Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saying Important Things

This is something I wrote to myself a couple weeks ago. I post it now because I did contact my cousin and it turned out to be a positive experience.

How do you say something important to someone you don't really know?

This isn't a problem I normally have. If I have something I feel is important to say it’s either general enough that I can drop it on my blog (like littering on the internet) or it’s to someone I know well enough that I’m comfortable just saying it to them.

I have this cousin who’s about ten years younger than I. As with most of my cousins I don’t know her very well. There are a few of my cousins who I know better, but I could count the number of times I saw this cousin, or any of my cousins, on both hands. Although, at this point it’s probably fair to say whatever I once knew about even my closest cousins has little to nothing to do with who they are now. They aren't to be blamed for this thing. If it’s a failing, it’s all mine. Admittedly I didn't have a lot of opportunities to bond with my cousins, or aunts and uncles or grandparents while growing up. At best we saw some subset of them once a year, sometimes we’d go two or three years without in person contact. And now that I've been out of my parent’s house and in California for 16 years I see everyone even less.

Facebook has allowed me to interact with a few of my cousins less directly. I can at least see where they live and every now and then what they do with their days. Mostly though it just lets me know that they’re playing Farmville or need me to join their zombie apocalypse army. I’m not knocking anyone for playing those games, I play far too many video games to judge anyone on that account; I’m just establishing the limited view I get even with Facebook around. 

However, recently I friended this particular, younger, cousin on Facebook. I still can’t say I know her very well, but I can’t help but feel that had we been the same age and gone to the same school we would have been good friends. And more friends was a thing I could have sorely used during that time, and if I had to venture a guess she likely could have too. Even though such a rearranging of timelines and geographies is impossible, it doesn't detract from the fact that I have this feeling of kinship with her that I've never really felt before between myself and one of my non-immediate relatives.

And though this age gap and this spacial distance exists between us, and though I’m probably the cousin she knows least of all, I can’t help but want to connect with her in a meaningful way. I want to reach across those miles and tell her she’s a beautiful human being; that shit gets better; that life, when you stand in the light just right and close your eyes to the sun, is astonishing; I want her to know I’m rooting for her happiness. But how does one say that? How does one come out of the murky past and make such bold statements of affection? And how does one do it without coming across as creepy? I don’t know.

When I was sixteen, living in Washington, I met my “Uncle” Greg. He was twelve or fourteen years older than I was. He kept his exact age secret and it was one of the many things that made Greg mysterious to me (and everyone who met him). He isn't really my uncle and at the time he lived in California. He is my best friend's uncle. When I moved to California I moved in with my best friend and Greg. Admittedly the relationship I had with Greg was unusual. He was a mentor, a nonjudgmental sounding board, and--even with our age difference--above all else he was a friend. There were months during my four years of college when I spent more time with him than I did with anyone else, even my best friend. And though he had many mighty struggles of his own, he gave a young man who often felt alone in the world, hope in the future, and even more importantly, a contentedness with my own societal differences/awkwardnesses. More than anyone he helped me feel comfortable with who I was; figuring out how to do that allows me to remain comfortable with who I am today, even though that young man of 20 doesn't much resemble this older man of 34.

These thoughts of Greg feel relevant somehow. I suspect my cousin could benefit from someone like Greg in her life, honestly I think everyone could. But more to the point, it lends some credence to the myriad of ways that people can connect, despite their different experiences and ages.

Regardless, I don’t even know what I would say to her, other than what I already mentioned before. I’d probably send her MP3s to listen to and books to read, I’d beg her to never stop writing. I’d expect the things that helped me to have the same impact upon her. She likely needs something else, maybe she needs nothing, maybe she’s tired of other people--especially men--trying to fix her, but I've convinced myself she absolutely needed The Downward Spiral five years ago. Maybe she has her own Pretty Hate Machine and Little Earthquakes. Maybe she has her shit together. Maybe I've mistaken the whole thing, but couldn't everyone use one more friend to lean on even in the best of circumstances?

I suppose I could just be blunt about it. It’s not like I can ruin our nonexistent friendship. Worst case she can mark me down as a crazy cousin. Or maybe I can casually interact with her more. But maybe she’ll miss what I’m trying to say and maybe I’ll forget what I’m trying to say. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Things I Wish We Didn't Carry

We're on the verge of moving Berkeley from her crib to a bed. Part of this move will require that she learn when it's acceptable to get up in the morning. The notion of hours and time are, I imagine, rather vague in her mind at this point. A friend pointed us to some devices that use colored lights to let a child know when they should remain in bed and when they can get up.

While browsing through these devices I had this nagging reservation. Berkeley has slept without the need for a nightlight in her room; adding one now was making me nervous. I realized I don't want her to become dependent on a nightlight, but more importantly, I don't want her to become afraid of the dark.

Last night she woke at 2:30am. Robyn tended to her for a few minutes and then came back to bed. Maybe a half hour later she was up again crying. I went in and the first thing she requested was that I turn on the light. I  probably spent an hour or so with her and she revealed that she was worried about "the lions." She not only voiced this concern, but kept checking behind her back as if she expected to be attacked at any moment.

Here I worry about DNA. I'm worried that if you zoom in close enough you will find a little sequence of A's, G's, C's, and T's that spell something frightening on both hers and mine. But that's not all I worry about. I also worry about the environment. I worry that I've hinted to her of my own fear. I worry she's picked up from my behavior that one SHOULD be afraid of the dark, even if one isn't predisposed to be so.

