Revenge, Contempt, Spite: My Life Raft Keeps Eroding

Simply Simon

This should probably maybe be in my diary, but I don’t know. I feel too rudderless to dump it there. But I don’t have the energy to write it in its totality, so I suppose this is part one. I’ve always been a person of extremes, I’m told. My writing doesn’t seem to land anywhere between short and long form. Besides, I’ve always been about 90% preamble. Maybe this is a prologue. Good luck getting through to the topic... but I need to write it out. This is my flare gun. I feel like I’m drowning so slowly.


“Promise me you won’t be like them.”

That’s what my father would say, like a mantra, all the time but especially if he happened to put me to bed. It probably started before I even recognized the meaning. I don’t remember him not saying it. He probably stopped when I wasn’t being put to bed anymore, but I’m not sure. The words echoed through my everyday thoughts like an ear worm far beyond his own verbalization.

When I got my master’s, I didn’t walk. I gave people practical reasons why, but the truth is that I wanted to deprive my parents of two things: disappointing me as usual and surprising me by fulfilling what I’d been promised.

At 13 I’m standing on the tiny porch that would accurately be called a stoop if we weren’t too balls deep in Jersey suburbia to use such language. There’s impossibly white concrete beneath my feet, and I’m wearing a polka dot halter top I’d saved for this occasion. Not wearing a perfectly structured halter top that illustrated what I had come to deeply understand as my worth to the world at the club first, waiting instead for this particular day, seemed like plenty of fuss for the occasion. But behind me there are cars lining up along the property filled with relatives as far flung as California.

The halter top and the relatives showed up for what even then felt like an event that was at best inane and at worst existentially depressing. My brother, the f*cking music prodigy, is graduating from an associate’s in graphic design. He was an okay artist on the page. He was commendable as an actor. He was a god of music. I knew this whole f*cking degree should have been triple dipped in shame and wrapped in grief. But that’s what it would have been if it were me. This was the moment I fully grasped it. This is when it became both lucid and reified.

My mother is standing next to me, jostling with her keys. She was always late and yet in a rush.

“I know [my brother] is graduating,” I said, “But isn’t this kind of a lot for an associate’s?”

My mother chuckled—and I f*cking hate that word, but she did!—conspiratorially, like we were sharing a private joke. “Oh, well, we’ll probably be this excited when you get your master’s.”

Grasped. Lucidity. Reified. Realized. Manifested whole, right in my gut like a ravenous parasite that suddenly woke up.

It ate me alive for the next 15 years.

In my second-to-last semester of grad school, I had a really bad PTSD meltdown. Reality wouldn’t stay still. I was having flashbacks. I was in the basement with him. I was naked and begging.

When J finally snapped me out of it, I don’t know what precipitated it, if anything at all, but the words I don’t ever recall thinking jumped out of me like a spirit called out of my body by a priest: “My parents won’t love me if I don’t have my master’s.”

But I did graduate. I did get my master’s. And I knew what I’ve come to appreciate as a theory tested enough to consider it factual, like gravity.

If I felt accomplished in any form, my parents would find a way to whittle that feeling down to disparate atoms no longer strung together significantly enough to be considered anything resembling substance.

Simply Simon


So I got my master’s last year, and then I did exactly what I said I’d do for years: I moved. I got everything I could squeeze out of that tiny backwoods town—lifelong friends, a graduate degree, a substantial bug out fund, and my boyfriend turned husband, who proposed before we got in the door of our new home.

And then... what? This was the end of my life’s master plan aside from getting a doctorate, which I knew I wouldn’t do immediately, because grad school, it turns out, is an appallingly rigorous circle jerk from which I needed a break.

I was talking to my mother about this, and I said I had gotten so far away from following the example of my siblings, I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore.

She laughed. “It’s not like that’s what you’re thinking about on a daily basis,” she said.

“No, actually, I do,” I said. “Every day I get out of bed to prove I’m not them.”

This surprised her so much she seemed speechless. I thought she was immune.

So life went. Jobs were gotten. Crises happened. Times of ecstatic wonder shared.

And then this year... well, it’s been something, not just because COVID but a string of bad luck that occurred since August that was so severe my friend bought me a mystic reading for my birthday. Y’know, in case I’m like hexed? It’s been intense.

Alongside the bad luck, I was working like 2.5 jobs and coordinating a wedding by myself.

