from a safe distance

by Bella Rum

We’re at Dad’s. The plan was to come down for the day so Dad’s caregiver could take care of a few personal things, but everything went kapowie so here we are, without even a toothbrush. This is one of those times I’d love to over share. It’s all inside and I’d like to let it out, but I can only say that there was drama with a capital D. We put the fun in dysfunctional around here. It isn’t my family this time, but it’s those on the periphery. In my family – and many others – if we aren’t already crazy, we attract those who are. That way we can keep a little crazy going at all times. This is the result of being raised in constant crises mode.

I left when I was young and married someone who came from a similar economic background. H’s family members were calm, laid back and hard-working people. They went to church every Sunday morning and ate fried chicken every Sunday afternoon. My family was hard-working and ate chicken on Sunday, too. So H and I had poverty and work ethic and fried chicken in common, and that’s where the similarities ended.

As the years rolled by, I tried to explain to H what it was like, but it’s very hard for someone whose experience does not include chaos to understand what it’s like for a child to grow up in the middle of all that. Those of us who weren’t actually born with the crazy gene, but have to live with those who were, often emerge from the family with a little crazy of our own or we marry someone who will provide the drama to which we’ve become accustom. After living in continual crises, normal is boring for most people. Even when something hurts, we often continue the behavior because it’s familiar, and familiar equals comfortable.

For what ever reason, I didn’t marry a crazy. I did set about to create drama in our early marriage, but H didn’t understand the game, and eventually we found another pattern – a much healthier one. When I watch my son with his family, I realize we did break the cycle. You never quite know what kind of parent your child will be, and then there was that crazy gene to consider. There was always that. I kept watching for that desire for drama or that taste for the drink or that X-factor. Okay, you know about the bungi jumping, so he did get a little of that desire for risk from Dad, but in a good way. He meets challenge with open arms and he’s a family man and all that entails. He doesn’t have the fears I have. Like H, he’ll never quite understand what all that’s about. That’s a good thing. I never wanted him to.

So H keeps me calm when things fall apart. I can even retreat completely and he will carry on. And I do understand that retreating completely is my own personal flavor of dysfunction. In many ways, I sought the opposite of my origins and found it. That doesn’t mean that I can’t still get sucked into the chaos if I don’t guard against it. When you care about people, it’s very difficult to remain a safe distance. It’s very easy to enter the water to save someone when you’re not even a good swimmer yourself.