itchy triggers

Trashed my playlists when we moved. They were years outdated, stale, deadwood.

I’d started building a new one and rather enjoying the process. Riding trams and trains by myself on the weekends and any-days once the boys were in school (oh, how the boys used to be in school) gave me ample time to audition new music, see what old stuff still fit.

Over here, phone calls are expensive but data is cheap, and streaming music on my phone is “free,” and I took full advantage of the opportunity. [“Free” because I’m sure they’re selling my information to whatever companies want to use it for whatever nefarious commercial purposes. Good luck with that. My shotgun taste is as good at confusing algorithms as it is genders.]

And then the world ended. The restrictions started. The noose tightened. The walls closed in.

And I was drawn quickly back to some of the same stuff I listened to in high school. With the added benefit of having the internet around this time, and using it to springboard to other stuff I missed the first time around, as easily as “OK Google, play a Counting Crows station.”

It took me another week to figure out why. I’m not nostalgic. Those were not good old days. The music wasn’t awesome, but they wrote about being sad a lot, which I needed then. And now.

This quarantine has me living triggered 24/7.

When I was a kid, my parents’ demons ruled all our lives. Wrapped in their own dysfunctional blood feud, substance abuse, mood disorders, etc, they vacillated between ignoring me (mostly Dad) or screaming firehoses of criticism and threats (mostly Mom, or between Dad and Mom). I could do no right, but not for lack of trying.

5 or 6 years old

If you’re familiar with the archetypes: I was the classic firstborn parentified perfect kid. Teachers adored me. My friend’s parents begged to have me over to play, to stretch one sleepover night to two or three, I was such a good influence! So mature, so polite, so helpful, so pleasant, so kind. Straight-As, 99% percentile, shirt-always-tucked-in, raises her hand, never interrupts, never breaks the rules, never tattles on others, always knows the right answers but gives others a chance to go first. Such a joy.

And: I had my first panic attacks in first grade, afraid my dad would come back to the house and kill my mom and baby sister during the day while I was away at school, since he hadn’t been able to finish the job the night before when he’d come home raging after last call.

Because obviously, if I were at home, I’d magically be able to prevent manslaughter.

Six-year-old logic. I already knew they wouldn’t change, but I still thought I should help.

That year was also the first time my mom said, on the ride to school one morning, “I want you to know I’ve been talking to a lawyer about divorcing your daddy.”

And I said, “Good.”

And she was horrified! “Why would you say that?!”

And I thought, haven’t you been here, too, all these days and nights? When he’s punched holes in the walls of our rented houses? When he’s ripped the phone out of the wall so we couldn’t call for help? When you bundled us into the car in the middle of the night to try to drive to a friend’s house, and he ran out and ripped some handful of wiring from under the hood so we couldn’t? So we had to walk to the neighbor’s house and ask to use their phone? All those times we woke up in somebody else’s house in the morning and ate their breakfast cereal and watched their cartoons? And the horrible stories you’ve told me (that you should never have told me) of before I was born, of when he actually hit you, he a foot taller, you the size of a 10-year-kid, of when you should have already left? What thinking person wouldn’t say ‘good’?

So I just shrugged. Knowing the right answers doesn’t mean shit when you don’t have the power to put them to work. And I knew I had no power outside of school, so I carried my permanent stomachache to class and cried silently when all I could think about was broken hinges and bloody sheets and broken necks.

So polite, never interrupts, a joy forever.

In case you were wondering how that turned out, the parents “celebrated” their 46th anniversary last week. And I still don’t make noise when I cry.

Tant pis.

To the outside observer, this quarantine situation doesn’t have anything in common with back then. Neither of my 6-year-olds has a cocaine habit or a drinking problem. I’m 30-plus years older with average adult levels of autonomy.

But in the same way a certain scent can evoke a memory, my brain can read the dynamics of a situation and instantly find its match in the archives.

And that’s what’s happening here.

I am trapped in an unhappy home led by two strong and volatile personalities, frequently warring, even more frequently screaming, never satisfied. I am somehow responsible for their happiness and yet completely incapable of making it happen, despite trying so hard my eyes want to bleed. I am cut off from resources that might help support me, if any such even existed in the first place. My needs and desires must be subjugated to the functioning of the household and the needs and desires of the Big 2. Every day is a repeat of the days before and a preview of the days to come. The is no defined endpoint, no way to measure success, so no way to succeed. There will be no real freedom until somebody turns 18, or somebody dies.

In a lot of ways, school is still my safe space — even now, when I’m not the one attending. My 2019 ended and 2020 began with a 7-week school “vacation” while we waited for school spots for the boys to open up, and it was HARD. Getting dunked into the shit again after barely 2 months in has been brutal.

We’ll find out sometime next week what the next steps of the school closure will look like. Ours is originally scheduled to run through 4/20 lolsob but I don’t see any way they could lift it yet, so I fully expect it to be extended. Our school year runs through 7/3, so my hope is that they could go back for some amount of in-class time before getting out for 6 weeks of summer vacation. “Vacation.”

In the meantime, I wait, for authorities with more power than I to decide the direction of my life. I try not to suffocate. I wear headphones a LOT, with their musical heartbeat, where changing tracks can substitute for making progress in a life stalled and sinking.

She is trapped inside a month of gray And they take a little every day She is a victim of her own responses Shackled to a heart that wants to settle And then runs away It’s a sin to be fading endlessly
you’re exactly the same as you used to be
When I say out loud I want to get out of this I wonder is there anything I’m going to miss I wonder how it’s going to be

2 thoughts on “itchy triggers”

    1. Thank you. The rest of my memoirs will be about how he’s (always been) my favorite parent, even if they’re both emotional homunculi, even though he comes off very poorly in this slice.

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