Tuesday, June 29, 2004

New Mown Hay and Moonlight on the Wabash, Part 1

I hail from Indiana.  I was born there and lived there until I was six and then every summer of my childhood and two high school years.  The rest of the time I was in California.  (So I also feel that I hail from California, but that's a different part of the same story.)

My parents divorced when I was three.  My mom moved out West and my dad stayed behind.  I split in two.  I became Phoebe-in-California-with-Mom and Phoebe-in-Indiana-with-Dad and during my childhood those two selves grew more and more dissimilar, to the extent that one would have been unrecognizable to the other parent.  There was me for dad, and me for Mom.  Very nearly like a set of twins, plotting their parents' reconciliation at times (a la Hayley Mills from the first version of The Parent Trap) --- but most of the time, just two kids trying to figure out how to get by.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this phenomenon --- the twin me's --- especially as I've grown up and begun deliberately integrating them into one whole Me.  (In a Jungian sense, you might say that I am the reconciliation of my parents that I longed for as a child --- at least, you would if that kind of psycho-babble doesn't leave you cold.) 

These days, my mom gets to meet the integrated Me more often than my dad does.  She's smart enough to recognize the love and trust entailed in the fact that I've been introducing her, but human enough to find it disorienting and sometimes alienating that I am not exactly the person she thought she raised.  (I think both parents were startlingly susceptible to the myth that they were the only one who was really influencing me.) 
Things are trickier with my dad.  I think because in part I'm his daughter.  Also because like many children of divorce, I longed most for the parent who was more remote --- the loss of whom was more complete and therefore painful.  Plus, my dad then remarried.  So did my mom.  But my dad married a woman with three kids who she had custody of full-time.  So he didn't just replace my mom and expect me to go along, as my mom did when she replaced my dad.  My dad also replaced me.   New wife and new family.
I remember, as a kid, people being careful to assure me that I wasn't the reason my parents divorced and saying, "Oh, I know that."  And I did, in a way.  I knew that I wasn't the reason they thought they divorced, at the very least.  But I was three when they divorced.  Ever meet a three year old who didn't believe deep down that she was at the center of the world? That her actions or emotions or intentions didn't cause all observable phenomena?  Even if she was empathetic enough to be sensitive to other people and sweet in a smart way that adults called "wise beyond her years?"  If you think you have, I think you're kidding yourself.  Or maybe I'm kidding myself. 
All I know is that it might have been buried deep, but some part of me definitely did believe that the fragmentation of my family --- that cataclysm --- was my doing in some way.  At one point I think my alienation from church had to do with the fear that my parents' divorce was God's way of punishing me for some evil I just didn't realize I'd done. It's taken me a long time to recognize it, in part because it is so irrational, and I like to think I'm so smart --- but, rationality is not the most powerful influence.  Long ago and way back there, I internalized the fact that my family had not stayed together as evidence that somehow I had not deserved the happiness of being able to hold both my parents' hands over all the cracked sidewalks of life. 
Unworthy and replaceable.  These were my secret fears about myself.  These were the twin demons at work in the development of twin identities carefully crafted to appeal to the appropriate god -- Mother-in-California, or Father-in-Indiana.  Let me be worthy.  Let me not be replaced.  Look at how worthy I can be!  Look at how difficult I am to replace!  I'm sweet and smart.  I get good grades but I'm not a goody-two-shoes.  I'm understanding when my step-brother calls me fat and takes my underwear out of my drawers --- he's just jealous of what a great dad I have compared to his own.  I follow politics and swear to impress my mother's friends.  I am a model of good works to impress my father's parishioners.  I don't do drugs but I'm not judgmental about it when my mom and step-father do.  Oh, the list goes on...
My poor tormented twins. What a relief adulthood has been -- freedom from the parental gods, and the opportunity to make a home where both twins are welcome.  And it's the oddest thing -- where neither  twin has to cover up true inclinations and feelings in order to ensure the pleasure and comfort of some jealous or frightening parental god, suddenly I find just one Me.  The twins are not so different after all; when we're all together, we're just one Me.  It gets trickier, always, however, whenever I visit with one of my parents.
And this weekend, I went to Indiana to visit my dad.  For his 25th wedding anniversary.
Let's just be clear: neither of my parents think of themselves as "gods."  I suspect this construction would be deeply disturbing for both of them.  But let's also be honest.  Human beings meet the idea of God in their parents first -- a being who all-knowingly provides, loves, and judges...?  What's the model for that, exactly, other than Parent?  Some of us are lucky enough to see through the illusion earlier than others, and yet I watch plenty of my adult friends still emotionally capitulate to the Parent who they fear can somehow can deem worthiness and loveability, even once they are too smart to believe it or acknowledge it consciously.   Hopefully as we age, some better idea of God, or conviction of the absense of, frees us from this usually unintentional tyranny.  But its a hard one to get over --- submission to the power of a Someone who can tell us whether we are loveable.
And as I was packing to go, I was feeling particularly submissive. Angry, but submissive.