Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Threat Assessment

I was so constantly under siege as a child, never quite sure when I'd be jerked out of a deep sleep and dragged downstairs for a bright kitchen light interrogation, that I learned to be on the non-stop lookout for perils. I always watched my mother's demeanor carefully, alert to the moment when it would switch from jovial and joking to vindictive, violent, and downright menacing. I waited for my father to come home from work, for the 35 minutes he gave himself for dinner between his two jobs, to find out how I would be punished for the things I did, for the things I didn't do, and for who I was as a person.

Although I was overprotected from the world, locked in a sterile house away from stranger danger and germs and dirt, I was overexposed to all of the threats within the house: the chemical warfare of cleaning fluid, the splinters of the wooden board that spanked my bottom, and the stifling hot attic where I spent much of my summers, exiled.

I had a habit of hiding in my closet, deep in the corner under where the clothes hung. By then, I was too big to hide under my bed anymore.

Maybe it was better that my parents didn't let me out out of the house to hang out with friends or go to the movies or the mall. If I couldn't trust my own parents (or sister) in my own house, who could I trust out there? How could I trust the world?

I became brave with the hitting. I didn't cower. I defiantly presented my face for slapping, though occasionally I would be caught off guard, and get walloped with the vacuum cleaner while lying on the living room rug watching MTV.

After that, I learned to sit with my back against the wall.

I noticed my father did that, too.

I didn't grow up on the streets, but I was always assessing threats to my safety. I tried making occasional escapes from my reality by taking extra-long hot baths, rubbing a wet washcloth between my legs. But my mother required the bathroom door to be left partially open at all times, which meant anyone could walk by – or walk in – at any time.

I considered running away from home many times, even hatching a plan once with my sister that went as far as writing notes telling our mother she could finally have Dad all to herself, but when my sister got scared and aborted the plan, I was too scared to venture out into the world by myself. I knew the danger I was in within the confines within my known prison, but I was weak, overweight, sickly, astigmatic, and naive.

I decided to stick it out.

But this kind of upbringing taught me a way of life that only criminals would seem to earn: one eye on the door, one finger on the trigger. Anticipate your opponents' moves. Plan your escape route.

Fortunately, I never ended up on the streets, instead being taken in by my friends' families who never asked for rent and who fed me and loved me and protected me. They tried to teach me how to be a normal teenager, but it was hopeless by that point. I couldn't accept their love and affection without suspicion. I waited for them to withdraw it, and, eventually, they did. I knew any sense of security I felt was false, and I spent my first three years in New York City walking around the streets, gripping my keys under my sleeve so I could use them as a knife on an attacker.

So how does this threat assessment now serve me, a nearly-40 year old woman living in Beverly Hills, where it's sunny all of the time? Why am I forecasting tornadoes and tsunamis and earthquakes and floods? What can I possibly see in my crystal ball that will actually happen? And even if it does, what can I possibly do about it?

There's a comfort in preparing yourself for the worst, and there's a relief when it actually happens. You trust your own instincts. You're usually right. Taking an educated guess gives you something tangible to hold onto, rather than the terrifying release of admitting, "I don't know."

But the truth is: I don't know.

I don't know if I will ever be able to hold down a real job again. I don't know who will lay me off from another job, or when.

I don't know who will insult me, hurt my feelings, forget to invite me to something, or stand me up.

I don't know what they're thinking.

I don't know if he will call back.

I don't know if I will ever be loved back.

I don't know if I will ever marry.

I don't know what I'm supposed to do.

I don't know what will happen. I don't know how to make anything happen.

I don't know anything.

I'm just going to try to do good things, cause no harm, and stay calm.

Related Posts:
I Refuse to Worry
Open Door Policy