06 August 2010

Passing Showers and Coming Weather

Last night, and for part of today, I felt sadness moving through me like showers that sometimes pass through the afternoons or evenings at this time of year.  In the day, sunshine follows; at night, the sky fills with bright stars and moonlight.  But you know that those showers will pass through again, if not tomorrow, then on another day.

Of course, the pattern of sun and rain and sun, or rain and stars, is simply the meteorological cycle, at least in this part of the world at this time of year.  However, the sadness that follows happy, or at least good, events is somehow less predictable, if just as inevitable as the weather.

What that play between joy and sadness means, I think, is that I’m working something else, whether consciously or not.  About a year after I started to take hormones, and had been experiencing giggle fits and crying jags for a few months, I realized that tears are a means for the psyche—and, sometimes, the body—to cleanse itself.  As with any kind of cleansing, it doesn’t happen all at once, which is why we (or at least I) need the crying spells or giggle fits to repeat themselves.

So what is it that I’m working out?  I suppose it has to do with the time I went to high school in Middletown, New Jersey and the years my parents lived there afterward.  Going to see my parents there—or, at least, a couple of towns over, in an area that was almost as familiar to me—was bound to make me think about a few things. 

During our conversations, my mother and father talked about some of the mistakes we made and the things we might do differently.  While I was often unhappy —Indeed, I was probably clinically depressed, or in some state close to it, much of the time—I don’t feel that I had a bad childhood or even adolescence.  We didn’t have much, at least materially, and I think we were trying to negotiate relationships with each other, and people outside the family, as well as various other types of situations, without much to guide us.  In my case, there wasn’t much that, or very many people who, could have shown me what I needed to do.

I tried to explain, as I have in some of our other conversations, that I don’t blame them—and, truthfully, I never did blame them, or at least not my mother—for whatever difficulties I might’ve had.  I was trying to deal with things for which I didn’t have names, much less explanations or other ways to portray.  Even if I did have the words and other knowledge that could have helped me to make sense of what I was feeling, I’m not sure that my mother, and I am certain my father, wouldn’t have had the means—whatever they might have been—to understand what I was thinking about, much less a way to deal with it and even less a way to help me with it.

My father had his ideas about the kind of man he wanted me to become and the career—that of a military officer—he wanted me to pursue.  But I don’t even see that as being as much a part of the problem as I once did.  I get the feeling that his own upbringing, and the milieu in which he grew up, didn’t give him very effective tools for understanding his own needs and wants, much less those of anyone else.

My mother, at least, has always been a very, very good listener and had plenty of empathy, at least for me.  I think she understood, at some point, that I really was trying to do the things that my teachers and others expected of me, and the things those people—as well as she and Dad—hoped and wished for me.  I’ll admit that I didn’t want to fulfill some expectations because, at best, they were incongruent with my psyche and at worst they could have destroyed me.  And there were others I didn’t want to fulfill simply because of my own anger.  In some way, Mom understood all of that. 

It may have had to do with the fact that, as she said, she married and had kids at as early an age as she did.  In her time, most young women married and had their first kids at about the same age as my mother did those things, but today almost any parent who’s not some sort of religious fundamentalist would not want his or her kid to marry or have kids at such an age.  She did what was expected of her and, I think, because of that, she knew I was trying to fulfill expectations, too.

I began to understand what those expectations were, at least for me, when I was in high school.  That was also when, I believe, gender roles started to become more rigid and the genders more segregated.  Furthermore, in high school, we were expected, for the first time, to seriously think about onthe course of the rest of our lives.  That would determine, among other things, how much longer we would go to school and what kinds of schools we would attend.

Although there were no rules that said only males could go into certain occupations and that only females should work in others, gender expectations came into play when we were deciding what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives—or even in the immediate future.  For instance, only boys studied auto repair and only girls studied “beauty culture.”  Plus, in high school, many kids start to think about what kind of family life they would or wouldn’t want to make for themselves. 

I often think about what those years might’ve been like if I knew some of what I know now.  And I can’t help to wonder what Mom and Dad might’ve done.  Then again, some things could and would not have been different; others might've passed.

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