The Last Possible Good Failure

 

shutterstock_90261658I’d probably make a lousy prostitute, I concluded. Time to swallow my pride and move back home. 

It wasn’t my parents’ fault. Almost always, children have to be taught to be less whiny, not more. Virtuous parents rightly hold up stoicism as a model for their children’s behavior. Most problems you face at any given moment will eventually go away if you simply toughen up. Unbending persistence in the face of pain is the key to ultimate success.

Except when it isn’t. Looking after my respiratory problems – which, after all, could be life-threatening – would have been enough for any parent. When I began having funny aches in my bones, too, my parents said, “It’s just growing pains. Have another banana.” Or, “Walk it off.” Or, “You must’ve slept on it funny.” They said this day in and out for years. And I took their advice like a good girl, stifling whining and backchat, day in and day out for years. Eventually I got sick of bananas, though much addicted to long walks by myself, especially in chilly weather, when the numbing ache of the cold obliterated other sensations.

Despite my stoic aspirations, I was a sad child, prone not to whining but to glum — almost hostile — silence, and rare but alarming outbursts of the kind of inconsolability that leaves a parent feeling powerless. Maybe I was sad because my body hurt, or maybe my body hurt because I was sad. It can be hard to tell. Since I kept testing negative for the usual markers of childhood arthritis, perhaps the pain was all in my mind. But the idea of a mind that hurt so badly that it could injure the body frightened my parents, especially my father. I learned to become the sly dissembler – systematically concealing the worst signs of my unease in order to avoid upsetting them. Evasiveness, furtiveness, and plastic laughter. It’s how I lived. So much for me being the good, honest kid.

As I got older, though, it became harder for my parents to force me to go to school on days when I was feeling really bad. I barely graduated high school because of deficient attendance, though with honors once attendance was sorted, and a reasonably prestigious (though, alas, not well-paying) scholarship to a good college. College, far away from my parents, seemed like the ideal chance for a fresh start. But even the novelty of college couldn’t obliterate whatever it was that was nagging me.

After having dropped down to part-time student status because of recurrent ill-health, I found myself one day about a mile from campus, curled up in a little ball on the sidewalk, sobbing in fury at myself, the sobs all the more violent from the shame of being on public display. So many others, I knew, had endured so much worse than I had, yet done better: how come I — a middle-class kid with relatively minor impairments in the larger scheme of things — couldn’t even manage?

A stranger in a house nearby found me, too, called the police to report me as a drug addict, and pretty soon an ambulance showed up. The EMTs threatened me with arrest if I wouldn’t go with them voluntarily. Not being sure of my rights, I went. The folks at the ER, not knowing what to do with me when my drug test came back negative, presented me with a choice: I could voluntarily commit myself to the mental health ward for observation, or they’d do it for me against my will. Again, not sure of my rights (a friend working as an EMT later told me they probably couldn’t have detained me if I refused), I agreed. It ended up being an expensive waste of time. Evidently, there was something wrong with my outlook on life, but I wasn’t crazy enough for an overworked hospital psychiatrist to get a bead on it. I spent the very long weekend in the prisonlike ward computing eigenvalues in crayon in an attempt to keep up with my coursework, since mental-health inmates aren’t allowed sharp objects like pencils.

So there I was, now officially a crazy person with hospital bills to pay, no means of support left except my parents, but no way of knowing how to even tell my parents what had just happened to me, much less how to ask them to help. Telling them would break their hearts, as well as prove to them – and myself – that I was still an immature child, not an independent adult.

Well, if you’re a young woman – even a sickly, virginal one – you’ve always got one asset you could sell. I pondered this option for three days straight, perusing classifieds where dirty old men place want ads for compliant young women. Ultimately I concluded that prostitution, besides being unchristian, would be something I’d be so bad at that I couldn’t survive on it. In other words, I’d be a failure even as a prostitute.

Time to move back in with the parents.

From a conservative point of view, there is no good way to spin this move back home. Believers in grit and rugged individualism will question whether it was really necessary, or just a weak-willed manifestation of my generation’s “failure to launch“. Family-values voters will be singularly unimpressed that I managed to become so estranged from my parents in the first place that I considered prostitution as an alternative. Still, the move back home was likely for the best. Back home, it was easier to get timely medical checkups. The move also brought me closer to my parents. My mom and I can now frankly discuss what’s really bugging us; at least some of the time. My dad and I never developed that kind of of rapport, but we did grow closer in other ways, close enough for me to be on-call 24/7 for him when his kidneys failed (though I hardly could have refused, since my parents had taken me back in when they no longer had to).

What causes the aching that’s nagged me since I was a kid? We’re still not certain. Prednisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid, can eliminate the aching temporarily, though (of course) at a cost (neither the pain nor the asthma is crippling enough to warrant prednisone regularly). That, along with other evidence, suggests that the aches begin in the body, though they affect the mind and are affected by it. There are perhaps a dozen different things that might have caused the aching. But all these “mights” ultimately live in the lovely Land of Might Have Been. If humans could reach that land, we already would have.

