Friday, February 18, 2011

moments of clarity

Dad was a stickler for doing things right. And doing them well. And keeping things in their proper places. He didn't do much to help my mom around the house; that was her job. But his workshop was always neat and orderly. The moment he finished whatever he was doing, he'd put all his tools away and vacuum the sawdust off of every surface. If somebody went into his shop and moved anything, the moment he walked in he'd notice it. I always admired that about him. I'm guessing it was the beginning of my own "attention to detail".

The downside of my dad's keen eye was that while he always noticed if something was 'off', he rarely if ever said a word when something was done to perfection by any of his children. He was, for the most part, great at badgering and terrible at praising. My friend once called him that: a "badgerer". And she also noted that I had grown up to be "just like him".

I didn't much like the sound of that. But I knew she was correct. She wasn't trying to be mean; she was simply trying to show me something I'd long overlooked. I had become quite the pain-in-the-butt when it had to do with the men in my life. Nothing was ever good enough. If he did the dishes or laundry or vacuuming, I would go behind him to see that it was done properly. Not surprisingly, I would always find the job to be 'less-than' done. According to my standards, it was a shabby job. So rather than saying thank you I'd re-do whatever it was he'd done.

I'm quite certain it drove most of them nuts. But none ever said a word. They'd just keep trying until finally they'd quit doing anything at all. Go figure.

It wasn't until I moved in with a man (who was not my lover or even a friend) to share a large house that I saw what I'd been doing. To be sure, the guy was what can only be termed a "slob". But that wasn't what got my attention. I had promised to take care of the kitchen. I would do all the cooking and cleaning in exchange for a reduction in rent. That was the deal we struck and I was determined to keep my end of the bargain.

About a year into it, he walked into the kitchen while I was cooking dinner. He 'took over' my work space so he could make some guacamole for his pre-dinner snack. I said something about the way he was cutting the tomatoes (or some stupid thing like that) and the guy just FREAKED. He was a fairly quiet man who rarely raised his voice. But at that moment, I guess he'd had enough. He started hollering like a crazy person, waving the knife around and reading me the riot act.

I remember thinking, "Wow. He sure is sensitive. I was just trying to help him get it right." But what I didn't realize was that for more than a year I'd been nit-picking the poor guy to death and he'd finally reached his limit. He was fed up with me and my badgering. He had all this stuff bottled up and when the cork blew, he let me have it. BIG TIME.

Of course, at that moment I thought he was being completely unreasonable. When I tried to speak, he told me to shut my mouth and just listen. He was enraged to the point that I really thought he might hit me. I backed off and went back to my 'wing' of the house to let him cool off and to allow my own heart rate to stabilize.

And that's when it hit me.

I saw the whole thing as if it were a movie. I heard every criticism I'd ever made. I felt the resentment and the irritation and the condescension I'd showered on him for all that time. And I saw all the others who I'd done the same thing to for all those many years. In a flash, I saw me as my father.


A short while later, I went back downstairs and asked if I could speak. He'd calmed down by then and allowed me the floor. I apologized with more sincerity than I'd ever mustered in my life. I told him about my moment of clarity and how it came to me. I also told him that I would do my very best to never, ever do those things again.

I could see the relief in his eyes. I saw his body relax and heard the change in his voice when he told me it was okay. He accepted my apology and never said another word about it. And then the strangest thing happened.

Shortly after that I noticed that he'd begun doing things around the house that he'd never done before. Little things. Like putting his dishes in the bin of soapy water I always left in the sink (I'd asked him to do this for a long time. He never would oblige.); or putting his shoes in his own room instead of leaving them all over the house. Or  taking the trash out before it spilled onto the cupboard floor. He even started picking up his trash out on the patio. Little things that he'd never done that had always driven me crazy. Without my asking, he began to do the things that I'd always 'nagged' him about.

Every time I noticed something he'd done, I'd say thank you. I realized that it was one of the things I hated about how my dad treated us. And having seen it up close and personal, I vowed I'd never do that again. Those "little things" made all the difference in the world. To both of us. It wasn't long before the roommate and I had a whole new dynamic going on. Everything seemed so easy. No friction, no angst, no resentment. Just a fair and equitable cohabitation that made life for both of us so much more pleasant.

And all that time I thought it was everyone else who was a mess.


1 comment:

Bella Mia said...

thank you for that Camille. it can be so humbling when I find out that I'm off track...yet, I've found that that is where the healing comes in, when I can see my own stuff. Then I can change it. Yours is a beautiful story about how that happens. It happens in relationship to others, I think, because others can hold a mirror up to us, so we can see what we are doing. Then we can change what we need to and life gets easier, as you found out. Bravo for you. Also, the making of amends in part of it. That took a lot of courage for you to go to him and apologize and admit you own shortcomings...yet, for me, it has been such a beautiful thing, when I have been able to put aside my ego and admit my part.
Hugs to you,