever it belongs to.
I used to feel justified in saying, "I'm like this because I never learned any better." Now, that I am big and brave and real, I can be whatever I want to be, and my self-esteem and the ideas I have about myself are not tied up in any way with what somebody else believes about me. I'd like it if I had had a father who wasn't mean to me, if I could have been raised in an atmosphere other than a backwater, lecherous, spirit-filled and charismatic one. I'm not saying that I don't have problems thinking about being young without feeling panicked and confused. I am saying that those things don't have anything to with my life, anymore, though.
In these kind of scenarios, people always say, "You need to forgive, so that you can move on." It's not really about forgiving, though. At least not for me. I am never going to feel like I can just forgive all the misogynistic, manipulative and oppressive players in my past, but I can acknowledge that they don't matter and that I don't have to use up any more of my time thinking about them, or trying to blame somebody for what I am. Instead of saying, "There's a reason I'm like this," I just live like I'm something that doesn't require an explanation.