Saturday, July 02, 2011

suddenly, the phone rang.

For the last 25 years, I've felt a small clench in my stomach when the phone rings.  It will sound stupid when I admit this, but when has that stopped me before.  First of all, because I have a hatred/fear of talking on the phone that borders on phobia.  But also because it might be my dad.  His influence on me when I was young was practically mind control-- not because he was so awful, but because I was so anxious to please him that I took everything he said, all his attitudes, far too seriously.  And he had paternal and religious authority to back him up, not to mention that he was three times my size.  That's not to say that I take it as my fault that he was so overbearing, but just that I can acknowledge with 50 years of experience with my personality that I'm prone to that kind of thing-- that anxious, hand-wringing state of mind that doubts my own perceptions and worriedly tries to figure out what everyone else wants so I can produce it.

Dad played on that, to be sure.  He didn't mind that his middle daughter would do or say almost anything to please him.  He wasn't one of those fathers that wanted his daughters to grow up to be strong and opinionated.  Well, actually, he probably would have said that was what he wanted, but that wasn't the kind of attitude he fostered.  He fostered subservience, instant agreement to his opinions; we could earn his instant, icy disfavor if we got angry at him or rebelled.

Anyway.  I'm getting off track.  The point I was trying to make is that when I finally started going through therapy in my mid-twenties, in some ways it was like recovering from brainwashing.  So it was really, really difficult to be around him in anything but the most casual of situations because I was so well-trained to just default to his opinions, his way of thinking.  It literally scared me to be around him for many, many years because I was so afraid that I would give in to him, that he would have that kind of control over me again.  It was a long time before I could trust myself enough to know that I was too strong for him to control ever again.

So you take my dread of talking on the phone in any circumstances, and add to it my fear of talking specifically to him, and you get that knot in my stomach every time the phone rang.  It's the reason we finally got caller ID after many years of resisting all those fancy newfangled phone features (which may come as a surprise for the three of my readers who aren't old enough to remember back when phones didn't have caller ID)(heck, we still had a phone sitting in the closet that had a rotary dial up until about five or six years ago).  So if I was home alone, I could check the phone first and see if it was Dad.  I would (usually) still answer, but I had a few seconds to take a deep breath and be ready before I answered.

So last week I was home alone on Wednesday morning and the phone rang.  And it suddenly occurred to me that it couldn't be my dad.  It will never again be my dad.  The repercussions of that are still sinking in-- I can feel it like a mellow, glad sound reverberating through the layers of myself.  It feels like a bodily sensation, that relief, that relaxing of anxiety.  I felt a bit guilty about this at first, because it seemed so disrespectful of the dead to be relieved that he is gone.

But I've discovered --to my surprise-- that as I let that relief sink in, the good memories are coming back.  He used to lie on the couch in the living room and play King of the Mountain-- the three of us (who were all under age ten or so at that point) would try to roll him off the couch, giggling hysterically all the while.  And how utterly comforting it was to be able to hold his hand in a strange place. And his intuitive sense that something was bothering me-- he didn't always have it, but he knew more often than my mom did, that his odd, introverted middle daughter was bugged by something.  He was a good man.


  1. THIS is your processing Sweetie, and you are doing a damn fine job of it. Honest and painful and beautiful.

    I have had so many of these same mixed emotions and reactions in dealing with my sister's death. You're doin' great.

  2. Aunt Bea,
    This is the way I still feel about mom.
    I wanted so desperately to please her, and she was fairly easy to please and it became easy to "paper over" the real cheery-o and just be who she needed me to be. It's been 25 years (Thank you Dr. Vandivort) since i was that Cheery-O but I still avoid being alone with her for fear of being dragged back under.