The parental visit is finally over*. After I dropped them off yesterday, I did a few things, and then, I just vegged out for the rest of the day. I mean, I did the things I had to do, but I did them MY way. Shirtless, to be more specific. With my parents in the house, I couldn’t be as stripped down as I normally am. My usual wear in the summer is boxer shorts and a tank top or no shirt. When my parents were here, I wore gym shorts** and a t-shirt. It may not sound like much more clothing, but for me, it is. I have both sensory issues and heat issues, and I felt as if I were dying much of the time. I had a personal fan blowing 24/7, and it still wasn’t enough.
By the way, the single indication of my father’s narcissism that stands out the most for me is how he keeps asking me if I’m cold/will be cold/might get cold. No matter how many times I’ve explained to him that I don’t get cold (for the most part, but he doesn’t do nuances), he can’t let go of the idea that if he’s cold, other people must be cold, too–especially someone whom he views as an extension of himself. On one of his many rambles, he opined on how he couldn’t understand people in India being able to tolerate living there. I admit I got impatient with him because he lives in fucking Taiwan! I don’t know how the hell people live there! (I mean, I do, but it’s a valid comparison.) I pointed out that people say the same thing about Minnesota and cold. He said you can put on more clothes when you’re cold (yes, you can, Dad. Which is my argument when he says 78 is too low for the AC), but you can only take off so many layers. I said only to a point. When’s it’s -35, there really isn’t much you can do other than go some place heated.
The point is, he can’t see anything outside his own purview, and it’s fucking irritating because it seems so basic to me. But, then again, that’s one of the characteristics of a narcissist–they literally can’t understand how anyone can be other than they are in any way. Also, a man. Too. As well. I try to tell myself not to get drawn in, but when he says something as egregiously ignorant as, “I don’t understand how anyone can live in India”, well, all my patience goes out the window.
I digress as is my wont, though.
This visit wasn’t the worst by far. Does that sound like damning with faint praise? Well, it is, but it’s worthy to note how much better than the worst it was and how I still passively felt like killing myself almost every day. In the past, I’ve actively wanted to kill myself during visits with my parents, and I’ve felt physically uncomfortable being in the same room with my father, so this is definitely progress. I’m not being flippant even though it sounds as if I am. Several years ago, when I was coerced into going to Taiwan on a ‘family’ trip, I had to stop myself from killing myself more than once. We’d be looking at the ocean–my spiritual home, the Pacific Ocean–and I had to restrain myself from walking into it until I could walk no more. When we walked across a bridge over the Taroko Gorge,*** the impulse to throw myself off it was so strong, it made me nauseated. Then, I thought, maybe I was supposed to have died there when I almost drowned in my early twenties, and I couldn’t shake that thought from my brain for the rest of the trip.
I was, to put it mildly, a hot mess for the entire trip, and the worst part was that I did it to myself. I knew it would be horrible for many reasons, but my mother wore me down. Every time we talked, she nagged me about it and guilt-tripped me about it until I gave in. That’s her M.O., by the way, talk and talk and talk until you agree just to shut her the fuck up. She did that to me about having children for fifteen years (going on and on about it every time we talked), and if I hadn’t been so deadset against having them, I might have given in. As it was, I once thought, “Maybe I should have a kid so she will shut the fuck up about it.” Fortunately, I realized that was a terrible reason to have children, but it just shows how much pressure I felt from my mother to even reach that moment.
By the way, my brother said on the way back from the airport, “Mom just won’t stop talking.” It was something I’d noticed over the past few years, and it was a tremendous relief to have it validated that it wasn’t just in my head. My parents are masters at the unconscious gaslighting (they don’t do it intentionally, but they are willful creators of their own reality), and if left to my own devices, I would question many of the observations I’ve made about our family. Then again, my brother can also do this to a certain extent, so it’s a double-edged sword. Everyone in my family, including me, is very invested in his/her own version of what our family looks like.
I asked my brother if it had gotten worse over the past few years. He agreed that it had. My mom has always talked a lot, but as he said, at least she would listen in the past. Now, she just goes on and on and on. And on. And on. It’s especially frustrating when she asks a question, but then will not pause to actually hear a response. My brother cuts in telling her she needs to listen. I cut in and tell her to stop for a second. Both of us say it in exasperated tones, which isn’t ideal, but understandable.
