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 His desire has superseded his limitations.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

 

Critical Mass December 6, 2020

Not a day of my life passes in which I do not lament that fateful moment this past June in which everything changed. And yet, that one sad accident which has disappointed me so deeply has also prepared the way for some new life adventures, ones which never would have happened otherwise.

I wonder, over and over, what was that one point at which the wood chipper became unable to draw the large tree branch in? Exactly how small was that piece of wood which caused the machine to kick the limb back out and into my eye? Was it less than a gram’s worth of wood? Was it a mere millimeter in length? (And while we’re contemplating the tipping points of a process, I must note that a mere three millimeters to the right and my cornea would have taken the impact. So while I may lament my injury, another very small difference might’ve meant a complete loss of vision.) Takes but one drop to breach the surface tension on a cup of tea, one spark to start a forest fire.

Of course you’ll naturally be wondering what in hell was I doing using a wood chipper in the first place, and without eye protection. As I’d mentioned in the previous post, I’d hired a ragtag bunch of men to help me restore some order on my property, they weren’t really putting their backs into it, and I wanted to get stuff done. None of the crew had been wearing any eye protection, and besides, I’d thought the main concern was the impelling. In my life I’d watched plenty of crews loading chippers, and had never known anything to be expelled backwards. Since that time, if nothing else, I’ve learned a bit about prudence and precaution. And it is because of that event, and the trajectory of subsequent events in the past few months, I’ve come to learn the importance of taking emotional safety precautions as well.

As I was convalescing, lying flat on my back for over a week (per doctor’s instructions), I spent a good deal of time sleeping. It pained me to sacrifice up a week of stunningly perfect June weather, but when you lose a chunk of your sclera (the white portion of the eye) and your told it will not heal correctly if you do not stay on your back and keep it covered, you goddam better lay flat and keep it covered. It is as good now as it will ever be, but sadly, it’s far from ideal. It always feels as if I have something in it, and the new floaters make everything constantly blurry. Plus in the dark I now see white flashes of light every time I move my eyes. I’m getting more used to it, but it’s not pleasant, and it poses some issues when driving at night. (It’s a challenge even now to keep self pity at bay, but I suppose it’s a good lesson for me. We all know someone whose challenge is much greater.) And yet, as I lay sleeping and attending to the healing process, I had a dream… a very good one. That dream was the one piece, the extra fragment in the equation of my life which then instantly changed the trajectory of things…

I dreamed that I’d met a man I’d known back in high school; the two of us had had a crush on each other which lingered and had sustained itself through both of our now-ended marriages, and so it brought with it a small thrill. I had dreamed we’d met in a futuristic city. It felt so good to see him, just so good… This man and I had been texting for over seven years, attempting to meet in different parts of the world – even missing each other by mere hours in Paris a few years ago. Naturally, I texted him again, telling him of my dream. He texted back these words: “I have always thought we had a pending unkept engagement.” I read and re-read those words so many times. How intoxicating… Shortly thereafter he asked if he might visit. My situation wasn’t ideal what with my eye still in some discomfort, but my son was leaving soon to visit his father. There would be a window in which we could meet in private; it was too perfect to decline. I had several weeks yet to heal, and so we made plans to reunite, after over 40 years. It was a thrilling prospect. Handsome, uber-intelligent, from my home town even! Twelve years post-marriage and having had only a handful of failed dates since then, this seemed too perfect to be true.

Our week together was lovely. It was dreadfully humid and hot, but my friend had lived most of his adult life in the south and so it didn’t bother him, for which I was glad. He had brought gifts too; he was simply charming in every way. And so we enjoyed sharing stories, catching each other up on our lives, eating, drinking, and well, doing all of those other things that go with a romantic reunion. It was heady stuff in the very beginning. And at my age – closer to 60 than 50 – it was certainly a very rare and lucky thing to experience these wonderful feelings again. I myself had pretty much resigned myself to a sexless, relationship-less life without too much disappointment. I’d had a good run, after all. I’ve often said that I’ve had more than one woman’s share of romance and adventure. And I have. So for me, anything from here on out is just icing on the cake.

