Do you ever feel afraid of yourself?
Let me explain. I'm reading The Third Life Of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker. It begins in the 1920s, just a few generations after the American Civil War, in Georgia. While (so far) it's told from the perspective of Brownfield Copeland (son of Grange), and focuses on his and his father's activities, Walker explains it's really about the women in their lives, affected by everything these men do. When I began it, I expected to understand more about humanity, and for its personal effect to be external; more about me in relation to the world. Instead, I've been confronted by things about myself that have shocked me, and frightened me. I realise I may have known them, but tried to ignore them, tried to repress them as much as possible, and then just apologised and pushed them back down when they've risen to the surface. I'm frightened to think what I might be capable of; as if there's a monster inside me that I manage to hide. Most of the time.
The particular story in the book that has led to this is that of Brownfield and his wife, Mem. This is going to be kind of a spoiler, so if you plan to read the book and don't want to know anything, skip to the next paragraph. Brownfield has grown up in a house poisoned by disenfranchisement. His father, frustrated by his de facto enslavement to a farmer through unjust debt, is abusive and remote. Brownfield watched his mother, who adores his father, gradually break apart, until finally she becomes as detached as he is, and Brownfield is left to care fro himself, and his younger half-brother. When his father finally abandons them, his mother poisons herself, and the baby. Fast-forward about five years, and Brownfield meets Mem, a sweet, educated young woman unspoiled by the pain in her life. They fall in love, and Brownfield finds himself redeemed by their love. He believes his slate to be wiped clean of his tragic past, and allows himself to dream. However, several years into their marriage, he finds himself in the same cycle of unjust debt that had enslaved his father, and he begins to break. All of the superior things he loved about Mem become unbearable; signs of his failure, and his servitude. He forces himself to hate them, and to hate her, and goes about destroying all of those things until he is able to feel superior to her, and to justify his hatred. Instead of the love that nulled his insecurities, he feeds them, and as he destroys Mem, Brownfield destroys everything that might have saved him. But worst of all, he destroys the only person he has ever loved.
Obviously (I hope), my story isn't quite like that. But Brownfield's and Mem's story still hit me like a slap to the face, and it's made me afraid of what I am, afraid of facing it, but more afraid of what could happen if I don't. I know I have to explain further, but I don't want to go into detail that will hurt or embarrass other people, so it might be vague in places. My childhood, while nothing like Brownfield's, was such that I grew up jealous of the love people I loved had for me. I learnt that love is limited, and that I had to guard the love that was given to me. (I know these things aren't true, but knowing something, cognitively, is quite different to knowing something, emotionally, as an irrefutable truth.) I see it in my friendships at primary school, where I was a controlling Queen Bee, trying to be lovable but easily hurt, and responding to hurt by dealing out guilt. I could be unforgiving, (something that has probably never left me, although now I justify it as being judicious about who I spend my time with). (I got better at friendships as I got older; I realised they come and go, and ebb and flow, and I became fine with that, although I realise having my sister as my best friend safe-guarded me against a lot of potential hurt; even with my damage I could never doubt her love for me.) The relationship I was in for most of my formative years (by which I mean the years after adolescence, when I thought I actually knew stuff) was affected by and built (a castle) on my insecurities. We were both kids, really, and didn't communicate well with each other, and I gave as good as I got - better, in some aspects, but being introspective and more fragile, I came away more damaged than I realised.
I thought I was cured. It's a considerable part of who I am to self-examine and try to be better. And, most importantly, I love Vincent more than anything in the world, and I know and feel that he loves me more than anything in the world. I knew parts of my personal history had affected me, but I thought it wouldn't matter anymore; that I could explain things that had happened, and that maybe I'd get a bit madder or sadder about some things than other people might, but that was it. But that's not it. There are things that I haven't addressed that, at their worst, could bring Vincent down, not to the same extent but not unlike Mem. Reading that story on Saturday morning, I had the sickening epiphany; that those insecurities aren't gone, and that I can't rely on how much we love each other to snuff them out. If things should get bad, I need to know that these things aren't going to surface, and try to destroy the person I love most. Because, as much as it shames me to admit it, I am capable of doing that; I am capable of destruction. Years and years of nurturing insecurities, and believing that love is a competition, have made me so afraid that I can't deal with basic things, even things are parts of Vincent that I value. I meet old friends of his, which makes me feel nervous, which is natural. I want to know them, and I want to share them with him. But if they're unwilling, or (as is more often the case) just socially unable to be friends, or when they are neither but I'm afraid, I become my primary school self again, with ten times the manipulative sophistication. I tell Vincent how they make me feel, and I say things about them (true things, and sometimes insightful things because in spite of being damaged, I am fairly insightful when it comes to reading people); things that I know make them look bad, and me look better. Or at least things I think, in that illogical state of mind that takes over me, make me look better - my logical mind says that he sees straight through them, and while he won't think me horrid and pathetic, he certainly knows with whom the problem lies. And to pile crazy onto the crazy, I don't even want to alienate Vincent from his friends. I actually used to try to force him to spend time with them. I want to get to know them better, and I want him to have time with them without me. But that sad disease inside me makes me feel like it's crucial that he thinks there is no-one better than me. And the stupidest thing? He actually does think that, so all I am doing is making him feel bad. And reading about Brownfield and Mem makes me wonder if that's what that part of me wants. I wonder if there really can be something in me so fucked up that I might want to hurt the person without whom I couldn't live, in the ridiculous belief that might make him love me more. Do I actually think he's going to leave me? No. So why do I still believe what I learnt as a child but know to be wrong? Why can't I believe that there's enough love for me and everybody else?
That's why I'm afraid of myself. I have discovered, or been forced to finally admit to possessing, something in me that is devoid of anything good, with the potential to destroy everything good, and motivated by a desire to have what is already mine. I want it gone. But I don't quite know how, except to talk about it.