Archives For dysfunction

100% Pure Molly


No. This isn’t about that Molly–the drug. But it is about 100% pure Molly of another kind. My son’s best friend, Molly the canine. He so loves her that, since getting a job, he pays his sister to take care of her.

I digress, and need to backup to the beginning. It was three years ago that Molly entered our lives. We got her as a rescue. As such, two things are true of her:

1) We don’t exactly know her breed–other than possibly part Cockapoo.

2) She was spayed at just weeks of age.

Number one above isn’t so much of an issue as is (and isn’t it always) number two. You see the veterinary literature suggests that spaying too young can lead to health issues. These can include growth and/or maturity, cognitive problems, and in Molly’s case, seizures.

So here we had this cute, sweet, playful little puppy doing the things puppies do: pooping, peeing, playing, chewing…

And seizing. Out of nowhere, she would drop, losing control of at least one side of her body. At the time, we didn’t know of the link between spaying and seizures; we thought she was just sick. Sick, and that the rescue shelter hadn’t disclosed the issue. When contacted, they affirmed that we could bring her back; whereupon she would be promptly put down.

We weren’t about to do that.

So we just loved her.

Molly is still with us, has grown out of the seizures, but still has a problem which had persisted since puppyhood:

She doesn’t just chew; she snaps.

We’ll be watching out daughter playing with Molly (this little girl loves animals), and  they’re happy, having a great time, frolicking , running, and then for no particular reason at all snap! go her jaws. This is not a playful bite, but a quick, powerful  slamming. Molly inst upset–isn’t snarling, growling, and she hasn’t been hurt. The closest we can figure is that she’s overwrought–over-excited–amd this is how she behaves. Being a dog, we’re not sure that even she knows why. It just is.

Not being canine behaviorists, we can only speculate that PTSD being a thing with people, it’s entirely possible that it’s a thing with dogs as well. Molly suffered childhood trauma: was born into less than ideal conditions, removed from that setting, cleaned up, operated upon, separated from her mother and siblings, introduced into a new environment, and then to top it all off had seizures as well.

It’s no wonder that life sometimes is too much for her. Why she’s dysfunctional. Why she gets anxious outdoors, preferring the security of her crate.

I bring that all up, because it’s like that with dysfunctional people, too; they probably don’t even know why they are they way they are. They have suffered some kind of childhood trauma, and adopted a particular set of coping skills to make life survivable. Understanding this–like Molly–give us a way to love them, have them in our lives.
One could, for instance, be having this awesome conversation with your loved one, be feeling the familial bond, like you’re relating, then the <snap>  comes. Just like Molly, out of nowhere, one is cut, emotionally bleeding.

We’re all conditioned to trust our family members, but then get seriously sidelined when they let us down, hurt us. We have to bear in mind where they’ve come from, the hurts they’ve borne, and go prepared. That to my mind is the difference between a reaction and a response.Forewarned is forearmed.

Make no mistake: this is  not excusing bad behavior, but understanding its origins. Like Molly, people don’t often know  they’re being hurtful. Like your loved one (or mine) for instance. They says things probably because that’s how they were spoken to. They don’t know there’s something wrong. Just like Molly getting over excited and snapping her jaws. She’s not trying to be bad, she’s not trying to hurt anyone; she’s just being Molly. 

Understanding this is the difference between reacting to a perceived (or actually hurt) and and having a prepared response. It’s knowing that the hurt will come, and having a plan going into that time without always being so hurt, so caught off guard, by them. We go into any interaction with the understanding that sooner or later the <snap> is coming. In the case of Molly, she goes back into her crate for a cooling off period. With people, much as we want to at times, we can’t simply lock them away.

