Abiding Question

Dear Karen,

Your latest letter broke my heart. I could so relate. My mother was in a nursing home too, for eight years, while I was in my thirties. No one that I knew at the time was dealing with what I was dealing with. Nearly everyone I know now is dealing with some version of aging parents, and it’s hard. It’s damn hard.

I did not deal with it very well. I have the excuse of having been young. But I’m not sure I’d deal so well with it now either. Back then, I couldn’t make myself go see my mother as often as I should have. I couldn’t help but resent her fixation on her sons, who were not there, her dismissal of her daughters who were there. Because we were supposed to be there. The implication being, what else did we have to do that could possibly be important?

Recently I’ve rediscovered a friendship with a woman I knew from my way-back bartending days. She’s a writer now, and over the last month we’ve had a few super-long phone calls. This connection has become a bit of a life-line to me. A voice on the other end of that old fashioned thing called a telephone. For three hours. This is not a sound-bite friendship. When we schedule these calls, neither of us has to rush off and do anything. We make sure of that.

During our last conversation she told me something that I have been thinking about ever since. She said that a friend of hers once said that each of us has one “abiding question” that we are always trying to answer. The question occurs and reoccurs throughout our lives, especially in times of conflict or something big and emotional. She told me hers, and I immediately knew mine. It floated into my head with no need for thought from me. “Am I good?” I have been asking myself this question all my life.

By good, I don’t mean a good writer or even a good person. I mean am I a “good girl?” This is a whole other thing from simply being good. More loaded. An impossible thing to be, and something installed in my by my mother, and the culture I grew up in. I was supposed to always be a “good girl.” I was supposed to behave, never question authority, get married, not think, be taken care of, and have babies. I had other ideas, and thank God the sixties came along to show me alternatives and possibilities. It hasn’t always been easy, but what is easy anyway? Still, I hate that I have not grown beyond the installation of this question. And I doubt that I ever will. But perhaps the point is to always find new answers to it, new reassurances, new self-esteem.

Sometimes in my role as a teacher I cause pain. I don’t want to. And I’m certainly not an insensitive person. But when it happens, I go to this abiding question. Am I a good girl?

This recently happened. I had to say something that I knew could cause pain. But my only other choice was to do something that I honestly was not equipped to do. I had to advocate for myself. Advocating for myself is a skill self-learned. Advocating for myself does not fall into the category of “good girl.”

I am so grateful for each layer of awareness that comes with age and time and friendship and writing. Grateful for you and who you are, and even how you became who you are. Being human is not an easy journey. My advice still stands. Take care of yourself. Like writing, learning how is an ongoing process. And I will do the same.

I’ll close with a poem. I wrote it in high school. I kind of love it. Even though I have a hard time following its sentiment, not beating myself up for failing to be a “good girl” I still stand by it. It goes like this:

“Could’ve and should’ve
Are words we don’t use.
They only depress us
And give us the blues.”

Love – Nancy

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One Response to Abiding Question

  1. Carlyle says:

    Nancy, I love this. I might have said this before, but I did a series of monotypes, I bet it’s been 20 years ago now, called “Good Girl.” There were female figures with heads, hands, and feet cut off.

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