And I certainly did enjoy the icing… But it became trickier to do so, as his manner began to change quite drastically not long after our reunion… It started with a strange absence of communication. There had been nothing out of the ordinary in our texts, but all of a sudden, he was silent. I used a few ploys to get him engaged, and after several weeks I managed to get him to respond to me again. And he did explain. He’d given me legal advice, and I’d then gone to other attorney friends for their opinions. Apparently, this deeply insulted my friend. But wasn’t that the prudent thing to have done? One often seeks the counsel of more than one doctor… I found myself apologizing (as would become a pattern) and finally we were able to get back on track. And within days we both decided we needed to see each other as soon as possible.

On the next visit we reunited urgently; I was a bit surprised at how fast this was moving (I’d thought we’d be merely good friends with occasional benefits). He warmly addressed me with terms of endearment, happily letting me know that he had told both his mom and his brother about me, wondering if we might not carve out a workspace for him in my home for the times he would visit. I was a bit dazed, but began to wonder if it might not make sense… Why not? In hindsight I can see how I was being railroaded – whether that was his intention or not – and I was so unprepared for this escalation that I just sort of acquiesced, assuming that life was presenting me with a happy and unexpected new path. In that I’ve been so responsible for my and my son’s best interests for the past twelve years, I myself am surprised at how easily I began to change my thinking to accommodate this new man and his plans. It’s almost as if I was no longer in charge of my own life for that small moment in time.

But the third and most recent visit was strangely different. It seemed to start out quite well, it really did… But somehow, at some point, things changed on a dime. The warmth was gone. It took me a while to put the pieces together. Sadly, this man was truly a jealous type. A silent type. A loner, an academic who spent most of his life inside his head. A man who liked things clearly delineated and did not pick up on nuance. I began to feel as if I was walking on eggshells around him. I had no idea what he was thinking. Sometimes he would toss out a berating comment almost as an aside, and it would throw me for a loop. A whole day passed when he hardly said a word to me. And one night he turned his back on me in silence. I realized then that I was no longer behaving like myself around him. I was degrading into a woman who was desperate to figure out her man and how to keep him pleased. And I didn’t like this new me. But damn, it had started out so beautifully, so magically! To me, our first two meetings were just heavenly, and left me glowing for days, even weeks afterwards. This abrupt change in our relationship was bizarre to say the least.

But there is likely a deep pathology at play in this fellow. In fact, when my affections were fresh, and after the first time when all three of us were together, I eagerly asked my son – who had enjoyed a bit of conversation in French with my friend at the dinner table – just what did he think of this gentleman? Did he like the fellow? “Yes, he’s nice,” Elihu responded, and then added “But he’s off“. The kid is a good read of character, but as I was dearly wanting to think the very best, I gave less weight to my son’s assessment than I probably should have. I was ready to overlook the quirks, choosing instead to think of them as quaint qualities which contributed to his unique personality. He is cut of a different cloth than most, that’s for sure. I once thought of him as delightfully anachronistic. Now I feel he is merely peculiar. He is unable to connect emotionally. And now I can understand why his adult daughter has ceased communication with her father. I should’ve known it wasn’t for some passing family disagreement.

We had a final impasse just today, and after receiving an angry text from him, I returned one to him in which I told him that he wasn’t being kind. But nevertheless I also wished him peace, and then said goodbye. Best to end before it gets dangerous. A few days ago I sent him an email detailing as concisely as possible my concerns. I figured if I heard back at all, it might take many days. I had held the faintest hope he might apologize, or at least offer some insight into his changed attitude. Now, I have no expectation for a response. Closure, this time, is something I’ll have to find on my own. I don’t foresee any help from him in tidying up this ending. So I’ll probably never know what changed his behavior towards me, but that’s just gonna have to be enough. But no matter, I’m sure my old friend will continue to do good work in the world, for he is a man of laser focus who enjoys pursuing his goals and studies. Honestly, it seems that work and faith are about all he needs to sustain him. My heart is badly bruised at this writing, and I’ve cried my tears about this, but I do think the action I took was a good protective measure. At least I can minimize my injuries. I’ll try to keep the lovely memories and discard the rest. On we go…

