Responsibility and desire.
It feels like a versus. An “or.”
An obligation and a fantasy.
Like you can’t have both. Like you have to have one (responsibility) to earn the right of the other (desire).
Responsibility feels bleak. Exhausting. Gray. Something to push through, like forcing myself out of bed when all I want to do is pull the covers over my head and sink back into the mattress because it’s still dark outside and I don’t want to go.
It feels like I am working, working, working for a future I may never have: a home and money that are my own, travels to places beyond my Pinterest boards, time off that I don’t worry if it’s paid or not, relaxation, a body size I’ll never have, etc.
It’s a word I associate with shame and guilt. Like how dare I want to go on vacation when I don’t have paid time off? Who do I think I am for wanting to decorate my apartment when it means erasing all the progress I made in paying off half of my credit card debt?
Responsibility is the panic that sweeps over me in the middle of the night and on my 20 mile drives to and from work. I can’t relax when I get home in the evenings or on the weekends. All I think about is what I need to do and then I don’t do it. I don’t leave the house at all and if I do, it’s in a panic.
Responsibility leaves me feeling so much that I have to go numb. Eat too much. Go through the motions when my insides twist with how much I wish I was anywhere else, doing anything else.
Sometimes I think the serious version of me that comes out when I write is the real me. My sense of humor is a coping mechanism, my joy and kindness for everyone else. I certainly don’t seem to allot much of either for myself.
I became an adult at 14 years old, when my parents split up. When my mom all but disappeared and my dad said after raising Adam and me he didn’t feel like raising Ben and Caleb, I became a mother.
I still think about all I missed. All of the fun teenage years I felt I could not have because someone had to love and care for my two baby brothers.
I didn’t go to dances. Only went to a few football games. No dates. No crushes that went anywhere beyond my own brain. No steamy, awkward, uncomfortable makeout sessions in the backseat of a car. No sneaking out of the house. No drinking or partying.
I didn’t know how to dress myself as a chubby teenage girl with no real plus size clothing options. I never learned to wear makeup.
I guess the only teenage girl thing I did was obsess over a boy band and act like I knew everything and did not need anyone telling me what to do.
I spent the week with June, Lib, Brophy, and Robert and all their dysfunctional chaos then the weekends with Daddy, Ben, and Caleb which also had dysfunctional chaos. Adam was smart and left right after high school and never came back.
I tried so hard to prove my worth and my love by taking responsibility for Mama, Ben, Caleb, June, and Lib. I shouldered blame and internalized the “problems” with me that had nothing to do with me. Turns out, this was something John subconsciously found appealing in me, he admitted in therapy.
A therapist in college labeled this for me: codependency.
I’ve had so many excuses to put my life on hold for as long as I can recall: debt, relationship status, weight/body size, sense of security, and responsibility.
And I’ve watched so many of my desires, colorful like the floral prints on all the dresses I am drawn to, fade away. I call myself selfish, ask myself how I could do that desire at a time like this, and then I just swallow it and like the food I comfort myself with, feel nothing. The dissatisfaction still hums in my ears every day.
Last weekend, Ben and his wife Sarah hung out with me while waiting for their flight out of Atlanta back to Chicago. As I told Ben how things have been with my job lately, he spoke up in his true brash fashion:
“I hope you have a job one day that you actually love with people who don’t take advantage of you. Every job you’ve had, there’s always something wrong.”
I immediately responded, “I do like this job. I like my coworkers. I like helping the people we help. I like talking to them. I like getting to actually write and edit.”
But he says, you are being taken for granted because you are, like always, doing more than you’re asked or paid for.
I am being too responsible, staying too late and worrying over stuff I’ll never be acknowledged for, that’ll never truly belong to me. Like something I read recently, I am working too hard in a job that I’d be forgotten in a month after I left.
Overworked and underpaid, but if I express any frustration with this to my boss, I immediately interject, “But it’s good we’re so busy! More business is good! We are helping more people!”
Then I drive the 20 miles home in Atlanta traffic in a daze, blaming myself for my sadness and anxiety, telling myself I am being too negative and ungrateful.
Just recently, John was gone for 2 weeks on a work trip. All I thought about was how I have to take care of the dogs. Get up early and walk them. Take Louie to the vet then take him again because he has cancer. Come home after work to take them out again. Eat dinner while I’m stared at by two dogs, which stresses me out. Take dogs out and go to bed.
I ate like crap. Didn’t go to the gym. Put myself and my body to the side to be responsible. Slept horribly. Felt like I had to do all the talking on the phone with John so I just rambled while he barely even grunted in acknowledgement of anything I said.
The one thing I did was decorate the apartment, which sent my debt up again, and when he got home, he had almost zero reaction. Just asked if the couch I bought was from IKEA, said I must be “ballin'” to buy what I did, and then later asked me how much I spent after finally saying it looked nicer.
So like I worried the whole time I bought all the stuff, he was worried about the cost and not how hard it has been for me to live in one place after another like a squatter and that he chose for us to stay another year in an apartment too far from everything that he knew I was unhappy with.
And I felt guilty and ashamed and like I had done something wrong even though I finally have a home and not just 4 walls and a bed.
I am so tired of being responsible. Responsible is going to give me a heart attack at 45. Sometimes I wish it’d just hurry the fuck up.
What do I actually desire?
It’s funny. I napped yesterday afternoon so, bored at 3a, I decided to watch the Showtime show The Affair, mostly because my teenage crush on Joshua Jackson never really went away.
There is a scene in both the first and second episode of Alison, hair blowing in the wind, riding her bike along the road that parallels the ocean. She waitresses at a local diner and lives in a house that overlooks the ocean.
What do I see when I close my eyes and think of where I would really like to be?
Riding my bike alongside a two-way street that parallels the ocean with a house near it and a fun job like waitressing or being a barista (I did actually love my Starbucks job). I get to read out on the porch. I have a big kitchen to bake in.
My home has lots of windows on all sides to let the sun and ocean breeze in. I can sit by the water or walk in the sand whenever I want. Watch thunderstorms roll in. Eat outside.
My other thought has been to even own my own bed and breakfast near the ocean so I can meet new people, hear new stories, and bake and cook for others.
I desire to eat because I am hungry and to be mindful and stop eating to fill a wound that needs to hurt and bleed so it can finally heal. I desire to move my body just because it’s how I get where I want to go and it feels good and it’s not about getting a certain number of steps or burning a certain amount of calories.
But it is too painful to consider these desires. Responsibility says we need to live somewhere that John can find a job, where I can find a job. Reminds me of the debt I have.
Drains all of the color and vibrancy out of that vision of me in the sun and bright blue sky and the warmth on my skin chills.
It’s back to work. Gotta pay off the vet visits and home purchases somehow. God forbid I need to go to the doctor. Gotta get that emergency savings fund up, contribute to my IRA.
So much bullshit. And every day, part of me wants to die and part of me is raging because I feel like I already have and I haven’t gotten to do the things I want to.
I know responsibility isn’t a bad thing. I don’t regret being there for my brothers. I am glad I know how to take care of myself and hold down a job and all that.
I have been the girl in the sunshine, with the wind in her hair, feeling warm and serene but it feels like another lifetime ago, a lifetime without to-do lists and obligations.
I miss her. I don’t like the shadow of that girl whom I feel I’ve been obligated to become.