Other people's disappointment
The year I was twelve was a bad year. I was rushed to Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital after a routine optometrist appointment revealed what looked like brain cancer. After a series of invasive tests and examinations, it was revealed not to be brain cancer, but to be a mysterious condition of unknown origin in which my body was producing too much brain fluid and the excess brain fluid was crushing my eyes and my brain. Because it was unclear what was causing this, despite the many tests, it was unclear how to stop it. So, the doctors gave me diuretics which essentially meant that I was constantly pissing out my excess brain fluid, and which resulted in a number of side effects like muscle spasms and risk of heat stroke. On top of all the invasive medical interventions and lack of clear answers, I had been faced head on with my mortality, first through the fear that it was brain cancer, and then through my time at the children’s hospital staying in the neurological wing where many of the other children were terminal, and heading to the MRI machines in the basement and passing a sign which read ‘morgue.’ My parents were, unfortunately, not equipped to attune to me and support me through this traumatic and existential experience.
A couple months after this medical saga, my grandfather who had been sexually threatening me for my entire childhood finally sexually assaulted me. I told my parents and I was told that it was good I told them, but nothing at all came of it, and nothing changed.
Directly after this, my parents took my brother, my sister, and I on a long road trip across Canada. It was supposed to be a grand adventure, weeks on the road seeing all the beauty that Canada has to offer, but I was severely traumatized and pissing out my brain fluid. The summer heat and constant running around was difficult for me to manage on the diuretics, and I was also filled with profound pain, sadness, and fear that I could not explain or understand because, according to my family, nothing was wrong.
During this trip, I was sullen, I complained, I dawdled, I was unenthusiastic. I was reminded by my parents that I was being selfish and ungrateful, that I was lucky to be having this adventure and should enjoy it. There was no recognition of my medical condition or the impact of the meds. There was certainly no acknowledgement of the recent trauma of being sexually assaulted by a family member and the impact this would have on my mood.
Due to my sullenness and my dawdling, I made my family late to see the eruption of some geyser at some national park. I was told that this geyser only erupted every few years and that my parents had been greatly looking forward to seeing it. Due to my selfishness, we had missed it, and the opportunity had been lost. It was my fault that my parents were disappointed, and this disappointment was presented to me as a great wrong, something that could not be undone. If only I could think of someone other than myself.
This haunted me for years. I felt perpetually guilty about it. The geyser only erupts every few years and my parents had missed it! Who knew when they would get the opportunity to see it again, if they ever would. They may never, in all their lives, see the geyser erupt, and all due to my selfishness and ingratitude. It wasn’t until some moment in my 20s, in therapy, that I finally saw the insanity of this situation.