Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

Destination Unknown

The last week has been overwhelming, especially on top of the exhaustion that the holidays always induce. I know that many of you have gone through situations like the one that we are presently coping with, in some cases worse. So I don't want to imply that our burden is different from the sort that others bear. What I will say, though, is that living next door to a relative leads to an everyday closeness that makes the perception of loss particularly intense.

Back when I was nine, my paternal grandmother came to live with us at our house in Pennsylvania, because she had health problems that made living with her husband impossible. She needed special care, but also relief from the burden of trying to live up to the standard of the good German housewife. Needless to say, he didn't take her departure well, marking the onset of a difficult period in our family life. Although I didn't fully grasp what was going on, I knew enough to regard her integration into our household with melancholy. I was delighted to have her around, but also recognized what her presence meant: the disintegration of a home where I'd spent a lot of time and had many formative experiences.

Someday I will try to write about that time in my life at greater length. For now, though, I just want to note that, when she left to live her remaining days with my aunt in New York City, in the same house where she'd lived for decades, I missed her a lot more than I would have if she'd not come to live with us. I'm reminded of that feeling now because my father-in-law has been such a big part of my life since we moved to Arizona. His relationship with Skylar is one reason. But it's also due to the fact that he and I, who share a reluctance to engage with the world emotionally, have developed a nuanced form of "male bonding" that centers on his big-screen television and the sporting events he invites me to watch on it.

He emotes more around his daughter and granddaughter. With me, it's more an expression of comfort in what we share together. He repeats the same routines over and over as we talk during the games and I listen, rapt, because I need a sense of ritual in my life. While part of me steps back from time to time to think critically about what he's saying and why he's saying it -- he rarely touches upon potentially painful subjects -- I am still able to immerse myself in his compulsion to repeat and identify with the energy he expends beating back the traumas of his past. Each time he gingerly navigates that minefield, I feel like I'm doing the same with my own history.

That tendency I have to live through others -- a picture of my face would be an excellent illustration to accompany the dictionary definition of "vicariously" -- is a knot that I'm only beginning to want to loosen and therefore also a topic for another day. What matters for the moment is that, in missing his proximity, I'm also missing my primary means of managing emotion. I only just realized the depth of the problem in writing that last sentence. Given the degree to which I've found my thoughts transported back to the years 1977-1980 over the past few days, it seems clear that something has been dislodged in my mind as a result of what's going on right now.

Strangely, I keep picturing the stone rolled away from Jesus's tomb, in what seems like a Gustav Doré etching. It's a dark image, but finely detailed, one I recognize as a metaphor for the mental passage I've been making over the past week. I'm not even sure why I'm still writing this. I sat down to try to explain why my father-in-law's grave illness has affected me so deeply, a point I think I've made sufficiently. But I seem to have moved paratactically into other psychic territory. Originally, I had titled this entry "solace." Perhaps this sort of rambling for all to see is itself a form of solace. The fact that I have absolutely no desire to go back and proofread, which was also the case with my entry of yesterday, certainly indicates that, whatever I'm doing here, it's not what I normally do. I'm willing to regard that as a hopeful sign, even if it's one that can only be dimly discerned through the fog of anxiety and despair.
Tags: autobiography, everyday, family, history, memory
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