Friday, March 12, 2010

Barbed Wire Monkeys

In may of 2007, my world was turned upside down. 7 years into a hellish relationship, with two perfect, healthy children 7 and 5, my father passed away. I got the call about close to 10:PM, they told me that my father had been found without a heartbeat, in his room at the old folks home. They didn't know how long he had been dead, but they had worked on him for about forty five minutes before they got a steady heartbeat. The first question I thought to ask was, "what was his body temperature when he arrived at the hospital." I don't recall the number exactly, but my intuition is that he was 8 degrees below normal for him, which was at the low end. He wasn't really all himself mentally there at the end and his health was just gone, years of managing his sugar addiction by self-regulating his insulin, combined with an MRSA infection and a host of other ailments not the least was losing his toes to poor circulation.

So I arrived at the hospital, after, for the first time ever in their lives, asking a neighbor to watch my kids. My significant other at the time didn't reply to my texts or answer her phone for over an hour, and by the time she got home I was nearly back from the hospital. Smelling of Margaritas and not terribly steady on her feet (a common situation for her at that bad point in her life) she'd arrived home close to midnight, she'd been out dancing with her "friends". (drinking buddies) The next day, my trip to the hospital ends with a phonecall from the parking lot, "... I didn't know this trip up here was going to turn into some kind of ****ing bedside vigil, I thought you just needed to sign some paperwork..." as I'm watching a nurse siphon some rather wrong colored fluids up from my dad's lungs so he could "breathe".

She didn't come home that night. Not unusual.

Things weren't happy at home, but how could they be. The year before the only time I'd had off from work or parenting was two trips to see a movie, half a day, and I had to endure accusations of infidelity to get those few hours off. She was gone at least 3 nights a week, and out drinking on most of them. She blew through so much money it's not funny, while we lived in poverty almost. We were not cold or hungry, but we had no luxury, and she did as she pleased.

Three days after my dad died, I find myself walking down the stairs, again, listening to her denigrate my family and my morals, cursing me and calling me all manner of foul words I'll not repeat, and she sparked on a particular "word-fist" that just struck me in a place I was unable to put up with, "... you'll wind up old and alone in a house with your feet rotting off, just another *&^($*& child molesting *&&^$*&# &^#*&# just like your father..."

I had shared many intimate things about my past with her, much to my chagrin, for I'd never thought she would turn them back at me as weapons of words. I do not have full recollection of who my molester was, I survived several head injuries throughout my childhood, and I have very dim childhood memories, and by the grace of God or Random Luck, however it may be, I failed to record the awful events, but I had many of the telltale signs. She had speculated about every male member of my family at some point in the years of verbal abuse, even my dad. But not 3 Days after he dies, alone, in a home, because my wife was too selfish of me and I to weak to get rid of her, alone. I feel ashamed of this, to this very moment I type.

I went up the stairs and ran her out of my house, I broke things, I shouted, I jumped down the stairs and landed on the landing like a silverback gorilla in full rage. But I have no recollection at all of touching her.

By the time the police arrived she was telling them I had shoved her down the stairs and was acting acting like an angel, pretending to be blameless. I did over night in jail, and moved into my dad's house and the divorce proceedings began.

The abuse wasn't over, but it was the beginning of the end.

I was at someone's house about 6 months later, looking at their bookshelf and I was most astonished to see a book I had been asking for. That very day, while riding around with my good friend, and boss, I had spoken the words, "I wish there was a book that explained human behavior." And there on the shelf was a book titled, "Understanding Human Behavior".
It was a college text, psychology 101 or something. And the owner saw my interest, and loaned me the book.

I was like a sponge, I loved it! One of the first chapters covered a series of psychology experiments done in the 60's I believe. Baby rhesus monkeys were taken from their mothers and raised in small chambers, without social interaction, in isolation. One group was given a fluffy stuffed animal with a warmer inside, and milk was provided by the same stuffed animal. Some of them had un-heated mothers, others had just wooden planks, or a board with a towel wrapped.... and one group were given a cold, wooden plank, with barbed wire wrapped around it. I cried when I read that.

For the first several weeks, given the choice of a cold stuffed animal, or a warm board with barbed wire on it, they chose the warm board. After this initial phase, the most comfortable surrogate was chosen, regardless of warmth. They raised these little monkeys this way, and then suddenly, introduced them to a socialized group.

During times of stress, they'd scare them to test them, and a frightened baby monkey would return to it's mother and cling to it, even when that perceived mother was a barbed wire board and there was a soft fluffy stuffed animal there.

So these monkeys are introduced to a social group. The ones with warm fluffy mothers integrated quickly, and formed nearly normal friendships with nearly all other monkeys. The ones with cold stuffed animals and warm toweled boards were the next most normalizeable group. Even the ones given warm boards and even warm ones with barbed wire made at least some friends, and would socialize. But the barbed wire monkeys, they always shunned the group, and if they ever made a friend, and they seldom made more than one, it was another barbed wire monkey or one of the other less fortunate mother types.

It dawned on me that many of us are just that, we're barbed wire monkeys. Our parents, in many cases give us little nurturing, we just grow up alone, taking care of ourselves or sometimes our siblings too. And we have problems with relationships later in life, and our friendships are often lifelong and few.

So what kind of monkey are you? One of the lucky ones, with a healthy social group? Or a broken home, and abusive home? And how has that affected you, and the people you interact with. How often do we consider the status of the monkeys around us, and see them for what they are, and how they've been "programmed". Or do we judge them, and use their "lesser" status to feed our own need to feel better than someone else, or group of people.

I ask you all to take a look at yourselves, and see that scared monkey within that we all have. Has it managed to normalize? Will it ever? I realized the other night that most of the sorriest points of my life, I don not blame them for it but, are the results of those around me, whom I care about, behaving irresponsibly and selfishly. And it came to me, that most of us, are still the product of our programming, and not the masters of our own destinies yet.

If a person is on autopilot, and not writing their own program, can one genuinely hold them responsible for the harm they do? I don't know, but I think we should begin to see the people around us, particularly the ones who have harmed us or caused us suffering, and not see them in such a hard light. They may not know how to change.

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