You’re Too Sensitive
My parents say I’m too sensitive.
They’ve been saying this for years.
“Your generation is so sensitive.
It’s the schools, making everyone
a winner instead of competing,
too afraid to discipline, interrupting
the school yard bullying that
is so important for learning
to stand up for yourself. The schools
are creating a bunch of little wimps.”
They say I need a thicker skin.
They say I focus on all the wrong things.
“You always remember the bad times;
how come you never bring up the good?
Let it go!” They call or expect a call
every week or more, so they can tell me
all about the good times, their good times,
and also the bad, their aches and pains,
their friends in the hospital or dead,
and also the nightly news, reading
headlines to me or repeating
what the loud anchor on their loud TV
is telling them about recent rapes,
murders, horrible accidents, politics.
They tell me how much fun they had
with their grandkids, remind me of their disappointment
that I never had children, “But it’s not too late!”
and then tell me how the dogs in my childhood
really died, the real story this time.
They sit in judgement when I start to cry,
a grown man, and ask “Why are you so upset?
It’s the truth! What do you need time for?
It’s the real world, sissy. Buck up, pansy!”
At space I impose and my lengthy absence,
they shriek. They bombard me
with email and texts. They leave weeping voice
mail that it’s not fair for me to treat them
this way. “This is not how a son is supposed
to treat his parents! I relent. They forget.
They puzzle at the buffer, the time between
phone calls, my monosyllabic responses,
my detachment. “Remember the good times!”
That one Christmas I received from you
everything I wanted and more; that fun trip we took
along the Oregon coast; that time you let me watch
a rated-R movie with you; the time you took me to see
Star Wars, Superman, Star Trek, E.T., Chuck E. Cheese,
Santa Claus; trading cards and gum; my favorite cake
for my birthday; Sunday pancakes and polka music,
the rare good moods; that overwhelming sense of relief
I felt at age twenty-four when I finally left home
for good the second time. This is about saying
goodbye. But they won’t know this until after they die.
Live in the Real World
I once asked them to live in the real world
with me. I told them about being in the closet
and how I couldn’t breathe. They relented,
just a little. They said, “Well, I don’t condone
your actions, but I still love you.”
They said this and then they asked
“Maybe are you bisexual?” As if the right
woman was out there, as if they needed to be
confused about the girls from when I was a boy.
Their acceptance had other limits.
“Why do gay men act like women
all the time? You’re not going to be like that,
are you?” If they had had the words they would have asked
me not to bottom. “Be careful” they said,
which simply meant “Don’t get AIDS.”
My parents were so sensitive. They said
“I need time! You don’t know what it’s like
to be a parent, to worry about your children.”
They cried. “I’ll call you back.” Long pauses.
A list of ten handwritten questions pulled
out of a shirt pocket, reading glasses carefully
put on. “Did a much older married guy come on
to you?” Surprise when I said “No!
Why is that question so specific! Why
do you have a list at all? I’m not your guide,
I’m just a son, it doesn’t have to be like this!”
For all their lamenting about being parents
and their carefully crafted new rules
for how I should have told them,
their hurt that I told them last,
it seems they were sensitive, too,
but without the empathy, restraint, or
any notion of other people other than them.
#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 16 Do-Over
[Original discussion: “I’m Too Sensitive“]
I feel like I was too cowardly on Day 16 of NaPoWriMo. I felt angry and vulnerable after writing a couple semi-autobiographical poems, and I complained about how the poems were unfinished and required in rewrites a different approach.
And this is true. But NaPoWriMo isn’t about rewriting. It’s about what I write every day, no matter how good or bad I think it is, how good or bad it actually is. I’m not required to share anything I write, but I usually share my poetry during April because it’s fun, I like to learn that others are reading my work, and it’s just good practice to be open and vulnerable once in awhile.
Mostly, though, I was afraid of upsetting my parents, or rather, my mom, who is the only one of the two who might actually read these poems.
But these poems are what they are. Keep in mind that the narrator is NOT the writer. Although these poems are semi-autobiographical, I take liberties, I conflate events and people, I come to conclusions that I might not really believe in real life. The narrator does and says things I probably wouldn’t do or say. I create out of my experiences Straw Parents that represent many different parents with similar reactions to their children. Poetry is a playground to which I can bring my baggage, and then strew it all over the place looking for new ways of thinking and writing about big, personal, upsetting topics.
Writing these poems was partially prompted by watching “Coming Out” videos on YouTube. There’s a reoccurring theme of children coming out to their parents and then apologizing for and accepting their parents less-than-supportive initial reactions. When I hear someone coming out say that “this is all new to my parents’ generation” or “my mom said she needed time, and that’s understandable, because this is all new to her, too” or “my dad told me that I cannot just drop something so big on him and expect him to react (positively) right away, and I understand this”, it angers me! In my opinion, parents make the decision to have children and they owe them their unconditional support and love. I’m sure there are extreme cases where parents should not be supportive of something harmful or damaging, but I’m not talking about extreme cases. I’m talking about common ones, the common confessions about who their children really are. I think of it this way: if I “came out” to my parents and told them I had hazel-colored eyes, nothing would change, other than that strange look of “uh, obviously you do.” Why should coming out as gay or passionate about art or really into science fiction or not believing in god be any different? Being different, being LGBTQA+, being whoever you are is not permission for your parents to act badly toward you. It’s a parent’s biases making them cry, not your coming out. It’s a parent’s ignorance that leads them to order you to “be careful,” when what they really mean is they hope you don’t catch AIDS. It’s fine for a parent to worry about their child being bullied for being different, but it’s not okay for them to push that burden of their fears on to you, to make you feel sad about being honest. It’s the wrong note at the wrong time. Honesty should be met with unconditional love and celebration, or even no reaction at all other than continued love. Honesty should not be met with a list of parental biases and concerns (ignoring, again, any extreme cases where parental concerns are absolutely necessary and necessary at that very moment.)
And mistreatment of children is not okay, even when they are adults. I’m not sure what to tell you about the relationship between adults and their parents, because I’ve run into two very different responses. There are the people who have really close, loving relationships with their parents, who call them almost every day, who would never say a bad thing about them. And then there are the rest of us. I witnessed this dichotomy in a writing class once. Half the class reacted in horror to a character I wrote that disowned her parents. The other half reacted with sympathy and even longing to do the same. Our half of the class left the other half of the class deeply disturbed. It was amazing. And awful.
So there you have it. Two poems badly in need of rewrites, and me feeling both a little braver and a little more rotten.