But we can excuse ourselves, having determined in advance just what our limits are, and what to do when those boundaries are crossed. It could be words: “that’s unfair,” “it hurts my feelings when…,” or it could be simply getting up and leaving ourselves. If my family has learned anything Molly, it’s that when she’s acting out reprisals, reproach, recrimination, or call it discipline doesn’t work. People aren’t so very different; defensive behavior will almost always escalate situations. Or as the Bible says, “a soft answer turns away wrath.” In the case of these difficult situations, and especially in cases where people just don’t even know they’re being hurtful (and tempers can easily flare), sometimes that soft answer is simply walking away–thereby gaining much needed space and perspective.

It’s amazing what we can learn from a little dog, isn’t it?

How do you handle the Molly’s in your life?

I’m sure it’s a thing, white privilege. One need look no further than, say, Donald Sterling to know that there’s something very wrong with the world, that systemic racism exists.

That white privilege is a thing.

But don’t talk to me, a white guy, about it. Because white privilege, insofar as I can tell, never did a damn thing for me.

Let me explain.

Behind the middle class fačade, was an empty home. A home devoid of any real sense of security, or love. Emotionally distant, and uninvolved, my dad couldn’t keep it in his pants, “screwing around” on my mom for fourteen out of sixteen years. And my mom? When he left, she had to take on two, and sometimes three, jobs to keep us fed, and a roof over our heads.

The net effect is that I lost both parents.

While there may in fact have been more creature comforts, I was still latchkey. I came home to an empty house day in and day out. Left to my own devices, I didn’t get into drugs, but rather porn. Nobody cared.

Nobody cared when the centerfolds went up on my bedroom wall. They just closed my door, and pretended they weren’t there. There was no dad, or father figure, to tell me that women were not objects, or hos, that existed just for me. Nobody cared when I stayed up late at night, watching the racy movies.

I was, by and large, ignored.

Like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, I was ignored. Until I fucked up, that is. Then it was all OMG! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

But even then it was mostly bark, no bite. People couldn’t bother to really care. I mean my mom once took my cigarettes away, saying she didn’t want me to smoke. She hid them literally on front of face, like I wouldn’t retrieve them almost immediately.

The list goes on. The greatest travesty of my upbringing was that it was virtually consequence-free: there were no real boundaries, and thus no real, tangible, sense of love…

Wait. I can recall one thing that white privilege gave me:

My mom, the counselor, threw me an eighteenth birthday party. She and her boyfriend vacated the house so I could have friends over. Did I mention that she brought me along with her to the videostore to rent pornos? Yep, she did. And she, the youth diversion coordinator, also supplied all the booze we could drink, including hiding a bottle of Southern Comfort in my bed.

Lucky me, right?

So there’s my white privilege upbringing,  people. Didn’t, and still doesn’t, feel very privileged to me. To this day, my relationship with mom is strained; and with my dad, it’s nonexistant.

Divorce and dysfunction hath it’s privileges, eh?

My dad has had an on-again-off-again affair with the golden nectar known as beer. Sometime in the ’70s, he discovered a particularly noxious brew known as Olympia Gold (“Oly” for short). I’m told it had the body of water, and a flavor reminiscent of cold piss.

Oly Gold was lowcal before lowcal was a thing.

But whatever. I never tried it. What I did do, as a kid, was every time he asked me to get him a beer from the fridge, I shook it up. (This was when beer was still sold in steel cans, with pull-tabs. I’m old. Shut up). I could hear the roiling pressure of the trapped gases awaiting their released, but he usually didn’t.

Beer splosion!

Followed by, “CHAD!!!”

I either thought it was funny enough to risk the butt hurt I could be subjected to, or I had some latent resentments I harbored against the man… Probably both. It wouldn’t be the first, or the last, time I’d done something passive aggressive.

Yeah, I got issues. But I loved the man, and wanted his attention. And the “shake up the beer game” was one of the ways I got it. When a kid isn’t feeling the love, he will resort to desperate measures to ensure it. Lack love is usually why kids act out.

It’s their way of saying “Notice me.”

———–

Dad was gone more and more, working later and later hours. As I got a little older, the beer game lost its luster. I stopped trying to get his attention, retreating more and more into myself, and the world of books, movies, magazines.

