This article made my skin crawl. It’s called Childhood Guilt, Adult Depression?, and explores the idea that if you experience extreme childhood guilt between the ages of four and 12, it is often correlated with a host of adult psychiatric illnesses. I was not the healthiest of children when Diane met me in 1990, having just been through a total and complete disaster of a house fire six months earlier.
Guilt because I was the only one home for what seemed like several hours before anyone knew that the house was burning but me. The fire trucks arrived before my mom and dad, and my mother nearly had a heart attack right on the street until she saw me coming from a neighbor’s.
Guilt that it was five days before Christmas, and I hadn’t done enough to save anything. They ask in Scruples what you’d grab if your house was burning? In my case, nothing. Not one fucking thing. I let it all burn and didn’t stick around to watch jack shit. I just ran. In Scruples, what they fail to include is the moment of horror when you SMELL the fire coming toward you and think you’re about to be in it. If you are reasonable enough in that instance to remember to grab your crap, congratulations. You are obviously a better person than I was.
So, six months after one of the worst days of my life, I had the best one.
Guilt about my faith and how I wanted to hide myself from it for thinking that girls couldn’t marry girls.
Guilt about giving myself away to someone before either of us was ready for it.
Guilt that I couldn’t pull away on my own even though I was in love to a degree that angels would have written about it with someone my own age. I didn’t find out until I was an adult that I should have tried harder, because she loved me, too. She flirted with me once and it emotionally bombed me into oblivion, because I realized how much I’d given away just to feel guilty and shameful, unable to walk out of my ruminations and into the present.
The flirting was not “I want to take you to Phase II.” We’re both old, married, settled, complete in our own lives. Hearing that she would have had fun with me in the science lab fed my ego mightily, but that didn’t mean it didn’t make my throat close and my eyes well up with tears at all that had been lost to history. I haven’t talked to her, I don’t know if she reads me, but I hope that when her inner middle schooler reads this, she hears me loud and clear. I ran away at a time when I needed you more, not less. I should have reached out and let you know what I was feeling so that you could make a choice whether you wanted to cross that line with me or not. But I didn’t. I cut you off at the pass because I thought you’d reject me anyway. I was used to it by then…………. But it’s true. At that time in my life, I loved you like I loved air. To say that you were the one that got away is an understatement of gigantic proportions. I just couldn’t actually say those words out loud, and you will live in my storybook forever. Remember when I thought your dad had taught me how to make hash browns so I went home and tried to make them for my parents? Your dad didn’t tell me the part about microwaving the potatoes before you put them in the skillet and they were raw on the inside and black on the outside. Remember when we used to sit next to each other on the piano while you would play studiously and I would just mess around AS IF we could play four-handed duets?
How did I not know? When I think back on it, I did. If something had happened, I know the moment it should’ve. We were talking about going up to NE Texas and taking you with us; I don’t remember why, but it had to do with a doctor I was going to see up there. You said that you just wanted to hold me or let me put my head in your lap. That was the moment I broke my own heart, because I didn’t know for sure what your reaction would be, and I ran away in shame. You told me plainly how much you loved me, and I want you to know that I heard you. We cannot go back, but it gives me peace to know that if I’d asked, you would have at least thought about your answer.
It was just so much easier to live in darkness.
Guilt that obviously unconditional love didn’t work with Diane, because even as a kid, I knew that she was saying one thing but meant another. For instance, she told me that her life was an open book and that I could tell anyone anything I wanted, while at the same time insinuating that if I told anyone anything at any time, then she would pack up her toys and go home. Loving her was all about appeasement because what I wanted most in the world was to keep her happy so that she would open up to me. If she was mad, she would just shut down completely and it would be a struggle to get her to hear me, even as a teenager. My words were large, even then, because I found that she wouldn’t hear me if I didn’t speak up. I promise you, I was the fucking Neville Chamberlain of children.
She taught me how to treat her, which turned me into the type of kid that walked on a not-quite-frozen pond, never knowing if or when I’d fall through.
I stopped falling when I filled the hole she left in me with love for myself and my own abilities, rather than just the support person for hers. There is just still so much guilt because I thought that one day, I’d win. And by that, I mean I thought that things would be peaceful and hope for a better relationship would win out over the way we treat each other now, which is complete radio silence and it seems to be better for both of us all around. I am not sure that I would ever want contact with her again, because I know within myself that I could not stop her from stealing me again. We would lapse into old patterns like Laurel and Hardy. I don’t even want to try and clean up that hot mess anymore. We are done because I am done with thinking about it. It took everything I had for so long that I literally feel exhausted.
As if something was stolen from me, even if only by remote control………… and yet, I still feel guilty.