Who’s Holding Today’s Circus Act Instruction Manual?
Tell me. What do you want? What would you like? What would work best for you? But, before you do, please just tell me whose team we’re on. Because up until now, I thought I was on the same team as everyone else.
Should we make ourselves small enough to fit the mission of the team? And, what would that mission be exactly? Are we a part-time or a full-time team? Some days, it looks like we’re half-assing everything. Alternate days, it looks like we’ve got it all covered. Some days, you’re up. Some days, you’re down. Some days, she’s up. Some days, she’s down. And, on most days, I often feel poised, like an effervescent juggler anticipating the next pitch thrown. Always intending to do quite-the-stellar job of fielding behavioral responses that seem to appear out of nowhere. Fast ball, curve ball, slider? Contrary to popular belief, I’m not very good at catching. I’m also not an especially good catcher when I’m trying to simultaneously ascertain my own emotions about the entire circumstance. It seems like we are all soothing the hurt caused by a carelessly tossed word or a line-drive at my head, your head or her head. And, I’m equally aware of the burden that that has placed on both of you having taken on a similar role many times before.
” Cause you’re hot then your cold You’re yes, then you’re no You’re in, then you’re out You’re up, then you’re down You’re wrong when it’s right It’s black and it’s white We fight, we break up..
You don’t really wanna stay, no But you don’t really wanna go, oh”
Katy Perry, Hot -N- Cold
I’d like it if all of us would take on the responsibility of balancing our individual and familial wants and needs. It’s just it often seems that somebody’s desired order gets lost in the shuffle. Think roller-skating waitress, haphazardly bobbing and weaving between oblivious customers, balancing a tray of craft beers, sexy pink cosmopolitans, long-stemmed glasses of red and white wine and that one rogue diet soda (sans straw). Your heart’s desire is painstakingly unclear to me. Her desires are hidden like a newly bought diamond ring in a steel-locked box. And, on most days, I feel like I naively wear mine on my sleeve waiting for you both to recognize how I feel. It’s excruciatingly confusing. And, it has felt that way for far too long.
Family. Just a quick question. When did you or anyone else get the impression that family wasn’t important to me? It’s like we all forgot to take notes on who participated at family events, supported in troubled familial times and who, when and where anyone of us pitched in. And, if I might add, why are we taking notes? It’s not like God stands at the pearly gates of Heaven, does a quick check on how many family events you or I have attended, whether or not you or I brought little Johnny or little Stacy a present and then ushers us in only to begin the process with the next hopeful lot.
“Smith attended little Jackie’s party in April. Check.
Grace attended little Samantha’s party and brought her a big, fat present. Check. Check. Jack put together all the photos for Grandma’s funeral, greeted the guests at the funeral home while giving a grand speech about Grandma’s homemade sauce. Check. Check. Check.
Jack you’re in.
Grace, you’re in. First, say five Hail Mary’s.
Smith, you’re out. Hell is just the next door over.”
Hmmm. Not my version of forgiveness, mercy and salvation.
Years ago, I invested in being a part of this team. But, the timing felt completely off. As if I had arrived late to my own best friend’s wedding. The previous years onslaught left me reeling through some very, heavy personal challenges. I apologize for not consistently showing up to some crucial events even if I had shown up for so many, unacknowledged crucial moments in the previous years. I was preoccupied at the time putting my heart back together piecemeal with some Elmer’s glue, left-over string and photographs reminiscent of times long forgotten. And, unbeknownst to you, you were a huge part of that healing process. When I eventually emerged, like a hibernating bear, I decided to make certain to thank you. That day, the sly, devious mad-hatter showed up and told me I was inordinately too late. Too late? As in, I missed the family bus? When did I suddenly turn into Alice in Alice in Wonderland arriving at Times Square inside the movie Midnight in Paris with a twist of Saw?
It felt a lot like being in the middle of a clandestine chapter from some unknown book where I’m the less-than-knowledgeable nurse with her proverbial hair on fire. Standing in the middle of a triage, without any knowledge of obvious injuries, pondering serious questions like “What happened? Who hurt you? And, how did you get hurt?” Except, we’re not permitted to ask those pertinent questions out loud, here in Wonderland, lest some invisible vindictive being rolls out the flame-thrower leaving us no choice but, to duck and weave. And, for the obvious and previously stated reasons, none of us are running for cover.
