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. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: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.

    I will tell this to my mother-in-law.

    • #61
  2. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    [I have been asked to delete this comment or severely edit it so I am doing it. ]

    • #62
  3. Muleskinner Member
    Muleskinner
    @Muleskinner

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    It wasn’t my parents’ fault.

    I am so glad to hear that. My 16 year-old son has had some of those experiences over the last ten years, and I hope that my general “hang in there, man up” attitude wasn’t too harmful.

    Whatever autoimmune disease he has seems to be in remission now, and he is starting to taper off the last immune suppressant. He was on prednisone almost constantly for eight years, often at a high dose, and it must have been an absolute nightmare for him. He missed a lot of school, and sat through a lot of days when he could barely function at all. I’m sure we pushed him way too hard at times, and not hard enough at other times. But at the end of the day, he will have to find his own way, and I hope we aren’t making it harder than it has to be.

    Thanks for the hopeful post.

    • #63
  4. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Midge,

    Thanks for this post for your whole story did not end at your parents’ home but in the place of love that you reside at. If Lileks were here he would have a beautiful segue way to February’s Love Series. But since he is not this comment thuds one out.

    Midge, you will always go down in Ricochet history as having the most fun SSM thread ever. (For Midge that means Same Sock Matching and the humor in it is selling at over 800 an ounce.)

    • #64
  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Muleskinner:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    It wasn’t my parents’ fault.

    I am so glad to hear that. My 16 year-old son has had some of those experiences over the last ten years, and I hope that my general “hang in there, man up” attitude wasn’t too harmful.

    Whatever autoimmune disease he has seems to be in remission now, and he is starting to taper off the last immune suppressant.

    Wonderful news!

    He was on prednisone almost constantly for eight years, often at a high dose, and it must have been an absolute nightmare for him.

    It wasn’t till this November that I realized how often stopping prednisone treatment had coincided with low points in my life, from childhood on.

    I was only ever prescribed prednisone for acute asthma episodes, so wasn’t cued in to observe how everything else, too, improved on prednisone, then came crashing back when I stopped it.

    He missed a lot of school, and sat through a lot of days when he could barely function at all. I’m sure we pushed him way too hard at times, and not hard enough at other times. But at the end of the day, he will have to find his own way, and I hope we aren’t making it harder than it has to be.

    Just by being aware of what your son was dealing with, I’m sure you’ve made it much less hard than it could have been. My parents tried to find out, but their search was an unlucky one, which of course makes it harder. And certainly, my secretive attitude toward my discomfort was no help to them.

    • #65
  6. Muleskinner Member
    Muleskinner
    @Muleskinner

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:It wasn’t till this November that I realized how often stopping prednisone treatment had coincided with low points in my life, from childhood on.

    Nearly every time he came down from a high dose, it was horrible. He would freak out at school and hide under his desk until my wife could come to coax him out. I thought it was a mixture of just him being immature, and “roid rage” until about three years later I was given prednisone to prevent an allergic reaction to chemotherapy. For days afterward I felt completely out of control, irrational, and angry. Then I marveled that he managed as well as he did.

    Nasty stuff, but I know it saved his life.

    • #66
  7. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Muleskinner:

    I thought it was a mixture of just him being immature, and “roid rage” until about three years later I was given prednisone to prevent an allergic reaction to chemotherapy. For days afterward I felt completely out of control, irrational, and angry. Then I marveled that he managed as well as he did.

    I know, right?

    I used to think it was just “roid rage” and immaturity, too – that my bones felt like they were burning up during prednisone cessation simply because I was so upset. It took me far longer than it should have to realize that feeling like your bones are on fire is kind of upsetting, and not being hero enough to rise above that isn’t as shameful as I once thought.

    • #67
  8. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    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.”

    You should see the old film Sullivan’s Travels. Sullivan is a comedy director who really wants to be taken seriously, only learning the value of his own work when broken by life.

    • #68
  9. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Muleskinner:

    I thought it was a mixture of just him being immature, and “roid rage” until about three years later I was given prednisone to prevent an allergic reaction to chemotherapy. For days afterward I felt completely out of control, irrational, and angry. Then I marveled that he managed as well as he did.

    I know, right?

    I used to think it was just “roid rage” and immaturity, too – that my bones felt like they were burning up during prednisone cessation simply because I was so upset. It took me far longer than it should have to realize that feeling like your bones are on fire is kind of upsetting, and not being hero enough to rise above that isn’t as shameful as I once thought.

    Yup. It’s no fun to go from feeling like you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, to feeling, and in my case looking, like Jabba the Hut. The problem is that nothing else works. Worse, no booze when on prednisone(-:

    • #69
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Mike Rapkoch:

    Worse, no booze when on prednisone (-:

    Always looking on the bright side, I see.

    • #70
  11. Pugshot Inactive
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    Midge – Thank you for sharing this story. I’m sorry that you’ve been fated to struggle with this affliction. But I have to say, you write beautifully. I felt I was reading a compelling novel. By the way, my wife and I have been listening (on Audible, of course) to a book about the Impressionists in the 19th century and, with respect to the question whether the reference to kittens was a euphemism for prostitution, I can say that yes, it is. Manet’s use of a black cat in his painting “Olympia” was supposedly a symbol representing that the subject of the painting was a prostitute.

    • #71
  12. Indaba Member
    Indaba
    @

    this issue of not knowing what is wrong with the body is debilitating just as a start.

    • #72
  13. 6foot2inhighheels Member
    6foot2inhighheels
    @6foot2inhighheels

    In a picture I took of our lovely Midge, you see a calm dignity not often possessed by one so young, and it breaks my heart to know burdens are so unevenly placed among us.

    • #73
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