I’m not the most nostalgic person. Or so I’ve always thought.
I don’t have keepsakes or buy myself souvenirs when I travel (though for others is a different story). I’ve enjoyed getting older and truly believe the best is yet to come. Yet, I also still have friends from childhood and revel in memories often.
Today I saw an old friend. I drove my niece and nephew to hang out with her and her kids. It’s actually been several years since we’ve really even hung out, yet, we picked up like we never skipped a beat.
We talked about the past – memories and nostalgia. We swapped stories of thens and nows, catching each other up on various things. Surprisingly unsurprised that our paths shared similarities even as time and space had separated us.
Despite everything, all the changes and differences we’ve undertaken, what we shared in the past was no more real than our connection now. The nostalgia was underwhelming because the present was fully enveloping.
So perhaps that’s it? I’ve never really felt nostalgic because I’ve never truly felt better about the past than I do the present. Granted, I’ve markedly and purposefully improved my life so there is some bias as well, but I find the possibility interesting enough to keep exploring.
Perhaps that’s also why tradition has never felt quite right to me either.
I’ve always wondered why just because something has been done, it should continue to be done. I was a terror at holidays, always refusing to participate in decorating or festivities because no one could tell me why we were doing them. The Christmas tree was the worst: “why are we killing a tree? Why do we bring it inside? Why are we decorating? Why does the whole family come over?”
Interestingly, once I could apply present purpose to the seasonal commotion I became a much jollier person. Paganism taught me about Yule and Saturnalia, and suddenly bringing greenery and raising the spirits of your loved ones through shared meals made sense. The ancient customs weren’t about religion as much as combating what we now call seasonal affective disorder. We celebrate to inspire joy, and that makes sense to me so I’m perfectly content now.
I missed my friend Heather. I could’ve talked myself out of reaching out to her, I have before, but I didn’t. I could’ve just been nostalgic, but I made my feelings something actionable instead. I’ve brought the past and the present together, creating more opportunities of the same in the future, and I’m grateful I did.
I don’t want to think about how things were or could have been, I want to create my bliss in every moment. Even if that means doing more about what I’m tempted to miss or iconify.
I don’t talk to my dad, at all. We’ve been officially estranged for over 4 years now.
It wasn’t always like this. Granted, my dad and I never had an easy, comforting or reassuring relationship, but there was a time when I thought the world of him. He’s my dad after all.
Perhaps every little girl has those moments of seeing the whole world in their daddy’s eyes – at least, I have the memory of wanting too. I wanted the relationship he and my “naturally slender” sister had; to sit on his lap, cuddle up and eat treats at night with him… but, I was one of the chubby daughters which meant no food after dinner for me, and subsequently no bonding on the couch either.
Dad worked all the time as an entrepreneur, and that meant high stress, which he in turn took out on us at home. Of course, no parent is perfect, and even despite his anger issues and overinflated ego, I maintained a relationship with him well into my adult life.
The Point of No Return
I actually credit my ex husband with helping to first start distancing me from my father’s suffocating dogma and attempts to control. Still, it wasn’t until one of my sisters came forward with sexual abuse allegations that I started to see my difficulties with my father in totally different light.
Maybe this is why every therapist I’ve ever seen has wanted me to undergo memory regression therapy, telling me I have an abnormally high amount of my childhood “blocked out.” Maybe this is why I trained myself to wake up at the sound of my father’s footsteps even when I could otherwise sleep through a foghorn. Maybe this is why my guts tie themselves in knots at the mere mention if my father’s name and my skin feels like it’s trying to shrink back into my body at the thought of him being near me…
Did I want to believe it? Hell no. No one wants to think about their parent as that kind of monster.
At first, I simply stuck by my truth. I didn’t remember anything.
But of course, it’s not that simple… Here’s an excerpt from peice of writing about the night my sister confronted me about not fully believing her, 5-6 years ago:
The last time I went out with — she cussed me out for not protecting her from dad when we were little.
I would have stopped my heartbeat if I thought it would’ve helped me remember –
She asked me how I didn’t hear it – that I was in the room –
A month later and I still don’t know what to tell her.
The pain has become an illusion; emotion cooked from raw to rubber?
