In one of my previous posts, The Family Furnace, I described a situation happening with my family, and came to some conclusions about the situation.
What I failed to mention is the circumstance of the situation.
Prior to the last month, I had lived in one of my family’s properties for six years. I went to live there in the summer of ’06 after I was facing certain eviction from my apartment. When my parents heard about that predicament, they offered to help me fix up the property, so we (my ex and I) could live there. In preparation for our arrival, the bathroom was completely gutted. The only bedroom with a remaining ceiling was plastered, and an extension cord was run from their house to mine.
Temporary patches to a desperate situation. Which became more critical as time passed.
The house was fatally flawed. Winter started to approach, and I started to inquire as to how I was going to get heat. I was told that I faced thousands of dollars of work, replacing the furnace, hiring professionals to install a furnace, water heater, and rewire the entire house in order for it to be up to code with the electricity company. It took me by surprise. The only other option was to improvise.
I lived in one room with a futon mattress in the corner, and a kerosene heater in the middle of the room. The floors were bare, and the house was not insulated. My ex had the place covered in garbage, wrappers, used glasses, empty bottles, etc. Essentially, we were squatting in a hobo house. The only luxury we had was running water, but it wasn’t hot. The rest of the house was so cold that the water in the toilet would occasionally freeze.
When I was not thinking about the misery of the weather, I brainstormed ideas on how to improve my life. That’s when I discovered that constantly wearing a hat increases body temperature, but has the unfortunate side effect of making me dirtier with sweat. I learned how to warm a bowl of water over a kerosene heater so I could sponge bathe. I also came to the conclusion that this was rock bottom.
The obsessions started. When those thoughts were not enough to occupy my mind, I considered all of the ways that I could die. Exposure. The constantly recurring infections I picked up from unsanitary living conditions, chronic health problems, and a weak immune system from inadequate housing. I could die in my sleep from asphyxiation due to the kerosene heater. Even better, I could be consumed by smoke and fire.
After living without heat through a Pennsylvania winter, I learned to appreciate the basics of life that others often forget about. The essentials of life are not guaranteed, and sometimes, we are forced to fight for them. I count my blessings each day to not be cold, hungry, and dirty.
However, I still have a problem counting my other blessings. Particularly with people in my life. I often find that I have difficulty letting go of wrongs and seeing clearly in the present without the past forming a cloud over it. I despite being left to fend for myself, getting kicked out of the house that I poured thousands of dollars of time, manpower, and money into that pit, and all of the rest of things in the past, I was set on putting the past in the past, and working toward a better future with my parents.
I came to the realization that my parents were never parents when I was a child. What would possibly make them such now that I’m an adult? True, I have a Mommy and Daddy complex, so badly that I accidentally married a man under false pretenses of not being like my father, when it turns out that he is. Worse, I spend time daily obsessing about the similarities between my mother and me. And the worst, I attempt to find family in other people.
But, all of that is fine. One day, I will be able to resolve that. But, I knew that if I dropped the inexplicable unreachable expectations, maybe it would possible to move forward as friends. Seeing as how we have had some time and space, literal and figurative.
I made an effort to drop my suspicions and stop reading into things my mother says to me. We actually had a good conversation, and I was happy with her offer to clean out my refrigerator. I was ready to resign my key to her when she asked. She was excited to hear that we were stopping by in the evening, and she couldn’t wait to see Beast (my son).
We did stop by in the evening. When I asked if she would mind watching him for twenty minutes so we could go to the store, she attempted to make up some lame excuses. Her voice was noticeably displeased, although she was completely enthusiastic less than twelve hours ago.
I noticed that I accidentally left my keys at home, and requested Zen’s (hubby). He put up a fight, and I became extremely frustrated, feeling as if this was going to become a serious battle. Yes, my mother brought up the refrigerator, but never requested the key exactly. My parents were pleasant enough.
Until we were going to cross the street to leave. We were about to climb into the car when my father called after me. “Hey, when are you going to have the rest of your stuff out?” I carefully explained that we’ve been taking serious and unexpected financial hits, and we’ve had to take it weekly in our PT Cruiser. That’s when he dropped the bomb of complete betrayal. “Well, I need to get in there so I can fix the place up and have it rented out by winter.”
My mother had lied to me. She told me that it would be impossible to have it rented due to the numerous code violations that stood between them and a renters permit. My family was passively-aggressively bounced so they could turn a profit. And, I was stung by the memories of living in abject poverty while they stood by. The memory of spending my last two months of pregnancy alone, because my husband was fixing the house. And all of the money siphoned out of our account by $700 electricity bills in the winter and repairs to every emergency situation that happened to that place.
Betrayal could never be enough of a word to cover all of the emotion coursing through every nerve and vein. I was stung, and the venom made me lightheaded and nearly paralyzed. I climbed in the car and assured him that we would do so swiftly.
I was quiet for a few minutes. Zen asked, “What’s wrong?”
I replied, “It’s unbelievable.”
Zen said everything under the sun to try to make me feel better. He attested how it would be impossible for them to get it rented, because nobody in their right mind would take it. Even so, they would never be able to do it legally. We could vindictively turn them in to the township, or repossess the furnace in the middle of the night.
“I’d rather draw up that contract for the furnace that they will inevitably default on, and have to drag them into magisterial court. There would be nothing more embarrassing, and it would cost them more money,” I insisted. Still, it was nice that he would go out of his way to settle my vendetta.
I asked, “Wait, why aren’t you upset?”
“Are you surprised?”
When I made certain promises to the man upstairs (my higher power), I asked him to give me a sign as to what I should aim for. He responded, “Put others before yourself.” The problem is the inability to accurately anticipate wants and needs outside of the basics. I assumed that my higher power would want me to forgive and start over with my parents. But, after some thinking, I came to a realization.
There is a parable about a scorpion and a frog. At the end, the scorpion betrays the frog’s trust. When asked why, he could only reply, “Because it’s in my nature.” Sometimes, we have to be reminded that there are ugly truths in the world. And sometimes, things are exactly as they seem. My gut reaction when my mother asked for the key was that she was intending on pilfering belongings she did not expect that I would miss. Zen admitted that was the reason he withheld his key. He knew better than I did, because my mind was clouded with optimism.
Optimism can be just as dangerously perilous as pessimism. We can be misled into believing in the best in people, when it just simply nonexistent. I realized that I am not a scorpion, and I didn’t have to be the frog either. Instead, I know better than to play the game. It is the exact reason why I am put off by gambling. There is too much risk to be manipulated into losing it all.
I resign myself of that life. And just because I can’t have the relationship that I want with certain people doesn’t mean I am unable to have a relationship at all. I don’t have to hang onto the past to remind me to not let it repeat. I only have to keep one piece of it, the least poisonous as a reminder.