Written by Katherine Ottaway MD
I learn a new dance over two years,
a dance of intimacy. We both endure childhood trauma.
I know early on that you will run away
run over and over. You say we’ll always be friends
and I know that we won’t.
Always, never, forever. I love you and
that does not mean we will be together.
I read my mother’s journals. Near the end
she says, “He will never stop drinking
and I will never leave him.”
I shut the journal, deep sadness.
The truth slowly dawns, like the rising sun.
She needed him to drink and she drank too.
After I become a physician, I think about my parents
screaming at each other at 2 am
when I am in high school. My mother’s journals
confirm these battles. I wonder at it because
we do not argue with drunks or drugged or delirious
patients. We do our best to care for them
and talk to them as they become sober
or the antibiotics take effect
and they stop talking to spiders upside down on the ceilings.
Why would my mother fight with my father yelling
at 2 am when he is drunk? Two choices that I can think of:
she too is drunk or else she needs the fight.
My sister needs to fight too. Her husband calls me crying
and says that he cannot keep from yelling
when she tortures him. “What do I do?” he says.
“I can’t keep from yelling either,” I say.
She fools around and they divorce. I finally
am able to keep my temper with her in my late thirties.
It’s not that I am not angry but the physician mask
is strong now and I have worked for years to hold my temper.
I work for years to hold my temper.
My mother dies, my sister dies, my father dies.
You have danced closest of anyone since my sister
and I hold my temper. Boundary until I am alone and work
through the feelings. Anger covers grief or fear
or shame each time. I work through feels with poetry
and joke that you are my muse. I try to tell you and you
are dismissive. You say my poetry doesn’t matter.
It does to me. I don’t try again. At last the break point
comes and it is mine. I am done with you running
and holding me aloof from your family
and your disinterest in my life. It’s about control
but you never controlled me. You thought you did but you are wrong.
I rise up and say no. You run.
This time you run far and you do not come back.
You decide not to face my words. You have moved on
you say. That is final for me: you have moved on from
the friendship we would always have. But this time
is different. I am fine. You ran over and over yet
I endured. I stayed present. One day on the beach
I look at you and think, “I have fallen out of love with you.”
It’s not that I don’t love you, but I am not in love.
The mystery is gone and I see you clearly, thought a part of me
has seen all along. Cynical comments and a predicted end.
What is the point, then? Why not shut down sooner?
Three things: would you change? No. Could I endure? Yes.
Is this drama what I want? No. I do not want
my parents relationship nor yours. I am freed.
Thank you and blessings. A part of me is new, a quiet part,
eschewing drama, learning and knowing. I know what I want.
Thank you and bless you and keep you.
Thank you for the dance.
Text © Katherine Ottaway MD
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