On the outside



I learned the language of abandonment early. Before I knew words, I studied its grammar in my mother’s eyes.



I came unannounced and snuck into her womb. Although I did my best to stay small, she found me out. She tried to hide her despair at yet another child, so soon after the one before.



The child that came before me was my father’s first, my mother’s sixth. He felt delight to have another child of his own. So mother hid her sorrow and did her best. But children know.


I lived in my father’s delight for eight years and rested in that love. Mother lived on the edges of my life, but when he died, she was all I had.



His death felt like a leaving, not an ending. I saw his body in the coffin at the funeral, but no matter how much the adults tried to explain the empty place he left, I thought he had made a choice.



Years later, when I was in college, I went to see a counselor because my mind was unraveling. The woman welcomed me into her office and began to ask some background questions. First, she asked about my mother. I explained that she was a waitress, living in a different city. When she asked about my father, I said, “He’s dead.”



And then I wept.



My heart at last brought me the news that he had died; my tears flowed because my grief was fresh. I had always felt abandoned by him, left with my mother who seemed unable to accept me, even though I know she tried. That day I understand he had no choice.



Growing up I felt unwanted and believed that pleasing other people would make them love me. It never worked, but still I tried, making one bad choice after another, including trying certain drugs and smoking marijuana. It seemed harmless, and for some perhaps it was, but not for me. My mind unraveled and I came undone.



I never went back to the counselor. After I shared my grief with her that day, she opened up and told me of her impending divorce and the surgery she faced to deal with an inner ear problem. I must have seemed a sympathetic stranger, like someone on a bus you tell your every heartache. I listened well, but never told her of my unspooled thoughts or my tangled dreams and fears.



It took me years to understand my father’s death, and even more to understand my mother’s pain. I have lived on the outside so long, I have grown used to living on the fringes, unnoticed and unnamed. Now it’s the place of my own choosing.



When you step outside today, you’ll see the world is full of strangers.



I am one of them.




45 thoughts on “On the outside

  1. Okay, now I’ve read through it three times, and I still can’t find the right words. Forgive me as I stumble along and try to say something with nothing. Sometimes when I read your words, they tickle me in such a way as I didn’t believe I was capable of being tickled. You reach down inside and pull up the smile that never existed, and as it comes kicking to the surface, I am often amazed that such a thing as that smile has somehow found my face. I am someone that knows myself fairly well, and I know the smile is not of me, but rather, of you, and my body has simply become the host. Your words have transplanted your smile into me, and suddenly, there I am, with your smile on my face.

    Obviously today isn’t one of those kind of days. But even so, your words invade me.

    As you find yourself standing on the outside, by choice or otherwise, you’ll notice that some of the people you pass look through you, and some of them look into you. If I am able to see anything that lives inside you, it is because you have been kind enough to share a part of your journey, and after having witnessed this part of your story, I have been changed.

    I don’t know how to say this without sounding ridiculous, but I miss your father. So much so that it hurts. I want to know what delight feels like in a father’s arms, and when his eyes dance with your eyes. And then, just like the smile that sometimes finds my face even though it belongs to you, I suddenly realize that I’ve been given the privilege of your father’s hug. I can’t believe you would be willing to share something so precious and personal with us, and I thank you. It only seems fair that I send your smile back to you today. 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad to hear you felt something good from this. I can never be sure how people will hear me; I’m tone-deaf when it comes to my own writing.

  2. thank you, sweet lady
    for sharing the heartbreak, and the loneliness
    of being unwanted and different in this harsh world…
    surely, your words reach others…
    who love you from afar, and find in you, consolation.

  3. The story is painful but your writing is awesome. I too lost my beloved father when I was young and I cannot talk about him without crying. I am not as articulate as you are in describing it. Very well done.

  4. As the child of a dysfunctional family I resonate with your experience. In your case it was my mother whom I adored and who died, albeit I was sort of “grown up” by then. My father was mentally disordered and later became a raving drunk. It was odd growing up in a family where the entire town respected and admired my Dad, while those of us who knew him dreaded him. Later in life I was able to put into context the demon of my childhood with the shriveled and helpless little old man he became.

    There is a not a day I do not reflect on my beloved mother and all that she missed due to her early demise. Not to mention all I missed and all my daughter and her children missed. Sometimes the loss still seems so fresh and bottomless. If I am half the woman she was I have done well. When Dad died I felt only a slight pang of all that could have been but never was because of his mental illness – it was sad. A life wasted in many respects – at least as regards his family.