Here’s my theory. My father was forced to retire three or four years ago. That’s around the same time that my mom’s chattiness has gotten worse. My theory is that she’s gotten used to talking compulsively around my father because of their unhealthy dynamics. She’s always trying to please him, and he extends his approval and snatches it back at random. Well, not random exactly, but according to his byzantine inner rules about when someone has slighted him (which is more often than not). In addition, he’s probably in early onset dementia, which means he has no memory of anything said to him.**** So she has to tell him time and time again the most basic of information. In addition, his critical nature jabs at her anxieties, and that’s what the chatter is–her anxieties outwardly manifesting.
On the way to the airport the second time, I realized that she did not take a breath for the entire forty-five minute drive. There were stretches when I didn’t say anything at all, and there were other times when all I said was, ‘uh huh’ and maybe, ‘right’. I will admit at that point, I was doing a bit of a scientific experiment to see how long she would go without any encouragement, but it was mostly because I was exhausted and did not feel like talking. Also, she wasn’t looking for a dialogue. She just wanted to monologue about whatever it was that was in her mind at that moment.
I will say in that way, she and my father are alike. Neither of them cares about their audience–only in the reflection. What I mean is, with my father, he just wants to pontificate, and he wants you to reflect back what he wants to hear. You can tell by the way he crafts his questions that he is aiming for a certain response. That’s when he has a strong opinion on something (which is almost everything. Another thing all of us in the family have in common.) If he’s truly asking a question about, say, why squirrels go down the tree head first, then it’s a straightforward question. It’s still annoying because I don’t know and I don’t care, but it’s easy enough to ignore or to utter a platitude. It’s when he has an opinion such as America is so great and Taiwan sucks that I have a hard time just biting my tongue.
My mother, on the other hand, just wants what she calls a sounding board but I call a dumping ground for her woes. It leaves me feeling battered and worn, especially when I know that she will not do what it takes to change the situation. What’s more infuriating, she rewrites history so she ‘forgets’ what she was complaining about (or what I actually saw with my own eyes) happened. That’s what I mean about gaslighting, and that’s why I’m very particular about the truth. It’s hard for me to witness my father emotionally abuse my mother, and it’s even harder to listen to her deny it happened. Or ‘forget’ it happened.
I have much more to say, but this is running long as usual. I will save the meat of my musing for the next post.
*A day later than planned. My brother and I dropped my parents off at the airport Sunday at around 5:30 p.m. This was after having a tea at Starbucks for about an hour. I went with my brother to run an errand, and I made it home by 8:00 p.m. He called me ten minutes later to tell me that my parents’ first flight had been delayed to the point where they wouldn’t catch the transfer (2 hour delay), so they needed to come back home. I almost cried because I was so looking forward to having the place to myself and because driving back to get them–and then back home–was too much to bear. There is so much fucking construction that getting there and back nearly doubled the trip, and I hate driving in general. Fortunately, my brother was able to pick them up and bring them back here, but I was still irrationally pissed off at having to push off Freedom Day by fourteen hours or so.
**Both the boxers and the gym shorts I found in the men’s department. It’s hard to find women’s gym shorts that are baggy and have pockets (what the fuck is it with women’s clothing and pockets in the year of our lord, 2019????), and there is no such animal as women’s boxers. Unfortunately, men’s boxers seem to be dying out as well, sadly. Sigh.
***Where I almost died in my early twenties. I was in Taiwan during my semester abroad, and me and a bunch of the other women were swimming in the Gorge. Not a smart idea because I’m not a good swimmer. The rapids swept me away, and if one of the other women hadn’t grabbed me and pulled me out, I would have died.
****This is complicated because he’s always ignored anything that doesn’t interest him. So, part of his current not remembering things is hard to parse. Is he not remembering because he doesn’t care to remember or because he truly can’t remember? I think it’s mostly the latter because it happens even when he asks a question, but there’s also some of the former, especially if the answer is not what he wants to hear.