But I still loved my old man. Knew when he wasn’t home. Even if he didn’t have time for me, I knew when he was there, and when he wasn’t. I mean I still had hope, you know?

I remember a night when I couldn’t sleep. The clock ticked eleven, twelve, one, two… I wasn’t up reading: I was worried about my dad. Was he okay? Why wasn’t he home? Around two o’clock, there was a noise: the sound of a door being jerked open at the far end of the house.

I heard the master bedroom door open, the pad of my mom’s feet in the tiled hall.

I followed her.

Down the hall, through the family room, and into the kitchen I followed her.

There was my dad, standing in the doorway separating the breakfast nook from the entryway, swaying a little–listing from starboard to port, and back again.

The sour notes of cheap beer, piss, and bar smoke wafted off him in waves. But the piss wasn’t his. No, there was a quivering dark bundle under his left arm.

My mom asked “Mont, what’s going on? Why are you so late? Where have you been?”

“Dad,” I asked, “are you okay?”

My mom turned to me, asked me what I was doing up? Said I couldn’t sleep. She directed me back to bed. The last thing I heard as I walked to my room was:

“Why are you so late? I was really worried about you.”

“Because… Dog?” my dad intoned like a question. Because what he had under his arm was just that: a quivering Cockapoo we later named “Puppy.”

Because… Dog?

As I was driving into work the other day, I put on some U2 and some Coldplay. What’s interesting to me is, despite the intervening decades, the thematic similarities of two very different songs:

With or Without You and

Fix You

The former is of course found on U2’s seminal album, The Joshua Tree; the latter on Coldplay’s X&Y. Musically, and lyrically, they’d ostensibly very different songs, but in my mind (a very crowded place) they’re birds of a feather. (Don’t believe me? Listen to them back-to-back).

What do I mean?

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial, clichéd rock, you know the refrain from U2’s song:

“I can’t live with or without you.” Which to me sounds like nothing so much as codependence. (“And you give, and you give, and you give yourself away…”)

So what does one do when one “can’t live with or without you?” Why one will try to “fix you”:

“Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”

It’s all a very nice sounding sentiment–until you think about it. What lights? And that bit about bones is rather creepy–I mean I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my bones lit up like a funeral pyre!

I kid of course. It’s that last line that’s most disturbing to me: “I will try to fix you.” Why? When you can’t even get your own life straight? This is the last desperate, yet ongoing, act of codependency:

When I can’t live with–or without–you, I will try to fix you. Lather, rinse repeatedly, ad infininitum dominoes-for-biscuits. I’m serious. I’ve seen the dysfunction. I’ve been a people-pleaser. I know.

I’m not saying these are bad songs–quite the reverse, actually–they’re insanely well-crafted, seminal songs–yet I wonder how often we take the time to think through the ideological implications of our pop cultural phenomenons? I say this half in jest, but husbands, and wives, why don’t you just try to “fix” your respective spouses, ok? Report back to me when you’re done (or done in).

The fact is: what sounds nice in a song sometimes has very little practical application in the arena of life. Coldplay’s guiding “lights” offer scant more than cold comfort.

C.S. Lewis addresses similar implications, with regard to education, in his excellent The Abolition of Man. Put another way, in the arena of pop culture, we often strain out the gnats, and swallow camels.

Look no further than, for instance, Katy Perry’s E.T.. It’s got a beat, and you can dance to it: but when is it ever OK to be a victim? Let me be blunt: this always tolerating the status quo because we can’t live with, or without someone–or something–this trying to fix, or be fixed, by someone–or something–often leads us a place where we are willing victims, willingly victimized for the sake of a fix.

Yet we can’t even fix ourselves–let alone another person. Heck, even God doesn’t step in–unless we invite him. (Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in…”).

Instead of “fix you,” I humbly submit the cry (to God–not a spouse, friend, significant other–to God) should be simply “Fix me.”

What do you think? Am I reading too much into these songs? Let me know in the comments.