Yearbook

When I went home to attend my father’s funeral, I found my junior high yearbook.  I recognized faces of girls I haven’t seen for many decades.  One by one, they came back to life in my memory.  I knew those teenage girls.  They looked exactly as I remembered.   I turned pages looking for my photo.  I couldn’t find it.  I felt confused.  I was sure I was in the yearbook.  I started back from the first page.  Page after page, the faces of girls got clearer in my memory.  I still couldn’t find my face.

On the third try, I finally found my name under a photo.  She was a beautiful teenage girl.  I didn’t recognize her because I had been told I was an ugly, unattractive, miserable creature no boy would love and I believed the image the fucked-up mirror reflected.

Did I look ugly to you, Dad?  Or did I threaten you?  Did I look ugly to you, Mom?  Or did you also believe what Dad saw?

Anyway, it’s too late.  I lost my chance to live the life of a pretty girl.

Then I became a plain looking highschool girl.

When I remember my highschool years, I am cast as that unpopular girl with long hair hiding half of her face, Violet Parr in The Incredibles, believing that she is invisible.  My best friend is that popular girl who dates the football team captain.

I started having drinking problem while I was in highschool.

A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to attend a highschool reunion.  One guy, who was neither the football team captain, nor an academic high achiever, told me that I had been his crush in highschool.  I was like, WTF.  “You were a beautiful and intelligent girl,” he said, “and I admired you.”  Shit, I didn’t know.  I knew he liked me, but I did’t believe anybody would like me.

So I lost my chance to live a life of popular girl in highschool.

When we are surrounded with distorted mirrors, we believe the distorted images they reflect.  I wonder what it would be like to have a mirror on the wall that always tells me I am the most beautiful girl in the world.  I guess that would also fuck me up in a different way.

I still can’t believe 100%, but I think I am freaking gorgeous as an old gal of certain age.  It took me almost half a century to feel unugly.

“You are a catch,” a male friend of mine recently informed me.   “Really?” I said.  “Yes, you really are a catch.”  I believed him.

Postcard

I found an old postcard.  I was clearing out “stuff” in an attic.

My father passed just a week ago after slowly disintegrating from Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years.  I heard the news and flew home for his funeral.

The last time I saw him, about 9 months ago, he didn’t recognize me.  He haven’t recognized me for a long time.  I spent much more time talking with him once I became a nice stranger to him.  When he knew me, we didn’t talk to each other.   He talked at me.  I talked to myself.  We didn’t communicate.

I didn’t know him.  He didn’t know me.

My mother seemed to be relieved.  “I’ll burn all the photos of him,” she said.  After his funeral, she immediately started to clearing out “stuff.”  She has been clearing out “stuff” since my father moved to a nursing home 4 years ago.  My father hoarded.

I was helping her.  And I found the postcard along with yellowed newspaper clippings.  It was from my parents to my grandmother on their honeymoon.  It was from them before I ever be conceived or maybe on the day I was conceived.

They were somebody I didn’t know.   I smelled happiness from the message on the postcard.  It was an ordinary message.  “We are having a good time.  We bought something for you and sent it by mail…”  What did they buy?  Who chose the postcard?    Why is it here?  The old house my grandmother used to live in was demolished decades ago.  Did my father saved it when my grandmother died?    What happened to this newlywed couple?

I never saw them happy together.  I don’t know them.

I showed my mother the old newspaper clippings I found.  One of them had a group photo of nurses. I recognized my mother among the young nurses.  She said, “That’s me,” and she threw them in a trash bin.

I didn’t show her the postcard and I brought it back to my place with me.

The irony?  I also fond photos I sent to my parents long time ago, while I was married.  I looked young, beautiful and happy with the guy I was married to.   Who is this woman?  I don’t know her either.

 

 

 

Restricted Access Area

I am an adorable three year old.  A perfectly happy little girl with natural exuberance radiating from her smile.   Whenever I post my baby photo on facebook, many of my Facebook “friends” say, “You haven’t changed at all.”

And I’m like, “Yes!!!!” crying out my victory.  By age four, she was locked up behind a heavy door.  I dedicated the last 30 years of my life to find and raise her to be a woman she was meant to grow up into.

