Friday, December 10, 2021

The Outsider

 “I told my Mom I wasn’t coming come for Christmas,” Doug says, adopting a calm, matter-of-fact tone. “It didn’t go over well. She kept telling me I couldn’t split the family over politics, that family was more important. And I kept telling her nothing was more important than what’s happening to our country and, besides, as she might have noticed at Thanksgiving, our family was already split. Then she told me she didn’t know how I got so brainwashed, that I was brought up in a good, solid Republican family and how did I end up being so liberal. Unlike my brother’s reaction, she didn’t call me crazy or a Communist, so at least she hasn’t painted me as evil incarnate.”

“So how do you feel, Doug? How do you feel not going home for Christmas? How do you feel being the odd person out in your family?”

“Hmm. I didn’t think I was feeling much about it, but when you just asked, I don’t know, I guess it made me feel sad, like maybe even lonely. I mean my girlfriend and most of my friends think like I do, but still, my family is my family. I wouldn’t want to lose them. That’s really why I came to see you to begin with, feeling separate, apart, isolated even when I’m with a bunch of people.”

“Yes, you said you didn’t know why you should feel so alienated, when so many people obviously cared about you.”

“Yeah.” Pause. “But maybe I never felt really cared about in my own family.” Pause. “I mean, I was always different. My family is really into sports, group games, tossing around a football. That’s never been me. I was always the stereotypical shy kid who had my head in a book or, which I loved most of all, drawing, painting, looking to see how I could capture the essence of the world on a piece of paper.”

“No wonder you’re an artist,” I say, smiling.

“Well, I’m trying. But meanwhile I’m sort of making a living giving art lessons.” Pause. “My father keeps trying to talk me into being a financial planner like him, going into his firm, but that’s absolutely the last thing I want to do. I can’t imagine staring at numbers all day and trying to make more and more money. There’s so much more beauty in life.” Pause. “But that’s the problem, I’m different, always have been.”

“I guess my question is, why is being different a problem? Are you saying that in your family being different was automatically seen as bad?”

“Defective. I think that’s the word. There was something wrong with me. There was something wrong that I’d want to try to draw a perfect rose, to get the color absolutely right, rather than screaming at a football game. My Dad used to call me a sissy. I think he worried I’d turn out gay. That would have been a nightmare, gay in my family! When I was younger, I worried about it a bit too, but once I hit adolescence there was no question I was into girls. It was a relief actually. And I never had problems with girls. Girls liked me. Probably because I was sensitive and cared about them. And all that helped. But it still didn’t take away the feeling of being different.”

“Feeling different and feeling defective aren’t the same.”

“That’s true. I guess sometimes I feel one and sometimes the other. But the defective feeling doesn’t go away.”

“What about your mother? How did she see you?”

“Hmm. This might sound strange, but I guess kind of neutrally. I mean I know my mother loves me, and she never saw me as negatively as my Dad, but I don’t know. I think I was just sort of there for her and she knew she had to take care of me and she did what she had to do.” Pause. “This is a little embarrassing, but you know earlier when you smiled at me and said, ‘no wonder you’re an artist,’?”

I nod.

“Well, that’s not a response I ever would have gotten from my Mom. It’s like you were pleased with me, validating me. I never felt that in my family.”

“That’s really sad, Doug,” I say, feeling both his sadness and my own. “Thank you for telling me.”

Tears fill his eyes. “There you go again, giving me something I would never have received in my family.”

I smile. “It sounds as though you’re going to be able to take in my validating words and, as you do, I suspect you’ll come to feel less defective and less lonely.”


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