An irrational part of me had hoped that perhaps some cosmic sense of fair play might mean that a creaky, arthritic youth would mellow into vibrant health later in life. So far, no dice. I was able to pretend to good health long enough to snag myself a wonderful husband, who fortunately doesn’t resent my not being as healthy as initially advertised (you’re a dud in the mating market if you present as sickly up front – or rather, you attract exactly the wrong kind of attention).

Sometimes, stuff gets better for a while. Other times, something new and unexpected breaks. Long trips to the desert seem to help.

When measured against what was initially expected of me – including the tacit expectation that I would be more adept at managing the body I was born with – my life isn’t a success, but a failure. But a failure less bad than it could have been. I’m not a prostitute. I’m not on a slab in the morgue dead from suicide, drug abuse, or self-neglect. I might be healthy enough to have kids now, and I might be able to keep myself together well enough to be a good mom to them. In short, I could have become the person that everyone wrote off in hindsight as “the bad seed,” “cursed from the start”. But I didn’t, because even “bad seeds” have some choice in the matter, impoverished as the choices they face may seem at the time.

Failing to become “the bad seed” is the last possible good way to fail. I suppose that’s saying something.

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  1. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    skipsul:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Seawriter:

    Maybe the two of you were separated at birth and raised secretly by someone else? Might explain a lot of things.

    There is no way I am not genetically related to the people who raised me. Skipsul, what about you?

    Do you come from a mix of Swedish / Irish / German immigrants to Minnesota, or from colonial-era German / Welsh immigrants to Pennsylvania and New England?

    You guys need to share 23andme data.

    • #31
  2. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @

    I am truly moved,Midget. Thank you for writing this. I knew you were special and now I know one of the reasons why.

    • #32
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Son of Spengler:

    …Reading this, I wonder about the extent of the damage I’ve inadvertently done to my own kids.

    Don’t worry too much. What got me in trouble was also inheriting the “perfectionism gene” – the innate tendency to impose unreasonably high expectations on oneself to absolutely no good purpose. Parents better-equipped to combat this tendency would have been nice, but the damage was mostly self-inflicted.

    If your trait is a learned habit rather than some innate quirk, chances are good your kids don’t have the innate quirk either, and will be able to stop listening to unreasonable expectations before they get themselves into too much trouble.

    • #33
  4. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Mike H:

    skipsul:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Seawriter:

    Maybe the two of you were separated at birth and raised secretly by someone else? Might explain a lot of things.

    There is no way I am not genetically related to the people who raised me. Skipsul, what about you?

    Do you come from a mix of Swedish / Irish / German immigrants to Minnesota, or from colonial-era German / Welsh immigrants to Pennsylvania and New England?

    You guys need to share 23andme data.

    My sister has been doing that:

    33% Western European (France, Germany, maybe southern Britain)

    27% Great Britain (England proper, northern France, maybe into Germany, maybe into Ireland)

    17% Scandinavian

    7% Eastern European (east of Germany)

    5% Finland/Northern Russia

    4% Italy/Greece

    3% Iberian Pennisula

    2% Ireland

    2% European Jewish

    • #34
  5. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Your presence is an honor. Thank you.

    • #35
  6. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Very touching.

    • #36
  7. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    I’m now seeing ads for a “Depression Treatment Device”. Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes? The ad recommends daily use.

    As a Catholic, I probably shouldn’t be making that joke. #low-hanging_fruit

    • #37
  8. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Re 37, Tsk, tsk, Aaron! (grin)

    • #38
  9. CuriousKevmo Member
    CuriousKevmo
    @CuriousKevmo

    Thanks for this Midge.  Though now I’m a bit verklempt…which can be a bit of a snag at work.

    As for accomplishments, you long ago attained the status of the Ricochetti I’d most want to have coffee with.

    No small accomplishment, that.

    • #39
  10. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Attempted Murder is probably also a good form of failure.

    ;-)

    • #40
  11. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:I’m now seeing ads for a “Depression Treatment Device”. Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes? The ad recommends daily use.

    It could be a link to a kitten adoption site, or to Ben & Jerry’s…

    • #41
  12. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Spectacular post MFR.  Thank you.

    • #42
  13. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Nice post; good promotion.  A little on the depressing side, Midge.  Sheesh!  From all accounts, Mr. Rattler seems to think you’re quite a good seed and not much of a failure.  I imagine he’s a man of sound judgment.  :)

    • #43
  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Misthiocracy:

    Aaron Miller:I’m now seeing ads for a “Depression Treatment Device”. Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes?

    It could be a link to a kitten adoption site…

    Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes?

    • #44
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Misthiocracy:Attempted Murder is probably also a good form of failure.

    ;-)

    Or, better yet, desiring to murder and not even attempting it. (Yeah, I’ve been there, too, once or twice.)

