I currently have this book sitting on my desk for review, and I hope the authors don’t mind me borrowing from their title. (The book is great; it gives kids on the spectrum practice with identifying emotions via facial expression. I can only assume that the correlating adult book would feature such directives as “point to socially acceptable” and “point to pretty,” instead, but I prefer this version.)
My folks headed back home, yesterday. In the middle of the afternoon I got a helpful automated phone call from their airline, letting me know that their flight had been canceled. As they were currently stranded in Philadelphia I’m not sure how useful that was, but it sounds like they eventually made their way back to the homestead. While I was sorry for their complicated, longer day, I was not sorry they didn’t take the call, as the voice on the other end was just so downright chipper in regretting to inform me that the flight had been canceled. That’s the sort of thing that can spark a good rage, you know.
I am somewhat prone to those sorts of rages. Sometimes I think I majored in righteous indignation in college. As we muddle through helping Monkey and the school deal with his meltdowns, every bewildered “He just gets so ANGRY” from someone who doesn’t quite get it is a little knife in my heart. Anger is a shielding emotion. It’s much easier to be angry than to be sad. Misery is vulnerable; outrage is invincible. I know why Monkey gets mad—being pissed at everyone still feels like being in control, while admitting that you feel lost and hopeless is a free-fall.
I’ve been harder than usual to live with, lately. I kept apologizing to my dad; I was sorry I had to work so much while they were here, I was sorry I wasn’t more cheerful, I was sorry that I’m really not my best self right now. He understood. He’s a pretty forgiving guy.
When Otto and I dated the first time, shortly after my divorce, life was pretty stressful. The kids were struggling and I was going from one terrible job to unemployment to the next terrible job. I wasn’t exactly jovial all the time. And Otto has always been the guy you call when you need a ride to the airport or help fixing your plumbing or someone to lend you a tool. He’s very generous that way. But as life got hard and my ability to cope decreased, he became impatient. I’m not saying it wasn’t warranted. I was short-tempered and preoccupied and not exactly the model good-time girlfriend.
But the worse I felt, the more he pulled away. Which made me feel worse. Which made me ACT worse. Which made him pull away more. Etc. Finally, there was the fateful phone call where we argued, and he said it:
“This isn’t any fun anymore.”
He said THIS isn’t any fun anymore, but what I heard is “YOU aren’t any fun anymore.” And he was right: I wasn’t. But… life isn’t fun all the time.
I got angry. Otto would probably tell you angry is an understatement. He was immature, he wanted everything to be easy and happy and life isn’t like that. I got furious, and I broke up with him.
Never once did I tell him how much what he’d said had hurt my feelings. I didn’t tell him that what he said made me so sad I could barely breathe. What I heard was “I am only interested in being around you in the good times.” And I have been around long enough to know that not all times are good ones. I wanted someone who loved all of me, and with that statement I was sure he had just told me he never would.
We didn’t speak for two years.
Y’all know there’s a happy ending here, because he came back and we’d both grown and changed and matured, and it turns out that we really do love all of each other. Thank God. But I have a little mental scar from that conversation. It’s not even poor Otto’s fault, really. Lord knows there’s been plenty of “you’re not fun anymore” moments in my life with other people—both before and since—it’s just that he’s the one who had the misfortune to say it the way that he did.
So when the stress comes, now, I clamp down. I say I’m fine. I get angry, maybe, if I can’t quite keep it all in. And I try to hide it from Otto.
That’s stupid, of course. And I know it, but I do it anyway. Old wounds heal hard.
Finally, I break down and talk. I talk and talk and cry and I apologize, a lot. I’m sorry I’m struggling, I’m sorry I’m burdening him, I’m sorry that I can’t seem to get on top of this, right now, in a more productive way. He listens. He loves me anyway.
We lie in bed together at night, in the dark, holding hands.
“How are you doing?” he asks.
“I’m sad,” I answer, both remorseful and so relieved to be able to just say it.
“I know,” he says. He squeezes my hand. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I know,” I answer. And I do.