I bet you thought I wasn’t listening. Or maybe you knew that I was, but you were assured that I would be focusing so hard on the criticism I wouldn’t notice the lesson. That was your mistake.
I was the thoughtful child. The one who listened. The one who never forgot. The one who learned all of the things you were trying to ingrain so hard into him. But they bounced off of him and the stuck to me, or rather, I clung to them.
You always liked my intelligence. But you liked it as a cocktail party anecdote. The compliment was said to me, but meant for you. You never really liked the ins and outs of it. You liked that my intelligence took me far away places, the kinds of places that sound really great in cocktail party anecdotes. And you always did love saying goodbye to me. You loved those moments because they were always the times I worshipped you most. You’d get to hold my hand, dissuade my fears of long security lines and foreign taxi cabs. You liked that I would get silent. Another cocktail party anecdote- the one about the daughter you just had to say goodbye to, the one who was in that grand, far-off place, a place she’d gotten to through her intelligence, and how she couldn’t talk the whole way to the airport.
You never imagined that those far-off places might allow me to get the necessary distance from you. Oh, you liked the distance. You liked that you could send me “miss you” texts, that we could chat cheerfully once a week via Skype while your live-in girlfriend puttered around, never truly a part of anything but so consistently there that I could never really talk about anything.
You always liked driving with me after we visited him. You liked to share your criticisms, your worries. You didn’t like it when I tried to defend him so I didn’t defend him as much as I should have. I thought about it one day- if this is what you say about him, what do you say about me when I am not there? And then I realised it: You tell your cocktail party anecdotes. It was so much worse than anything I could have imagined. The worries I had of you listing my faults, my disappointments, the way I was wasting it all, I shouldn’t have wasted my time. Because you didn’t worry about me, not in that way. You didn’t think about me, not in that way. I had taken all of the criticism, all of the lessons, and I worked so hard to not disappoint you that I didn’t realise that I was sacrificing your concern.
It was you who taught me the difference between love and like. The way that the two were not, as I had once thought, inextricably linked. That it was possible to love someone, all the while disliking nearly everything about them. Even your own children. In your case, especially your children. Haven’t you learned by now that you shouldn’t teach something that you don’t want to be learned? You thought I wasn’t listening. Or maybe you knew that I was, but you were assured that I would be focusing so hard on the criticism I wouldn’t notice the lesson. But I did. Just like I notice everything. Just like I notice the way you move me aside so you can stand next to your girlfriend. The way that you no longer want to spend time with him because it means spending time away from her. The way you have conversations like you are a bartender, always asking the right questions and replying in the exact right way. The exact right way. So hollowly perfect it could only be confused as genuine from the outside. You didn’t know it, but you were teaching me that it was okay. You were teaching me that it was okay to feel this detachment within my heart. You were teaching me that it was okay to love you forever, even though I might never like you again.
You should know by now that I was the thoughtful one, the one who always listened. You should have realised that your intelligent daughter would one day be in a far off place, tormenting herself for the lessons you taught her.
"jared leto’s ombré is better than yours and other harsh realities" #memoirtitles
Jean-Paul Sartre 1938