Friday, March 14, 2008

Only Questions

"What was your childhood like?"

"It was okay."

"Just okay?"

"It was fine. I don't have any complaints. My parents stayed together. We had a nice house. My father had a good job. We got to do fun things."

"How did you spend your time?"

"I went to school. I played. The normal stuff."

"No, what did you do in your free time? Did you hang out with the neighborhood kids?"

"Well, I was really good at entertaining myself. I had all sorts of interests. Crazy things. Like science and astronomy. Or making up stories. Sometimes I built things."

"Are you an only child?"


"Did you wish you had a brother or a sister?"

"Oh no. My friends with brothers and sisters were always fighting. It used to bother me. I couldn't understand what the big deal was. Why they got so mad. It's okay if the little brother plays with us. Really, who cares?"

"Why did that bother you?"

"All the conflict. It just seemed so draining. Emotionally draining."

"So you spent a lot of time with these friends with brothers and sisters?"

"Sure. Now and then."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I moved when I was growing up. That upset the applecart, so to speak. I lost all my friends twice. And people change."

"How so?"

"Well, I had one friend who moved in next door and was in the grade over me. After a little while, he met a kid in his class who lived farther away, but was in bike range."

"So he drifted away?"

"They saw each other all day in school. It made sense."

"Any others?"

"After I moved, I made a friend next door, but he got girl-crazy around 14. He went off with her. I ended up lecturing them about birth control. You know, really simple stuff. The idiots had a pregnancy scare."

"Did friends often look to you for advice?"

"Absolutely. The story of my life."

"Who did you go to for advice?"

"I had some very cool teachers in school."

"You asked them about birth control?"

"No. No. Of course not."

"So who did you go to for the deep things? The personal things?"

"Well, no one, I guess."

"How about parents?"

"No way!"

"Why do you say that so strongly?"

"Well, you know like when no matter how much you try to explain yourself, the other person just doesn't seem to be hearing you?"


"That's how it was. Like there was this phantom person standing twelve inches to my left. I'm waving, hey, you guys, I'm over here."

"Isn't some of that normal?"

"You tell me. My mother, for example, thinks she taught me to be the most considerate, respectful person in the world."

"Did she?"

"Not the way she thinks. In her eyes, I'm the equivalent of a 12-year-old kid who remembered to say thank you to the nice lady."

"What about your father?"

"My father likes to bring up the good old days. When I used to have this huge smile. When I used to have a belly laugh."

"Don't you laugh any more?"

"Not around them."


"There's no frame of reference. We're not speaking the same language. They're talking about one thing, and my mind is flying off to another. I'm polite. I nod and smile when I'm supposed to. I used to laugh like that when I didn't feel so alienated from them."

"Why don't you talk about what you want to talk about?"

"I tried that."

"What happened?"

"They looked at me like I had three heads."

"Why so?"

"Well, to be fair, my mother looked at me like that. Her eyes would blank out. The blue screen came up. Can't compute, system overload."

"Your father was different?"

"Yes, but actually worse. He understood more and just didn't like it. He felt that I was being difficult. Competitive."

"Were you competitive?

"No. I certainly wasn't trying to be. You have to understand, he had quite a few problems of his own. When my parents eventually divorced, he accused me of letting my mother choose me over him."

"What did you say to that?"

"I told him it wasn't my job to save his marriage. He had to fix things with my mother on his own."

"How are things now with him?"

"Polite. Sometimes he wants to reconnect. Other times the old jealousies come out."

"All this was going on when you were growing up?"

"There's more. But you get the idea."

"So, while you were giving advice, being the stable and responsible one, who was there for you to lean on?"

"I feel like I'm shrugging my shoulders a lot tonight."

"What was that like?"

"I don't know.... I'm not sure. I just don't know...."

"Are you okay?"


"Are you sure?"

"I was just thinking. Maybe I'm realizing that the things that bother me now aren't so different than the ones back then. Just different faces on similar problems. Maybe the truth is more painful, and I need to resolve that before I can move on."

