Creative Nonfiction – April 19, 2014, The Prague Revue
A response to Parker Marlo’s honest essay on cutting.
No, no, no. It doesn’t make you a liar.
Let me tell you why you cut.
It’s your mother’s fault. Yup. Your mother never let you cry yourself to sleep when you were an infant. She was one of those hippy-types who believed in the family bed and that allowing an infant to cry was cruel. Crying meant the infant was unhappy. And we couldn’t have an unhappy infant, could we? We were all peace and love and happy babies. At all costs, we kept the baby quiet. A quiet baby was a happy baby. A happy baby would grow up to be a happy adult.
God, where the fuck did they get that idea? As if our first gassy smiles are an indication of future contentment.
A baby who doesn’t cry makes up for it later, let me assure you. A baby who isn’t allowed to cry becomes an adolescent whiner, a self-centered all-about-me adult. A baby who isn’t allowed to cry becomes a needy anorexic cutter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Oh, so anxious for you to be born! For all those expectant months your mother read every how-to manual she could find. Friends gave her their dog-eared copies to read with important sections highlighted, formula is manufactured by Nazis, (Oops. That’s another discussion.)
Your mother read how essential it is to bond with a baby from the very first moment of birth. Your mother isn’t, wasn’t, an idiot; she knew all about bonding, knew that bonding was the key to having a happy baby. She’d read all about it. That first night in the hospital, the day you were born, she kept you in her room instead of the nursery. But, oh, how she desired to sink into a deep, post-birthing-a-baby sleep. She couldn’t, though. She was a mother now. She had to bond.
And she tried to. God, how she tried. She swaddled you, but you looked like a hot dog falling out of a bun; she failed at her first job as a mother. And you cried. And cried. Was this bonding?
At two in the morning the night of your birth, when the famous film producer’s movie star wife who had just given birth and was resting comfortably in the next room screamed Shut that baby up! oh, God, she tried! And a few weeks later, when at your colicky worst you screamed into the wee hours of the night and the neighbors in the next apartment pounded on the wall Shut that baby up! oh, God, she tried. Again. And again. She was inadequate. Incompetent, certain that social services would take you away. She had to keep you quiet.
And yet your mother was so exhausted, so tired, so unbelievably drained, she wanted desperately to put you in your crib, shut the door, and let you scream. She wanted to Ferberize you, follow Dr. Ferber’s recommendations to let babies cry themselves to sleep. She tried it once or twice when the neighbors were out and the windows were shut, sitting on the floor outside your room, head on her knees, hands over her ears, sobbing. Shut that baby up. Shut that baby up. Please, shut that baby up. If only she had trusted herself then. If only she had trusted you.
Instead, she shut you up. She tamped you down. She stuffed a cork into your teeny tiny baby emotions, teeny tiny baby emotions that you should have learned to handle then so that by the time you were older you would know how to handle your big girl emotions.
But she shut you up. She wanted a happy baby. The kicker was, you weren’t a happy baby. You were miserable. The more she tried to keep you quiet, the more you screamed. The more you screamed, the more she tried to keep you quiet. The more she tried to keep you quiet, the more volatile you became. Tantrums, night terrors, uncontrolled outbursts of anger for no reason. Others said you were spoiled, but you weren’t. You didn’t have tantrums because you were denied candy or toys or whatever. You had tantrums just because. Kicking screaming flailing outbursts for no reason, at any time, in any place. Yes, your mother was one of those mothers, thebad mothers, the grocery store mothers who are the recipients of the tsk tsk tsksdolled out by the good mothers.
So, she shut you up. And then, her job, her life, was to make you happy, to keep you happy. Oh, she didn’t spoil you. You didn’t get whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it. You had rules to obey and were punished when you didn’t. But, your emotional happiness depended on her. As a toddler, if you couldn’t sleep, she rocked you. When you were older, if friends upset you, she distracted you. Your emotions weren’t yours to control. You didn’t know how.
You never learned how to soothe yourself.
When it came time for you to become independent, to rebel against your mother, as all daughters must in one way or another, you pushed her away.
And the emotional cork that had been implanted when you were an infant, that your mother learned how to perform a controlled release of whenever necessary to let out just enough steam so you wouldn’t blow up completely, blew.
And you did. You blew.
You were smart. You were beautiful. But you had no idea what this turmoil was inside of you, and you had no idea how to deal with it. You didn’t know how to deflect it. You didn’t know how to release it. You didn’t know how to turn the enormous emotional energy into something positive. You became out of control in your search for control. What else could you do? You blew.
You became extreme. Sex. Drugs. Sex. You confused pain and emotion. Emotions hurt but you didn’t know how to deal with them. So you caused pain because physical pain can be managed. A band aid. A splint. Drugs. Emotional pain has no band aid. The only cure for emotional pain is to cry, to feel it, to suffer it, to live through it.
And you never learned how.
I’m sorry. I fucked up. I thought I was doing the right thing, but that’s no excuse. What do they say about ignorance of the law? I’m guilty as charged. So sue me.
But you are kind of right about this. People don’t really care. Well, it’s not that no one cares. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that we, I, can’t do anything about it. No, that’s not right either. I won’t do anything about it. Maybe it’s too late, but you have to learn how to handle your emotions, how to let yourself hurt, and heal. You have to learn how to scream in order to hear the quiet that comes after and know that it belongs to you. I have to let you scream.
So scream, baby. Scream.
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