The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Blind Eye December 31, 2020

Dear readers, did you know that my son Elihu is considered to be legally blind?

Hard to believe when one watches him skillfully guide his hand-built aircraft around in the sky, sometimes a hundred or more feet away, and certainly no longer visible to him as to those of us normally-sighted folks. How does he do this? Simple. His desire has superseded his limitations. He can see his planes as they move about in the air, if only gesturally, yet somehow, this is all he needs. My son once said to me as a young boy “I will not let my excuse be my excuse”. And he has not. He has turned a blind eye to his ‘disability’, and he has gone on to become one of the most remarkably accomplished people I have ever met. His minimal vision has not prevented him from achieving the maximum benefit of his talents. (Have I said how much I’m going to miss his daily companionship when he goes off to college next year?)

It’s funny how we humans interpret the world around us in such highly selective ways. I’m as guilty as anyone, and find it fascinating to muse at the ways in which I might be skewing my own perception of the world… Egos are such fragile things, and each of us filters data so as to preserve our dignity, to keep our own self-image as tarnish-free as possible, and to keep injured feelings to a minimum. I try to keep an eye on myself when it comes to interpersonal relations; I often make tiny, real-time inventories of my exchanges with people, friends, students, even passersby. Am I acting with respect and candor? Am I truly listening, or am I just waiting for my turn to talk? (I admit to struggling with interrupting. I’m too eager, and it’s a very bad habit, I’m well aware. Also, when it comes to my mother, all bets are off. I can’t seem to turn off the triggers. This continues to be a challenge.) I ask myself, am I being the best person I can possibly be? Or am I living a self-selected experience, ignoring the truths around me which I’d rather not see?

I fully admit that in order to cover my emotional ass, so to speak, my default way of behaving in the world is to kill ’em with kindness. I understand so well our mutual frailty as humans that I try to act in love most of the time. If you’ve ever walked down the street with me (in non-covid times) or accompanied me to the store, you’ll know that I speak to most everyone I can, and it’s my goal to offer as many small kindnesses as I’m able. They’re sincere acts of love, for sure, but it’s also an emotional insurance of sorts; how can you condemn the woman who has just told you how beautiful your hair is today? When slights aimed at me do arrive, although they are truly seldom, I try my best to listen, and to wonder at the motivation behind them. Maybe the woman who gave me that nasty aside is herself unhappy, conflicted, emotionally undernourished. Who knows? I choose to ignore the sting, and instead look to the core issue. It helps deflect the discomfort at the very least. In some way I’m choosing to give less traction to that which causes pain. My own kind of filter I suppose, showing me the things I’d prefer to see…

And then when life presents you with affairs of the heart, it can sometimes be even easier to turn a blind eye to certain things which you’d rather not see…

This past year I became involved with a man whom I’d known for over four decades. During that long span of time apart we’d each been married, raised kids, and had become divorced. In high school we’d each had an eye for the other, but circumstances weren’t in our favor at the time, so we were happy to reconnect, if only virtually, several years ago. In all that time we remained in each other’s minds as the person we’d thought the other to be all those years ago. It’s funny how you really cling to the ideals and visions that support your own fantasies about other people…

He had likely thought me to be far more demure and measured than I am. Choosing to refer to me as Lady Elizabeth, I’m sure this further romanticized me, putting me, in his self-imposed fantasy, into the realm of an emotionally inaccessible woman. For my part, remembering the pot-smoking, Led Zeppelin-listening intellectual I’d known back then, I admit that I’d harbored a vision of him having grown into an easy-going, chill older version of that attractive young man. I’d thought he’d have a relaxed nature, the kind that lends itself to snuggling up with his lady on the couch on a Sunday morning, legs resting on the coffee table, offering up casual kisses and passing touches of affection to his woman while lazily perusing the New York Times. Ha! Was I wrong. He is fairly the polar opposite of that. His seemingly mild-mannered outward appearance belies his true character; there’s not a laid-back bone in this man’s body (anyone remember that commercial from the ’70s where a lady scolds an uptight customer saying “Relax, Mr. Dillon, you’re on a cruise!“? Many were the times I so wanted to say that aloud to him). I’m fairly sure he had the wrong assumptions about me too. I suppose for the first few months we each were guilty of turning that proverbial blind eye to so many surprising, and, on some level, mutually disappointing aspects of each other.

But here’s the kicker – his high school girlfriend had strongly cautioned my against seeing him. But me, I thought that for sure I must’ve seen things in him that she never had. And so, I chose to ignore the warning.

