I couldn’t possibly be more unhappy than I am right now.
I’m strapped into a long, metal tube with about one hundred strangers approximately 10,000 meters above sea level, flying back to my hometown in rural Australia. In the next row, three shtick heads are hooting, hollering and rough-housing like it’s a Friday night at the local pub. To top it all off, I’ve carried so much extra emotional baggage onto this flight that I’m surprised I made it past check-in.
Last night, I did something awful to someone I really care about. Something
I deeply regret. And now I’m doomed to spend the next three hours in my
elongated, flying prison reflecting on my selfish actions. I suppose it’s a
relatively light punishment, considering the crime.
My thought cycle of self-hatred is interrupted by one of the obnoxious
morons in the row ahead of me. He shouts to the flight attendant like she’s a waitress and demands that she brings another round of ‘CC and dry’ to him and his pals. The benevolent bringer of beverages makes her way down the aisle in a manner that is polite, yet stern.
“Sir, please refrain from raising your voice on the plane.” Her smile is
also polite, yet stern.
“Also, that’s your third drink in the last 20 minutes.” Smile, smile. “You
have to wait a little while before we bring you another alcoholic beverage.”
The annoying drunks go back to being drunk and annoying. I glance at the
flight attendant and our eyes meet. She smiles again, warmly this time. For a nanosecond I don’t hate myself.
She takes a step towards me, and leans in. Why do all flight attendants
smell like a flower shop in the middle of a small country town? I love that
“Can I get you something to drink?” How nice. Girls never offer to get me a
“No, thanks.” My smile is polite, yet troubled. There is no room for ‘CC and
dry’ when I’m already full of guilt and shame. She nods in acknowledgement and sashays away to serve the next loud idiot or heart broken, sulking loser.
Next to me, an attractive young couple are giggling away like a couple of
kids on the back of a school bus. I turn my head slightly, so that I can see
what all the fuss is about. It seems like one of them has managed to stuff
their jacket pockets with sushi, and the sheer genius and hilarity of their
secret snack idea has them both in hysterics. I’d laugh too, if I didn’t hate
them so much. It’s so unbearably adorable that not even blasting Burn The
Priest through my headphones is enough to blot out the cuteness. It
reminds me of the things me and Freya used to do together, and how they made me feel.
My thoughts inevitably turn back to last night, at Freya’s place. When I
arrived there, I just wanted to talk. But I’d worked my mind up into such a
frenzy, and I was so scared of losing myself in her that I behaved like any
scared animal would – I attacked. I told her that I didn’t want to see her
anymore, because she was needy. I told her that she was slowly smothering me, stripping away the life I had built up since moving to Melbourne six months ago. I told her I don’t want to be her emotional punching bag. Then, I stormed out.
I got exactly what I wanted. She’s gone now, and I have my life back. I’m
So free, and so alone.
Part of me wants to take it all back, to say I’m sorry, and set things
right. But is that because I miss her, or how she made me feel?
Is it just the guilt and shame that makes me want to apologise, or is it
something else? Would I even deserve a second chance, after saying all of those terrible things?
Fuck, this is going to be a long flight.
I decide to fire up an audio book called ‘Silently Seduced: When Parents
Make Their Children Partners’ by Kenneth M. Adams. The book explores how some parents, driven by insecurity and loneliness, use their children as
surrogate partners. It describes the impact this can have on their children’s
emotional development and ability to form healthy, romantic relationships in adulthood.
Yes, perfect. This will take my mind off things.
The book goes on to explain that if one person in a monogamous relationship is emotionally unavailable, the other person will look elsewhere to satisfy their unfulfilled needs. They might start spending more time at work, hoping to find satisfaction by building their career. They may turn to drugs and alcohol, chasing new experiences and cheap thrills. Or they might try to fill the void by maxing out their credit cards with some good old-fashioned retail therapy.
In some cases, however, they will use their children as crutches to keep
their hearts from collapsing.
Sadly, it makes a lot of sense. We’ve all heard stories of parents that seek
validation through their child by forcing them to become what they personally never could. But sometimes, the parents push in another direction. They force a child to become a shoulder to cry on, or an ear for their frustrations. The child becomes the voice of reason when the parent is unstable, and is the one to pick them up when they inevitably break down.
It certainly not the loveless environment that most people think of when
discussing childhood trauma. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s too much
love. The wrong kind of love. And for a child, it’s the only love they know.
It’s hard for a child to neglect the emotional needs of a wounded parent.
They brought you into this world, after all. They raised you, and protected
you. You owe them everything. But after a while, this surrogacy begins to drain you. Love becomes a burden, like a warm blanket on a hot summer day. It’s an overpriced cocktail of guilt, shame and resentment. You learn that to love, is to suffocate.
Each passing chapter of the book peels back a new layer of my childhood.
Each new concept is another piece of the puzzle. Slowly, I’m starting to see
why being close to people scares me so fucking much. Why I become detached, even spiteful, towards those that have shown me nothing but compassion and understanding.
As the cute couple beside me chows down on their jacket sushi, I’m having a
full-blown existential crisis. I pause the audio book, and take a moment to
collect my thoughts. From this crisis, comes a moment of clarity – my return
home has presented me with a rare opportunity. An opportunity to know myself better, and get to the bottom of my mummy issues. An opportunity to see into me.
For the first time today, the guilt begins to subside. As the plane begins
it’s decent, I feel a sense of resolve forming within me. It may be too late to
fix things with Freya, but it’s not too late to change my behaviour and stop
being a shitty human being.
Once we hit the tarmac, I grab my bag from the overhead locker and follow
the Canadian Club clowns as they stumble down the aisle, bouncing off the backs of seats like they’re stuck in a really long, narrow pinball machine.
I step off the plane and take my first real breath in three hours.
Hopefully, my stint in the slammer did me some good. I’ve done my time, and now I’m back on the outside. I’m a free man.
Or, maybe not.
It’s the voice of my mother. Suddenly, the space around me begins to
tighten. She wasn’t supposed to be here.