“We live in a world illuminated by the sun and the moon; if you poke your head down a well, don’t complain that you’re in the dark.” - Rumi
I wrote it over ten years ago, and when I first re-read it I knew it was a lie.
When I wrote it at the time, I didn’t actually know that it was a lie, but I could feel it. I was too young, too dependent on my parents, too naive to comprehend the extent of the it, the lie, but deep down my body knew.
I wrote it as a journal entry on a summer bike tour when I was seventeen. Starting in St. Louis Missouri and ending in Seaside Oregon I joined a teacher and three other students on some 3,500 miles and roughly 50 days following roughly the same route as the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Following a map produced by Adventure Cycling (Non-profit tour cycling map creator) the trail follows mostly on unpaved, less-traffic routes that mostly follow the path of Lewis and Clark, with a few unpaved sections to make things interesting.
The trail was wonderful and beautiful, from Saint Louis, the trail cuts west to Kansas City and then follows the Missouri river north into states such as Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota, and then cuts west over Montana. After crossing Montana and the Continental Divide, the trail follows various rivers until it reaches the Oregon Coast.
We got to experience the country in few ways people do. Slow and steady. Watching the scenery change from rolling hills of corn, to great expansive grass planes, to the continental divide to our forested home in Oregon.
We learned about Lewis and Clark almost the whole way, but the trip was mostly for the experience. The greatest pieces of learning came from the graciousness of strangers, and realizing how simple life could be.
We were at least thirty days into the trip when I wrote that particularly entry. My family, my grandparents, my mother, and my mom’s partner joined us. As avid bike riders, my mom and partner, Robert, joined us for a few days of riding.
For everyday of the trip, we posted a blog entry to a popular bike tour blog site to keep our parents (and a lot of other interested teachers, students, family and friends) involved. Depending on the day, we rotated who wrote the entry, favoring some people if they had experienced something that day that was worth sharing.
For both the days that my family joined us, it made sense for me to write the journal entries for both days.
More than ten years on, I still distinctly remember the campsite where I wrote the entry.
We had crossed over the divide at that point and we were starting to enter into the rain part of the rain shadow. It was one of the first campsites that reminded me of the forested back home in Oregon.
The camp ground road curved a large egg shape circle forming a large open oval with shaded grass field and a bathroom at one end. On the other side of the road were the tent and RV sites. The edges were packed full of leaf filled summer treas. So much so that little of the direct afternoon sun penetrated all the way to the ground, instead it created that soft, green-yellow glow of chlorophyll filtered sun light.
Riding or hiking for such long stretches of time effects the body and mind tend to let go of anxiety, tensions and worry from everyday life ‘back home’.
Riding or hiking for such long stretches of time has a strange, wonderful effect on the body and mind. Free from the stressful daily routines, relationships, homework and out more ‘in nature’, the mind and body feels like they reset. Life becomes simple. Wake up with the sun, go to bed with it. Eat food, ride bike, take shit, take shower (if you can find one). Filled on the endorphins of constant moving, the body and mind feel light and free.
By day four I had felt such a change. My mind and body felt light and the anxieties and depression I had had been replaced by the serene feeling of freedom and contentment. Life was simple and filled with wonderful, fun surprises.
As avid bike riders, my mother and Robert joined us for those two days and consequently, my feelings started to change. Riding with my mother. I immediately sensed the change. My body felt tight and constricted and my voice felt like it was hidden in the bottom of my stomach; I become quiet. She wasn’t outwardly mean, or rude, but her prescience extinguished my feelings of freedom. I was back at home, and it was back, but I didn’t know what.
That night I wrote that I was happy my family was joining with me and that I had missed them. But this wasn’t true. Apart of me dreaded her presences and the constricted feeling I was having. A feeling that was all too familiar back home.
I have always looked back on the moment as an indicator that something about my relationship with my mother was off. Shouldn’t I have been filled with her presence? Shouldn’t we have talked non-stop about my encounters rather than having our conversation be short and me being quiet? Shouldn’t I have missed her and been excited to see her?
In our relationship, for me, there was just no bond. No joyful bond at least. Just the “I’m you’re son and your my mom” bond.
It was, and is, a relationship with no intimacy, no vulnerability, and no sharing of joy and delight with almost constant strife. My experiences, thoughts, emotions, problems and issues did not have any space to be brought up and discussed. My lack of progression in sports, my struggles in school, my struggles with relationships, or anything that interested me shared no space in our relationship. Instead, our conversations were dominated by my mother’s anxieties and uncontrolled emotions. I had learned early that it was best to just avoid any deep conversations, as any perceived criticisms would result in no actions and criticisms returned onto me. I was always quiet around her.
She wasn’t alone in this as my dad shared the same lack of interest in getting to know and understand my internal world. All of my conversations with my parents were pale, awkward and short. I was quiet and shy, but my parents never probed. Tangents were never followed and they seemed fine with the one word responses I gave them. They never asked why I was so quiet.
Both of them could not take any sort of criticisms or responsibility for a wrong deed towards me. Any criticism was met with either a dismissal (“Oh that’s not true, I’m a great father.”, “Oh I do listen”) or taken as an emotional betrayal and a personal attack (“You should be grateful you have it so good!”). There were never any apologies and efforts to change.
I felt like a young kid struggling to breath in a swimming pool all while being told that I should be grateful for the fact that I had the opportunity to go to the pool. I was both trapped and frustrated, but had no way to communicate it.
But my parents did loved me (and do) and were proud of me (and still are) and both worked hard in their own ways to provide for me and my brother. We always had great food and baked goods from my mother and plenty of money from my dad.
I could (and can) see that they loved me, but I can never remember a time that I felt it. The only attention I received by them when I was in trouble or if my grades were failing. I never remember them telling me that they were proud of me despite a lot of achievement.
And this was it, I knew that no matter what my mother wouldn’t try and uncover the deeper, vulnerable parts of myself that I wanted and needed to share.
By the time I left high school and entered collage at 18, I felt like an ugly, unattractive, not very inserting or unique kid. I had little hobbies and never felt like competent at them. I was a virgin, couldn’t hold down a relationship and struggled to even maintain friendships that I wanted and had kissed maybe two girls. I was depressed and hated most of who I was.
The worst part of it was the self blame, but even worse, was the single thought that I was stuck. That I was an unattractive, ugly, uninteresting failure of a kid and that I was stuck.