She said that he had berated her, he’d made her feel like shit in public, but then used that charm and that smile (he’s got stunning hazel eyes and a smile that can melt butter – and don’t even get me started on that dimple/crease thing he’s got goin’ in his right cheek…) and they’d be back to that good place again – and then the cycle just kept going. Hot then cold, kind then mean. She said it was the single worst year of her life. Surely she had been exaggerating… I’d thought that this was likely due to his immaturity back then – plus, even if she was correct and this had been the nature of their relationship – I was certainly smarter than to allow him to behave like this with me! After all, he and I had a thing. Turns out if only I had listened instead of turning a deaf ear to her advice, I might’ve saved myself the heartache – which sadly continues to linger even at this writing (in spite of my better judgement), in addition to some disconcerting physical symptoms which will likely be my new normal. Yes, the old high school girlfriend had been right. Some forty-two years later and this man had behaved in exactly the same way with me. Took me a while to see it for myself, cuz I really didn’t want to.

After having said all of this about the man, let me offer that he is no way a bad person. In fact, there are so many good traits and admirable qualities about him that it’s all the harder to understand how one aspect of his personality can be so deeply disconnected and dysfunctional. Truly, the lovely qualities that this man possesses make it all the harder to come to terms with the reality of the matter.

[As something of a public service, I’d like to offer some insight into misogyny. In spite of his intelligence, his laudable career and devotion to his faith, my former boyfriend is a textbook misogynist (yes, there is a spectrum, but there are flagship markers in every man so afflicted). I had no idea what misogyny was when I was first warned – was it not just a casual form of chauvinism? No. Misogyny is a definable and real neurosis, something which develops very early in life, and without any recognition of it or desire for self-reflection on the part of the man, it is not something which will ever change. Misognynists objectify women to some extent, they remain emotionally distant, and they will berate and/or correct the women in their lives in an effort to establish their superiority and control. I experienced it for myself, yet I’d chosen to ignore it – thinking that I was somehow misinterpreting his behavior, or perhaps it was an aberration – and as a result I suffered injury, both emotional and physical. (I appreciate that the staff at urgent care was obliged to ask if I felt safe at home. Difficult as it was to even admit, albeit passively, that a man had inflicted excessive force on me, I am reassured to know these safeguards and protocols exist.) Women, if you see any of these behaviors in your partner, please know you cannot change them. Sadly, you must walk away, even if your partner offers a hundred other compelling reasons to stay. Turning a blind eye to the truth may result in harm to you.]

But on the other hand, sometimes throwing caution to the wind can have unexpectedly good results. In some cases, it’s best just to do something without looking at the pros and cons too carefully. (Again, think of Elihu refusing to see his blindness as an impediment and look how well that’s turned out).

As my new relationship began to emerge as potentially toxic – or at the very least suspiciously unsettling – I made a choice to invite another man into my life. I’d also known him for years, albeit only casually through the music scene back in Chicago, before the chapter of motherhood had begun. Even though he was something of an unknown to me, I extended an invitation. I asked him to join me in the context of a musical project, so naturally this added greatly to the appeal of his visit for both of us. As it turns out, it seems we’re probably best suited to a platonic relationship, but I have a hunch that this new friend will be in my life for years to come, and for that I’m grateful. He is intelligent and talented. Completely endearing and utterly human. Honest. He’s got a huge, loving heart. And my son really likes him (in my eyes that speaks volumes). Plus he has a dog. Honestly, what’s not to like about a man who has a dog? I’ve lost a romance but I’ve gained a friendship. Good thing I invited my new pal to visit even when I knew so little about him. I chose to ignore a few internal cautionary signals (granted I think it was more about a visiting dog and the safety of my chickens rather than my human guest!) and in this case it worked in my favor.

Ok, so while I’m dishing, dig this… I offer this story as a foundation to the one that follows right after…

My ex would latch onto passing comments on my Facebook threads and simply stew over them. I could never have anticipated such a thing. Truly, it was a new experience. It completely blindsided me.

