In a house where you are the youngest of six children, it is not unusual to feel invisible at times.
And when the older siblings always seem to have some drama for your parents to attend to, you learn to become a keen observer and an unwilling empath. I can still feel the energy in a room within seconds, even if I can’t identify its cause.
At nine years old—old enough really, to know better—I am playing a game with my parents. It’s rather a mean one, because I’ve not let them know it’s a game. And I’ve scared the living daylights out of them, which was precisely my intent.
At this young age, when your father removes the flowering tree outside your bedroom window—the bit of beauty you say “Good Morning” to each day before school–it’s natural to be sad, especially if you’re an empath.
And when he tells you it really wasn’t your tree anyway, but your sister’s—well let’s just say you move beyond sadness to being fighting mad. You distinctly remember him telling you it was planted in honor of you being born. In a house where very little isn’t community property, you held tight to this rare sentimental gesture—this gift—this tree.
And now it’s gone. And wasn’t even yours to begin with, apparently. Which kicks off a torrent of feelings and memories in your little 70-pound body.
You remember being forgotten on a beach—by your entire family—at a very young age. You remember the first time you sensed your mother had plenty of time for her job and little for you. You remember them letting go the babysitter you loved because you were a “big girl” and didn’t need her anymore—at age five. And you come home to an empty house most days, years later, still wishing she was there.
So if the game you are playing with your parents is less than nice, you feel perfectly justified. You are testing their love. As you hide in a place you know they’ll never find, they call your name. It’s time to go somewhere and they want you in the car. You don’t respond. The calls become louder, more frequent. They check the outside of the house, the basement. But they don’t see you. You make sure of that.
You listen for concern. You listen for words indicating they love you, words of worry. You finally hear the fear as they talk of getting in the car to search the neighborhood. And then, silence as they move quickly through the house.
It is the prolonged silence that finally prompts you to make an appearance. You can feel the frantic nature of this silence—and it is enough to reassure you that they would miss their invisible sixth child.
The reunion scene is a bit less than you’d hoped for. No histrionics. Just relief on their faces. And a stern, “Where were you?”
I was too young to realize karma is a bitch, but I feel its boomerang decades letter when my eldest son—only slightly younger than I was when I pulled this stunt—stages his own disappearing act in a department store. As I realized the terror my parents must have felt, I sent them a silent apology through the ether.
Out of that ether, years later, a man materialized—one that made me want to hide again. New to dating, post-divorce, it soon became clear this man was far more insecure than I realized at the start of the relationship. But, what I lacked in post-divorce dating prowess, I made up for in self-knowledge.
The more insecure he became about how I felt about him, the more he demanded my love. Except, I don’t give love on demand. I am not a trained seal. He failed to notice this, too wrapped in his own dysfunction.
The more he demanded, the cooler I became, the less available I was. Instead of welcoming his calls and texts, I avoided them. I looked for ways to be in groups with him, rather than alone.
He was doing to me what I had done to my parents—testing love. What he did not know was that I had learned to become a master escape artist years ago. That even at the age of nine, if I did not want to be seen or found, I wouldn’t be.
He never did find me again—not the me he thought he had known. He kept looking for the woman that had shown up earlier in our relationship, but she was hiding.
Had he been able to fall silent, to be with his feelings as my parents had, I might have felt the need to reappear in our relationship. Instead, his obsession with pulling the puppet strings made me want to flee; it lost him the very thing he wanted. I could never provide enough love to fill the void inside him.
I see the irony: I disappeared to test my parents’ love and did so again when someone tested mine. But children can be forgiven their primitive emotional tools. I find it harder to do so with adults.
Perhaps you have been lucky enough not to perfect your disappearing act. But do not judge me for mine. That says less about my character than it does about your life experience. Every road contains curves around which we cannot see.
Perhaps yours are still ahead.
38 Comments Add yours
One of the things I love about you, Kristine, is your ability to extract pearls from difficult experiences, a life skill that, alas, many people lack. Your wisdom is hard-won, and it shimmers so. xx
Oh, you’re kind. Thank you😘
I’ve read a lot of things from a lot of people on here over the last few years but you are a true artist. Most talented people can create images with brushstrokes, cameras or words but the true artist takes the talents they possess, wraps them around their heart and allows us to see a beautifully crafted image or story. And then there is you, who does both. This is a terrific piece of writing, Kay. I don’t think you know how good you really are, but it might be time for you to find out. Thanks for the gift.
George— that is just about the sweetest thing I think anyone has written to me on this blog. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You sent that in a week when I really needed it and I will take the shot in the arm :-). I so appreciate you reading and sharing my blogs. And it’s been nice to get to know you in the ether :-).
Such true insights, K. Thanks for sharing.
And thanks, as always, for reading Cynthia!
I love the way you write–the stories always tied to a larger purpose and meaning. My own son never did that to me–I think if he had, I would have been hysterical. Then again, I had a panic attack the first time he went to the corner store by himself–I think sometimes I’m a little too “present” instead of being able to disappear:-)
Oh, the first time they had anywhere by themselves, I don’t know how any of us keep it together :-). At least as mothers. I totally get it!
