My therapist and I spend a lot of time dissecting my motivations and triggers in relationships. I have been trying to sort out my excessive attachment to having love proven to me. I’m not certain yet but I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the way I set up an obstacle course to my heart as a self-protection measure.
Of course, this brings me back to thoughts of my father. He was the type who, from what I remember of his later years, said one thing and did another. It’s confusing- having someone be so contradictory- especially when it comes to them expressing their love for you. To have someone say they love me with words and not put any actions behind it? It’s one of the worst feelings I know. And of course, because I’m trying to work out some old war wound, I continue to find situations that trigger it in me.
My father would say he loved me and he was sorry. Actually, I love you and I’m sorry were often synonymous for him. But what good are words when every time a promise is made it’s never followed through on? What does a child learn about love when her father has made a habit of saying one thing and doing another? How does she ever build trust with that kind of behavior? She starts to believe that this is what love feels like. She learns to doubt words, question sincerity, and be hyper-vigilant for the proof that all that talk means something is going to change. Every time her hopes are dashed she feels more angry for trusting and then trusting becomes the enemy. But still, she always secretly hopes.
I always over-identified emotionally with my father. In hindsight, I knew very little of what my father carried in his own heart but I took what I could as my own as a way to help lessen his burden. I still do this with men. Find the broken ones and try to mend them. Gather their hurts up into my heart, thinking maybe this one I can make right. If only the heart knew the brain’s logic!
I’ve been remembering the sound of my father’s hand dragging along the hallway wall late at night as he made his way from the living room back to the bedroom. Either from lack of balance from being drunk or from his diminishing eyesight, he’d need the wall to guide him.
I am ashamed to admit that most nights I laid in bed with an ear cocked, listening for the rustling sounds that meant he was heading to bed. I would quickly shut my book and turn my bedside lamp off because I did not want to have one of those painfully awkward confessional conversations that he was fond of having when the day had dragged on too long and the vodka had been keeping him company. I’d lay there in the dark, holding my breath, as I waited for him to walk past my room. His hand, dragging, dragging, along the wall cutting through the silent house. Some nights he’d stop short at my closed door, hovering there for what seemed like hours, like he knew I was on the other side keeping still to avoid him. I knew he wanted to speak to me. I always knew there was more he wanted to say than he ever uttered. I knew that and in knowing that my pain deepened.
Even in typing that I caught myself holding my breath.
Some things take a good long while to unlearn. But I am trying. I think sometimes my father was the last man to truly touch my heart- before everything went dark and he couldn’t find his way back to us. I’ve loved some really great men in my life and each one ran the obstacle course in their own way, getting as close as they could to winning. I’m beginning to wonder if this tiny, hollow feeling I’ve carried around with me for what feels like my whole life has just been me, alone at the finish line of my heart, waiting.
“I find myself repeating like a broken tune/And I’m forever excusing your intentions/And I give in to my pretendings/Which forgive you each time/Without me knowing/They melt my heart to stone/And I hear your words that I made up/You say my name like there could be an us/I best tidy up my head I’m the only one in love/I’m the only one in love…” –Melt My Heart To Stone, Adele
*The title is an e.e. cummings poem.