“You are too skinny,” Dad said. “You are ugly.  No man will marry you,” Dad said.   “Having girls is a waste.   I shouldn’t have had a girl child,” Dad said.  “Why aren’t you a boy.  I wish you were a boy,” Mum said.  “Your skin is too dark for a girl,” Auntie said, “but strangely red becomes you.”   “You were a tiny thing.  A tiny wrinkled faced monkey baby.  I was sure this baby wouldn’t survive,” Grandma said.  “Look at this girl’s eyes.  Too small,” Dad said…

I was too short, too dark, too skinny, too fat.

I was ugly and nobody would ever love me.  (Then why did you touch me?)

Everything about me was wrong.

Don’t believe what they say, Girl.  They are defective mirrors.  They reflect distorted, biased images of you, or maybe perceived images of themselves.  It’s not you.  You are a perfectly happy little girl with natural exuberance radiating from your smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightmare that didn’t happen

This is a nightmare that didn’t happen.  I was about 11, sleeping in my room.  The door suddenly opened and my father came in.  He was yelling something and he threw things, talking to himself.  I hid under the comforter.  I heard him walk around in my room, talking to himself, throwing stuff.  Then he left.

I waited.  I waited for my mother.  I waited for my mother to come to check on me, comfort me.   Minutes passed.  Nobody came.  I fell asleep crying.

I woke up in the morning.  I found my stuffed animals were on the floor.  One of them, a stuffed kitty my friend gave me, was almost decapitated.  I didn’t understand.

I quietly went down the stairs, expecting my mom at least to explain what happened.

Nothing happened.

Nobody mentioned anything.  Mom was cooking breakfast.  My father was reading the newspaper or whatever.  Nothing happened.  I ate my breakfast and went back to my room.

That was the nightmare that didn’t happen.

But I remember that I sewed my stuffed kitty’s head back by myself, crying, saying to myself again and again, “My friend gave it to me.”

Decades and years of therapy later I confronted my father and asked what it was about.

He didn’t remember.

My mom came to me to tell that she had no idea and asked, “Your father didn’t hit you, did he?”

“No, he didn’t,” I said.

It doesn’t matter.  It was not my father’s unpredictable rage that marked me.  It was the absence of my mother.  I learned that nobody would come for me.   I didn’t want to be the scared little girl, so I became my father.  “You have a temper just like your father,” my mother used to say.

Now I have many friends who are fathers.  When I saw their daughter perfectly safe with their father, not hiding from them, not tensing up at the sight of them, remaining soft and smiling, I wonder how they do.  It is a dream that didn’t happen to me.

Heartburn

Through sheer chance my G.I. doctor found I had Barrett’s esophagus during a routine physical.  The lining of my esophagus was turning into that of small intestine.  That sounds scary.  The doctor asked me if I had an acid reflux.  I didn’t.  Part of  the lining of my stomach was also turning into that of small intestine.  That spelled the possible C word.  I was told I must have a silent (symptomless) acid reflux and I’ve been on medication since.  Eventually my stomach lining turned back to normal, but I still have Barrett’s esophagus.

I haven’t had stomach issues for a long time.  Definitely I didn’t have heartburn.  Then I remembered I often had stomach ache when I lived with my mom. I remembered my mom used to tell me that my younger brother had a delicate digestive system.  When he got nervous or stressed, he threw up. I didn’t thow up but I remembered that after I left home for college, I sometime induced vomiting, probably more often than average young women.

Something clicked.

My original home had been making me sick.

I ran away as far as possible.  There are a continent and Pacific ocean between my parents and me now.  I visit them once a year and that is our compromise.  I used to stay with them for more than a week.  I got depressed.  So my stay got shorter every year.  One year, after spending 4 days or so, I had a severe stomach pain.  Another year, after spending several days with my Mom, I suffered IBS like symptom for two weeks.

My mom has spent her entire married life feeding somebody.  It was her role in the family.  She has taken care of my father, who has type 1 diabetes, for half a century.  It requires a lot of work to feed a diabetic.   Both my brother and I was a light eater when we were little kids, so it has become her mission to feed us as much as we would ingest.  Through therapy, I realized that my mom force-fed me and I was exercising to set a boundary by saying,”No, thank you.”