Please, do tell me. Whose team are we on? Your team? Her team? My team? Someone else’s team? We live in a hollow, bereft-stricken space where I’m constantly reminded of that one cyclical sit-down familial dinner I’m not invited to nor was ever invited to. I know I’m worthy. But, do you know I’m worthy? And, yet, I also recognize that you too haven’t been privy to some of my previous, significant celebratory life events that might convince you that there is more to me than meets the eye. Instead, it feels like we’re locked in a state of non-conversational perpetuity. Statements like “Well, if you don’t want to do this and we want to that, then we’re going this way. Or, if I want to do this and she wants to do this and you don’t want to do this, then we’re jumping ship.” These conversations feel like a live game of Monopoly where my designated role is handing out “Get Out of Jail Free” or “Just Visiting” cards. When did we form the hellbent-on-misunderstanding-one-another committee? And, why do I often feel like the scapegoat for every, single misstep, mistake and misunderstanding?
Monopoly Newsflash: I’ve never liked this board game and from this day forward I’m refusing all previously assigned roles of scapegoat, jailbird and uninvited guest.
The worst part?
The possibility of permanently losing one another.
And, I might add feels like it already happened WITHOUT my consent. I didn’t sign the release form to send either of you or my beloved brother in the direction of AWAY.
Every day, I wake up thinking this was all just a big misunderstanding and that my one-way-single ticket to the circus will immediately be revoked. We’ve forgotten how to extend genuine appreciation toward one another and what we’ve done for each other. The details of genuine respect, generosity and kindness have been glossed over and lost in between faded memories and life’s little way of twisting and tearing people apart. It’s not your fault. It’s not her fault. And, I’m still stuck standing on the precipice of whether it’s mine or not. I’m not infallible. I know my limits and where I’ve failed. On the other hand, it befuddles me, why we keep reminding one another of things that happened over 25 years previous? If we’ve all betrayed one another at some point and managed to forgive, what’s the point of dredging up old hurts? This approach isn’t helping anyone and serves no real, solid purpose. And, it forces me to revert back to immature habits that I persisted and insisted on eliminating; investing in healthier more productive ways of interacting. The intent was and has been to apply newly formed behavioral responses instead of previously, conditioned ones.
Why? Because contrary to popular belief, I’ve always cared. Maybe, I’m not able to change this, maybe you don’t care if I do or don’t and I know I’m certainly incapable of changing history. Truth be told, I’ve never met anyone who could. But, I can tell you that I will not subscribe to habitual, reactive ways anymore. For my own sanity and for the sake of yours.
We aren’t a team if it often results in a one-sided team. Try remembering what it felt like when you were a child playing with your friends. Most games required two leaders deciding on who’s going to be on whose team. Isn’t it true that the last one to be chosen always feels somewhat slighted? This is what I’ve observed on a daily basis. And, I know for certain that I’m not the only one feeling like yesterday’s “left-overs.” Everyone wants to be part of a team and almost everyone wants to follow their own hearts’ desires.
I care. You care. I’ve cared. You’ve cared. She cares. She’s cared. And, we still care.
Why does our caring seem to come with a major price tag? Many of us have paid that price on too many occasions. At the same time, we should set some healthy, emotional boundaries. I will never ask you both to apologize for not being able to understand my necessity to retreat in order to process the chaos that wells up inside me after the hurt is thrown or the impromptu hug given. Hurtful words tossed around like confetti disengage and sincere, warm words and hugs draw people near. To my dismay and against my better judgement, my skin has grown surprisingly thicker. I’m not referring to the skin on my body. I’m referring to the skin around my heart. And, granted, that might look entirely different per Oxford’s Collegiate definition.
