May 27, 2009


The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

I remember as a child, wondering when my parents would tell me that after due consideration and much deliberation, all the doctors in the entire United States had consulted and determined my brain to be inalterably and fatally deformed. My parents hadn’t wanted to tell me of course because our Idaho Dr. Marcus Welby said the truth would make me feel bad about myself and medical research had proven that knowing my IQ score would reduce my mental capacity to a lethal level which meant my parents would be complicit not only genetically, but behaviorally, too. 

Now that I was a budding teenager, acting as if I were so damn smart by questioning meaning-of-life answers that had been good enough for generations back to Methuselah, the time had come for my parents to break the sorry news: their daughter, the eldest in a family of five, was mentally retarded. I imagined how reluctant they'd be to tell me the truth but I had left them no choice. In addition to that bit of lousy news, Dr. Welby also suspected I had a terminal disease so horrible, so despicable he daresn’t speak the diagnosis aloud. What difference would it make? The disease would end up killing me whether I read up on it in Mom’s Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopedias or not. I had this creepy sense that everybody knew about my illness and questionable intelligence… even my siblings. And that’s why they laughed at my jokes and shared their ration of animal crackers without complaint or stinginess. They knew they wouldn’t be obliged to share crackers with me forever. 

This childhood memory, which really wasn’t a conscious memory as much as it was a ‘feeling’, returned to haunt me when I was working through the inescapable fact that I’d been duped, scooped and rebuked. How many friends, family members, and neighbors had known about my husband’s affair and why didn’t they tell me or at least send an anonymous cut-and-paste letter in the mail? Segmented words clipped from Woman’s Day and People magazines would have been a compassionate gesture even though it’d hurt at first, but I’d at least question my belief that I’d married my best friend. Maybe clipping words from The National Enquirer would have been more appropriate since my life had degraded into fodder for tabloid news; only the saddest commentary I can make about our society is that affairs are not headline news and don't motivate grocery shoppers in the checkout line to fork over hard-earned dollars just to read about two average-looking people cheating on an everyday housewife with a middle-aged spread. Unless I was ‘somebody’ and my husband was ‘somebody’ and his girlfriend was ‘somebody’, nobody really cared and nobody wanted to know the details. Except for the wife of course. She wanted to know even if she didn’t because she probably already knew but couldn’t put her feeling into words and so it stuck with her, poisoning her innards and shrinking her brain and making her feel as if she were alienated and defective and deservedly so. 

It’s humbling admitting to yourself that you’d been talking with people who were privy to more information about your life than yourself. That sometimes, not always, but occasionally, people conspired to keep the wife out of the loop her husband was hanging her with. Perhaps they believed it was the compassionate thing to do, which I can relate to since that’s my excuse for silencing myself when I suspect a woman’s being cuckolded by the man she professes to be her best buddy. Let a wife live in blissful denial for as long as she can because wouldn’t we all like to pretend infidelity only happened to narcissistic movie stars and nagging shrews and the more everyone colludes ignoring the facts, the less likely it will be that it’s true. 

All my life, I’ve had these ‘knowing’ feelings that couldn’t be put into words; well, some writers can put treacherous feelings into words and that’s why their books are at Costco and they get paid to say what most of us can’t. I find it painfully difficult containing miserable feelings long enough to even know they’re there, much less describe them to other people. Which is why I use an adjective like ineffable when I cannot cram big, huge feelings into alphabet letters. Still, the average person doesn’t use a word like ineffable. Maybe not until they try to communicate with other people and share their truth so that none of us feels alienated or defective or alone with feelings defying description. When we attempt to define our feelings, that’s when must-write-or-die-people search a thesaurus for a word that accurately says what really can’t be said in the first place. We cop-out of a frustrating exercise in futility by saying our most profound emotions are ineffable. Because they are. 

What I have learned in writing about my life is that you cannot be literal and get anywhere close to the truth of the human experience. 

So when I read this poem by Philip Lopate, I felt a rush of relief accompanied by a liberating sense of gratitude because he described the teenage angst that had followed me into adulthood. He said what I’ve secretly thought more times than I probably ought admit on a blog about narcissism. And he made me smile. Okay, laugh. Okay, howl with laughter. 

We who are your closest friends
By Philip Lopate

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

Hugs all,



  1. You're on to something about how troubling the enormity of the wounded condition is and how there seems to be no antidote. What we want is to enjoy and embrace life regardless of our misfortunes or wounds. That's really all we want and if there's an answer that we can believe in (or sink our teeth into), we'll take it on. It seems though that it is nota mind over matter type of thing but something more capricious or mercurial...And we hope/pray that we are one of the chosen to be sprinkled with Tinkerbell's dust.

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    1. Sorry, a comment full of typos. This poem KILLED me. The whole post is a gem. I copied and pasted the Lopate poem in it's own post on CS, with a link to this blogpost, because it seems to perfectly encapsulate some folks in my life at present. What a treasure! love CS

    2. hahaha!! I loved this poem, too!! And it was rather fun reading what i had written way back in 2009 while suffering through the indignity of being naive, gullible and trusting. So trusting in fact, that the thought of infidelity never crossed my mind.

      I have wondered what I'd be like in a marriage now? Would I question the late hours at the office? Would I check his suitcase for Viagra? Would I scan expense reports to see if there was one or two occupants in the motel rooms? I really don't know and don't intend on being put to the test since I love love love being single.

      For instance: here I sit at my computer after logging in at 9:00 am. I have lost the horrid feeling that I needed to 'earn my keep' by completing the housewife's checklist. I simply feel Good About Me even if I do NOTHING. Nothing, I tell ya. Nothing other than breath and smile and exist.

      Who knew life could be so wonderful?


    3. Amazing, idn't it? My friend's wife is figuring this out as I type this. I advised her to go to the bank and request to change the password on their joint account. He wouldn't give it to her, so she went, said he's out of the country, and got them a new password. She sent it to him, after accessing their credit card account statement history, seeing all the purchases for his new girlfriend, and pay per view porn sites.

      She's strong and moving on the right track. Update later on RC.xoxox


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