Once, a man whom I hadn’t seen in person for over twenty-five years had said “nighty-night, dovie” to me on Facebook, and this resulted in my ex losing a night’s sleep as he struggled with his jealous feelings over this FB pal and fretted over the nature of our relationship. (This FB friend lives three thousand miles away and I haven’t seen him in over two decades – a quick perusal of his page would clue anyone in as to how unrelated our lives are.) Not too long after this incident, the same friend made a complimentary remark about a pic I’d posted of a mid-century baking dish. This too set my ex off into a tailspin…

Who was this man, this admirer? my ex had wanted to know. What exactly had that comment meant? he’d demanded of me. When he asked me, I had no idea what he was even talking about. Admirer? Who? What man? What comment?! (I have hundreds and hundreds of friends, ya know?) I paged back until I found the ‘offending’ comment and, when realizing just how trivial a remark it had been, I got upset. This was simply ridiculous. I proceeded to tell my ex that he really needed to keep his jealousy in check if he wanted this thing between us to work. He needed to rope it back. The ex then responded angrily to me – and the next day, when I was feeling emotionally walloped and said to him as much – he acted as if nothing at all had happened. It was crazy. Almost surreal. That man sure could compartmentalize! Honestly, it was one of the most bizarre interpersonal occurrences I have ever experienced.

And talk about turning a blind eye to things – my ex let my plans for a recording session in my home go unscrutinized. He said nothing when I told him I was going to spend a week making music. With whom exactly was I working? Just how much time would I be spending with these unknown people? Just might there be another man working alongside me? The jealous beau never even asked. Strangely, no potential red flags emerged for him. But he sure gave me hell for the guy in Seattle who liked my baking dish. (I know, right?)

Sure, the visit wasn’t ideally timed; when the musician fellow and I had originally made the plans (and booked the flights) I had no idea that I’d be in a relationship a few months down the road. Anyhow, by the time the musician fellow arrived, my blind eye was starting to see the writing on the wall regarding the high school crush. I had tried hard to believe that things were gonna be ok, but the stark contrast between these two men helped illuminate the situation; the old flame seemed doomed to burn out.

What else might I be ignoring that I oughtn’t? There are a few things. I know. I know my demons and I’m mounting a campaign to deal with them in due time. I’ve put the focus on my health now, and am working to get myself into a leaner and stronger body. This is requiring my full-on forward vision.

Ironic, isn’t it, that in the year 2020 – the number by which we define optimal visual acuity – the whole planet was so blind-sided? Not a one of us could’ve seen the catastrophic year that was coming. And personally speaking, how could I ever have suspected the injuries, romance and heartbreak that would play out in my own life alongside this global tragedy? Of course I couldn’t have… Not a one of us can see into the future. But we can stay on the lookout for healthy opportunities and better outcomes. So me, I’m going to move into this post-2020 world with hope in my heart, and both of my eyes wide open.

Here’s to better vision for us all in 2021.

Visit Elihu’s YouTube channel ‘AeroCraft’, see pics of our life here at the Hillhouse, find us both on social media, hear our music and more thru our clearinghouse website:

https://elizabethconant.com

 

Heartsick November 3, 2012

The girls had hardly slowed their pace to say a final goodbye, so Elihu had run after them as they walked down the sidewalk from school. He put his arms around Cora til she finally hugged him back. Then he’d hugged Sophia before returning to me. There was nothing else to be done. This was their last day at school and now they were going home. Next week they wouldn’t be coming back to school at all because they were moving. I looked down in time to see the corners of Elihu’s mouth turn down in the most acute expression of distress… and I realized he was crying. Sobbing, in fact. An instant, electric sort of sensation shot through me at the sight of it – my son’s heart was breaking for the first time. Tears came to my eyes too; my heart was breaking to know it.

I put my arm around him as we walked. Most times he might have pulled away; he was getting to an age where he found my overt affection embarrassing. But now he leaned into me heavily, weeping quietly. How my own heart hurt at this parting; his grief was equally mine. There was nothing to say. There was simply no point in trying to console him with words, so I just held him tight. After we were in the car I drove a block farther down the street so that we might pass the twins, and he rolled down the window. Usually he’d shout out something in their own private language, but all he could say this time in between sobs was an earnest and final goodbye. Cora stopped walking for a moment and looked up; her smile fell away when she saw him. She raised an arm to wave once more, then turned to catch up with her sister. We let them cross in front of our car, and they were gone.

