Monday, September 28, 2009

The illusion of control

Two recent situations helped me identify one of the vehicles I used to drive my life forward since Ron's death: the illusion of control.

What I was driving away from was the polar opposite of control. Suicide, like any other murder, is chaos. No matter how heavily foreshadowed: that full day standoff with a heavy police presence might have been a clue, right? No matter how many hours, waiting, waiting for word, fully realizing the only possible outcomes for Ron would be self-destruction or imprisonment. Still thinking: This. Can't. Be. Happening.

Then word came.

By then it had already occurred, that horrific moment in which all choice and all plans and all determination and all hope were ripped from my grasp. The violence was already over but its echo would live on.

The choices I made in response to Ron's actions were the control I had. Until recently I hadn't realized how reliant I'd become upon my need to make them.

But my choices were good enough, because as you may have read in the last post, we made it. Over the past twelve years, on this farm Ron and I lovingly renovated, on this farm where Ron killed himself, I raised my two sons to adulthood. I am now selling the farm and wrapping up this chapter of my life.

All that was fine and good until someone else grabbed the wheel.

Incident 1: The oil burner man
To ready the house for sale I made an early appointment to have our oil burner serviced for the heating season. When I heard the gravel popping out in the driveway I went out to meet the truck and let them know they should come in the office door. But the van had already turned around at the top of the driveway and come back to me.

"So you've been here before," I said. I didn't recognize the technician; in recent years someone else had been coming.

"Oh yeah, I've been here before," he said, looking around. Then he looked right at me. "Didn't you have a big suicide standoff here a while back? With all sorts of police cars showing up?"

His unexpected words hit me with the force of a shotgun blast. The twelve intervening years dissolved. I stammered as I searched for a response.

From the beginning I have been able to talk with some sense of detachment about the events of that day. But it was only in that moment I realized that I had initiated those conversations. Always. Luckily for me, few people, as much as they might be burning to know, actually walk up to you and say "So what's it like when your husband offs himself?"

His questions felt like an assault because the control was his, not mine. As I sputtered for response his reason for bringing it up became clearer: his brother, too, was involved with a suicide standoff around the same time. It, too, was covered in the local papers. Turns out he had serviced our heater for some 25 years; had even met Ron. He would soon retire, and we would soon leave the house. This was his last chance to connect, however clumsy the approach.

Incident 2: Marty leaves home
My younger son has not taken to campus life at Drexel. He has often returned home on weekends to see his friends here, and lives at home for the six months per year he is on co-op.

Now, with a move to Doylestown wavering on the horizon for us and a new co-op beginning for him, I don't know how much longer I can offer him a place to stay in this geographic area. I told him she should start exploring options. Then assumed he would deal with it when push came to shove.

Two weeks ago, while I was away at my writing retreat for women, Marty stayed at a friend's house while Dave handled a bunch of house showings. When I returned from the retreat, Marty was just returning home as well. He gave me a hug and I settled in for a nice catch-up chat. He began.

"Doug and Brad said I might as well just move in with them," he said. "So I guess I'll just grab some stuff and go."

And he left the room to pack. My first thought: Not yet!

I wasn't ready. Of course it was time for him to make this move. He's twenty. Plus I had told him to make it. But push hadn't yet come to shove. Meaning, of course, that I had not yet done the shoving.

As proud as I am of him for growing up to be the kind of responsible young man who would take this proactive step, I did not respond well to losing my illusion of control over the situation. After he left I curled up in a ball on the couch and cried for all of the illusions I had lost in this home.

"Surrender" is still a tough concept for me. But I'll keep working on it. Because for each unexpected twist life has been good enough to substitute something even greater than the thing I was hoping to cling to. Lost Ron, gained Dave. Marty freed me to pursue the next chapter of my life without undue worry over him. Even the oil burner man came bearing gifts: I could survive the intrusion of unbidden memory.

For Marty and the oil burner man: I wish for you the same grace as you face whatever twists occur in the next chapter of your lives.

About the photo: this is Dave's grandson Liam, born well after the mayhem in my side of the family. But that look! His innocence already fading: "I want to take the wheel, but will I get away with it?" All I can say is, it's a good thing we can't see too far down the road, or we'd never drive anywhere. Only innocence gives us the courage to begin anything. But it is surrender, ultimately, that helps us stay the course.


Anonymous said...

To a far lesser extent than you, I experience the same reaction when people I've just met at my daughters' school suddenly say "Oh, you're the English guy with the autistic girls, right?"

I know they don't mean any harm, but, like you, I need time to brace myself before I can talk about things like that.

On a lighter note. Dave's grandson has a face full of mischief. The sort that looks like its owner's up to something, ebeven when he's not :)

Jon Gibbs
(I tried to use OpenID, but kept getting an error message)

Kathryn Craft said...

Jon: It's clear you know what I'm talking about. Now I can be glad that at least I'm not English.

It's weird--after writing this post "the illusion of control" became the theme of the day, in just about every conversation. I think we all count on it.

Thanks for your comment.

Lisa Tomarelli said...

Thank you for sharing. Made me cry. Made me think.

You are a survivor--always. None of us want the role of survivor; it implies unanticipated challenge. You probably don't want this title either, but you wear it well, and inspire me with it, too. I love that about you.