My parents live only a few hours away now. They bought a house with my cousin, who was always my safe harbor. My asylum.

My family threw us an engagement party. It was really nice. I was impressed. I’m not accustomed to my parents being involved in celebrating me unless it simultaneously elevates them and knocks me down a peg.

Everything was great. Until I for some reason said that I had a very strict upbringing—the context is forgotten by everyone. No one remembers what was being said, only what was said next.

My father leaned forward. “Strict?”

My mother, my cousin, and my husband froze. I stiffened like a guard dog hearing a distant siren.

He did something between grinning and grimacing. “Strict?” he repeated in a higher tenor, the tenor of the incredulous.

My father and I stared each other down, then both looked at my cousin, who I felt bad for immediately. She was just a civilian witness. She slowly stuttered out, with a very high pitched “Welllll...” that my parents were strict with us, the kids, in “different ways.” She then started talking fluently about how my sister wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. But something already broke inside me. I was a nuclear reactor, carefully kept, that was suddenly melting down. Sensing the radiation, I guess, suddenly everyone but my father and I were gone.

I don’t even remember how I started in. I just remember knowing I was ripping him apart, spilling out all the secret parts of my life he was never home for, stuff I knew in my core he’d never heard, like my mother ritualistically yelling at me for 4-6 hours a day until he came home, and I was under a table cowering and sobbing. But everyone knew I was “such a sensitive child.”

I walked away. I went to the car. J materialized. I was shaking and smoking like if I burned the cigarette in record time, all my emotion would burn up with it, and I could toss it away.

I didn’t run. Our wedding was in weeks. This was bad, but it also wasn’t over.

I went back, this time with my Red 100s. My mother met me. I told her what I tell everyone about my relationship with my parents. She destroyed me. He just wasn’t there enough to do as much damage. But the flip side was that my mother and I had already brawled for years. There was a semblance of closure. I believed my father wouldn’t want to know the truth, even though he decided to aggressively pursue “a relationship” with me a couple years ago. She said he wasn’t there. But he did want to know. I scoffed and lit another cigarette. I’ve never smoked in front of my parents.


That's a lot of really hard stuff. Your truth, is worth hanging onto and knowing. It's also worth grasping onto more. Now just what they did and didn't do. But the fact you are enough. No matter what. And you are lovable. No matter what. That you've succeeded and that''s wonderful but being Simon is also wonderful.

Weddings are stressful no matter what. Even if you have the "perfect" family. It's good your posting. Good that you are reaching out.


This stuff is hard! It still baffles me how attached people can be to parents who weren't good enough human beings to be allowed to be parents. But, that seems to be the way of it, most of the time.

A friend told me once I had the strangest relationship with my parents he'd ever seen. He said, "You don't seem to feel anything for them. Not love, but not hate or anger either." That would be correct. I've asked my T about it and he says I'm lucky. You, and a couple others, have convinced me that's right.

But, can you unattach yourself from them? Because they weren't/aren't particularly good parents. They never were and they probably don't have the capacity to be. Expecting anything better than what you've already gotten is bound to lead to disappointment and self blame. That's not about you, it's about THEM.There is no, "If only I'm good enough" or "if I only get it right". Chances are the first rule of the game is "Simon isn't going to be right". If you play their game, it's their rules. I'd say don't bother playing the game. It's a stupid game. You shouldn't have to suffer over their issues. You shouldn't have to keep paying a price for THEIR dysfunction. I think the best way to do that is deal with them at what ever minimal level you have to, but don't let them matter. It makes no sense to value the praise of crazy people. What would it mean, anyway?

I don't think you'll ever get what you want or think you need, from them. Figure out what those things are and find them in the places that actually exist. One of the weirdest homework assignments my T ever gave me was to create imaginary families. (picture eye rolling) This actually got to be kind of fun. He decided I needed sisters, so he "created" two of them. An astronaut and a marine biologist. (Which, as I pointed out to him, kind of made me the under achiever in the family.) But, it was kind of helpful to imagine what it would have been like growing up in different situations. (GOOD ONES!) What would I have learned that I didn't learn? Worth thinking about stuff like that, I think.

You've had a really long journey. I think this is just another part of it and I think there's an "other side" to come out on. And all of us here who've known you a little are proud of you and will continue to be. Your biological parents don't know what they're missing. Their loss!