search for a righted world

I don’t remember ever being so frazzled by travel before. I’ve usually really enjoyed the adventure as I made my way somewhere new or familiar. This time was different. Even packing and cleaning my house before leaving and making arrangements felt more laborious than ever before, almost like I’d never packed before in terms of needing to plan it all out.

The airport was a true test of my faith in humanity, as so few others besides myself were masked, while we’re still in a pandemic. Getting around with a cane in the airport wasn’t totally fun either.

I was nervous and sort of nauseous even before visiting; time with my family can be hard, especially now that my grandparents are no longer alive. My Dad and his wife spend a lot of time with my stepbrother, who I’ve met once, and his wife and kids. Over the last 15 years, they’ve visited them several times per year, whether in different states or countries, spend most holidays with them, and have visited me once, for 72 hours. My dad’s wife was on the phone or texting the whole time. It’s not a place I feel really wanted or supported. They say that they want to visit sometime, but then I get my hopes up and get hurt when it doesn’t happen. It’s one of those tromp l’oeil doors that I keep seeming to encounter in life. My dad’s answer to a lot of things is money.

My Dad and I do have some things in common, besides both liking biking and outdoors adventures. He’s also got a little Asperger’s, so at a nonverbal level we do share a basic pathway of understanding, but he doesn’t always understand that I am not him, and that how my brain works isn’t necessarily how his does even if we both have a little Asperger’s, an empathy impasse.

I usually stay with my mom, in the house I lived from about 4th grade until I left for college. My mom and I have never seen eye-to-eye, though she’s always had a very strong relationship with my younger sister. She does care about me, but it’s very hard to have a conversation about anything real. She takes debate or disagreement very personally. And it’s hard for me to get alone time without her feeling rejected, which only makes me push her away more. She’s not someone I can really go to for support because she herself needs so much validation and support and emotional coddling, which is sort of enraging because I always wished she would be more self-actualized and also stand up to my dad and protect me from his rages as I was growing up rather than throwing me under the bus. My parents probably had kids before they were ready. Add to this that her house is such a mix of patterns from rugs to furniture patterns to curtains to tiles to objects that there is nowhere quiet to rest the eye amid all of that visual cacophony. That last thing is my own issue, but when I don’t have the reserves it’s just another thing that sets my teeth on edge. It’s not a place of rest. When things with my mom aren’t flowing well, her default is to offer me food or a beer or some wine. At the same kitchen counter where, the summer after I’d graduated college, my dad offered me a gin and tonic and then told me that he was having an affair with a Sandinista and what should he tell my mom, eventually leading to their divorce 3 years later. That day was the day that all of the boundaries fell in my family. Though I rarely drink anymore, really good alcohol while on vacation can be hard to pass up.

So why do I even visit if it can be so difficult with my parents and dredge up all that old stuff? I guess at some level, I still crave having a family or a place of rest I can return to, or at least a “base.” Especially after separating from my former girlfriend, although we’re still close friends. But now that she’s moving to a different state later this year, I’m feeling in advance how bereft I may feel, just another loss. I have a few extended family members I care about who it has been good to see — not super close, but touchstones throughout my life. Maybe I still have cycles to spin through here.

Even after the first night or two after landing I was still feeling queasy and dysregulated. I just couldn’t seem to ground myself, my brain was on high alert. I was automatically reaching psychologically for other people or places where I had once felt very grounded, especially anchoring to hold close to my heart for confidence while dealing with challenge, or that I belonged to or with, and the despair at having had those evaporate too was another layer of compounded injury. The truth was that grad school or anything related was never going to help me buffer against injuries in my family, and my family was never going to help me buffer against injuries in grad school or much else, but all the patterns were going to repeat, and I didn’t know how to create good alternatives or what to trust, so there’s this big sense of anger and bereftness that still floats through from that time.

Maybe I’m still feeling bereft, or hopeless, and also at a loss for direction or scared of trying, or just scared of having my sense of control taken away again. Maybe I’m not happy where I am, or with what I’m doing, and I’m only getting older, maybe there’s also some shame about this and about feeling so stymied.

Finally we got up to the mountains on Sunday, I was a little altitude sick and also hungover, but I had found capsaicin cream to try on my ankle that helped it out and went for a little solo hike on Monday to one of my favorite places filled with fond memories of times with and without family members. Finally, sitting in the sun in that mountain meadow, life came back into balance and everything started to feel better. Just being in the sun, surrounded by all of those growing things, the familiar lichens, the hill covered in sage, the vast expanse of meadows I had all to myself with the wind tickling it, I felt safe and right in the world again. Nature is such a solace. Then today I took a bicycle ride up to the tundra. Slowly things are coming back into balance. Still tricky with my mom (it’s her place I stay at, so she wants to be there too), but so glad and lucky to have this natural place to connect with. Just being able to see the stars in the Sternenhimmel helps to restore a sense of wonder.

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