Got a little obsessive last night. Said some mean things to my husband about his daughter. Have to ask myself the question, why do care so much? She is his daughter, not mine. She is grown. She doesn't live with us. We don't have an abundance of contact, I'm a mature woman, she can't hurt me. And if she should be damaged goods, shouldn't this inspire compassion from me?
I arrived home yesterday after spending several days with my sister and her baby at my mothers home in Connecticut. My sister flew in from California. While I was there my husband had a phone conversation with his daughter where she repeated her happiness with all the money she is earning, working as a bartender. My husband said to me, "I bet that she is lying to us and really stripping." I was aghast. But what he said made a lot of sense. There is a lie somewhere. It is hard to believe that she is earning as much as she says bar tending. The only way to know what is going on is to go and visit the bar where she is working. So next Friday night we are going to walk down the street, take a right, walk a little way, take another right, and then we are there. To visit Jennifer on her job and to order a beer and a diet soda.
But my husband has planted a nasty suspicion in my mind and it eats away at me. I told him last night that nobody who grows up and becomes a stripper, especially when they have so many other options, is right in the head. That if she is a stripper this is proof that he was a crappy parent. He insists that all he did was give her unconditional love. I said I tried that with my dog and it didn't work. Unconditional love, without discipline and guidance, won't give you a civilized adult. And lying shows weakness of character.
I said that if Jennifer is stripping, then everything that she said, which I passed off as immature, may have a more sinister meaning. Over time I've let things that the girl said roll off my back. Now I wonder, does the girl have sociopathic tendencies?
There was what she wanted to do for her brother. He is mentally ill and for a while kept trying to kill himself. He was in and out of institutions. She said that she wished she had a gun to give to him and to say, "Here, now's your chance. Either do it, kill yourself, or shut up and stop talking about it."
Young and frustrated over being worried every time she hears there's been another suicide attempt, I said to myself.
Then there was the time when an adult friend of Mike and I interviewed Jennifer in our living room to determine whether to take her on as a roommate. Jennifer had no place to stay, she was sleeping on our sofa but we knew our landlord would not tolerate the arrangement for very long. We were feeling pressure trying to find her a place to stay. Our friend was very subtle, she wanted to find out what kind of a person Jennifer was. It seemed that she put Jennifer at ease. But what then came out of Jennifer's mouth shocked both Mike and I. "I don't like rules. I like to do whatever I want. I don't like having a boss." Everything she was saying made it sound like she would be a horrible roommate, where cooperation and respect between partners is very important. We listened to the interview and it was clear to everyone in the room except for Jennifer that she was completely turning off our friend.
Actually after this incident I worried a little about Jennifer's future fitting into society. But there are people who start their own companies wanting to be their own boss. And again, not liking rules is a theme song for youth. Rebellion is in itself something many people go through as a phase. Or they stick with it their entire lives - but not liking rules doesn't automatically result in criminal behavior.
More recently there is the the suspicion that Jennifer is driving her car despite it not being fit for the road. There are some mechanical problems with it, but what gets the police's notice is the fact that the rear braking lights don't work. Currently a boyfriend hooked up the electrical system so that the rear braking lights are on all the time. But like the lights not working at all, this other anomaly will eventually get the police's notice and she will get a ticket. The car has also failed to pass Vermont inspections. She had been pulled over and given a ticket for the rear lights before. She didn't pay the ticket, so, she says, Vermont suspended her license until the ticket was paid. For a long time she didn't have a license because she didn't fix the car, figuring if she can't drive, why bother with having a license? In bars she used her passport as identification. At the time I said to myself, she is young, she doesn't have experience about the need to pay bills on time, and in Brattleboro, there are many people who don't have cars and walk everywhere and get rides from their friends. Jennifer has a roommate who has a car. But now look back and I think, is it a symptom of sociopathy that you live a disorganized lifestyle and flaunt the law? And how stupid is it, having once lost your license over an unfixed car, to continue driving this car unfixed. Money is not an issue. Jennifer has bragged that every month after bills are paid she has about $1,000 left over. Or, I wonder now, is that a lie and exaggeration?
There was the time, when she was pregnant, where she tried to argue in front of me with my husband, that her life was more important than mine. She wanted to have the baby while on our insurance instead of taking State insurance or the father's insurance. She said, "I go to school full time, I work, and Karen stays at home and does nothing. I think I deserve to be on your insurance more than Karen does. A father should put his natural born daughter above his wife. The daughter is his flesh and blood. The wife isn't." Again, I thought youth, they think the world revolves around them and their needs. She was pregnant and desperate, the slur on my character was done in a moment of excitement.
But now I wonder, if she is stripping, how egocentric and in love with herself she may be. I thought that her bragging to us about how beautiful she is, and thin, and a hottie - anytime she gets a compliment she repeats it to us, was a sign of low self esteem. She doesn't really believe these things, she is saying them in an attempt to convince herself. But what if there is nothing wrong with her self esteem. What if stripping is all about being on a glorious power trip? The ultimate trip of worship me.
