Erik Quinn: The Heart of a Family: Photographs

Monday, July 10, 2006


I am gradually able to visualize a new facet of my personality these days that I don't like very much. When I look at old photos of strangers or relatives I never knew, there is sometimes a distinctly weathered, jagged hardness in some of their faces. When I was younger, this was quite fascinating to me. While these faces said so much, it remained a mystery why those people sometimes didn't smile and what their stories were. Interestingly, these individuals of all ages were captured in different settings and decades: In front of a picket fence with a spouse in their shiny Sunday best, nestled in a neat row of fellow classmates, proudly holding dead game up by spiky antlers, tearing open Christmas presents with laughing siblings, or lounging in a back yard with a gigantic Midwestern family. Lately I have seen that identical hardness in my own face in our own photos, even behind my smile. I was absolutely horrified the first time I saw it about a year ago, but its presence was undeniable. There seemed to be a ghost in the photo, and I have seen it many times since. Even worse, I realize it has begun to permeate who I am. When I go back over the words I have spoken at the end of the day, I am mortified when I remember how negative and bitter I have been on some days. I have had a lot of experiences in my lifetime so far, and the dark, bubbling energy from them seems to pool in me, no matter how hard I try to find a way to drain it away and not feel it anymore. Believe me, I have tried. A lot of days I feel poisoned by it. It is on those days that I tend to joke around more. When I am feeling anything, good or bad, I tend to turn to humor. For example, I was lying on the operating room table having Erik emergently extracted from me almost two years ago making Seinfeld references (I called the giant, blood-sucking hose "Mr. Thirsty") when the nurse standing above me suddenly snapped at me and told me I needed to "get serious." What she didn't see is how deadly serious I was -- how terrified I was that my distressed baby had passed away or how helpless I felt being practically forcibly strapped down to a table and paralyzed with my insides laid open for all to see. There was nothing I could do but lie there motionless and trust that Erik was in good hands, so I am not sure what she expected me to do. I was also slipping into shock physically, which didn't help me behave any more appropriately. There was nothing humorous about the situation at all. Laughing is my best defense mechanism, and a lot of people probably think I'm crackers, as I could be on fire and still emit one-liners one after the other. Pain mixed with humor sometimes ends up sounding hard and cruel when it isn't meant to be. I am painfully aware that I'm a little damaged and have been for a long time. There are simply days I don't do as well as I had hoped I would. I was under the impression that I was covering up my pain with this defense mechanism; but now that I see my face in photos and listen to myself, I can see it isn't working at all like I had hoped. I look and sound exhausted, scared, and hard. I suppose some might say I need to run to the nearest head shrink or sign up for anger management classes before I start keying random cars in parking lots, shooting fluffy animals from my porch for sport, or loosening the tops of salt shakers all over town, but counselors have never done much more than make me worse. My first experience with a counselor was in high school after a friend of mine was killed in a horrible car accident. Her heart was in the right place, but I don't know how much she actually did in terms of helping me. In college, simple grief had been replaced by rage and the desire to destroy myself as quickly as possible, and counselors only gave me pills that made me vomit or feel like a brainless zombie. At age 18, I ended up being placed in group therapy with some older professional crazies, including fecophiliacs and the type of people who proudly collected 20 years of snack food wrappers, which didn't do much but make me realize my psychiatrist thought I was truly crazy. Now that I'm an adult, most counselors simply seem ridiculous to me with their soft voices, intense stares, colored light therapies, special diets, and bookshelves housing presumptuous texts by Jung and Rorschach pressed obscenely up against paperbacks by Dr. Phil McGraw. Don't get me wrong -- I have gleaned some useful information from these well-meaning professionals, but for the most part, I feel they have been a colossal waste of my time. As you can see from my writings, the last thing I need is to learn how to better analyze myself or become any more introspective. I know myself pretty damn well at this point and simply wish I could turn my brain off sometimes. It's not possible for me. I know perfectly well why I do what I do. My own theory is that if a person thinks he's crazy, he's probably fine. It's the people who think they're fine that frighten me. Ironically, in junior high I was voted "Most Likely to Become a Counselor."

It is too late to do much about the haunting apparition in my photographs at this point, no matter how funny I try to be, as the last cruel wound has pushed me firmly into a world where there is very little innocence left. I accept that. I can only do the best I can, and each day there is a very fresh, innocent face smiling up at me from a crib that makes me want to try even harder to be a better mother, wife, friend, daughter, and human being. I am surviving through what I thought I could not bear four months ago. Years from now when we are only dust and memories and our photo albums are opened, I only hope that the people surrounding me in those pictures knew how very much I loved them and how grateful I was that they dared to love me for who I was. That's no joke.


Blogger Lisa R said...

Awe Nance...I know I do not know you so well but from what I can tell you are a great Friend a terrific Mother and a fabulous Wife.
I think we all wish we could turn the brain off sometimes it happens. When you are gone you are going to be remembered as the wonderful ray of sunlight that you are. Hang in there.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Kati said...

Nancy, you always make me cry... Your feelings and thoughts are just like mine :)))))))))

4:50 AM  

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