I often think of the things I want to pass along to her, but not this--this is a thing I hope we don't both have to carry. I've come pretty far I think. The rational mind of an adult can cope well where a child's mind is more prone to fantasy. I suspect this sort of thing happens to all children at some point; nonetheless, I'll feel guilty if it sticks long to her.

Normally we let her cry a bit when she wakes and usually she settles back in and falls asleep. But this time I heard it; it wasn't just discomfort or frustration, there was fear there. It echoed around the inside of my head like the cry of a lost child draped in white, running through some dark and unknown forest. It sounded too much like one of my own. I couldn't remain in bed and I found myself staying with her longer than usual.

When I was a child I had a couple requirements for sleeping. I wanted curtains closed; this allowed me to avoid werewolves. I wanted doors closed; this prevented mass murders from standing in my doorway. I wanted closets closed; this allowed fewer shapes for my mind to contort. The problem was anything could take a terrible shape. A bookcase is easily a large man. A dresser a gaping mouth. 

But the real solution was people. If I could surround myself with people I knew then I would be fine. Where people were not available, which normally they weren't, dogs made acceptable replacements. 

I can't imagine this is significantly different than most other childhoods. And as the years went by I was relatively content as long as I had a dog willing to sleep in my room. 

This all changed when we moved from Indiana to Washington. This was a stressful time in my young life. I hated the move. I left some really good friends behind. I was starting high school a year earlier than I had planned (because in Indiana 9th grade was the last year of junior high but in Washington it was the first year of high school). And generally I was just feeling out of place in the town we moved to.

We stayed with some friends for a little while in this new town. It was a small town that lived and died with the lumber industry. It was sort of remote and I guess most people felt safe there. The people we lived with had a penchant for leaving their downstairs back door unlocked. Their house wasn't massive so my brother and I ended up sleeping downstairs with our two dogs. We slept on two couches, one on each side of the room. And of course the state of the door always bugged me, but since it wasn't my house I guess I felt weird about locking their door for them.

One night, after having been asleep for a while, I heard a high pitched ringing noise in my ear. First it wasn't very loud but it grew and grew with strength. It grew so much that it woke me fully and I opened my eyes. There, clearly, standing next to me was a bearded man in a flannel jacket. He held a large knife over his head. He slashed it down at me. I tried to move my hands but they wouldn't budge. So instead I closed my eyes and thought, "this is what it's like to die." There was no pain. Just a horrible paralysis and the ceaseless ringing. It went on and on for what felt like hours. During that time I thought about how my dogs and my brother had failed me. How did the man get in without rousing any of them? 

Eventually I regained control of my body. I opened my eyes and all was well in the room. There was no man.  I had no wounds. The dogs slept next to my couch. My brother slept on his. As for me? I didn't sleep the following two nights. Eventually exhaustion took me and I returned to a relatively normal sleeping schedule. Unfortunately from that time forward, at various intervals, I'm woken by that same ringing noise and by that same dreadful paralysis. I've learned to keep my eyes close and to wait it out. But fear always hangs over me during those minutes that disappear like kidnapped children. I'm certain the stress of them must shave away hours of my life. 

Once I'm awake I have to talk my self out of them being some sort of harbinger of imminent doom. I simultaneously want them to mean something and nothing. I want them to not just be some flaw in my brain, so I give them meaning, but I hate the only meaning I can find for them.Whatever it is, it has become more tricky as I've learned to cope. I now have dreams that start with the ringing. When I wake from the dream--feeling safe that it is over--something odd or frightening will happen. Soon I realize I'm still dreaming, caught in some dark Inception plot. So when I finally do awake, I have to wonder if I'm still worming my way out of my subconscious. Other times I "wake" from so many different layers of dreaming that I'm left crying in my last and final dream, wondering if I'll ever really wake or if I'm stuck there forever, wherever there is.

And so it's not the common dream I worry about in Berkeley's DNA, nor even nightmares. No, instead I hope night terrors will always only be a thing she knows about because her father has them and that they forever remain something she does not have to carry.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stairway to Heaven

I've been wanting to share with you how we might all get to heaven. It's been on the tip of my tongue for the longest time. Then it hit me last night while lying in bed. Someone just needs to build a stairway. It's no job for the government, nor even private enterprise. It requires something else.

You start with this (
And end with this )
In between you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, repeat

Think of this ( and this ) as arms wrapped around a body. Think of them as the left and right ventricles of a heart. Think of them as a heart and a brain. Think of them as yin and yang. Think of them as hand and foot. Think of them as man and woman. Think of them as parent and child. Think of them. Then think of those numbers in between as breathes of air. Think of them as heartbeats. Think of them an electromagnetic waves. Think of them as seconds. Think of them as years. Think of them as stairs. Think of them.

Here is the miracle and the paradox. If you buy the album (or already own it), go search it out, put it on your iPod/iPhone/iPad/CD player. Make sure it is plugged into an outlet. If you're not overly familiar with your device, spend some time to discover the location of the repeat button. Set it to repeat. Hit play. Now marvel at how every song is greater than the one before it. Ingest every sound; from that little click at the beginning to the final one at the end. Wrap your arms around someone you love and watch as the end becomes the beginning and there is nothing but increase forever and ever.

Follow these stairs up. I hope to see you there.