I say and think all these things and I know it is wrong and bad because it is premature. Mike and I haven't visited the bar where she tells us that she is bar tending. We don't know yet what is really going on.
About a month ago Mike and Jennifer took a day trip to NYC to visit a comic book convention. Jennifer's cell phone battery was dying, and since it looked hopeless to communicate by cell phone, they agreed when they split up that they would meet in a certain spot at a certain time. He waited at their rendezvous and Jennifer never showed up. My husband panicked. The convention center was large and filled with people. He searched for her and couldn't find her. Hours passed. I was on the phone with him and suggested that he talk to a policeman. And then, as the booths had closed and the building was emptying out of people somehow, they found each other. Jennifer had wanted her comic books signed but in order to do this she had to sit through a lecture and then wait in line - all the while knowing that her father was waiting for her. She showed complete disregard for his feelings. She apologized. But Mike said that it was the sort of apology where she knew exactly what she was doing and hoped to smooth things over afterwards. He swore that he would never travel with her again to any convention.
Jennifer proved to her father and me how really selfish she can be.
And then we get to the reason why it bothers me so much who or what Jennifer may be. I have cared deeply about her. And I don't want to care for someone who is incapable of caring for me. I want to protect myself. I don't want to put out my heart for someone who can tear it up. I'm paranoid. I don't trust easily.
Here is an example of a situation that can be read either two ways. Jennifer lives several houses down the road from us. Jennifer cut her finger. She came to my house with the cut covered in paper towels and electrical tape. I looked at the cut. It was deep, she needed stitches. I drove her to the nearby hospital's emergency room. I told her that she did not need to walk home, I would keep my cell phone by my side and pick her up when she was ready. I told her she was being very brave, not a tear, not a trace of worry about the cut, and she admitted that it did hurt. When Mike came home he said, "Jennifer came to you when she needed help. This shows that she trusts you. It's a big deal what you did for her." Now I wonder, with paranoia, if I was not merely convenient. I was honestly happy to help Jennifer, to be asked by her for help.
I have no daughter. My one shot at knowing what it feels like to have a daughter is Jennifer. I have fantasized about having a will, and one day being old and alone, leaving all my possessions to Jennifer. I told Mike, who says that I am going off on a tree branch, far away from the stable reality of the solid tree trunk, that I am merely acting like a hysterical mother. But I think too there is the ghost of schizophrenia, where bonds between people are not as strong because of the disease, or at least, distorted by the disease. If Jennifer is stripping this means that I don't know her, I don't understand her. This is an empty vacuum of knowledge. And into that vacuum my greatest fears will flow.
I told Mike last night that I would not have a stripper for a friend but upon reflection, this is not entirely untrue. I am curious. If I knew a stripper, and had their attention, I might ask them questions about what they do, digging for stories. I was young once, and a little wild. I like a good adventure story. But how close a friend can you be to a stripper? Someone who turns ideas and formulas of intimacy inside-out? I believe that what you do is an indicator of who you are. You leave clues as to who you are by what you do. Stripping makes you ask questions about character. Everyone keeps telling me that they knew a girl who grew up and became a stripper, and she was "a very sweet girl". Well Jennifer is a very sweet girl. She makes an impression on you of being very likable. But now I wonder if that sweetness has served a purpose. Doesn't a venus fly trap smell very sweet to the fly? Have I been sucked in and bewitched by my step-daughter? Is she something far more sinister than her appearances?
Mike said that last summer when he visited his parents he went there with the purpose of letting them know that he was not a Christian. He wanted them to know the truth, and his worst fear was that when they knew the truth they would reject him. They would cut off communication. But he said that he thinks they know, and they have shown since, that they still love him. There have been phone calls and Christmas gifts. They may know, and don't want to talk about it, but they certainly don't act any different.
Mike's message to me was that if Jennifer should be stripping, don't reject her because of what she does. Have unconditional love, and love family even when you make different life decisions and have different world views.
When Mike and Jennifer were in the car, driving to their comic book convention, Jennifer said to Mike that she believed I hated her. "That was Jennifer trying to manipulate her father" my sister said to me, "it is clear that you don't hate her."
But I think Jennifer was being honest. She really fears that I don't like her. All that I have done to try to be nice to her and still she does not trust. She is damaged. In the past she has experienced harm at the hands of several mother figures. She has an extremely narcissistic mother and a had a stepmother who was a horrid alcoholic. And I, likewise, at some level, do not trust that she is a good person. I may be damaged. Or I may be insightful. Isn't that a funny dillema? Either your emotions are diseased and telling you lies or your emotions are intelligent and sensitive, feeding you the secrets of the universe.