Thursday, October 23, 2008

A club that would have me as a member

I've never been one to join any kind of organized group; it's something totally at odds with my solitary nature. Oh, believe me -- I've tried over the years. As a kid and teen, I made half-hearted attempts to please -- or more accurately, shut up -- my parents, who were convinced that the kids at Hebrew school were a good group to hang with, solely by virtue of the fact that they were Jewish and all my friends in the neighborhood were not. Since it was their choice to buy a house on a well-populated block with perhaps a grand total of five (if even that) Jewish families, I felt no compelling reason to extend my relationships beyond those that I had established. In addition, my mother loved to tell -- and continues to tell -- anyone within earshot how she grew up thinking everyone was either Catholic or Jewish, and how the Favuzzis lived on one side of her house and the Violas on the other, and how when my brother openly and innocently asked why a certain man doing some work in our then-apartment was brown (the same apartment from which we would later move when the neighborhood became a tad too dark-complected for her comfort) how she explained that God made people different colors, and that we were all the same inside, or something to that effect.

And then she concludes that particular story -- a story she can’t help but manage to relate within minutes of sighting any black person who crosses her threshold for the first time (which is a frequent occurrence these days since she requires 24/7 assistance) -- with the man responding, “Ma’am, if mo’ peoples was like you, this world would be a sho’ good place!”

Yes, complete with Stepin Fetchit enunciation and all. To their faces. To their -- need I reiterate -- clearly black faces. Because she’s a great liberal, you see, and so comfortable with everyone in the world that she must draw attention to the given person’s “otherness” in order to prove just that. Which, of course, is clearly evidence to the contrary, but go try telling her.

Everyone carries at least some sort of prejudice, to one degree or another, toward one or more groups of people, and maybe the sooner one can acknowledge that in oneself, the better. Maybe then we can perhaps get on with the business of life, without having to make a show of things. We can simply be. But that sort of reasoning is for more or less normal-thinking people, and she's never been one of those -- although she's managed to fool a whole lot of people along the way.

But I digress. I always do.

So I suppose that my reluctance to be part of an organized group was, at least in part, due to being forced into one in which I had no particular interest. It was enough being born into one, as we all are in a way; I just felt no need for redundancy. The pattern continued throughout my growing-up years, through high school, college and even into the working world. It was also forged by my utter lack of privacy growing up, and even as a young adult. I was never afforded the right to my own thoughts, beliefs or opinions. My mother always managed to elbow her way into my relationships, even among people with whom -- and for whom -- I worked. Fight as I might against my parents, particularly my mother, who time and again made it clear that I was to live life at she saw fit -- which was not to live at all -- I found it far easier to be alone rather than to be what others wanted me to be. At the same time, pretty much anything I might have had interest in was belittled and discouraged, so being alone was the best I could do.

Sadly, it's still all I can do. I was not permitted to go away to college (it’s a wonder I earned a degree at all), or move out of the house. I was so beaten down, that I was paralyzed by fear of success perhaps even more than the fear of failure. If I failed, it would be bad enough, but if I succeeded, I would be surely be reminded of how much better I must imagine I was, of how "some people don’t know how to walk or talk,” as my mother loved (and still loves) to say.

Although a whole lot has happened between then and now (including an “escape” halfway across the country at the ripe old age of 26, a story I will save for another day), I don’t think I will ever feel anything but “less than.” I have had some professional success, I suppose, however limited by fears and insecurities no amount of therapy or medication will ever entirely alleviate, and I’m married to a wonderful, ambitious and understanding man. (He can be a dick at times, but who isn't every once in a while?) We have two children, a beautiful house (even had a beach house at one point), travel now and then, and with this lifestyle have thus far been afforded an existence that has indulged -- or perhaps more accurately, has fortuitously perpetuated -- my more or less self-imposed isolation.

But there are a couple of things I’ve done recently which are surprising for me, and maybe even a step toward…I don’t know…somethingness, rather than my discomforting comfort zone of nothingness. The first is that I’ve joined a book club. It requires reading -- for me, the easy part -- but more importantly, it requires interaction with others, maybe even the possibility that I have something of value to contribute.

And I started this blog. One could argue that it’s a solitary pursuit, not requiring any kind of collaboration, and that’s true. However, writing this is the most open and out there I’ve ever dared venture, and I still don’t know how far I will feel safely able to run with it. The fact that I’ve written about my mother is one thing. She may be alive, but holds no particular power over me anymore. I now know who and what she is, and have no more to fear from her than from an empty suit of armor. But there are others in my life, every bit as much a part of my story as she, only with more time remaining and infinitely greater things to contend with. I respect and understand that.

But this is my life, my story, and for the first time in 48 years – with surely at least half my life behind me – I’m claiming ownership.


Will McKinley said...

It's a great piece, but I have to differ on the premise.

You were part of the Dark Shadows group for a number of years and, as far as I could see, well-liked and engaged.

Yes, that whole thing was designed to appeal to people who were outsiders to some degree in regular life, but we were all still insiders when we were part of it. No?

Cheryl said...

That did come to mind while I was writing this, but since I was thinking more in terms of formally-structured groups -- clubs, committees and the like -- it was easy for me to put the thought aside.

Of course, I was plenty berated by by parents for having an interest in Dark Shadows -- and even worse, making friends -- but in the end, I suppose my defiance and the attending of a certain DS convention in Dallas is what ultimately put me on the road toward some measure of independence, and allowed me to begin to grow.

Of course, we all were outsiders-turned-insiders, but considering that many of the same people are still there, aging within it while remaining at home with barely-alive parents, I'd say that as a social experiment, it fails on any number of levels.

But it also succeeds for those who fully embrace it. I had fun, but I still wanted to be a real, entire and free-thinking and -living person. I'm not saying that everyone in any kind of fandom is emotionally stunted and has no meaningful existence outside of it, but it sure tends to largely attract that bunch, doesn't it?

Shan G said...

A kindred spirit!!

Aren't controlling mothers FUN???!!!

Mine STILL tries to control me from 3000 miles way! She even tries to control my parenting of MY child!

Don't you just love being told what to do by your mother & now being able to tell her that you are an adult with a marriage & a family of your own & perfectly capable of doing it well by yourself?

I know I do!

Cheryl said...

Yes, it's a true joy, isn't it?

Mine has told me that I don't know how to bring up children. The reason? They don't follow what she considers protocol; kissing her upon seeing her withered, deranged and wild-eyed visage and genuflecting deeply (okay, not literally genuflecting, but I'll bet you know what I mean). They don't call her on the phone (they really don't call anybody, but no one is as special as she is, of course), and hardly visit her...largely because I keep away as much as possible.

You're so lucky yours in 3,000 miles away. Mine is only about 35 miles away, and it may as well be 3,000 -- so I'm good.