Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fear and Loathing

I was never a normal child. Rather than the carefree child I should have been, I emulated something more like a worrisome grandmother who takes Lou Dobbs seriously.

I’ve whiled away days looking at old diaries, reflecting on exhausted hopes and fears, and wondering how I came to be the way I am and was. I still have no explanation for the hours I spent fretting as a young child, concerned about things like—if I lay in bed on my back, I’ll turn into a corpse; or if I don’t love my dog with diabetes enough, she’ll die; or what if I grow old and become like the Chicken Lady down the street in her dilapidated Victorian house full of chickens and their feces.

When I was in elementary school, I got a brand new diary—a plastic book stuffed just slightly with some synthetic material that softened its cover. Plastered on the front, of course, is the word “DIARY” in curvy, sophisticated letters. Below are a pair of pink and purple ballet shoes, balanced precariously on a line of unmelodious notes on a music staff. I can’t tell you when I first bought the diary because, for some reason, I tore out most of its first pages—seemingly an entire section of pink papers have gone missing in the series of pink, yellow, and then blue lined pages. So, the early years remain a mystery.

However, the plot thickens quickly from the first entry about my elementary school’s May carnival to the third entry dated January 26, 1993, which reads directly as follows:

Tonight, I was getting scared because I always—hold on. [Here, I vaguely remember hiding my diary under my pillow as my mom came in to tuck me into bed. I was very suspicious of my mother and convinced myself she was reading my introspection. Every few pages there is an entry written with forceful capital letters like, WHO IS READING THIS!! Of course, if I had any real investment in hiding the diary from Mom, I would have probably not used string to tie the key of the diary to its tiny lock for constant easy access. Anyway, as I was saying:] Sorry. Well let me get back to what I was saying. I have thought my parents steeled me away from the hospital and then pretended that I was their child. [I told you. Suspicious.] But I was also worrying about MORGAGES, TAXESS, CHECKS, BILLS! It’s just a disaster. I’ll wright back when I’ve got this all sorted out.

Well, I haven’t exactly got it all sorted it out. But I am “wrighting” back to say that at least can look back at my eight-year-old self, a gangly, freckled girl wrought with self-doubt, suspicion and fear of finances, and sympathize.

Although I eventually purged the image of my so-called mother and father ripping me away from my rightful parents--some young, good-looking and successful couple, of course--moments after my birth and wielding me home like a trophy, I didn’t get through it easily. Before I could accept my parents as my own mom and dad, I first had to believe that my dad was having an affair with his secretary, then that my mom had secret children from a previous marriage, and finally that there may be more of my siblings hidden in our barn. After several investigations, I determined that these half-siblings didn’t exist after all and that my parents have legitimately conceived and birthed me.

But old habits die hard.

J tells me that I worry about small problems as if they’re big ones, and that if I don’t have any problems, I create them.

At age ten, I started a section in another diary (I had dozens, most of them, like this one, half-full and sporadically dated) dedicated to “Child Advice.” Child advice…from a child. At the time, I saw this as my breakthrough. I, at age ten, would write and publish the first ever by-a-kid, for-a-parent book of parenting advice. I was like Jane Austen, a social iconoclast, breaking down stereotypes and an editorial pioneer, forging words into new territories.

7/18/95. Another note. Sometimes your child will lean towards you, then more towards their father. If you have a son, he’ll go toward you when he’s real young, then toward his dad when he’s probably somewhere between 5-11. Don’t be left in the ‘woman’s place!’ Are they playing baseball? Cheer ‘em on, if you can! Then when your kids are grown up, they’ll be by both of you!

Age 10, and already I feared my own unborn Oedipus.

In my oldest diary--a blank journal stolen at age 6 from my mom's closet, I wrote in its first three pages a children's story, illustrated with a red Bic pen. A simple three-pager, it was riddled with a child's fear of abandonment and her secret desire for a pet cat rather than her moody miniature Schnauzer.

Cat and Keeteen, By Caitlin, 1991

[page 1:] I have to go to the store wiffout Cat and Keeteen.
[Here we see two cats left sitting lonely at a closed door.]

[page 2:] Mamma, I'm scaerrd abot Cat and Keeteeen. Mamma saeys, Its OK. Dont warry abot Cat and Keeteen.
[Pictured: Daughter clings to mom's hems.]

[page 3:] Yay! Cat and Keeteen!
[Here, our heroine has returned home, stick arms thrown up in the air while Cat and Keeteen jump at her feet.]

Scientists and psychologists everywhere extol writing as therapy. And at age 6, I was doing just that. We put these thoughts into words, or sometimes into crudely drawn kids' stories, to work things out. These days, the demons I face are slightly more complicated than my guilty desire for a cat to replace our dog (although then again, for a six-year-old, what can be more complicated than that?). Fears for young 20ish Caitlin are embodied by unemployment, death, and the impact of the Empire of George W. Bush, among other things. But still, I find myself rationalizing--and admittedly, occasionally repressing--to work things out. I usually do this by doing what I'm doing right now--writing. So I guess some things never change.

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