    • #45
  16. George Savage Contributor
    George Savage
    @GeorgeSavage

    Thank you for the post. I, for one, am very happy that you persevered to this point. Keep it up.

    My mother has suffered from chronic, painful conditions, at times disabling, since I was a child. Watching her go through her travails is what led me to pursue a career in medicine. Mom raised three children and supported my equally loving father–who was the picture of youthful vigor until struck down by a brain tumor. To this day she is a success.

    I think you are, too.

    • #46
  17. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Misthiocracy:

    Aaron Miller:I’m now seeing ads for a “Depression Treatment Device”. Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes?

    It could be a link to a kitten adoption site…

    Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes?

    I never euphemize about the healing power of kitties! That’s one of the few lines I refuse to cross.

    • #47
  18. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Seawriter:

    ‘Home,’ he mocked gently.

    ‘Yes, what else but home?

    It all depends on what you mean by home.

    Of course he’s nothing to us, any more

    Than was the hound that came a stranger to us

    Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’

    ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

    They have to take you in.’

    From The Death of the Hired Man, by Robert Frost.

    Sometimes the hardest decision to make is deciding you have to go there when you do.

    Seawriter

    A place that somehow you haven’t to deserve.

    • #48
  19. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @CalvinCoolidg

    Was this like the star of Bethlehem, I wondered innocently?

    And now, less innocently, I wonder each solstice whether Christmas will really come – is it possible for salvation to be born in so much darkness?

    I think you answered your own question in this post MFS.

    • #49
  20. Julia PA Inactive
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: But all these “mights” ultimately live in the lovely Land of Might Have Been. If humans could reach that land, we already would have.

    What a lovely song, even if it is a little sad. Here is the bright spot, in it: 

    Sometimes on the rarest nightscomes the vision calm and clear,gleaming with unearthly lightson our path of doubt and fear.Winds from that far land are blown, whispering with secret breath–hope that plays a tune alone,love that conquers pain and death.

    And in spite of your pain, and challenges, you made it through that rare night, heard the whisper, found your lights and hopeful tune, found your king, found a way to go on.

    That was the best possible good way to fail.

    • #50
  21. Julia PA Inactive
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Midge,

    You have a thoughtful, reflective spirit, so, yes, you’d have been a horrible hooker.

    So, you see, you were never in danger of failure at all, since you instinctively knew what your life’s work should not be!

    • #51
  22. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @BallDiamondBall

    Very nice.

    Revise and extend my remarks:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ma5tF6TJpA

    • #52
  23. user_234000 Member
    user_234000
    @

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Midge; you have given strength to me and to many others.

    • #53
  24. user_6236 Member
    user_6236
    @JimChase

    I’ve read this through multiple times now, Midge.  Nope, still not cringing.  Many lessons in here, many things to ponder.  Even the negative can be positive, or if not positive, fruitful.  Thank you for sharing!

    • #54
  25. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Very true. Though about the “functioning family” bit… maybe “functioning” is less important than the loyalty to stick together no matter how crazy things get?

    That is a functioning family.

    I don’t know how I’m only seeing this now, but you know, I hope, how moving it is even though I’m late in saying so.

    One thing I want to add: I think “other people have it so much worse” is a pernicious trap. First of all, you’ve indicated that your condition has been life-threatening, and last I checked, that’s as bad as it gets. But short of that, chronic misery is its own kind of intense for being chronic. That deserves real sympathy and support.

    Anyway, add me to the list of “thrilled you’re here.” :-)

    • #55
  26. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Misthiocracy:

    Aaron Miller:I’m now seeing ads for a “Depression Treatment Device”. Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes?

    It could be a link to a kitten adoption site…

    Is that a clever euphemism for prostitutes?

    Most definitely. All the affection I could ever want—as long as I keep payfeeding them.

    • #56
  27. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Aaron Miller:A loving heart is the most important accomplishment — the only one you can take with you— and that you surely have.

    This is what I’m most struck by: Midge’s utter lack of bitterness.

    I’ll pray to grow to become half the Christian she is.

    • #57
  28. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    There are many types of riches. Many types of knowledge. You have stored up the knowledge of the heart. That is the highest form of learning. To have a vault of wisdom–that is truly priceless. Those are the things you can take with you.

    • #58
  29. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Gödel’s Ghost

    This is what I’m most struck by: Midge’s utter lack of bitterness.

    I was bitter, at one point. Sometimes still am. If I hadn’t learned to laugh more at life’s little pranks, I’d be bitterer still.

    I used to think comedy wasn’t very important. Yeah, it was nice. But frivolous. Not an important part of life. I was wrong. People who can make others laugh perform a great service. Great humor is as much a part of the good life as great music, great math, great anything.

    • #59
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Mike Rapkoch:There are many types of riches. Many types of knowledge. You have stored up the knowledge of the heart.

    Well, I hope so :-)

    • #60
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