Monday, October 25, 2010

Seeing the World through Gwyn-colored Glasses

I’ve been doing some self reflection lately to try and figure out where some of my relationship issues come from. I’ve always been very self aware even as a kid. I think it’s partially due to the fact that my mother is very concerned with appearances and consequently I always feel like everyone is watching me. To this day, many times I see my mom the first thing she says to me is an unintended insult (“You look really tired today.” “Did you want to maybe wear a different shirt?”). She’s an angel God bless her but I’ve never met anyone so concerned with what other people think. She’s even told me as an adult to ‘stop moving’ in line at the grocery store because people may think I’m mentally off if I can’t stand still for two minutes. Anyways, my point is that it’s not that I’m not aware of how I act in relationships and what my difficulties are. What I’m interested in figuring out is why I do these things and {possibly} how to fix them.

I’m going to break this down into two posts. In this one I want to give you a little background on my childhood so you have a better feel for my perspective on the world. The timing of this post is also deliberate as the anniversary of my dad’s passing is this week.

My parents met in VA and were married when they were both 25 years old, had me when they were both 26; they were divorced by the time I turned 2. My mom moved to NC to be closer to her parents and after the divorce I was lucky to see my dad twice a year.

My mom is the oldest of 2, a Duke graduate, and a fully certified nerd. She currently works as a Curator at a museum and went back to school about five years ago to earn her Masters in “Something to do with NC history and slavery sorry Mom I forgot the name of it”. She earned nothing less than an A+ her entire time in graduate school – that’s the God’s honest truth. I’ve seen her drink a handful of times and I think she may have smoked pot a few times back when she was a hippie, but that’s about the extent of her partying ways. She never smoked cigarettes and never did any hard drugs, never.

My dad came from a large Catholic family and was the second oldest of 10 children. They moved around a lot because my Grandpop was a Green Beret – my dad was actually born in Taiwan on the base. He worked as a chef (which is how he met my mom) and never went to college. He was an avid reader and a long distance runner. He made everyone laugh. He was a tortured soul. He was an alcoholic. I wish I could tell you more about him but I hardly knew him. The times he was around he was unpredictable and usually wasted. He died when I was 8 years old. It was the beginning of the end of my innocent childhood.

I will never forget the day. I was in the third grade and my mom was coming to our class this particular day to show us a ‘Traveling Trunk’ about the Native Americans (an actual trunk filled with items and mementos, etc.). I thought I was sooooo cool that day let me tell you! The night before, I had begged my mom to let me leave with her after she finished presenting the trunk to my class – aka get out of school 2 hours earlier than everyone else. My mom, being the nerd that she is, told me no I had to stay in class because I couldn’t just miss 2 hours of instruction. I begged her all night but she never gave in. So the day arrives for the big trunk show. My mom comes in and does the presentation as planned. I don’t really remember much about the presentation itself, just what happened afterwards. My mom came up to me and whispered in my ear that I was going to leave with her after all. I was so excited! All of my begging must have worn her down.

We hopped in the car. Looking back, I’ve tried to remember if I sensed anything was wrong at that point. Honestly, I have no memory. I don’t recall the car ride at all until we pulled up to a cemetery. She took me out of the car and we walked over to this little bench. I started crying – even at 8 years old I knew that something wasn’t right. By this point my mom was in tears. I started asking her about all of my relatives and saying “Is it Grandmom? Did she die?” I went on down the list of all the ‘old’ people who could have died. Then she finally said, “No honey. It’s your dad. He was killed in a car accident last night.” Memory fades from that point on. The next thing I clearly remember is the Priest at my dad’s funeral coming up to me and whispering in my ear, “You take care of your mother little girl, ok.”

As you can imagine (or maybe you’ve experienced something similar) losing my dad in such a tragic way at such a young age changed me, it changed who I would become. To be completely honest, I’m still not sure if it changed me for the good or for the bad. My dad wasn’t the greatest dad when he was alive. Lots of my memories with him involve him being drunk and/or acting irrationally and/or not following through with his promises. I’m no fortune teller but my guess is that those things would have only gotten worse as I grew up. Handling rejection as a six year old is tough but handling it as a 16 year old, in my opinion, would have been even tougher. Losing my dad meant that I didn’t have to experience having a ‘deadbeat dad’ for my adolescent and adult life. In some strange way, I feel like his death saved me a lot of anguish and heartbreak. I got to mourn his loss and it was a hard and fast reason for him not being around – sure it’s hard when people ask about my dad to have to tell them he’s not alive but it’d be even harder if I had to make an excuse for a dad who is alive but chooses not to be a part of my life.

Beyond anything else, the biggest lesson I learned from the entire experience was that life is too short. I can’t emphasize this enough. Life is too short to for us to spend even one minute of our day unhappy. And, yes, I’m not always the sunshine-iest person on Earth but I’ll tell you one thing you won’t find me wasting my time doing things that don’t make me happy (okay sometimes I waste my time on idiotic men but that’s another consequence of losing my dad so I’m saying these cancel each other out…). If I don’t like my job – I quit. If I’m at a lame party – I leave. If I’m friends with someone who is adding drama and negativity to my life – I end the friendship. If someone invites or asks me to do something that I don’t want to do – I say no. I don’t feel bad for putting myself first in my life. It’s my life and it could end any day. That’s a phrase I’m guessing we all say to ourselves but you’ll never really believe it until it happens to you.


1 comment:

  1. Wow Gwyn, I never imagined I had so much in common with you! I have a virgo mother (so always concerned with appearances), and my father who my mom left when I was 3 was an artist and also an alcoholic and I suspect very schizoid. Your description of "tortured soul" is very accurate for my father as well. He died on my first day of 6th grade, which like you, also made me realise that life is too short. I actually credit him with making me determined to preserve my health as long as possible but also to do things I yearn to do, because you never know when this life is up.