    You may appreciate the commentary of Louise Behiel (at http://louisebehiel.com). She is a family therapist who deals with those of us from families where the children were left with life-wounds. She’s also a writer. I appreciate her commentary and observations a great deal. I also attend ACoA meetings (Adult Children of Alcoholics and dysfunctional families) and benefit greatly from them.

    From ACoA (and OA) Rozanne’s prayer: “I put my hand in yours and together we can do what we could never do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness; no longer must we each depend on our own unsteady willpower. We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours, and as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams.”

    Peace and recovery to you…

    • It sounds like you went through a very difficult time with your family. Some losses stay ever fresh. But it sounds as if you have found help and encouragement.

      Thank you for the link to Louise Behiel’s website. I will visit soon.

  5. Powerfully sad but also powerfully lovely. You have a gifted way with words and an ability to mix light and shade in the right proportion. This post acts as a very potent reminder to me that I should never judge others as I simply never know what happens or happened in their lives. I don’t know why but as I read this I was reminded of a passage in the novel Cutting for Stone where the main character (a doctor) asks his lecture room full of medical students what is administered by ear in an emergency room and not one of them knows the answer. The answer is ‘words of comfort’. I cannot find the right ones but what I would like to send you across the ocean are words of comfort.

  6. Talk to me...I'm your Mother

    Aahh. The things we carry that create who we are. I see each time you write that you aren’t who you were. I hope the sharing of this is as meaningful for you as it is for your readers. Sending acceptance and admiration your way.

  7. She must have been the worst counselor ever. She’s supposed to listen to your problem, not share hers. You might still try again. Go to someone who listens rather than speaks. It might help. Or maybe, as you’ve revealed so much of yourself already, you found your outlet to relieve your pain right here.

    • It’s hard to fault the counselor. Perhaps she wanted to put me at ease by showing that she was just as human and needy as I was. And perhaps I was not transparent with her – I’m looking back at this event over many years. If nothing else, I was a listening ear, and I am grateful that she asked me about my father. It brought a measure of relief, more than she could know.

  8. It’s hard to know how to respond to such a heart-full-of-pain piece that doesn’t ask for sympathy, but instead gives us the gift of your confidence that we will take it, listen to you and send some love your way. And we love your gifts, your stories, serious and silly and sometimes both simultaneously.

    As a “Daddy’s girl” myself, my heart aches that you had so little time to thrive in that love.

    • Thanks, Elyse. I want to write some things before I die and for me the greatest gift is just to know that someone reads.

      Having a Daddy for even a short time was a gift. We never know how long we’ll have someone’s love.

  9. I have a similar feeling about my mother accept her inability to care came from profound mental illness. Most of the time I feel I’ve “moved on.” Sometimes I still long for a childhood though. I am inspired by your willingness and bravery for that matter. Both to write and share, and the reliving that most certainly must come from the writing of it. But maybe the writing is cathartic too at some level? At least I feel that is what it does for me.

  10. My dear Year, you are a testimony to the incredible resiliency of the human spirit as well as the child within us who never ever grows up, but lingers within us and helps us understand where we’ve been and how we survived it. Your writing is so wonderful…

    • I’m so glad you like the writing, Natalie. Compared to so many others, my struggles are small, but they are part of the human experience and I think it’s helpful to talk about them.

  11. I so often can’t find words that will express my love for your writing, and this time is no different. But I read every post you write, and am touched in different ways by every one. So though I have nothing eloquent to add, I don’t feel right without occasionally popping in to say, “I’m lurking out here, but I, too, am among your admirers.”

  12. I am dumbstruck. Yes, struck dumb.
    What a powerful story to share, one written with such clarity of eye for such an emotional situation.Thank you for entrusting it to us.
    And, for what it is worth, as a professional who talks with people in trouble all of the time, that therapist should have her license suspended. It is unprofessional, as well as ineffective, to discuss your personal life with a client.

    • Thank you for reading, chlost.

      I try not to be too hard on the woman. Just as her question helped me understand the loss of my father, perhaps my listening that day helped her in some way.

  13. You connect. You may choose to be outside, but your words shove you into your readers’ lives with a terrific force.
    I know abandonment and I know about not being wanted. And I know about not measuring up. But, I do not know how to convey it in the lifeblood language you have mastered.
    Thank you.

  14. My dearest, you and 99 and Shimon and many of our other blogging compatriots have swum up out of deep wells of various kinds–external and internal–to not only find light but show it among the rest of us. That makes you the ultimate insider, in a different sort of way, because we can’t help but carry you and your thoughts in our own hearts. Thank you for that.

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