2018-12-30 Empathy Distorted By Estrangement

Truth IS stranger than fiction. As a writer I’m pretty good at statement and abstraction but I suck at image and I know that. In my MFA program I’m reminded of that fact almost every time I get feedback. “Needs more concrete detail” and “Show us” are regular comments.

So when I was getting in my frozen car last night in Nebraska City to make the dark night drive home, I thought about how to describe what I was feeling. I sat in the drivers seat for a short minute contemplating the bag of frozen peas on my windshield and wondering why my focus was on that instead of the family I’m mostly estranged from. It’s a family I was “married” into by my father’s marriage to his second wife. Her and almost all of her family exist a short distance away in the town I grew up in. As I sat in my car without words (or even feelings) for their most recent tragedy, the “when” and “where” and “how” were questions that weren’t even dancing in the periphery of my mind. The “why”, being a somewhat universal truth, needed no explanation. My step sister’s son committed suicide.

We (that family and I) haven’t been close in many years, and never really were, to be honest. Most of the memories I had in my youth of that family were not good ones. I’ve long harbored resentment and anger about my strained relationship with my father and those emotions have often been directed at them. This news of my step nephew came to me via text from my step mom, which was a strange thing but also not far off the mark for how things typically get communicated. I was standing in a bookstore, ready to purchase when I first saw it. I guess there is no good timing for getting such information, but then what is a person supposed to do or feel? I made my final selections, took my books to the checkout, and then headed for my car.

Quite frankly I am struggling with writing about this. Probably because I have so very little to say about it, which sort of speaks for itself. This is about my 4th attempt to put together even a few sentences on the subject. If I keep going, it will likely turn out to be even more self-centered than it already is and that will, in turn, make me feel even more guilt for not feeling anything for the family. My life has been touched by suicide in a profound way in the past, and I’m not sure why my empathy in this situation is so non-existent. In the title of this post I used the word “distorted” but it feels more absent than anything else.

The truth is that I had a frozen bag of peas on my windshield because that’s what I’m using to ice my elbow as I drive back and forth to Nebraska city to attend lectures for the winter MFA residency. I’m not enrolling this semester, but nobody seems to care that I’m lingering about the lecture hall and showing up to readings. I even had a nice conversation today with the director of the program about my continuation in the program next semester. That was good. Yesterday I was there so long, that the bag of peas got all melty and mushy and so I left it on the outside of my car on the windshield in the hope that it would freeze over again before the drive home, which turned out to be a lot later than I intended. On the drive home, I iced my elbow some more and thought in silence about the text I had received.

I did speak with Jim part way through my drive and that was good. I informed him about the text and we talked briefly about it. The information still too new for me to process. He agreed with me, though, that receiving that communication via text was odd and not quite right. After I arrived home, I engaged with my Z to watch a movie which we both did sort of half-heartedly. Both our minds were elsewhere and mine was truly also half asleep. I did not sleep easy and woke with a headache, which after another drive to NE City and back, was exponentially worse.

I spent the entire rest of the day today in a medicated fog cycling through trying to read, write, and sleep. Like I said, I’ve tried to write this post about 4 times now. I saw a few more details in FB posts (of all places) about this young person who is a stranger to me. The family is simultaneously posting publicly, airing their grief and lamenting the loss while also asking for privacy and time to be alone as a family to grieve. I’m not a part of that. I have not heard about services and can’t predict if I will or will not get communication about that unless I specifically ask. I should ask, but am not inclined to do so which, again, leaves me feeling guilty.

In just a few minutes Z and I are going to engage in yet another movie and it will be good for me to close out this truly awful day with some mindless couch potato-ing. Perhaps I’ll have more to say later about things, with better words on how I feel about it. Perhaps not.

Until next time (hug the ones you are with),

~Miss SugarCookie

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