I didn’t say anything as we drove. Instead I waited for the moments in which I could offer him the most relief. I let him cry, watching his face in the rear view mirror (something which can feel a bit like spying when you’re with a low-vision child as they cannot see you back). This was real, and it was intense. And it wasn’t merely a case of a first heartbreak; the girls had been the first – and only – kids at the new school to get him, or to at least take a real interest in being with him. The three spent nearly all their free time together. “What will it be like without them?” he asked through more tears. “There’s nobody – nobody like them. There’s nobody to replace them”. There was a long space of quiet and sniffling before he spoke again. He was beginning to test out some survival thinking; “Who will be with me now?” he asked, “Who will I have to do things with? Will I be alone again?” As I watched him in the mirror I could see his crying lessen, and I could see him beginning to consider his new future without the twins. His mourning was by no means over, but my spirit brightened to think he might be working to put some hidden, positive spin on the situation.

I too thought about it all – I myself felt there was very little chance he’d find the same magical chemistry elsewhere as he did with the girls – and that it was probably best that we made peace with that. No use over-lamenting the obvious loss. Elihu needed to move gently forward to new relationships that were yet ahead. I was careful not to broach the territory of our family philosophy that “all things happen as they should” too soon in his grieving – because offered at the wrong time it would seem nothing but a stupid, posturing platitude. It might even make him angry. So I held off for a bit, but it wasn’t long before a window appeared where I could successfully present the idea. “And you know,” I added to the reasoning” – this might be the beginning of a whole new chapter between all of us – we might end up learning about a whole new thing through them. They’re just an hour and a half drive away, we can visit them easily! We can camp near them, go mountain climbing…” Now Elihu and I are not particularly outdoorsy types. We love being outside, and with our chickens, we also enjoy an occasional walk through the woods, but we own neither a tent nor a sleeping bag and have never found ourselves inspired to acquire either one. But this might be the universal energy pulling us toward a path we’d otherwise never have considered, right? Perhaps we’ll go up to visit the girls, and in so doing we’ll meet a whole bunch of interesting folks doing interesting things and maybe we’ll end up doing things we’ve never done before… Who knows? I go on for a bit, if not quite believing it, then wanting very much to believe it; I need to sell a happy ending to Elihu. There could be an unexpected and wonderful outcome here, there could be…Yet there is a very small voice within me (in the old days my husband and I would call it my “reality meter”) that tells me this is rubbish, and that if we ever really do go and visit the girls, we’re getting a motel room and making a weekend of it and there’s an end to it. No romance, no destiny, no universe “opening up surprising new opportunities”, certainly no ridiculous camping adventures.

We ride silent for a while. Lots to digest. Not much action to be taken for now, so all we can do is sit quietly as we drive out into the hills on our way back home. I’ve put off getting the mail for a few days (Halloween week the household chores pile up as we rally to get the costume perfect and then stop everything to go on several holiday-related outings) and so I come back from the mail box with a big load. When we pull in the long, leafy driveway we’re greeted by our honking goose Maximus, his head raised as he ascertains whether we are family or visitor. The chickens peck through the fallen leaves, enthusiastically kicking up wet debris behind them, ever searching for tasty bites beneath the litter. They have broken off into several smaller groups, and to watch them walk alongside the car gives us both a lift. There’s no way you can watch chickens doing their thing and not be cheered in some way. It’s one of the joys of having them around. And so our hearts are softened, if not simply distracted, and we hurt a little less. We haven’t arrived at any new strategy, nor fully convinced ourselves that this time there is a cosmic silver lining. But we’re home, it feels good to be here.

As I sit in the car, going through the pile of mail in my lap, I notice a shape in front of me several feet off the ground. I look closer; there is something in the apple tree. I leave the mail on my seat and go to investigate. Elihu, who had never climbed this tree in the four years he’d lived here was now halfway up it, and had ended up on a branch Sophia’d been on just last week. I smiled with pride, he laughed in joy. “So the girls taught ya some tricks after all, huh?” I asked. I could hear his confidence waning just a bit as he asked me how to get down, and I told him that Sophia had jumped from just where he was standing. “Ah – but that’s what the girls would do. Maybe you should -” but before I could suggest he take the careful route back down, he’d jumped from the branch and was standing in the wet grass laughing with satisfaction. Before he’d known the girls he’d never been on a scooter or climbed up a tree. They didn’t coddle him, but they also didn’t leave him in their dust as they easily could have done. They stayed around, just long enough for him to lose his fear. They supported him just by being there. Did they even realize this? I’m not sure they did. Secretly, my mother’s heart sends them a deep message of gratitude across the ether. Thank you so very much, Cora and Sophia, for being such good friends to my son. I will always appreciate it.

They’re off on their own new adventures, and thanks to them, I think my son may be a bit more emboldened to strike off on some new ones of his own. And that seems like a good start to help heal a sick heart.