Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day LXXII: Selfish

There are few things in the world that are harder to hear than the disappointment in your father's voice.

One of those things is knowing you're responsible for it.


Growing up, I was a good and happy child. I listened, worked hard, enjoyed meeting others, gave flowers to my mother's friends, went to church, smiled at strangers, and was (mostly) friendly to my brother. I obeyed adults. I did well in school. And doing well came with it's rewards. Presents, high fives, hugs, kisses, extra play time, video games, toys. The whole works.

But nothing compared to the praise.

Words of affirmation were everything for me. Hearing how talented or smart or nice or polite I was--or, better yet, hearing other adults tell my parents and grandparents similar lauds--filled me with such euphoric energy. I craved hearing what great manners I had or how winning the spelling bee was so admirable. I longed to be part of the glistening words that came from the mouths of giants, towering over my slight, meager frame. I was hungry, and my meals were "charming" and "winner" and "star."

For whatever reason, remembering the specific moments of adoration proves difficult. It's not easy to think back and pinpoint what I loved about moment X, Y, or Z, or what was said that filled me with such a strong desire to consistently prove myself as exceptional. And I suppose that's standard. It's always the moments on the slippery side of the spectrum that we never fail to recall.

Like the time I rushed a stick through the spokes of Erick's bike and watched him tumble, helmet over handlebars, to the asphalt.

Or when I stuffed my coat into Evan's backpack and later framed him for stealing it.

Or dropping my diorama on the way to class because I knew it was shit and that Mr. Erickson wouldn't make me do it over.

Those moments. They lodge like slivers, like grime under fingernails. Gunk. Muck. Filth.

I was a good and happy child. And I thought that would forever be enough.


I learned a lot my freshman year of college: how to use the subjunctive in Spanish, how membranes are permeated, how to kiss like a champ, why music is eternal, who wrote the gospels, that vodka is not for me, that dancing with girls didn't give me an erection, that the heart is fragile, that Shakespeare was one crafty son-of-a-bitch, that mushrooms could taste delicious, that glasses looked good on boys, why Pavlov was such a big deal, that order Lepidoptera sounds just as pretty as the butterflies within its ranks look, how black coffee could be delicious, that I was entirely capable of being on my own.

And I created a world with the things I learned. I crafted the perfect bubble to shield me from the outside world, to encase me in support. I kept everything that was good and readily available and shut the blinds to the rest. Of course, I didn't know it then. How could I? Even if it had been pointed out, I would have been indignant, certain of my righteousness and benevolence and vulnerability.

I would have been wrong.


Talking on the phone has never been enjoyable for me. I think it's my love for the way people's expressions alter and shape with their speech, and how every little muscle can be controlled to create a new feeling. The phone takes that out of the equation, and suddenly we're all just voices, struggling to stay afloat on wires of white noise. Honesty and genuine spirit are lost; there are no eyes to watch or smiles to crack or sighs to release. We're just mechanical little spirits, dancing between telephone towers.

So picking up the phone was never a choice I'd happily make. Listening to it ring and ring, popping up with short gestures to "Dad" or "Amy" or "Mom" or "River Rock" or "Spencer," I conditioned myself to disconnect from it all.

Disengage. Detach. Disjoin.

If you're not right here in front of me, then you are nowhere.


College wasn't that long ago. It's no surprise that isolation is still one of my hot-button issues. It's not intended, not even a little, but rather something that I am entirely too ignorant of. But the first step is acknowledgment. And I acknowledge that I am selfish, and, regardless of how unintentional it is, that insufferable selfishness exists. 


"So get off your high horse and give him a call."

My dad is only saying it because he knows he's right. I know this because my dad is certainly who I would look to if I ever cared to find the germinating sapling of my own stubbornness and impatience. So it's easy to recognize that, yes, dad is right. 

"There were times your mother and I have talked about it..." 

Oh. Good. It's been going on long enough to warrant a discussion. 

"I don't think it's intentional..."

It's not.

"...but sometimes it's like you're in your own little world."

And, like with a pin or a particularly sharp blade of grass, the bubble pops.


I'm an exceptionally empathetic person. Even in the midst of this talk, this digression of selfishness and ignorance, I am comfortable enough with myself to know and to vocalize that discernment and empathy are two of my strongest traits. But what misery such gifts can bring.

It's difficult to watch someone struggle.

But to hear your own Father's pain through the phone--masked with sentiments of tough-love--and know that you've been instrumental in that anguish...


Another bit of knowledge acquiesced my first year of college: we are all human. No amount of praise, of congratulations, of glory will ever change that. Humans make mistakes.

Sometimes, humans make mistakes for a very long time. 

Sometimes, humans make mistakes for a very long time and never learn from what they've done.

Not this human.


I talk a lot--I mean: a lot--about vulnerability. I think it's one of the most beautiful ideas we have available. To be susceptible to others, to receive and reciprocate, to open yourself to the world: that's a mighty thing. But vulnerability, not unlike my childhood hunger for praise, is insatiable. It demands the best of you and promises nothing. 

Apologies mean nothing without action.

The first move? Not rebuilding the bubble.

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