After that point, it didn’t matter anymore what I did or didn’t remember. I was too young and naive to protect her when we were kids, but as a grown woman I couldn’t just turn blindly from her pain… So I began to advocate for her.
This ultimately climaxed in a heated conversation with my father just over 4 years ago. On that fated day, I would tell him that a relationship with me is a privilege and not his right, and that if he wanted to be a part of my life he needed to prove to me that his children’s wellbeing is more important to him than his pride.
My sister had asked him to get a polygraph so I simply backed her request, posting our relationship as collateral. I haven’t had a conversation with my father since.
Only the Beginning of the End
I had hopes, at first. In denial that my father would actually sacrifice me for the sake of his self-image. Then I got angry. Really fucking angry. Finally, extremely sad.
I recall sobbing to close friends during the saddest, most frustrating periods: “I wish I could hate him! This would be so much easier if I hated him… But he’s my dad and I love him – that’s what hurts most.”
Still, it’s not only the emotional turmoil that amps up in a situation like this. There’s the family drama, people taking sides or something even worse: people not taking sides.
It’s enough to make you crazy: being accosted by a respectful member of my small hometown community and innocently asked, “how’s your dad?” I’m not a liar anymore, even for discretion or convenience, so I tell them I don’t speak to him – which they’re always surprised by.
My dad has a public persona, only people close enough to be family were ever unfortunate enough to see his private side. Still, I’m not going to air my sister’s business to the whole neighborhood either. So, I just end up looking like the rebellious and wayward daughter he paints me as, every time. He’s a Christian after all, and in his circles, that alone counts for everything.
Then there’s the inter-familial dynamics. My mom still talks to my dad, and so does my sister who shared the nightly cuddle ritual with him. The family not only feels divided, it is.
We all play it cool, but I for one can always feel the underlying tension. Trying to imagine my poor sister’s position is excruciating: “either they believe me to be such a self-deprecating and attention-seeking liar that I would fraudulently claim to experience such horrible atrocities, or they’re simply willing to have relationships with my abuser…” Who could stand to think such things about their family? Yet, this is the strangeness we are living through.
Wading Through the Muck of It
One amazing thing has come from all of this though, I’ve become somewhat of a lie-detector myself.
My dad started gaslighting me as a child, telling me that some of my memories weren’t real. He was also accused of infidelity and asked to take a polygraph by my grandparents when I was in middle school. Essentially, the “truth” surrounding him was always somehow in question.
I didn’t realise how this had effected me until I was an adult though, and only after seeing some of the unfortunate patterns it had created in my behavior. As a young adult, I actually sought out liars to be friends with. I was comfortable with my ex husband’s con-man delusions and an ex girlfriend’s self-confessed pathological lying because I was used to being fucked with.
Things not making sense was what made sense to me. Because of my father’s self-constructed truths, I was completely comfortable with others who would try to bend and shape reality with their wills as well.
It wasn’t until I noticed this pattern in my relationships that I started to understand the gravity of my grooming. I made it my mission to detect truth from the lies.
Developing a Truth-Line
It all started with observations, and this was the biggest take away: when people lie, they often get dramatic and seem desperate. They will very often use their emotions, voice and body language to try and convince you of their lie. In fact, this is the most important determinant: lies require belief in order to exist.
The truth is the truth, is the truth. It cannot, by virtue of being the truth, be anything else. In this way, it is self-assured, self-justifiable and rightfully, can remain peacefully at ease – even when under attack.
You can research, read, ask, study, scour, hunt, discover and pry all you want and you will only ever uncover more truth. Truth is an advocate for curiosity because it has nothing to hide. Lies however, will always ask for your trust because it’s essential that you take them on faith – they will crumble beneath an investigation.
Liesonly exist in our consciousness. Without a mind to think them to be true, and with no basis in reality to actually back them up, lies simply cease to be. In this way, they must be spread in order to ensure they survive.
This is where the drama and desperation come in. Liars often make theirs an emotional plea because they really, truly, need you to believe them. Without your belief, their reality starts to crumble.
Now, having done this work of developing a compass for detecting truth, I actually find myself laughing at my father’s feeble attempts at manipulation. He’ll spend weeks, probably even months at a time, tirelessly writing letters to family members about how true his truth is – as if somehow that makes it more true…
Meanwhile, I’m still taking ever further steps away from his delirium.
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