Petals of Metal

3 pictures of a rose cupped in hands, first the flower, then the separated petals then a shredded pile.

She developed her set of techniques originally as self-protection, but she found they served her well in self-promotion, too.

She had always been smart. Not the smartest but an equation of brains multiplied by hard work put her near the top. And while there might be a limit to brainpower, she was fully in control of her effort level. She could do this.

A loving addict for a dad and a mismatched avoider for a mom were the catalyst and the enzyme for recurrent family chaos. They would reject her and she would come back. She strained–because that’s what she did–to make her family work. Really, though, to make it work for her. She wanted out. She wanted to be on the path to good fortune and the life of the fancy. She wanted her parents to be proud. She wanted her parents to love her. She wanted them to want her almost as much as she wanted to leave them.

She wasn’t good at hiding her feelings. She couldn’t hide her terror of rejection. She learned, though, that some people hated to see her terrified. She learned that teachers and bosses and friends and lovers responded with concern to her cocktail of tenacity and anxiety–especially when she served it with syrupy flattery mainlined to their egos. They were happy to tend to her. She asked more frequently. She sat adoringly at their feet, looking up with big doe eyes for approval and favor. She frequently received both.

When her recipe went awry she didn’t check her ingredients or her technique, but blamed the stove for failing her. She learned that if she was self-deprecating, others would fault the stove, too. Sometimes her flopped recipes would work their way out. Sometimes she picked up a new technique. She always picked up a new cookbook. She could find new appliances. Shiny ones that would not fail.

She settled on her mate early. He was weaker than her–but strong enough. It was a child’s relationship from middle-school. They grew up together. He loved her and she encouraged him to need her. She didn’t bother with other men in college. She punched her ticket and decided he was the one. Except for that time they broke up when he lost his mother and he really needed her. She took him back when he was “well.”

When she had children, she loved them the way  that she learned to love. By seeking approval. Sometimes she would look for theirs. Other times she strategically withheld hers. It was an equation, this family thing. You invested, but there was a required return. They were supposed to love her and she would do what it took to make it so–whether it was guilt, or bribes, or mistruths, or silence, or hugs, or praise, or time, or attention. She didn’t know she did this, but her kids did.

When they left her house, one left the slide rule behind and sought no approval, and so sacrificed her mother’s interpretation of love. The other attempted to measure up, but could not find her own peace by trying to patch together her mother’s.

Her mate fell into a painkiller addiction that almost killed him. He found that the numbness he felt with her could be swapped out more pleasantly. When he came back, he moved away for a while. She was angry and lost. She stayed that way. And he stayed away.

 

 

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