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Rainy days and the outgoing-defense principle

Jim,
The last few days have been lovely—dark, rainy, windy. As you know, I love the dark weather and always have. When the days become bright, cheerful for most people, they irritate me with piercing lines and rough edges. It has something to do with my personality and way I perceive the world. Sunny days don’t seem as gentle as the cloudy, shitty ones. I crave gentle. I crave the gray, fuzziness of a cloudy day.

Cloudy, crummy days induce introspection that comes with melancholy. People tell me my personality is the opposite of introspective. They see me as outgoing, friendly, and accommodating. Inwardly, I’m just the opposite. The friendly, talky guy performs duty for me. He keeps people at bay. It gives me distance from others.
I don’t think I am overstating the need for defense. When I was growing up, the people closest to me hurt me the most. My family was an arbitrary space where, literally, anything could happen. Emotions—god or bad—turned to violence, either verbally or physically. When my dad was ebullient, he was most likely to turn from utter happiness to violent anger. My mom participated in that. The relationship between my siblings and me bent to sheer survival in such an environment. We would willingly turn on one another just to make sure we didn’t become the subject of wrath, overly friendly, even close intimacy, or just plain abandonment.

As an example that’s emblematic of the whole, my dad came home one time. We used to crowd him when he came through the door, so happy we were to have our day change from boredom to excitement. This particular time, he was tired again from the ravages of his workplace, which bored him and beset him with all kinds of fear. He walked in the front door and we mobbed him. As usual, he told us to let him get home, for god’s sake. We didn’t let up. He swept through use with a slap that sent us all to the floor, whimpering and crying. He then started beating and slapping one kid after another. I wound up with a loose jaw and bleeding nose. He tried to make it up to us later with hugs and kisses. I stayed away, however, afraid that these intimacies would again turn against me.

Another time, I was standing at the fender of the car. I was about fifteen, I think. We always had used cars that my dad had to fix frequently—he never went to a mechanic, either due to our financial situation or fear that having a professional fix the car would cost him dearly. When he monkeyed around with the car, he demanded that I watch so I would learn something that would save myself money in the future. We were talking quite pleasantly when suddenly a wrench he was working with slipped and broke open the skin on a knuckle or two. He turned on me and hit me with an open fist. I found myself on the ground. I’d peed my pants. He kicked me, and then kicked me again. I’ll never forget him standing over me, telling me that it was somehow my fault that he hit me.

I remember other kids in school saying that they hit their fathers. I couldn’t imagine such a breach of paternal authority. Truth was I was scared of my father. He was big and strong, and ruled over the house with an iron fist. He could explode at any minute. Although by the age of fifteen, I had grown to be a brute myself, physically, anyway. But I could never in my wildest dreams think of hitting my father. My fear of retaliation was too great. The examples of destruction in my past were too frequent.

This is not to say that my mother and father could not be gentle. They could and they were. But the gentleness generally came after a bout of great anger and often rage. My father sat at the same desk in a windowless room for thirty years to provide for his family, another great attribute that I do not have. I cannot work a job for more than six months before it becomes boring and endlessly uncomfortable. The longest I’ve ever worked a job was three years, and that only because I liked the work. He could do that, work a job, sit at a desk, put in the time. I cannot, and I admire those who can, including my father.
Still, I wish sometimes that he had taken a risk and put the family on the line for his own happiness. His ability to sit at a desk in a windowless room produced all sorts of discomfort for him. This distress and anxiety expressed itself in violence toward the family.
My mother, too, was bored. How wifery stifled her. She, too, was always on a short fuse. A day at home with the children, four of us altogether, produced unending distress and anxiety. I remember well the day she actually took a job. It about killed my father, who prided himself on providing for the family. My mother taking a job affronted my father and what he considered his manhood. They argued and fought, and once even came to blows before my father felt bad enough after the fighting to acquiesce and let my mom work the perfume counter at the department store.
They both drank. I can’t say for them that it was excessive, but I can say that drinking caused problems. That’s why, perhaps, I took to drink at a young age. It was a way out. Well, that and I loved it. I can’t say that I drank to escape, that may have started the whole thing. I drank primarily for the effect alcohol produced. I loved the euphoria. Drinking seemed to lessen the disquiet I felt in my home. I felt escape. Regardless of these attributes, however, I drank and kept drinking because I felt elation, even rapture when I drank. It caused me problems at home and in school. But once that lid was off the bottle, there was no stopping me.
I say that I used gregariousness as a defense. I take full responsibility for my feelings, moods, and problems. Sure, my family was not a safe space, but at some point I have to get past the blame game and get into real self-consciousness. If I can get people to believe that I am the happy guy, then I don’t have to reveal the pained, introspective, even melancholy person that I am. Good enough. My personality stops at the façade. I don’t have to get intimate with you if I can keep you at a distance.

Deep inside, however, life is often too much. I don’t have the filters, I think, that many people do. I don’t function well when there is noise, and noise, gregariousness, friends, parties keep me from looking inside when I don’t want to. I surround myself with people sometimes not only to keep them away, but to keep myself away. I don’t like the person I am. When I am forced to look inside, I have to become intimate with myself, and that sometimes causes the same kinds of pain I feel with other people.
This means, of course, that I am always hiding who I am, even from my closest friends, even from my wife and children. The front is there as a door to a safe, and I suppose they call safes what they do because they keep people out, keep the insides safe.
Conversely, I like looking inside. I like the quiet—once I go there. I am often alone, and I stay that way as long as I don’t reach out to others. I am not the kind of person that people call. I think they sense the shallowness of my personality, the detachment, even if the distance doesn’t register in their consciousness.
I suppose I like the rain, the darkness because it is safe. It softens the edges of a day and of the hard corners of my own self-criticism. It keeps thing easy, calm, and I love it.
So, forgive me if you have not heard a great deal from me recently. The spate of rainy, dark days we’ve had recently induces introspection, and in this inward looking time, I realize that I have not been a good friend. I have not been honest with you. I have not let you access the safe.
I’ll try to do better, but if I disappear, you’ll know where I am and why.
Patrick

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