"The truth of what your childhood was like?"

"Yeah, because I let myself spend most of it alone."

*Digg It*


mermaid said...

This is so powerful, Jason. I need to keep this somewhere close to read each year on my daughter's birthday.

Kim said...

This resonates with me, Jason. Which may seem strange after the post I just wrote. However, there is a big difference between being loved and being understood.

Unknown said...

My God. This is one of the finest pieces of writing I have ever read, online, on paper, anywhere. So poignant, and painful and damn-well accurate. The rhythm, the pace, the insightfulness of it all. Wow. How much of this is you? Because a lot of it feels like me.

JaneyV said...

Fantastic piece of writing Jason. Very powerful. The loneliness is palpable. It puts me in mind of that Philip Larkin poem..
"They f**k you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do."

As somebody who grew up in a big family (7 kids, Mam, Dad and 2 dogs), there was lots of love and lots of squabbling. Mostly the conflict arose over the need to assert individuality, whether it's about needing personal space, having ownership of your own stuff or the space to express yourself without judgement. I see from your piece that this happens in less crowded environments too.

"In her eyes, I'm the equivalent of a 12-year-old kid ..."
That line resonated for me so strongly. I was about 12 the last time my entire family lived together as a unit. When we get back together that's the age I feel ... there's an unwritten hierarchy that just is .. if you rail against it you end up looking and feeling like a 12-year-old! On the other hand there's a whole lot of love too and that balances it all out.

SzélsőFa said...

There's quite a bunch of psychological insight into this piece. Although there's not much among the actual elements of the story I can relate to - I had a different childhood with different problems....

What I see here and like the most about it is that it starts off easily, nonchalantly, like talking about the weather, or about the color of your dog, and it goes deeper and deeper inside.
It totally turns the questioned person inside out.
Then there's the obvious it's okay, there's nothing wrong with me, which comes fore so often in movies.
This is when part of me says that the person is lying...
At the same time the very end suggests that he might be right, and he's changed over time.

Precie said...


My Unfinished Life said...

now thats really weird...i mean..people who keep it together...are the ones really screwed up in guess!!!

Geraldine said...

I agree about this being an accurate portrayal of the type of communication breakdown that so many of us experience with our parents, in particular.

This was excellent Jason. Thanks for opening up and sharing this with all of us. Definitely feelings and frustrations that most of us can relate to.

Geraldine said...

PS: Forgot to mention, LOVED the photo, perfect.

Chris Eldin said...

I echo what EOH said.

This is the most beautiful piece of writing I've read by you. It seems like so much of you is in there. I will be reading this over and over again. I feel exactly the same way about my parents and childhood. I hate being fake. But I tried the honest route once. That was a mistake which will never happen again.

This well is deep, and I think you should keep going.

The Anti-Wife said...

You told my story very eloquently.

virtual nexus said...

Very, very perceptive. Love the way you've recreated the feel of the transference. The conference piece is right on the nail.

Anonymous said...

Stunning! Tangible.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Jason, You make me GREEN with envy! You realize that, right? You know usually I read your writing and I like it, love it but always enjoy it and I always think, gee he is really talented. But this piece made me really jealous of your talent. You write dialogue better than anyone I know - you could be an awesome screen writer because your rhythms and flows are so spot on. You don't need explanations or modifiers. Everything is there in the dialogue but not overdone.

I'm jealous, and that is my ultimate compliment to you.

paisley said...

excellent piece jason... the dialog is super smooth,, and it seems to have all the right pause... so well done it was like overhearing the conversation,, instead of trying to follow it...

Anonymous said...

Mermaid, I've been having similar thoughts. Our younger daughter can be a challenge. As easily as it could happen, I don't want her to feel not understood by us.

Kaycie, so very true. As essential as love is, understanding demands even more.

Electric Orchid Hunter, wow, I'm blown away by your comments. Seriously. Thank you. I was riding home on the train, and I suddenly wanted to write this. The questioner's personality was as important as the answers to me. Both reflect truths.

