When I worked in the family donut shop as a teenager, one of the co-workers told me she was chemically imbalanced, which was the clinical diagnosis of being too sensitive. She suggested I consider getting myself the same diagnosis and the pills which accompanied it. I’ve battled with intense emotional reactions for as long as I can remember, and blame myself for being too sensitive.
Growing up my father consistently preached, “Humans are an alien experiment gone wrong. The mistake was the emotions.” According to his rationale, I was one of the biggest mistakes; how could I reprogram myself to react differently?
I’ll never forget the afternoon my father and I had a conversation about his cheating on my mother. This was 1988; I was 14 years old. I saw his cherry red Nissan pickup truck in front of her house on Klondike Ave, two blocks away. I gave him the benefit of the doubt; maybe he was just giving the unfortunate waitress a ride home. It turned out to be more than just a ride (in the car).
I sat over a pile of sunny-side up eggs I had cooked for myself. I dipped the rye toast triangles into perfectly round yokes and burst them, letting the yellow goo spill over the whites. It was the perfect metaphor. I was shattering life and it was bleeding out. I kept my eyes on my plate, averting my father’s eyes. Truly I don’t recall his words; even then, I knew they didn’t matter. I understood what happened. My parents fought constantly; they were typically drunk every night. There were 15 years of resentment and a Soviet immigration and a donut shop which never closed and my father was exhausted and wrung out. He felt akin to the other dust we buried under the rug. He felt validated, even entitled to happiness, to immediate gratification, to something – or someone – who made him feel good. This momentary glimpse of joy was temporary and now he was left with a pile of shit where his life used to be. I felt badly for my dad; he seemed to work endlessly. He was doing it “for us” and I wanted a respite for him.
After his pseudo-confession, my response to him was, “Life is too short to be unhappy. If she makes you happy, I want that for you.” The 14-year-old me thought this was about love.
I should have yelled at him, demanded an explanation. I should have aligned myself with my mother. I should have told him to fuck off. I should have held my mother’s hand in solidarity to start her Life 2.0: After Him. But I was daddy’s girl, inside out, and ultimately I understood his irrational reactions to his misunderstood emotions.
I thought I understood it all. I forgave him, but I never let it go. Like my mother, I held onto it, a tattoo, forever inked on a family which ultimately crumbled. 27 years have passed and I can still taste those eggs.
When my 6-year-old son and I moved in with my professional photographer husband 7 years ago, I had inadvertently discovered dozens of his photographs of nude girls. He wasn’t home when those black and white 8x10s spilled out at my feet. I had no interest in seeing the fine art of the women whose tits he photographed. I didn’t want to see the photos of the ex-girlfriend in the shower. A bachelor’s past fanned out on his studio floor for me to peruse. I stood there paralyzed with the hot feeling shooting from my feet to my sweaty palms. I put the photos away, took a walk through a street fair in Manhattan, and wondered, “Am I justified in having these emotions?” I decided I wasn’t. I convinced myself these emotions were unwarranted. Those photos were a lifetime before me; just pages in an outdated encyclopedia. He was madly in love with me, my son, and our new life. But these photos haunt me to this day. I know they live in my house, behind those Ikea frosted glass cabinets. What can I say to him? This was his old life and has nothing to do with me, but yet, my gut spasms. How can I control these illogical emotions?
Therapists have told me to embrace all my emotions; I am entitled to feel them, but it feels so wrong. I hate when emotions trump logic, but they do so often.
On a daily basis, I find myself sighing too loudly, slamming cabinet doors too forcefully, or overreacting to clothes left on the floor, on the couch, in the middle of the kitchen. These meaningless moments, I’m assured are not important; I have to let them go. I get LIFE, I truly understand it. I know days I wake up with the grace and health to take a painless deep breath and move on with the mundane tasks of motherhood are the most valuable. When my kids are under my roof for me to protect. When their bodies are being filled with the nourishment I’m lovingly providing. Often, though, their behavior prevents me from typing or talking or going. I may over-react, and rather than forgive myself for being a fallible human, I wallow in guilt at my unreasonable emotion-driven reactions.
I can promise to be better. I have grown miles regarding my reactions to people’s behaviors, and employing the seasoned maturity to think about the intention behind actions. I give everyone a therapeutic benefit of the doubt and do my best to understand mistakes. I try to practice forgiveness, but it requires exactly that: practice. Ultimately, I have to recognize irrationality when I see it and greet it with a hug, and disarm it with understanding, or better yet, banish it altogether.