Now we talk.
The primary difference between "then and now" is these days we talk about things. We are reaching a place where we can talk relatively openly about things that are uncomfortable, deeply personal or otherwise taboo. There are those who like to claim that in the past, things did not happen. The only reason they "did not happen" is because no one reported they did happen. And unless you are part of the camp that believes what is not reported never happened, you can figure out that we're not living in an age where behavior and vile acts are out of control, we're just living in an age where people are less afraid to talk about them.
The question is sometimes asked as to whether it serves any valid purpose to dredge up the past or if it is better to let sleeping dogs lie. I think the answer lies in whether you find yourself functional and happy in the present tense or whether you have difficulty dealing with certain situations or people. Having been in therapy myself for two exciting and fun-filled stints, one of the things I kept coming back to was that there are huge gaps in the timeline of my memory. Why are these gaps there? My first therapist suggested it was a combination of two things, one physical and one emotional. She suggested it was possible that the overdose I engaged in during my suicide effort likely did some damage to my brain. She also suggested that there were things that I wanted to forget, things I still do not remember, which led to my feeling at the time that death was the only way out.
I told a story the other day that was on the surface meant to be amusing. It had to do with swimming lessons we took while I was in grammar school. I was probably only about ten years of age at the time and it was one of those things where if we had permission slips signed by our parents, we were pretty much required to do.
After my first experience with the swimming lessons, I would find all kinds of ways to get out of going. Most of the time I would pretend to be sick, which wasn't easy because my mother is a nurse. She had a fairly simple rule when it came to being too sick to go to school. We either had to have a running fever or be throwing up. It was impossible to fool her on the having a fever bit, and to this day she still refuses to believe that I scammed her on my tapioca pudding in the toilet bit.
It was fairly simple, really. I would actually buy packets of powdered mix to make tapioca pudding and stash them in my room. When the time came, I would go into the bathroom, dump the tapioca pudding into the toilet bowl and then stir it around until it reached the right consistency to appear to be what I wanted it to be. Then I would kneel down before the toilet and make some effective throwing up type sounds until she came by to see what was going on.
The question always was, why did I go to such lengths to avoid swimming lessons? And why, years later, when I went to summer camp, did I also go to great lengths to avoid the swimming lessons that were part of the program there?
There was a memory trigger the other day when tapioca pudding came up. And on the surface, as I said, this is an amusing story. We took our swimming lessons at the Jewish Community Center, which had the only indoor pool of any real size in the area, after our regular school was finished. The first time we were there, I was getting changed with the other boys in the locker room and before we left the locker room, a number of girls appeared in the doorway. Somehow they were very convincing in telling us that, for religious reasons, only boys who had been circumsized could swim in the pool. These girls were quite a bit older than us, probably about fourteen or so. They got most of us, as I recall, to pull down our swim trunks for the "required inspection."
I remember it freaking me out big time, and I remember these girls would pick on us constantly, always coming around like some sort of weird Jewish girl gang, and we were afraid of them.
This was the mid-1970s and at the time there was no way any of us boys were going to tell our parents or anyone that we were getting picked on by girls. We never talked about what was going on to anyone. We didn't want anyone to think we were wimps because we were getting picked on by girls, even if they were four or five years older than us, outnumbered us, and had us on their home turf.
It can be a funny story. And sometimes that is a good way to deal with things you're afraid to talk about or uneasy about. I don't really have any issues with the story, but I feel it fills in some blanks I have when it comes to my childhood and how I went from being a very outgoing and happy child to one that, by the time I was in the eighth grade, was almost constantly depressed. This story certainly doesn't explain that, but it is part of a pattern of silence.
There was a time when I was best friends with Bobby, who lived just up the street from us, and we were so close we did everything together. And then we stopped talking and wouldn't even look at each other when we were at school. After his suicide and the details of his father's physical and sexual abuse of Bobby and his siblings came to light it made some kind of sense why we suddenly went from connected at the hip to pretending the other did not exist.
My memories from that period are almost completely blank, and I'm fairly certain I know why. I think Bobby either told me what was going on with his father or that I somehow found out. And neither of us said anything and the weight of me knowing resulted in the end of our friendship and a wall being put up between us. We didn't talk, and years later, we both attempted suicide. He succeeded.
It is good to talk.