Making A Connection Through Friendships

In the last chapter, I described my initial experiences upon arrival at a major university in the south, having left a rural area where I had grown up.  Again, I grew up in a town called Southington Connecticut, and moved to Atlanta Georgia for undergraduate studies in Engineering.  This would be the greatest challenge I had ever faced in part because academically, the undergraduate program at Georgia Tech was extremely challenging.  They put a great deal of effort into teaching you how to think.  

Thinking is an activity that one might compare to exercising your body.  The effort itself is the exercise and has a value in itself.  In other words, it's not just about what you learn but the process of learning is an activity that requires effort.  That effort makes you stronger.

Anyway, as noted elsewhere, what I learned at Georgia Tech or while living in Atlanta, Georgia was not just academic in nature.  I didn't just learn academic topics or even those skills that might be useful for an Engineer, e.g. a Computer Engineer who would design and develop electronic and computing solutions.  I learned skills and insights of a social nature.  For example, I did get my first exposure to Psychology and the insights that it offers into the psyche and the insights it offers into how to be a better parent or to improve life overall.  

I had dreamed of becoming a parent.  I loved kids and so being a parent seemed like the most rewarding role that one could ever have in life.  As I learned about psychology, I had this epiphany.  These ideas would be extremely useful for me when I become a parent.  I was filled with a certain passion to someday put these insights into practice as a parent.  I marveled at the possibilities for bringing joy into the life of a child someday.  I marveled at how the things I was learning would be so valuable to know and use as a parent.

Of course, I also gained an insight into some dark and disturbing truths about my previous life.  I had never thought too much about whether or not I "respected" my parents.  It didn't take long for me to realize that I definitely had never respected my mother or father for a single nanosecond.  A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.  Over a billion nanoseconds will pass in the time it takes me to type a single word.  I had feared my parents but I had not respected them.  Ever!  

I was ashamed, as well, at the ways in which I had acted when using my parents as models for how to be a big brother.  Let me explain.  As a teenager, my paternal grandmother once told me I should be like a parent figure to my sister.  That was an innocent enough and reasonable suggestion.  I might have the wisdom to impart.  I did care for my sister and wanted her to be safe and I loved her.  The problem is that being a parent figure requires a certain amount of respect and she should do what I say or need her to do when I am "in charge."  

Respect had been tied to fear in our household.  I grew up in a violent household where we were routinely assaulted physically.  Abuse and neglect were common and obvious aspects of our lives as well.  That abuse was physical, psychological, and emotional.  

I am ashamed to admit that I was tempted to use physical force at times to get my sister Carrie to respect or obey me.  I always stopped myself though.  That does say something since a child, a teenager under the age of 18 or so has a limited ability to control his or her impulses.  So, catching myself before I completed a certain action that might hurt my sister was an unusual capacity in our household.  

I had known at a relatively young age that what we were experiencing as kids in our home was not at all normal.  I knew it was really messed up.  I am not talking about punishments that were overly strict.  I am talking about being physically assaulted because Mom was takin gout her frustrations on us her children.  It was seemingly random and unpredictable.  Although, I did try to predict when Mom was most likely to be the most violent.  "Is there a predictable cycle to the violence that might explain the problem?"  No, the PMS theory didn't fit and didn't explain the matter.  

It's no wonder I had to learn how to overcome all the fears that I had brought with me to college.  My previous life did not make any sense.  The actions of those to whom we might otherwise turn for guidance were violent and they acted in ways that were hurtful and for reasons that had no clear explanation that I could discover when I was growing up.  In other words, I wasn't sure I could trust anyone nor could I predict their behavior or what they felt about me.  Initially, I had no sense that people acted in predictable ways. 

I had a vague sense of uncertainty and danger in the presence of others.

Of course, that was changing.  I was learning so much through the counseling I was receiving.  I also developed some wonderful friendships and gained the emotional support I had so desperately needed.  I learned that people can act in ways that are safe and predictable.  

Don't get me wrong, my parents did pay for my education and that was quite a gift.  I understand the cost was great.  I suppose it was something that they wanted as well.  It seemed like appearances mattered and that my success as an engineer and an image of my father would have given them some satisfaction.  I can't know one way or another their thinking and inspiration.  

I do know that it was not so much a matter of my own self-expression that was being rewarded and valued.  I tried to share my new insights into myself and that seemed to fall on deaf ears.  I had learned through that gaining their admiration and praise was close to impossible.  Success and good grades were expected but not rewarded or admired by them.  I imagine they would say "why do you need validation?"  

With the support of the counseling I was receiving and the support of some dear friends, Thomas and JoLee Faison, I shared the pain that I had experienced and kept stuffed down inside me for so long.  My cousins and my aunt had heard about the abuse over and over, while we were growing up.  I guess they didn't know what to do about it.  

Some emotions are frightening because we feel they are morally wrong.  We imagine that we should not feel certain emotions if we are good people.  Let me explain.  There was only one person for whom I experienced the emotion of hatred.  I am not saying that I hated my mother.  I don't think that's what I am saying.  It's complicated.  

I told Thomas that I needed to share something.  I was scared and confused.  I was raised to believe that hatred is a sin.  It was an evil way to be.  My thinking was something along those lines.  I guess it should be obvious that feelings cannot be controlled only by our actions based on those feelings.    

I had to get it off my chest.  I had to tell Thomas that I felt hatred toward my mother. What a wicked thing to say!  What a bad person that must make me.  I'm not sure what he said nor do I recall any of the details about the discussion.  The only thing that I recall is that I felt that emotion and that it bothered me.  The emotion didn't last forever.  It wasn't an emotion that defined how I related to my mother.  It was just a visceral reaction that I felt in response to the harm that was being inflicted upon me by her.  

The feeling passed.  I learned to let it go and not let it define my relationship with her again.