Monday, December 7, 2009

Choosing the Laughter [2 February 2007]

At last week’s group therapy, Young Chef (he and I were the only ones to turn up) revealed how furious he’s made by his mum and stepdad advising him to Just Get On With It (life, that is) rather than allowing himself to be ravaged by the memory of his biological dad brutalising him while Mum pretended it wasn’t happening.

I know the feeling. As one who’s been depressive since around age seven, I’ve always wanted to shriek at anyone urging me to see the glass as half full. “Don’t you fucking think I fucking would if I fucking could?”

But damned if I didn’t hear myself noting that brilliant advice lurked inside Mum and Stepdad’s impatience and seeming lack of empathy. One does indeed have to pull his socks up, as the Brits say, stiffen his upper lip, and Get On With It. Things look very different when you’re sane.

As I’ve been the past six weeks or so. I’m not quite sure how I got to this place of feeling able to fight my demons off, though I’m positive it’s nothing to do with Prozac, since I quit taking it several weeks ago. My best guess is that sometimes I just get so fed up aching all the time, finding absolutely everything in the world painful, that I begin to ascend in spite of myself. That’s very much what happened on Xmas Day 2000, as it became increasingly clear that I would neither see nor even hear the voice of my then-16-year-old daughter, though she was domiciled (with her mother, my first wife) only a couple of miles away. By around noon, the pain had become nearly overwhelming. I thought, of course, of ending it all, but then, thank God, suddenly recognised with great clarity that the whole thing was in my hands – that I really could, if I took a deep breath and kicked myself smartly in the arse, choose to enjoy my day in spite of what life was hurling at me. I set about writing the most optimistic song in my canon — or, more accurately, letting it write itself, an experience I’d had only once before, glowing with pride as I wrote, among enough other verses to have made the song 10 minutes long:

The water gets murky sometimes
but I can refuse to drown
Gazing into the mirror
I can stare my accuser down
Any day you can nearly die laughing
or curl up and ache with despair
I choose the laughter
I accept life’s dare

I find that my natural vindictiveness, of which I’ve so often been advised to rid myself, can actually be an asset in this regard. As I will point out to Young Chef at next Monday, when we live in barely endurable anguish, we’re very much letting our tormentors win. Young Chef can most eloquently bellow Fuck you at his dad’s memory by being happy.

I’ll note in closing that, while I never forget a slight, I never cease to cherish a kindness either, to the tune of sending my first wife, for whom I have few but the least tender feelings, an email last May telling her that I hadn’t forgotten my birthday in Siena in 1982. She’d bought me a variety of Coca-Cola-related gifts (I collected between 1971 and 2002) in the Italian cities we’d visited the preceding two weeks, and lugged them around with her from place to place, never letting me glimpse them. As all the shops closed, as they do, maddeningly, early every afternoon in Italy, I went for a birthday passagiatta while she donned the sorts of garments a fellow wants to see his bride in on his birthday (and at all other times), pulled the curtains of our little pensione room, and lighted candles. After our fervent birthday lovemaking, she directed my attention to where she’d carefully laid out my array of presents, all artfully gift-wrapped. (She’d studied art in college.) All these years later, it still makes me mist up a bit to recall how loved I felt that afternoon.

No comments:

Post a Comment