To Wendy & Prisca,
I’m sorry you took my post that way. You badly misjudged both my intentions and what I wrote. Wendy, you say that this is not a game. Isn’t that exactly what I’ve been saying all along and the reason that I posted in the first place? Even in that last post I wrote these words:
“Secondly, there are some problems that cannot be solved by straightforward gentleness and decency. Sometimes a combination of things must be used to succeed when none of them will work singly. To illustrate, chlorine is a deadly poison. Those exposed to it can die. However, when combined with another deadly poison, sodium, it becomes salt, a substance that is necessary for life. At times it is necessary to use this principle in our lives and relationships. It is a delicate and dangerous thing and not to be used lightly.”
How could you draw from that that I am merely playing a game in order to have fun at other people’s discomfort? In no way do I wish to degrade anyone for their reactions. Nor is it any trick. Remember when King Solomon gave the command that the baby be cut in half, with one-half to be given to each mother? He neither intended to carry it out, nor did he wish to cause pain, but he did need to figure out who the real mother was. The only way he could determine that was by evoking responses in those women and then judging which would most likely come from a mother. It worked, and that is the important thing. It is this type of process of which I speak.
Let me explain now why I felt such a thing was necessary. In doing this, I will be doing the same thing you did earlier. I’ll be opening my heart and explaining things that have happened in my life that few others know of. These are things that have shaped my life, and that caused me untold heartache and grief for the first 45 years of that life. This is also one of those two other “buttons” that were pushed that I promised to explain at the end of the last post.
I love my mother dearly. She is in her 80’s now and quite frail. When I was a small child of about 2 or 3, she suffered a series of shocks that shook her to the very core. The first was losing her firstborn, a daughter, at the age of 6 months of whooping cough and pneumonia. This was before the days of antibiotics. I was born and then shortly after that another daughter came along. That one lived until the age of 18 months, then died of the same thing. Mom was already well along with her fourth when that second daughter died, and when he was born, she took out her grief by showering him with attention. As luck would have it, he was not a baby that liked to be cuddled and he would push her away. That was almost too much. But then something else happened between her and Dad (the details are not important, but it was not adultery) that changed her.
She became hard and bitter toward men and at life itself. Her approach to others became prickly and distant. It was almost exactly like that of Tina’s and Mommie Dark’s, as has been manifested ever since I got on this board. The main differences are that she never used profanity or the feminist argot. Of course, this was before the 60’s, so most of that terminology didn’t exist then. Also, she was distant to all, including other women.
We kids always knew that she loved us, but that distance was there and it affected us all. It left us with a feeling that she was behind a glass wall where we could see her and hear her, but could never touch her. Plus, she was obviously in distress and there was absolutely nothing we could do to come to her aid, as she wouldn’t allow us to come that close.
This built up over the years and caused all kinds of trouble, heartache and hard feelings. It was a home with a great deal of unhappiness and tension, but because of that distance and the resulting lack of information (therefore, a lack of understanding too) there was nothing we could put our finger on as to a cause. It was like fighting a dark cloud, a miasma of hurt and recrimination that floated around and touched everything. I’m afraid she got more than her share.
Personally, I found it agonizing. It nearly drove me crazy. When I left home, I left for good, hardly ever coming back for much of anything. I’d washed my hands of the whole thing.
Twenty years passed, and the time came when I could no longer stand that. I remembered how she had explained to me once of how people who have been hurt build walls around themselves in order to protect themselves from being hurt again. Having been married for 20 years and with 5 children of my own, I’d gained a much deeper understanding of these things.
By first hand experience I’d learned that those walls don’t protect us, for the painful things pass right through as easily as x-rays through skin. But, sadly, they do succeed in protecting us from the love that others try to express for us.
They also eliminate nearly any chance we may have of enjoying serendipity, for even if we do discover something good, we are usually too scared (and suspicious) to give it a chance. I had to move back and try to break down those walls and let her out of the prison that she’d been in so long. I had no hope of succeeding; I just had to try in order to live with myself.
So we moved back, and I tried and tried and tried. Sometimes it was rather traumatic, for even though I wasn’t attacking her she would get as defensive as lioness guarding her cubs. I was getting too close. Years went by and I kept trying one thing after another to break through that wall of defensiveness. Nothing seemed to work, but I kept studying her and the situation, all the while doing what I could to figure out the history behind it.
