My parents called me yesterday from Montreal. Various stems of the family grapevine had covered the distance before I could bring myself to do so and let them know about the second burglary: that hefty gobbet of muck spattering up over the top of all my other troubles.
I miss them both, and perhaps it is their absence, or perhaps I am just getting better at talking about how I feel, but I need little prompting to pour my heart out to them over the distance. ?Things are awful. I feel awful. None of these choices seem right but I have to make one.? And they give me advice, one after another, comfort coming in short, intense bursts over the scratchy line. ?It?ll get better, love. Just remember to breathe slowly. Take one day at a time. You can always go home if you need to.? I am sure I have never heard my father be so kindly and understanding as he is being now. But there was a time, after all, when it was just the three of us: before my baby brothers came rolling and tumbling into the world; when a family of seven was a simple cocoon of three. He was there for me then, completely accepting of my every irritating quirk and cry, and he is here for me now, even while he is on the other side of the world. And I realise as he talks how well he actually knows me. No matter how much conflict there may have been in the middle, somehow we have come full circle.
My mother sends me beautiful postcards: a map of California; a blazing sunset over the grey Lake Michigan beach; the apex of Frank Lloyd Wright?s roof rising up against a clear summer morning. I blu-tac them to the wall so that I can track their journey from my desk. She writes that she visits these places and thinks, ?Stephanie would love this.? I expect I would, and part of me aches with it. She wasn?t going to talk on the phone while they were on their trip ? ?The point of going away is to be away, I think? ? but she is worried about me. I am glad she breaks her rule for these calls. The little things are so important right now.
Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that very well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions.
I read this essay?on Thursday morning over breakfast. I read it four times through. My tea went cold as I retraced the final four paragraphs, again and again and again, and with each sentence I saw myself, naked and branded, exposed for all my sins in cruel black ink.
It is the phenomenon sometimes called ?alienation from self.? In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game.
I have always found myself saddled with a bubbling urge to go, to leave, to be somewhere else. A desire for change is healthy, I think, but this is something more. It manifests geographically but it is a reflection of internal conflict. Disorder. A machine cobbled together from slightly ill-fitting parts that have begun to scrape and wear and break apart.
I?ve been taking painkillers to sleep. The headaches are too intrusive, and I can?t wake in the middle of the night or my mind whirrs into rasping half-life again.
To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves?there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no-one at home.
A vase of lilies sits on the living room cabinet, blooming unexpected white stars on a dismal, rainy evening. They were a cheer up gift. An it will get better soon gift. Will it, I wonder? Will it??And I take a deep breath.