There was a moment in the rockier part of my brief relationship with the old flame in which I became deeply frustrated. He had shut me out for days. His texts were terse. I could not understand how quickly his tone had changed – and as I wasn’t there with him in person, there was no way to glean any more insight. In deep frustration, and without taking a moment to second-guess myself, I fired off a text to another man with whom I’d also had a long-standing vibe and texting relationship. And there it was. The one moment, the one tiny action which then caused everything after to change…

This fellow was the polar opposite of my high school crush. Younger than me, he was a musician who’d once enjoyed a bit of success as a front man for an outrageously amazing band, an athlete too – he was a wild card of a man; I knew he’d accept if I made an offer. We would hang, and we would make some music. He’d sent me a song that he wanted to do – its message being a deep and urgent lament for a simple, uncomplicated kind of love… I remember a moment at the historic Victoria pool here in Saratoga – a perfect summer’s day on which I listened to the song, and immediately thereafter dove into the cool water for the first time that year, a fresh hope growing in my heart for something new… Music, friendship, candor. I would so enjoy the company of someone more like me, I’d thought, and these were things that my musician friend would bring to my world.

The minor rock god came to visit. He brought his dog, too. And while I’d actually experienced some trepidation about his coming here, it turned out to be one of the most fun and delightful times I can remember here at the Hillhouse. My son loved him, and of course we both loved the dog (my kid, my mom and even our neighbor engineer friend were all convinced he was the best dog on the planet). For a few days our house was full of reckless fun. Playing music, recording, talking, day drinking and late-night ice cream binging… It felt completely different from the vibe that had been present when my high school crush was here. Perhaps a bit more chaotic and frenetic than even I’m used to, but oh what a blessed departure from life-as-usual! What a joyful time we had. And for the first time in over a fucking decade, I made and recorded music with another soul. On the drive back to the airport we turned the music loud and sang along with it, the dog with his head out of the backseat window. When we parted, we both turned at the same time at either end of the long hallway, and we each raised a hand in goodbye at the same moment. I turned away with a huge smile. What a lovely surprise the whole experience had been. My life had again been changed, this time truly enriched. All from a single moment in time, just one tiny action.

Shortly after my injury, I decided that I had to take up some extra activities in order to distract myself from my new and diminished eyesight. I memorized the countries of the world, and then I set out on learning some French vocabulary. I learned some new songs, I revisited the slow movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto. And I also made the decision that when life presented me with opportunities, I would not say no. One day I joined a gym without a second thought, and have worked out nearly every day since. I’ve lost 30 pounds over the past four months, and if I do say so myself, this week my body is really starting to show some nice new definition. And again, all of this is still fueled by my eye injury. I’m using my loss to net myself some gains. If I didn’t, I’d tank, I swear.

As soon as my mood begins to descend (there is an unseen component of me that almost always battles constant panic and intermittent bouts of depression) I make a huge effort to get my ass to the gym, or to power walk the country roads. A few nights ago, confused by the strange, unsettling way in which my ‘new’ relationship had turned, I took to the road at midnight in a reflective vest, and in the rain hammered out three miles. Moving helps. I feel kinda like Rocky, slamming his fists in training; the killer grade on these country roads are my version of his running up those steps… At the first moment of weakness, fear or desolation, that first feeling that I just want to sleep, to forget, to drink, to medicate, to get some relief…. I flip the switch. I don’t give myself an option or an out. It’s time to move, to do, to be…

And so it is that I’m trying to make the best of the worst. To see the cues that life presents, and as a result, to take actions that will turn things in my favor. I see those nasty floaters in my eyes and truthfully, my heart sinks. My soul is despondent. So I look to the next thing I can do which will help me forget, change my focus and carry me forward. Forward to the next thing I can do to help myself, to help a friend, to help the world. I may be just one person – and believe me, I’m not always entirely convinced that my presence here is at all necessary – but I do recognize that it takes only one small event – and perhaps even just one person – to affect the future.

A tiny change of mass can make a critical difference.