I am descended from a long line of martyrs. Now, you might be thinking the lion snack, pyre kindle, rock dodger sort, but you’d be mistaken. See, I’ve long suspected my family actually survived through the centuries by being fabulous finger pointers. “Oh, you’re looking for a witch? Have you spoken with Goody Johnson? No reason. I’m just saying there may be naked devil frolicking. Hey, since her property is right next to mine and she doesn’t look like a pond floater to me, if you catch my drift, I was thinking you know maybe we could just add that to our lands. Hey, did I mention the frolicking and the warts? I think there was cavorting!” In fact, all of my friends know that if they ever need someone to bury the body, they should definitely not include me due to my finger-pointing genetics. Even If I wanted to keep their secret, my DNA would kick in and the next thing you know I’d be at the local sheriff’s office spilling my guts. No, we’re more the sort of martyrs with our ever-lengthening faces who believe we were meant to suffer. It can make the holidays a real hoot. And while I’m not always like this, I have some glorious moments.
A recent example: I was driving home one night and I suppose the radio wasn’t entertaining enough and the traffic wasn’t particularly challenging, so that allowed for some quality me time. Time to really over think things – to rework reality. I started picking on myself and it went something like this: “you know, none of your friends parents like you – true story”. I made a list in my head of all of my friends and their parents – a list that would make what I was saying completely true. I crawled out on that mental ledge and followed with “you’re kind of unlikeable, there’s probably something wrong with you.” Now let me say this was up there with the time I called April and declared, “I only have three friends” to which April calmly took a breath and asked about several other people that I hadn’t counted – people I really liked and she was able to negotiate through my very German, “no, that’s an acquaintance”- the “du” vs. “Sie” roadblocks I threw in her way until I came down off of that ledge. I’m kind of famous for these glorious moments, I’m not so proud to say. So, as I drove and thought of every parent that disliked me including in-laws, I became smaller and sadder. This was my narrative I chose to tell myself that evening for no better reason than I was bored.
And then the small part of me that hates to be beaten up rallied. “Julie’s mom doesn’t feel that way. Ern’s parents don’t feel that way. In fact, if you think about it, more of them like you than don’t and the ones who don’t, you’ve always had a “right back atcha’” attitude anyway, so let’s admit we’re being silly.” I perked back up and recounted the ways that Julie’s mom had shown me over the years that she did still think about me and she did believe I was an ok person. I used that knowledge to feel ok again. To feel likeable. To feel like I wasn’t some friend toad who when introduced to parents was seen as some loathsome and repulsive parasite latched to their beloved kid. (Did I mention I’m very skilled at making myself suffer?) Those were the people who mattered to me – those incredible, amazing people who I admire and they like me. I’m ok.
Reminding myself of the real truth, the real story, allowed me to not only feel better about myself, but about the people around me. And the real story is that Ernie’s parents always ask about me when Ern comes into town. Julie’s mom follows my blog and was one of the top people to respond to my Facebook posts – something that goes well beyond what my own family does and it’s something that means a lot to me. And all of that helps me feel connected to my past.
Last week Julie told me that her mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Julie, who is a doctor, explained what that meant for the coming year and then asked if I would write a reminiscence – something her mom could read because she likes my writing. I had a small meltdown, and then I sat down at 3:30 am the following morning and wrote a small bit that will never do this amazing lady justice or properly express how much she means to me or how incredible I think she is.
Of all the phases in my life – school, graduation, college, marriages, friend’s children being born, this is the one I like absolutely the least. I want to stomp my feet hard enough or hold my breath long enough so that Death pauses, furrows a brow and says, “you know you’ll just pass out, but I suppose this once because of your moxie and that particular shade of blue on your face, I’ll cry uncle then come back in about 15 years, deal?” (I basically want Death to be the character from Terry Pratchett’s novels. Relatable with a great fondness for cats.)
Like my aunt and my mom, she’s one of those people I have always assumed would always be there. That decades from now I would still be hearing stories of her wanderings or hearing her boasting about and celebrating her incredible children and grandchildren. That I would be admiring her beautiful nature photos or the latest art piece she had created. That wherever the wind stirred the tall grass and gently encouraged the wind chimes into performing a fairy’s chorus that I could smile in the knowledge she was somewhere out there – Monte and Polly at her side.
And quite selfishly, on the 6th anniversary of my mother’s death, I admit that among the reasons I’m sad is that there will be one less person in this world that thinks I’m ok.