October 16, 2003

attention deficit

It's been a while since I've blogged anything meaningful. So funny. When I was swamped with work, a hundred posts flooded my mind in a single day--none of them actually posted. Now that I have 20 minutes here and there to write for me n you, all I hear is wind.


And then last night, something broke loose for me. After Group. After talking with George. After a glorious late night talk with Shelley and word from Master Boy that he had phone (call him with ideas, ya'll) back for the time being.

In the space before sleep and dream, I figured something out.

I became a memory.

I'm riding the bus to school the first day back to school after my father died, wondering--consciously thinking: "how should I feel? what am I supposed to act like?" Not feeling sad, no, that wouldn't come until later, about 36 years later, no, not sad. Feeling like I should feel sad. Feeling like everyone around me is sad for me, and so I should be sad, but I don't feel sad. So what should I do? Who should I be like? I have no template for this.

I walk into class to the warm arms of my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. McKlusky, who embraces me with the tenderness of a mother, see tears in her eyes, "my poor dear." And I like it.

I like it.

I'm warm.

I'm safe.

Hug me again, Mrs. McKlusky.


The next day comes, and the next, and the next, and during those rides to school, I monitor my performance. I hear the older kids in the seat behind me, "That's the girl whose dad died. That's her." "Wow. Poor kid." "She must be so sad."

Me thinking, yes. I suppose I can pretend to be sad. Me consciously configuring a look of sad, profound depth on my five-year-old face, leaning my forehead against the up-and-down glass window of the bus, watching the fog from my breath obscure my own view of my face, rubbing it away so that I can see if I look sad enough.

Talk about me some more, kids.

Me. What about me?

What about me, who had lived for the last year in a household of death and dying, of secrecy, of hidden truths, of pretending that nothing was wrong. What about that year, which used make believe to obscure reality, like fog on the glass window of the school bus. What about knowing what was happening without permission to give voice to terror.

Things you put aside, file under "unfortunate"--those are the memories that shape your dark places.

For all of my adult life, I've sought a supporting role, hating the spotlight, hating the sound of my own voice out loud, shakey, unsure. Instead I shape my voice with words and pixels, screaming as loudly as I can in black and white.

It goes back to those rides on the bus, my teacher's arms. It goes back to me asking can I please go out and play on the day of his death, and being told no, we are in mourning, and thinking: what about me?

It's common for children to blame themselves for their parent's death. I knew of this phenomenon because so many adults asked me, "you don't feel like you caused your dad's death, right? I mean, some children feel responsible. You shouldn't feel responsible. It wasn't your fault."

Me thinking, well I DIDN'T feel responsible until the 9th adult asked me this stinking question. I didn't feel responsible. I didn't kill him.

Did you? Or you?

Not me.

But there is guilt, and I found it waiting for me in the space between sleep and dream, last night. It's the guilt of a little girl on a school bus faking sorrow to get attention. It's a little girl who knows she should feel something that everyone else is feeling, but can't. Whatever emotion this is I see around me, it seems to work for them--it seems that they can all get together and hug and cry and laugh, and they are all in on the big secret, and I'm sitting there, alone, on the bus, pretending to have my own secret. The secret of manufactured sadness. Because that's all I have.

I say I'm sorry to that little girl for making her feel guilty for so many years for wanting the attention that went to her dying father.

I say I'm sorry that you couldn't get all the attention you needed while the family circled around his dying.

I say it was okay to ask, what about me? And it still is.

And I say:

It's okay to go out and play.
It's okay to go out and play.