Of Palm Trees and Why I Take Photos

So the thing about having lived with a gorilla… well… the thing about REALIZING you have lived with a gorilla for 30 years…

Yeah. It hits a little hard.

And I’m fairly aware of how hard it is hitting, because instead of dealing with it, I find myself posting photos of palm trees on my Instagram account, celebrating living in L.A… but really I’m just posting those photos because I’m trying to distract myself from the absolute horror of having lived with the Gorilla for 30 years.

I mean, he wasn’t always a Gorilla. Some of the time he was a Nice Guy. But you just never knew when the Gorilla would show up.

And it was the not knowing. That’s what makes me now look back in horror.

Things might be fine for weeks. For months. But the Gorilla was lurking and no matter how many eggshells we tiptoed across, no matter how many hoops we jumped through, you just never knew. He might just show up.

The first time I became aware of the Gorilla, the first time that I named him, was during an argument, toward the end of our marriage, around the 26th year – no idea what it was about, but I was aware that my husband’s face changed. It changed into a rictus of such disdain, such absolute disgust with me, over something that I hadn’t actually done wrong – I simply disagreed with him. After spitting out some words of disgust to me, he turned his back to me, loading some dishes into the dishwasher, and almost without thinking about it, I shook my finger at his back and mouthed the words, “I want you gone. I want you out of here. Leave now – you have no place here.”

And as I did, I realized I wasn’t talking to my husband – I was talking to the Gorilla. I was talking to whatever that was that had molded his face into that mask of disdain. That was not who I married. That was a foreign entity.

Except it wasn’t – it had been there all along, lurking, peeking out from time to time. Like the time in the 2nd year of marriage, when I was 8 months pregnant with our first-born. and the Gorilla had shown up, and I don’t remember the details, but I do remember putting the dining room table between me and him, and going hoarse as I was talking and pleading, trying to get through to my husband, because I was so distressed, trying to appeal to his sense of reason. But keeping a table between us nonetheless, because suddenly I didn’t feel safe around him.

And the time a few years later that I opened the bedroom window and started to climb out, because the Gorilla was blocking the doorway out of the bedroom, refusing to let me leave the bedroom until I apologized for the awful things I had accused him of doing. Which, of course, he had actually done.

And the times, more than once, when I was aware on a gut level that I was dealing with a different personality than I had been just an hour or two previously, and just to test the waters I asked to speak to the other personality. I actually said, one of the times, “I want to speak to the Glenn I was talking to this morning.” But each time I tried that, instead of getting back to the Nice Guy, I got the Gorilla.

“How dare you talk to me that way. That’s insulting.” And off he would storm, ending the conversation.

Really? It’s insulting to point out that someone is acting differently than they did a few hours ago? Insulting?

Unfortunately I fell for it and didn’t push. Now I realize that the Gorilla was the gatekeeper who hid the other personalities – if anyone got to close to the truth about them, the Gorilla came out and shut down the conversation.

The Gorilla despised me. My high IQ threatened him. My semi-photographic memory was a liability. My ability to see through lies ruined the schemes of the 8 year old and the Pastor/Savior and the Gorilla was not well pleased.

At some point, late in the marriage, I came up with a formula. Glenn was okay maybe 20% of the time. He was a nice guy. Usually in May and August, when we would go camping. We later referred to that personality as Happy Camping Dad. That was the guy I dated. Somewhat confused sometimes, and completely ADHD and disorganized, but a fairly fun guy to be around. Just needed a little help with organization, and I was happy to provide that.

Then there was the 6 year old and the 8 year old. They showed up around 10% of the time, especially when he would feel sorry for himself. They stomped around with the body language of, well, a 6 or 8 year old. One who had been hard done by, who didn’t get the cookies he had been promised. Slapping feet on the floor, flopping arms, pouting face. But if you called him on it, you got The Pastor/Savior, who would, with overweening pride, declare that he NEVER felt sorry for himself, it was just not an emotion he ever felt, despite the fact that you had just witnessed it. The Pastor/Savior was around about 30% of the time.

Then there was the Confused Person. That was another good 30% of the time. That was the guy with a toe on the spectrum, the guy who didn’t understand social rules, who needed a lot of help just to get by. The guy who, when my friend from Switzerland was in town and came to visit for the evening, disappeared into the babies’ room, ostensibly to put them to bed while I visited with my friend and her boyfriend… but didn’t emerge for 3 hours, and then acted like nothing had gone wrong.

So that made life, well, interesting. None of that was a deal-breaker. I was willing to put up with that. I was codependent enough to even take pleasure in the fact that I made his life work for him, because what a train wreck he would be without me handling the finances and smoothing over the social faux pas…

But the other 10%… that was the Gorilla.

And when the Gorilla showed up, it was untenable. No one should have to put up with the Gorilla. The Gorilla was the deal-breaker.

And no one outside of the family ever saw that person.

Which is probably why the people who were supposed to help us turned so vehemently against me and tried to get the kids to confess that I was a monster that abused them and poisoned their minds against their father. Well, that, and the fact that they had their own issues and me calling my husband on his issues was hitting a little too close to home. I see that now, in 20-20 hindsight.

Because seriously, I didn’t need to do any poisoning of the Children’s Minds. They weren’t stupid. They could see for themselves what was going on. They knew all about the Gorilla. And the 6/8 year olds, and the Pastor/Savior, and Happy Camping Dad. I didn’t even have to prompt them – they described those personalities to a family counselor without any input from me.

But getting back to the palm trees. Yeah. That’s what I do when it all gets to be too much. I take photos of beautiful things and I post them on social media. Even in a concrete jungle, you can find daisies pushing up through the cracks in the asphalt. I capitalize on those daisies.

Because while I know I need to come to terms with the fact that that Gorilla was there from the word go, the very thought scares me so much… the thought that I was intimate with a person who at any moment might turn into a Gorilla… that thought is so terrifying that even though I am now safe, I can’t come to terms with it. I can’t wrap my brain around it, or let myself feel the terror.

It’s in the past – maybe I don’t ever have to feel the impact. Maybe it was a mercy that I wasn’t aware, at least not completely, of how badly I was being treated, apart from that vague sense of misery and wishing that I could just get in the family van and get on the freeway and keep driving.

But these realizations, these bursts of clarity about the events of 10, 20 and even 30 years ago – they are hitting me hard and fast lately.

And I would frankly rather look at a palm tree swaying in the wind on a cool spring evening with a full moon that face the reality I lived through.

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