Your thick skin appears as if you’ve been forced to “get over” something or someone. In no way, shape or form, do I subscribe to such a ridiculous notion. It smacks of unrepentant, unsympathetic responses toward life experiences that demand a gentle, sincere and affectionate response. We’ve all been through painful experiences. But, I’ve matured to dislike such flippant, insensitive meant-for-nothing-drop-in-the-bucket remarks. It pains me to observe tears welling up in your eyes while you painstakingly attempt to hold them back; all the while my hands feel surreptitiously tied.
Her skin is much thicker and she’s often hard to read. My only guess is that life blind-sided her too often that she decided it isn’t worth it. But, what isn’t worth it? Us? You? Me? I also get the sad impression that she doesn’t want to be here anymore. And, while that may be her desire, it occasionally feels like someone tore my heart out, threw it on the ground and repeatedly stomped on it. Because for all intents and purposes, she is my Mother and you, my Father.
I would never be so arrogant as to surmise what you both want on an emotional level. I’ve been away from home for far too long to know the depths of such a thing. Yet, I’ve also been observing you both since I was a small child and am not unaware of either of your feelings; even if you do quite-the-stellar job of hiding them. It’s just hiding our feelings compounds the problem. And, I also readily admit that I’m unsure about how either of you would like me to respond. Knowing how to respond is just as important as the response itself.
“Cause who’s to worry if our hearts get torn
When that hurt gets thrown
Don’t ya know that life goes on”
-David Gray, This Years Love
Thus far, here’s what I’ve experienced when we communicate. It’s somewhat akin to a Barnum and Bailey circus act. Some days, you’re the angry lion loudly roaring at both of us and we’re the bewildered hyenas skulking away to lick our wounds. Other days, you’re the gentle, wooly lamb who innocently walks into the tiger’s lair scratching your head in puzzlement wondering why someone just lunged at your jugular. And, roles often reverse unannounced on any given day throughout the day. It’s like we all wake up undecided on who we’d like to be or who we’re going to be for the day. Will it be the lanky, awkward giraffe? The comical, guffawing chimpanzee? The seriously, responsible-laden mama or papa elephant? The whining, in-dire-need of attention baby lamb? And, yet everyday we willingly participate in the so-called “bloodbath”- cause ya know, life, family, responsibilities, emotions and stuff.
It’s obvious we love and care about each other. Who in their right minds would attend such a crazy, daily fiasco if love and care weren’t involved? I just find myself wishing that each day upon waking up, circus roles were immediately assigned, genuine advice given, clear boundaries established and merriment unlimited. Just to avoid the unnecessary chaos that generally ensues. Something simple like don’t climb over the gate to pet the ferocious tiger today or any day for that matter; you might lose a limb. So, many crises could be readily averted with a few simple tips such as “Last night, I had a rough time sleeping. Or, today some jerk cut me off while driving. Or, so-and-so’s wife called me a fill-in-the-blank. Or, it felt like I was going to die last night.”
It’s just much easier to handle when we aren’t playing a constant game of who’s on first. There really isn’t any good reason why all of us can’t be on the same page. No, we don’t always want the same things. Yes, we are at different junctures in our lives. No, we aren’t beholden to one another. Yet, circumstances have placed us together. I’ve prayed for you both incessantly. And, to my surprise, many of those prayers have come to fruition. I’m just tired of playing the “let’s throw Johnny in the pool” sink-or-swim game. Until we are living independently of one another, this space continues to hold different joyful, painful and sometimes bittersweet memories. Can’t we build sweeter, softer, gentler, kinder and “newer” memories? The only reason it feels too late is because everyone seems to feel locked up in what happened ages ago. If we always touted the “let it go” motto, why aren’t we following our own advice?
It just might behoove us to hand out the day’s roster ahead of schedule, forego the live Monopoly game and quit haphazardly assigning confusing roles at the circus.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
We have such a small team and every member is equally important.
I’d also suggest we remind one another that efforts are appreciated, intentions are often misunderstood and that there are “no last calls” or “no last chances” if one or all of us fucks up on any occasion. This ain’t some cowboy’s rodeo, a television program re-run or a classroom project. This is our family and this is our home.
“Oh, please don’t go
Let me have you just one moment more..
You’ve gotta hold me and maybe I’ll believe..
So hold me even though I know you’re leaving.”
-Mindy Smith, One Moment More