Empathic notions often go over the head of most, but you’ve captured it succinctly, although I am the middle of my brood, I too cut my teeth in the void that I sometimes found myself in.
As always, I love your work, but alas…
Love is a grave understatement.
Thank you! That’s high praise coming from you and very kind. The middle of the brood usually means peacemaker. Not such a bad role :-). But somehow, I don’t see you that way. You like to see things as they are and head on. Am I right?
I like to see things as they are yes, but often when the reality comes into conflict with what I’d like to be the preferred scenario, I often thrash in the waves of the emotions that come. It is easier to tell sweet lies to ourselves than it is to drink the pungent swill of what is.
My role in my collective is peacemaker, by virtue of words – which is often a lonely place.
Pardon the cliche, but you may have dodged a bullet with that one, Kristine. Too much neediness is such a turnoff.
Cliche away! I use them all the time:). And that’s an apt one. You’re so right . . . at the time, it was difficult but in hindsight, I’m so glad I got to see who he was.
Better luck with the next one. 😘
Neediness in an adult, looking to be in a relationship, would be one of the most unattractive traits I could imagine. I’m so glad you had the skills to remove yourself from his clutches. Many others would not have been aware of his tactics.
I guess we all have work to do on ourselves but as Gwyneth Paltrow says her father used to say: “We are not in the fixer-upper business.” At least not while dating :-).
Indeed, it took me many years to stop believing it was my job to keep my other half happy. Once I came to that understanding I was able to believe more in myself and not take all the problems of daily life onto my shoulders.
For sure. Hold that line.
Brilliant dance of the push me pull you of love and relationships. After all the evolving you’ve done, this man is too insecure and needy for you. As you mentioned, if he’d been able to loosen the reins and let you come back, it would have demonstrated his self assurance. Your instincts may have been born of the past, but they’re not wrong. As I read about your story of hiding, it felt like something I’ve done too. Wanting to be seen, recognized, validated.
Thank you for the words of validation:). Much appreciated. And yes–I’ve knocked my head against the wall evolving! Many times. No need to go backwards. I think wanting to be seen is such a basic human need, right? But there’s a line we cross and then it becomes an unhealthy one.
It is a triumph to know yourself so well, Kay.
I guess it’s a blessing. But hard-earned!
Just read an essay by a psychologist about coping with toxic people. He called one technique, “letting it die on the vine” (gradual withdrawal of time and attention offered to a difficult person). I’ve done that when I know that nothing will improve a relationship and everything said and done will eventually be used against me. Good job making your escape.
I’m curious–how many let you do that without pushing back? Do they realize it’s happening?
So well done, so well spun, so well put together, this one!
And … I join the chorus of congratulating you for the depth of self-awareness and other-perception. It is not a simple thing, to look back into the tapestry of one’s own cloth and find the similarities (comfortable and less so) to the weave of others.
And … I hope your son does not do a disappearing act again. What a fright!
Thank you for the kind words! I wish clarity would make a more regular appearance as I look back on my own tapestry:). But, I take it when it comes.
🙂 Tis all any of us can do, given that our perspective is most often one-thread-at-a-time … 🙂
I liked this a lot. The writing style (I’m no expert on style, but this seemed very good) just kept pulling me in for the full ride. I went from laughter (me, the youngest of 7 but spoiled rotten) to concern to relief (that you left him in the dust). Why isn’t this a movie script? Nice job and I hope you’re doing great!😉
Oh, you made my writer’s heart sing this morning😊. Pulling you in for the full ride is my job. Glad to know it worked! Thank you for reading and for commenting. Us youngest, spoiled rotten kids need to stick together :-).
🙂Lovely posting I do enjoy reading your blog.
Thank you! And I appreciate you reading and commenting. I love that this is a place in the ether where people share.
Like Dale, I am endlessly impressed by your insight, and ability to communicate it so succinctly and with such humour and candour.
Thank you 🙏🏻! One of the nicest things you can say to a writer. I’ll take it on a Monday morning!
I dunno that as adults we can accept that “prove your love to me” by responding to endless neediness. I feel exactly the same. The more you push, the more I back away. I have no respect for one who doesn’t have self-confidence. Actually, it is a huge turn-off to me.
I love how you have put together the child playing the escape artist and the woman doing the same. I wish I had insight like that 🙂
I’m not surprised that you and I are alike this way. And I think there are a lot of people out there who share this view. No amount of love could ever have satisfied this man because he always felt he wasn’t enough. And thank you for your kind words on the insight :-). You have it in spades, sister! I’ve seen it in your writing.
And you know what I dislike most about those men who feel they are not enough? It brings on a feeling of “I’m better than” which is not who I am at all.
Yeah well, you express it so well 😉
I always read your posts like I would a favorite book. I love them until the last page. You capture us with your stories because we have shared these feelings and pain in our own life,and can all understand why life doesn’t always end with the handsome prince arriving on a horse. I’m doing some amazing work healing the family tree within my own family and my clients, and would love to help you understand that more deeply if you are keen. No pressure at all. But if you would like to know more. Contact me
Very kind words—thank you, Karen!