The biggest problem was that she didn’t seem to recognize that there was any alternative to the “rule or be ruled” mentality. If I used a gentle approach, she’d view it as weakness and would move in and keep coming until I was forced to come back at her and take back what she’d trespassed on. It was not fun. I always stopped though where my “turf” ended. She didn’t know how to take that.
I remember one time that we were on a trip and there was a burst of anger between us. Her normal reaction was to stew about it for days afterward, but this time we stopped at a rest area about 15 min. later. While looking around, I noticed a beautiful flower that I didn’t recognize. Knowing that she loved such things and knew a great deal about them, I called her over. “Mom, isn’t this beautiful? Do you know what it is?” I’d spoken with friendliness and interest and not a trace of resentment due to the events of a few moments before. You could see the surprise in her eyes.
When the breakthrough came it was totally unexpected, and so easy that I couldn’t believe it. We’d been talking about something related that was skirting dangerously close to her area of fear. I could see the anxiety in her eyes.
She said, “Tom, you just don’t understand.”
“Mom, I think I do.”
I smiled gently. “Well, let’s find out, then.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I know about . . .” and I proceeded to tell her of some of the things I’d learned.
There was a look of incredulity on her face that grew stronger as I continued speaking, but I’ll never forget the unutterable relief that registered there too. “How do you --- know about --- that?” She whispered.
“A little bird told me.”
Then ensued one of the most touching conversations of my life. She was eager to talk of such things now, to get it all out and done with. At the end, we hugged one another and there were tears in our eyes. “Finally,” I said, “I feel that I have my mother.”
She changed after that. I could see a timidity there, a not knowing of how to live in a world where it was unnecessary to be constantly on the defensive. It was like she’d been let out of prison and she was wandering around in wonder and amazement at the very feeling of being free. Sure, she’d still get prickly now and then, but it would be short lived and the vehemence was gone.
This is what I meant by saying that sometimes a gentle approach is not enough. In this case I had to defend my own ground to the point that she became convinced that I could not be taken. Next I had to let her see for herself that I would not take advantage of my strength to do her harm; that I would fight fair and not be vindictive. Only after this foundation was laid could she finally open up and talk about the things that were making her (and everyone else) miserable.
Of course, while this was going on, there were many who condemned me for bothering her at all. They just wanted me to leave her alone and not make trouble, in spite of the fact that she was making everyone miserable, including herself. But I do not agree with the cowardly course of maintaining peace for the sake of peace. There was no peace to begin with, and to follow such a course only makes things worse, allowing them to grow until tragedy strikes. For that matter, was it not already a tragedy, this self imposed prison that she didn’t know how to get out of?
But don’t mistake me here. I have no illusions at all about Mommie Dark or Tina reading these words and then miraculously changing into warm, nurturing personalities. That’s not the way things work.
I figure there is a 50% chance they will answer scathingly, a 49% chance they will stick their noses up in the air and maintain a haughty silence, pretending that they never read it, but only a 1% chance (if that) that they will answer seriously and from the heart. Women like that are fairly predictable, as their fear is what dictates their conduct. And rest assured of one thing. No one would rejoice greater than I would to have that prediction proved wrong.
What I do hope for is that over time they will remember and think about what I’ve said, and I think the tactics I’ve used will guarantee they will, whether they wish to or not. That’s why I used them. Down the line somewhere, whether it is weeks, months, or years, they will remember my words and come to realize that such conduct is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Hopefully, they will mellow a bit. I doubt that I will ever see it or know about it, but both they and those they associate with will benefit if they do.
Now I suppose that you view me as a regular Machiavelli and that I make your skin crawl, which is entirely your right. However, there are a great many people who are thankful that I’ve used these things, beginning with my mother. Plus, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of being able to solve a lot of deep-seated problems that everyone else thought were impossible. I have no regrets in that matter.
I would write about that 3rd “button” too, but that is especially precious and beautiful to me and I have the distinct impression that you would not be interested in it.
Prisca, you write that we should forget this matter and go on to more important things. You mean like that thread “Witnessing in the nude”? We have the freedom to think now. Surely we can do better than using our brain as a tiddly-wink.
Alias: Tom Howell