WE ARE Narcissus

I have tried to write my story many times and have never been able to get far. I always go over my words again and again, editing and polishing and getting caught in the obsessive intricateness of arranging lyrical phrases. I am hoping that writing this online and posting as I go will keep me pressing forward.


16. Poor in Spirit

i used to wonder, as a little girl, if my family was poor. not that we ever lacked for the latest in electronic gadgetry, or visibly had to scrimp and save in any way. with one glaring exception that i'm still getting to, our needs were reasonably well met.


going to the mall, and shopping in general, became at some point a major hobby of ours. it wasn't so significant as a family pass time while there were fourteen of us, because even if it was declared that this was a trip for girls only or for "the big kids," these categories still included quite a crowd. but as our family dwindled, it because customary that, when we had nothing better to do, those of us currently in favor or at least not entirely relegated to the dog house would pile into my mom's blue honda and share the fleeting amusement of deciding we liked something then purchasing it. certain trips were naturally reserved for my mom and the golden child alone, and on these occasions you knew you were really special today if the shoppers returned with clothes or other goodies intended for you. in actuality the likelihood that you'd get something depended on your current body mass index, because if you were skinny my mom would hold something up at a store and remark about how good it would look on you, which was as much a reason to add it to the pile of odds and ends in the cart as any other.


my mom wasn't the only one bitten by the commercialism bug. once we were well established in the new house, and after the russian boys were long gone, mysterious packages from amazon.com started showing up at our doorstep, ordered by my dad while he sat out in his garage/man cave and attended to his email and facebook. there would be at least one of these nondescript brown boxes on the welcome mat every day, and they weren't cheap items, either, but often were things like magnesium fire starters or soldier's rations to be stockpiled in case of a nuclear apocalypse, car parts, or man cave decorations. in the span of a single decade, my dad bought, customized, then took a loss selling at least nine different cars, the latest of which cost approximately seventy thousand dollars straight from the dealership.


given all of this decadence, you could speculate that the reason i worried about my family's finances was that money was a frequent topic of conversation. my dad put in a sincere effort to teach us in a grumbling way about the value of the dollar. but what i really learned as a kid about money was that it would only be spent on you if you deserved it, and that not receiving a present or not being able to buy something meant you were worthless and a waste of space. overtime, i became so afraid of hearing a "no" to my request for something, even if it was as basic as a new pair of socks, that i'd rather wear mine until they resembled swiss cheese rather than ask the dreaded question.


no, the real reason i associated my family life with poverty, i think, was because of its emptiness. we were nothing like the rich and glamorous, or even the reasonably well off, that i saw on television. so much of our life was hollow, just a big blank space that no amount of material items could fill. in my mind, i think, we were poor because we were missing something, some important aspect necessary to lead lives that were fulfilling. it took me a long time to understand that this elusive "something" was the one thing i'd been assured from the moment i was born that i had unconditionally.


i like to think, at least, that my dad could have loved me as a child if he'd had the opportunity. part of the reason he didn't was that i was habitually extremely impudent and disrespectful to him. looking back, he seems to have demonstrated a nearly superhuman amount of patience and acceptance in allowing my sarcasm and caustic remarks to bounce off of him. either that, or he did not notice or did not expect to be treated any other way. in my family, mom was the end all be all, and since she always spoke down about my dad, that made him an undesirable. therefore, getting close to him or being associate with him in any way would have damaged my chances of winning favor with my mom. it probably won't come as a surprise that i chose her over him. i already was at enough of a disadvantage, since of all my siblings i with my straight, thin brown hair and dark eyes looked the most like my dad, and i didn't need any more black marks tallied against me.


my dad was the only member of my immediate family to visit me in rehab. though he assured me that my mom would have accompanied him except that she knew i didn't want her there, still the fact stands undeniably that he visited me and she did not. he even participated in multiple family therapy sessions, in which he sat next to me on a couch that was surrounded by other patients' and their parents and sometimes siblings. he tried to have a heart to heart with me about my mother, saying it was alright to let our relationship take its time to heal, and even empathizing with the frustration of "living with someone who is always right." my dad did not pronounce these words with even a hint of sarcasm. he fervently believed and undoubtedly still believes that my mom possesses an unrivaled genius and saintly closeness to god. he shared with me that there have been times when he initially disagreed with her, such as on matters concerning the russian boys which we did not delve into in this brief conversation, but he's always come to see in time that she knew best from the start.



as i've grown older, i've learned to admire about my dad is that he does not take his happiness at the expense of others. what i mean by this, is that he is able to admit to being wrong instead of digging his heals in and blasting away at the self esteem of his opponent until they doubt their own sanity. in a hotel room one night, while we were visiting the golden child at college, my mom shared with me her fear that my dad had scarred each and every one of her children in some way. because of his explosive temper, his anger management issues. what i realized that night, however, is the reason my mom's harsh words have engraved themselves like scars on my brain, while every expression of rage delivered by my dad has faded away with time. my mom would often save up my and my siblings' worst offenses for "when dad gets home." then when he had finished his workout in the garage and reclaimed the main areas of the house, she would spring the information on him, and he would unfailingly go off. if it was me in trouble, he would find me in my room and lay into me, verbally rather than physically, the blood visibly boiling in his veins and smoke rising from his nostrils. and then, no matter how deserved the lecture had been or how bad the crime committed by the child, my dad would find him or her and apologize for allowing his temper to get the best of him, acknowledging that its main fuel was his frustration and it wasn't fair to put such a crushing burden on a kid. because my dad knew that we were people, too, and that we had feelings and shouting hurt them. during his apology he would always at least offer the reconciliatory power of a hug. because he still loved us and cared how we felt, even when we were bad.


i can't remember ever having heard my mom say she was sorry to anyone in the entire eighteen years i dwelt in her shadow.

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