Recently a soft and astute human being told me that a positive side to a bad experience I had was that it makes me uniquely qualified to help someone going through something similar. This was yesterday. And I couldn’t help echoing this thought in my mind as I listened to Todd Glass give such a beautifully unique and touching perspective on hiding who you are, being gay, and coming out, on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. These two things together nudged me to talk about something I’ve been dealing with for over a decade, something that still gnaws at me, and something that has taught me some beautiful lessons in humanity, family, and love. I’m not saying this in anyway compares to Todd Glass’ triumphant and fractured story. I could never fathom the complications and hurt that comes with something like that. Dealing with the violent and close-minded take on homosexuality our society has cultivated is in no way like the “abandonment issues” (thanks ex-girlfriends!) I deal with from my mother. But that’s what I’m going to talk about. My mother (eye rollzzzzz).
And I hope this helps you. If you need it.
Anyway, when I was around the age of 11 or 12 my increasingly disconnected mother disappeared. This is how I remember it at least. And unlike most maternal vanishing acts it wasn’t because of drugs or kidnapping or magic or anything else I may have been able to understand at that age. It was manic depression. But that meant farts-and-a-half to me at the time. I just knew she was one day there and then not the next.
Three months later she returns and two custody battles later I realize that in her chase for a youth and with the baggage of an eroding mind she spent an adulteruous absence in the same town I continued to look for her in. The details and corkscrew turns of these revelations and divorce proceedings are seemingly endless and horrifying and boring, all at once. When it was finally decided, by the first judge who cared for justice, my mother was unfit to raise my sister and I, my actual parent, my father, was returned custody and rightfully the home he was paying for. After several years of calendar-marked visits and a handful of almost-reconciliations my mother burned me for the last time and that, as they say, was that.
Now, it was a long and difficult process. I didn’t disconnect from the woman overnight. I skip over most of it to protect my own harsh memories and to not bore you. There were fights, there were sirens, there were admissions a child should never hear, there were suicide attempts and homicide threats, the whole American gamut. But none of those stories are the point (though I do take pride in my youthful defiance of kicking in the door of my mother’s worst boyfriend’s new Porsche [a now convicted sex offender!]). The point is this:
You can not help who you love and you can not make any human being love you. I know this sounds literal in my case. I could not help being born from my mother, I could not help to learn language and compassion and how to walk from her, I could not help to memorize her circadian rhythm before I could formulate thought. But it is the same as how you can not help who you fall in love with. You do not chose who your heart desires, for whatever reason. Not for attention, not for affection, and not for attraction. And when these people, these equally naive, fractured, and human people, when they do not realize that you are lovable and worthwhile and brilliant that is not your fault. It is theirs. One day, hopefully, they will realize and lament these mistakes they’ve made. But they also might not. And that is fine. They looked away when the meteor skimmed our atmosphere. Years from now the geniuses with their eyes to the sky will recall how you were ebullient and night-ripping, whereas these failures, these non-awares, will only recall in faded stories how truly bombastic you really are. It is a mistake and that is all it is. It is the same as the bumper you hit parallel parking the other day.
Now, that isn’t to say that mistakes can not affect you deeply. A misplaced digit can foreclose a home and ruin an entire family, entire generations. These ripples are for us to deal with and learn to endure. What we can’t affect is the mistake that led us here. And knowing that is comforting because knowing that means knowing that you are a product of the world and that itself is beautiful. And it will highlight the people, the actions, the objects, that weren’t mistakes. And you will cherish those with all of your heart because your heart is worthwhile and has grown larger than cities and has learned to exclude anything that does not match its sincerity.
Be careful. As I said, these are mistakes. Sometimes they are made because of off-balance serotonin levels and sometimes they are made because of fun white powders and sometimes they come from generations of non-love, but they are mistakes nonetheless. You will make mistakes. You may ignore a shining and brilliant human being who yearns for your affection, and you may never know that you did. But you must remember to try, you must remember to be careful. And when you slip, and this is not easy, you must try to explain, you must try to reveal. Because we will live on enduring and knowing we are meteors with unmatched speed and fury, but even rocks on fire in space can use a bit of tenderness, a bit of clarity.