I told her I usually didn’t eat breakfast.  I woke up to find a breakfast ready on the table.  What can I do?  I ate breakfast: ham and eggs, toasted bread, and yogurt, milk and coffee.  Mom brought a jar of homemade jam to the table and told me to add it to yogurt.  I only ate plain yogurt, so I said, “No, thank you.”  “It’s too sour without jam.  You should add it,” mom insisted.  “No, thank you,” I said.   I told her I didn’t usually have a breakfast, that she didn’t have to prepare mine.  The next morning I woke up to find the same breakfast ready on the table.  “Do you like to add the jam to your yogurt?”  My mom asked.  “No, I told you I didn’t eat sweetened yogurt,” I said.  “It doesn’t taste good without jam,” she insisted.  “No, thank you,” I said.  I set a boundary firm, don’t I?  The next morning I woke up to find the same breakfast ready on the table.  I found she had added her homemade jam in my yogurt bowl.  I didn’t say anything.  I stopped feeling.  When it doesn’t matter what I want or what I don’t want, why should I feel anything.  I swallowed the sweet yogurt in silence.  “It is good, isn’t it?” she said.  That night I had an acute stomach pain.

It isn’t about a spoonful of jam in my yogurt bowl.  The same pattern repeated again and again for lunch, dinner, snacks and everything else.   Eventually I became a foie gras geese.  No wonder I had issues around eating.   I still can’t tell if I’m really hungry or not.

I told my friend the story and she said, “You have a nice mom.  She likes to take care of you.”  She made me feel that I was a thankless brat.  I felt like throwing up.  If you force a piece of chocolate into a child’s mouth, it still tastes sweet. But it doesn’t mean the child wants it.  “I told you it was delicious, didn’t I?   You like it, don’t you?  I was right.  You were wrong..  You don’t know how you feel so I’ll tell you how you feel.  I am right and you are wong.  How you feel doesn’t matter.”   This is how we lose the ability to be ourselves…

If you still think forcing a piece of chocolate in a kid’s mouth against his/her will doesn’t matter, just substitute it with a more sinister word.

How do you feel in your body?

“How do you feel in your body?” my therapist asked.  “Fine,” I answered.  “Do you feel the floor under your feet?” he asked.  “Yes. (So what?)” I answered.  This question irritated me like a hell.  I didn’t understand what it was to do with my psychological misery.  I had two arms, two legs, feet and hands.  I was fine, thank you for asking.  “Stump your feet on the floor.”  I stumped.  “How does it feel?”  “Nothing,” I answered.

“What does it make you feel like?” the therapist asked and I looked for my feeling outside of my body, staring at the ceiling, or watching my therapist’s cat yawn. I didn’t find my feeling in my body.  My feeling didn’t reside in my body.

Disconnection is an excellent survival mechanism.  In a battlefield you won’t survive if you feel.  And for some of us, childhood was a wartime, and the body is where the battle was fought.  In Trauma and Recovery Judith Herman writes, “Traumatic events violate the autonomy of the person at the level of basic bodily integrity.  The body is invaded, injured, defiled.  Control over bodily function is often lost; in the folklore of combat and rape, this loss of control is often recounted as the most humiliating aspect of the trauma.”  Our trauma doesn’t have to be of rape or combat.  It could be grandma pinching your cheeks.

I am not saying that pinching chubby cheeks of an adorable kid is a form of child abuse.  It could be a rather innocent expression of affection.  However, when it is done repeatedly against the child’s will, it could amount to loss of “control over bodily function”.

My ex-boyfriend had a habit of pinching.  He pinched his daughter, he pinched his nephews and he pinched me.  It was his way of saying, “Hey Sweetie.”   I can’t speak for his daughter or nephews, but when he pinched me I felt a rage surging up deep in my body.  “Stop it,” I yelled.  “Don’t pinch me, ever.”  He pinched me a couple of more times, and every time I reacted violently.  Then thankfully he stopped pinching.  He listened to me.  While pinching itself didn’t hurt much, it triggered an uncontrollable anger out of nowhere.