Janey, I loved hearing about how growing up in a large family had similarities. I'm very intrigued by which pieces of this vignette have meaning for people.

Szelsofa, the answerer here is realizing he thought he was alright, but he is not. Traumas from his childhood, however delicate or hidden, create anxieties in interpersonal relationships as an adult.

Anonymous said...

Precie, thanks. :)

Shooting Star, maybe so. Keeping it together does have its cost.

Geraldine, isn't that a cool photo? It was taken late at night at a historic inn. Thanks for the kind words. :)

Christine, many, many thanks. This was a gut-sense piece of writing. Yes, there is much of me there, on both sides.

Anti-Wife, I hope reading it freed some of the emotion.

Julie, thanks. =) The answerer was in capable hands.

Beth, much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Ello, that is huge praise, my friend. Huge. I love writing dialog, actually. There are reasons for that on several levels. I love how we can all build our skills together in the blogosphere and share the experience.

Paisley, thank you for saying so. The cadence of dialog is something I put a good deal of effort into.

SzélsőFa said...

I see now a bit clearer, Jason.
Undiscovered traumas of childhood are golden mines. Their exploitation are helpful for everyone.

GEM said...

Wow - touching right on the vein of what can be personal also finds universal resonance-and that is what is wonderful about writing in general, and in your writing this eloquent piece, in particular.
I have an only child, a son, and it haunts me that he may sometimes feel this way about his experiences with us as his parents. Sometimes his candour overwhelms me, and it is good to be reminded of my blind spots vis a vis our relationship. I'll print this out and give to him to read. Just wonderful and truthful in feel. GEM

WH said...

Great piece of writing. My first thought after reading the last lines was "the more things change, the more they remain the same."

Liane Spicer said...

Excellent piece of writing. The psychological insight is spot on. This could have been a transcript of a real conversation. In a way, I think it is real, spoken or unspoken, for many of us.

Maybe to be loved is enough. Asking to be understood is asking too much. If it happens, you're fortunate.

Angela said...

I love this piece, Jason. The blank out - the blue screen - can't computer. Who among us doesn't know that look? And who among us doesn't go through all that denial first, especially when it comes to family of origin.

Anonymous said...

Szelsofa, it's important to understand them, because they affect our reactions and expectations. We can begin to predict how we will feel about certain situations, and thereby avoid letting them spin out of control.

GEM, I would be extremely humbled if this piece helped people communicate and understand each other. Thank you for thinking of it in that way.

Billy, very true. By identifying it, we have a chance of breaking the cycle.

Wordtryst, you really made me think with that one. To be honest, if I am loved, but not understood, the love tends to feel empty. The person loves something else, and I'm just a substitute for it. I enjoy the benefits, but it feels false. It feels like a veiled rejection.

Angela, I'm learning it's a more widely experienced feeling than I guessed.

Sarah Hina said...

Jason, I'm very late to this, of course, and I'm sorry I've been gone so long, because reading this...well, reading this makes me want to weep.

My mom and I are in the midst of an awful, days-long conversation, in which we've dared to be completely honest with one another for the first time in our lives. I thought it was a good idea, but it's not. As you wrote, sometimes parents and children just don't speak the same language. Maybe we should have tried this when I was younger.

This dialog is raw and sensational. Never was I lifted out of the scene. It gave me goose bumps. Didn't mean to segue into the more personal stuff (figured no one would see it this late, anyway), but it just resonated with me so strongly tonight, that I had to say something.

It's so good to hear your voice again. :)

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I feel for your struggle, and for your courage in attempting the conversation. I'm beginning to understand how certain experiences in childhood can make people suppress their feelings, isolate, and unfairly feel responsible for other people's actions. What you're doing may be painful, and may damage the convoluted relationship you had with your mother, but what will remain will be true and liberating. I'm trying to learn and accept that expressed pain passes. The hidden pain of suppressing your true feelings and desires never does.

Sarah Hina said...

It turns out you're right.

Why am I not surprised?