Splintered

by Carolyn on June 27, 2009

chameleon

chameleon

When two people divorce, they effectively end a union. It’s almost like the end of a book when you get to the last page and there at the bottom lies an offset cursive large print: The End. They no longer have to go to bed with that person, wake up with that person, eat a meal with them, or feign adoration for them. It must feel liberating in a way. To be free of the unwanted connection.

But what if they have children? Suddenly there is a new dynamic. Because for the child it’s not the end. They are still bound to both of these people who are walking away from each other. Stretching. Feeling their heart pull in two entirely different directions. Feeling ripped in two. Two children out of one. The ‘mom child’ and the ‘dad child’.

Children of intact nuclear families display a hint of this. They learn how to behave to get what they want from dad. They learn what mom expects. But in the end they know that mom and dad always compare notes. And for the most part mom and dad are together, so you find a happy medium. The real you.

This isn’t so for the child of divorce. Mom and dad don’t generally compare notes. At least not on more than when you are going to be coming for your next visitation or where the drop off point will be. So with mom you become your ‘mom child’. Children generally want to please their parents and this is especially so for children of divorce. When I was with my mom I tried to be everything I knew she wanted me to be. I did the same when I was with my dad.

When my parents remarried it changed a bit. I became my mom and stepdad’s Carolyn and then my dad and stepmom’s Carolyn. Two people so different that had my parents ever really seen me with the other, they might been surprised by the stark contrast. It became a way of life for me. Nothing out of the ordinary. As essential to my existence as breathing. I got really good at it. I’m still good at it. Too good, actually.

Because now I feel like a chameleon. I can quickly ascertain what is expected in most social settings and act accordingly. I can be deep and intellectual with one person. Gossipy with the next. Then turn around and be light and airy with another. And although we all do this to an extent, I think for most this act is self driven. Meaning that most people become deep because they want to. Or they are light because they feel light at that particular time.

I do it because it’s what I sense you want. I’m no longer simply mom’s Carolyn and dad’s Carolyn. I have assembled a hundred different versions of myself. And I can seamlessly change from one to another at my whim. Or I should say, at your whim. And therein lies the problem. Because by letting you choose who I’m going to be, I never have to think about what I’m feeling.  Or what I want.  Or myself at all.  I give all the essence of me over to you.  And I think I need to take that back.  But that’s another post.

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Two Steps Forward… — The Grown Up Child
March 15, 2010 at 2:28 pm

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Urchin June 28, 2009 at 11:54 am

The masks we each choose to don daily are often so well crafted that everyone else ignores them. That you change depending on the person you’re with is not new in and of itself, it’s how well you do it and how often. Method acting on crack. I have to wonder what would happen (and this is the research part of me) if someone were to place you in a room with four very distinct personality types. Would the real Carolyn shine through, or would you fall over yourself trying to make all four of them happy at once?

I can only answer for myself, and what I discovered I’m not exactly happy with. I’ve been in a ‘pack’ before, and ended up as the weakest of the ‘pups’. I was chased out, bitten, and essentially ‘culled’ from the others. Far more recently than anything with my father.

This was last year.

I have masks too. But nothing, I think, like yours. I envy your ability to blend in, to become what you perceive people to expect. But what happens when they don’t expect anything?

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2 Carolyn June 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm

‘method acting on crack’

I love it. And I think I can answer your query too. If I encounter multiple people with differing views/personalities, I pull on my moderator skin. The focus must always be on them. Never on me. But your last question I don’t have an answer for. I’m not sure what happens when someone doesn’t expect anything of me. I’ll have to ponder that one a while. Good point. Thank you for bringing it up.

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3 Tammy June 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Your writing Carolyn continues to amaze me. I always knew you were talented at a lot of things, but you have truely surprised me. Using both sides of your brain so well is a talent most do not have.
I to have masks, they do not come from a divorce or bad marriage but I have them all the same. I thought with age I would become more of “myself” but old habit die hard when I am around certain people in my life.

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4 Urchin June 28, 2009 at 3:47 pm

I am totally making this a discussion, because it fascinates me. How do you use your masks? With whom? Why?

Most often my masks show up when I’m in a crowd. I’m actually very uncomfortable being around other people, it stems from my immediate distrust of motives. At work, I have a “work face” but I try to let the work face reflect my personal face. I’d much rather be a happy-smiling person than a withdrawn-distrustful one.

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5 Carolyn June 28, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I love this discussion! I’m going to post it on the discussion page as well.

As for me, I use my masks almost all the time. The real Carolyn sneaks out sometimes and it almost always catches me off guard. In a moment I’ll hear myself laugh and realize that it doesn’t sound like my usual laugh. Then I’ll realize that I’m out. Really out. And I never even realized the moment it happened. But it feels so good. Like a breath of fresh air in oxygen starved lungs. I try to hold on to myself. To keep me there. But all too soon the scene changes and I’m gone again.

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6 Carolyn June 28, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Thank you Tammy. And yes, those old habits do die hard. Sometimes I’ll even say to myself over and over ‘just be yourself’ before entering a social scene. And before I know it I’m falling right into my pattern of behavior. It’s like the autopilot kicks on and there’s no wrestling the controls back. Frustrating. I disappoint myself sometimes.

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7 Frank June 29, 2009 at 4:16 pm

I continue to be amazed by this thing you’re doing. The what of it, yes, but also the how. Your writing is captivating.

And again, you and I are so very different. I can play a part, to a degree. I prefer small gatherings – no more than three or four people, really. Beyond that and I’d rather take a quiet stroll through war-torn Beirut. Parties make my skin crawl. And yet every year I go to Dragon*Con and I become That Guy. I stand behind my table and I shill my wares and I shake hands and I kiss babies like I’m trying to get elected. But that’s me, too. But that’s *work* for me.

I’ve had so much trouble in my life because I can’t be anything but what I am. I have absolutely no gift for artifice. None. I think you know this about me. So to think about a life filled with so much transience is… incredible.

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8 Carolyn June 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

And yet do you think there might be some happy medium somewhere? I consider myself to be stoic. Or not in touch with my feelings. One or the other. And I want to change and yet I’m scared to give my emotions too much free reign. I’m tired of being a shell, but I don’t want to be too raw either.

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9 Frank June 29, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Of course there’s a happy medium. Or rather, there’s a “medium,” a “middle ground,” but I don’t think I’d ever be happy there.

I wrote something in a story once that seemed to come from somewhere beyond me; a personal truth.

“Aren’t you afraid?” the one character asked.

“Afraid to be myself?” the other replied. “I would be afraid to be anything else.”

I am myself every day and I am both proud and grateful for that. That being said, I strive every day to be the best version of that self. If that makes any sense.

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