When I was a little girl, my childless aunt doted on me.  She literally tried to eat me with a spoon.  Since she was the source of love and affection, and chocolate and candies and dolls and all the goodies, I clung to her.  She used to tease me by doing something I didn’t like.   The more I shrank from, the more she seemed enjoying.  She used to lick my face, saying I was so cute that she wanted to eat me up.  It was wet and yucky.  I said, “No!!!” but she was much bigger and stronger.  She told me that she loved me and that I should let her do whatever she wanted to do.  Sometimes, she bribed me with goodies.  It’s an innocent expression of affection, isn’t it?   Pinching was a variation.  I don’t remember who pinched me, but it does not matter.  It told me the same story.  My feeling does not matter.  I don’t have control over my body.  They have.  And I am an ungrateful brat if I don’t appreciate the affection the adults are giving to me.  Tolerating the feeling of discomfort will be rewarded with chocolate, or whatever goodies.  Got it?  Just replace the word “pinching” or “licking” with “touching improperly.” It tells the same story of trauma.  “The traumatic event thus destroys the belief that one can be oneself in relation to others”(Herman 53).

When I was a little girl I told my mum that my tummy ached.  I told her that I would feel better if she let me eat a piece of bread.  She didn’t give me bread and took me to a family doctor.  It turned out that I was not sick but just hungry.  I didn’t know the word to explain the intense sensation I felt in my belly.  What I felt in stomach, aching for food, was denied as not legitimate by adults. When I was a teenager, I had a painful period.  I told that I had severe cramps and couldn’t move.  My father said, “No, you don’t.  You are lazy.”  My mom didn’t protest.  (Later I found that my mom never had a painful period in her life, and she couldn’t imagine how bad it could be.)  Thus in my early ages I learned not to trust the feeling in my body.

We lose the ability to connect to one’s body little by little.  When someone in authority, such as parents and teachers, tells us we have to feel certain way again and again while we don’t feel that way, it becomes unsafe to be ourselves.  Others in our life take away our connection to the body.  We gain artificial limbs and body parts instead, which function very well.   Nobody notices it’s artificial.  Sometimes they could be much more useful than real limbs, just like a sword loaded limb, since we don’t feel pain.  Eventually we might even forget they are not real. When one suffers a hugely traumatic experience and survives, the disconnection between mind and body could be much harder to reconcile.

About the photo: I took the photo of the glass sculpture at Corning Museum of Glass. Unfortunately  I don’t know the artist’s name.

A Fat Collie

When and where I grew up, dogs were just dogs: brown dogs, white dogs, black dogs, black and tan dogs, etc.  The smallest were Shiba; the largest were Akita and in between there were just ordinary dogs.  Only affluent westernized families had fancy pure breeds.  There were no designer dogs, just mutts.   Some belonged to families, others just roamed around.

I adopted a large senior dog from a local Humane Society a year ago.  He had a funny face with a long muzzle.  The humane Society people told me he was a Collie mix.  All the official papers said he was a Collie mix, so I registered him as a Collie mix.

Weighing nearly 90lb he was a super obese Collie.  He was slow and low-key and walked like a sumo wrestler.  He chewed things obsessive compulsively.  He was stubborn as hell and didn’t act like Lassie at all.

“What kind of dog is he?” Since I got him  I was asked numerous times by strangers.  I say, “Mutt,” and “Do you know what kind of mix he is?” people asks.

My dog seems to have a distinct feature, which is somewhat familiar but not distinct enough for many people to put a finger on.  That makes people wonder what he is.  Eventually a consensus view emerged.

Spuds MacKengie a.k.a. Budweiser Dog on steroid.

I finally succumbed to the temptation and ordered a DNA text kit on-line.  I mailed it out expecting a “happy family”- like result: a little bit of Collie, a little bit of Pitty, maybe a German Shepard or two.

The result blew my mind.   His (probably) dad was a pure bull terrier.  His grandparents were bull terriers; his great grandparents were bull terriers.  He was half bull terrier.  The other half was ambiguous, with a miniature bull terrier and a hound in his ancestry.  There was not a drop of Collie in his gene pool!

He wasn’t an obese Collie mix.  He was a supersized bull terrier mix.   He was not fat.   He was muscular.

One day I noticed a lady staring at him.  She came up to me and asked, “Bull terrier mix?”  I said, “Yes.”  “Stubborn?” she asked.  “Yes, very” I said.  She nodded knowingly.

That made me think:

What is he?  Is he a fat lazy Collie or a muscular bull terrier?  If I didn’t know his DNA makeup, he would be still a fat Collie.  I might have put him on a weight loss program to keep him healthy.  Actually he had spent his entire life as a Collie mix with his former owner.  Or maybe he is just a heavy stubborn dog with a long muzzle.

