The bear is awakening again. I can feel her stretching, the restlessness in her extremities, tired of being locked up and in the dark. It’s just the beginning of her stirring and, if I really want to, I could lull her back to sleep, for at least a few more months; maybe even a year or two. I’ve been cooing to her over the years here in Boston after my divorce, coaxing her back into a fitful sleep. I know she’ll eventually wake up for good; it’s just a matter of when.
If you don’t know, the bear is a reference to the wild inside of Tristan in the movie Legends of the Fall. Tristan is plagued by the bear inside him. The movie came out when I was sixteen and I remember feeling a kinship with that character. I also remember feeling nothing but scorn and pity for Susannah, who couldn’t live without Tristan. Like Tristan, I love my family and friends deeply. But I can also leave them without a reason or remorse. There is nothing malicious in this act. It is the way I am.
I have tried to grow out of this; out of feeling like I have to leave, like I need to run, to not get close, to not care that I have left. Over Christmas, my brother got upset at me for leaving my parents and him on Christmas Eve. My excuse was not wanting to be stranded by the impending storm. In truth, I am just uncomfortable and felt trapped. Staying more than a night at my folks brings me right back to the angst and self-loathing of my teenage years in that house. When my brother brought it up a few days later as I was helping him move my parent’s old couch into his new apartment, “It’s just that you always leave. And it was Christmas!”
My family is lovely. Truly, they are the best of humanity. Kind and generous, loving and thoughtful. I picked up much of what is good about me from them, especially my mother. My mother, while suffering no fools, has an empathy which knows no bounds. She is a patient and loving woman who once told me all she ever wanted to be was a mother. And, damn did she ever do a great job at it.
I carry many of her traits with me. I am also empathetic; being able to slip into someone else’s shoes is an almost automatic reflex. I can be kind and loving and my loyalty is hard to break (until you cross me; then my Italian comes out). This desire to leave, to live a solitary life, is a great juxtaposition. To move on to a new place and experience the life I am not living always gnaws at me. Some years, it is a gentle nibble and others, it is raw and vicious. I can feel the disappointment of my family; not disappointment in me but upset that I won’t be there for holidays or to just spend a Saturday with them.
I don’t know why this bear lives inside me. I know this sounds cliché and trite but I am unsure what else to call it. For as far back as my memories take me, this has been a mainstay of who I am. I leave, I move on, I don’t say goodbye. I have tried to change for others. It doesn’t work. Perhaps I should just accept it. Perhaps, if I am truly to live for myself, I should just embrace it.
But, I am Catholic. Not a practicing one, mind you, but one with a history of being raised with the Church. And the Catholic guilt is strong in me. My mother tells me, “You’ve got to get rid of that shit.” I have heard such things as Jewish guilt rivals that of Catholic guilt but maybe it’s all a bunch of made up crap. Maybe it’s okay to let go of it all. I have no one depending on me but a pug and he’ll follow me wherever I go. I have no need to live a life designed for anyone but me and, right now, it is not the life I am leading.
What would you do?