I walk with Cy to Market and Leary. She holds my phone as she follows the Geocaching app to our destination - Mural at Bergen Place. I realize that she has seen this mural before so the payoff of finding it won’t be as exciting. When we arrive there will not be a search through shrubs, an overturning of rocks, deciphering a hint.
She wants to go to another cache. The nearest one is .9 miles away near the ship canal next to Fred Meyers. I know her so well in many ways, yet this 8-year old girl is also a mystery.
In the last 2 years, I watched my mother deteriorate to a shell of herself finally passing last year in hospice a few days before Thanksgiving. Since then, I tolerate the grief, but have not yet processed her loss.
Cy and my two other children have experienced a half-hearted father preoccupied (denial) with losing his mother. I hear her voice calling my name like a beloved song. Aural neurons firing wish-fulfillment.
We walk along Leary to our next destination. Cy is completely herself. I am self-conscious as a father, modeled by my own father who left early in the morning and returned in the evening exhausted by a full day of work and 2.5 hours of commuting on a the Long Island Railroad. He didn’t have the energy or the modeling himself to engage me or my sister. He tried on the weekends and during his corporate allotted vacation time, but my mom was the emotional ballast who put in long hours. Like anything with meaning, it takes time.
These days my father tries his best to ask for time, but I am busy with my own family. The guilt hangs around like a fart.
It’s in my court. Double fault.
I spoke to a friend recently who expressed that most people of our generation were raised by parents with limited emotional awareness. Culturally, mental health was not talked about. Silence created households where addiction, abuse, trauma and mental illness festered. Gender roles were binary and oppressive. Language enforced rules and social conformity.
These are generalizations, yet, as a social worker, I feel like my childhood left lots of emotional gaps where parental and societal awareness could have helped. I often went it alone.
Granted, my inclination was not to share feelings, but maybe I didn’t express my feelings because I didn’t think that I could.
I don’t blame my parents today. It’s part of who I am. They did raise me to be creative, curious and kind. I am aware that I was not always aware. Did I shut down my feelings to protect myself?
Several years ago, I sat in a therapist’s office in a rural town in upstate New York. It was just after a depressive episode. I was anxious, obsessed with losing weight. Years earlier, a therapist thought my weight loss was associate with my sense of self. Losing weight meant I was disappearing.
Was I losing weight because I was disappearing or was I disappearing because I was losing weight? I realized that I needed to say what hurt me. I needed to listen to my own words about myself.
Since my teens, I’ve always straddled the tectonic shifts of my identity. “Who am I?” is always the central question. I acutely felt the “otherness” in my twoness. I learned that I needed to be hyper-vigilante about how I was perceived in different social settings from one day to the next. It was self-preservation to be half myself depending on the audience in front of me.
We follow the coordinates to a dock near Fred Meyers. A person sleeps in a wool wrap covered in leaves. The hint on the geocaching app says “A plant like no other.” We search for about twenty minutes. I make sure Cy does not touch used hypodermic needles in the wood chips of an underused community beautification project.
I notice a plastic plant (Fred Meyer?) sticking upside out of the bottom of a fence pole. A plant like no other? I yell to Cy and she runs over excitedly. We pull the plant out which is attached to a plastic pillbox and a lever system with a rusty hook at the other end. When I pull the plant down the rusty hook goes up.
In the pillbox is a plastic bag emblazoned with a cartoon character and the confident words “I got game.” Inside the plastic bag is a piece of paper with the signatures of previous geocachers. We are number 5.
Cy’s wonder is precious and I see myself in her. After miles of walking, Cy is hungry. We eat lunch at the Jolly Roger Taproom a few blocks away. She orders a cheeseburger slider and fries. I order three oyster sliders and a pint. We are so hungry, we eat in silence.