Then what am I?  I could be fat or muscular.  I could be feminine or masculine, depending on the model the society/individual applies.  Or maybe I am just a human being with olive skin.

 

 

Shallow Grave

“Where’s Dad?” I asked.  “He is in the back yard,” Mom said.  I went out to the backyard and I didn’t see my father.  Then I saw him, digging a hole in the backyard.  He was inside the hole and I almost didn’t see him.  What the hell is he doing?  Is he digging his own grave?  The hole was not quite six foot deep yet.  I could hear the shovel hitting earth.

I went back to the house and asked my mom what he was doing.  “Your father hates horsetail. They drive him crazy. He’s been digging out their underground stalks.  They are stubborn weeds, difficult to get rid of.  You need to dig out the entire roots and stalks, you know.”

I know.  Hell weed, it’s called by farmers.  They send down rhizomes deep down and in all directions underground.  You keep on pulling the little green shoots above ground and they will come back in no time.  Unless you get rid of its entire subterranean system, eventually your vegetable garden will be covered with field horsetails.  If you leave even one small piece of rhizome, it will come back with vengeance.

My father threw down the gauntlet against horsetails and kept digging out rhizomes, deeper and deeper, until he found himself at the bottom of a pit.

What do I do?  Sometimes, deep psychology work feels like a battle against Hell Weed.

Last year I found myself digging a hole in the same backyard. It was to help my mom to compost food scraps.   My father does not live here anymore.  Digging a hole was a way to be by myself for a couple of hours without being entangled in the emotional spider web of my family.

I don’t dig deep anymore.  I’ve learned to live with things I’ve found subterranean and aboveground.  So long as I know they are there, it’s O.K.

 

 

Crazy Making 2

Last time I visit my Mom, my younger brother happened to be in town on the day I would leave and he drove me to the airport.  I saw my brother first time in more than 20 years. We are not close.  I left home when I was 18 and for the past 25 years I’ve lived in a foreign country far away from my original family.  I visit my hometown once a year, but my brother lived in a different city and we’ve never made an effort to see each other.  We didn’t even talk or write.  I don’t know my brother well and he only knows me as his crazy teenage sister.  We sat in a generic airport restaurant and talked for about 30 minutes.

I asked my brother if he ever suspected that there were something wrong with our family.

“There were nothing wrong.  It was an ordinary family like other families.”

“Are you serious?  Don’t you think our father was abusive?”

“Everybody was like him in those days.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I often saw kids with broken noses and such in ER.” (My brother is a M.D.)

“That’s child abuse!  It’s a crime!”

“Our father didn’t hit us.  I had a normal childhood.”

“Don’t you think he has mood disorders or a personality disorder?  Like depression?”

“I don’t think so.  He just doesn’t have communication skill at all.”

“Mom told me you wouldn’t even step in their house.”

“They are not pleasant…. I never felt loved.  That’s all.  Our father always yelled at me.  So I  just stayed away from him.”

“You were smart.  I yelled back….  So you don’t feel traumatised or anything?”

“No.”

“Good for you.”

We were brought up in the same family and we don’t seem to share emotional memories.

 

 

 

 

Invisible Scar Tissue

Scar tissue is not always visible.  A couple of years ago, I had laparoscopic gallbladder removal. I came home with a couple of tiny incision wounds on my abdomen. As I recovered, I felt a tight cordlike substance passing vertically underneath my abdominal muscles. It was so hard that I suspected they left some kind of instrument or shunt there. At a follow-up visit, the surgeon was happy to see the quick healing of the wounds. “I can barely see the incisions,” he said. I asked if he had placed something in my abdominal cavity. He assured me that nothing was left there and I was healing very well. Still the tight cord in my abdomen remained. In Yoga classes, I couldn’t do wheel pose anymore.

From the viewpoint of body worker, the surgeon was wrong. He left a long scar inside of my abdomem when he pulled out my gallbladder.  The scar tissue was not visible from outside, and it still restricted the movement of fascia on the right side of body. It took me almost a year to break down the scar tissue somewhat so that I could be in a wheel pose again without restriction.  I still feel it, though.

Scar tissue, if not addressed, will affect the whole body, and the invisible ones are more difficult to treat.  Your entire body has to accomodate the restriction imposed by the scar tissue.

Psychological scars are like invisible scar tissue.