Empathy No. 108
12/09/02, Brawney off. 3:42 PM
ELEANOR: I think Lloyd is trying to get closer to Roderick. Of course I'm happy about that, I'm never sure what Roderick thinks about it. Yesterday, they brought up the Christmas tree and Lloyd suggested that Roderick be the one to decorate it. I'd mentioned once - it was a while ago - that Roderick liked decorating our old tree, just in passing I said it, and Lloyd must have remembered. It was a nice gesture.
DR. BRAWNEY: Decorating the tree was a big deal for Roderick?
ELEANOR: Well, Christmas...I didn't like it because I knew I was going to have to disappoint him. I could get him something, but it was never going to be what he wanted, so after a while he stopped writing wish lists. And he'd act happy with whatever I had for him, but the other kids...it's not like he ever really wanted anything, but it's like it was one more thing to remind him of the situation, I guess. It just reminded him that we didn't have as much. But we had this little plastic tree, and a bunch of ornaments, and I always let him decorate it. It was the one thing I knew would make him happy.
DR. BRAWNEY: What was Christmas like before Roderick?
ELEANOR: Honestly? I didn't really like it back then, either. It was just so awkward.
DR. BRAWNEY: Awkward in what way?
ELEANOR: I don't know if I can put it into words...okay, it got a little strained when my sisters got older. They were a lot older than me, they both left the house by the time I was eight. After that, it was so different. It was just me and Mom and Dad and I guess I didn't know how to be the only child. Around Christmas, I guess...I never felt like I was good enough. Does that make sense?
DR. BRAWNEY: We've spoken very little about Roderick's relationship with his extended family.
ELEANOR: Well, he rarely sees my sisters, they have their own separate lives. We get together at family events, but you get older, everyone scatters, so you do that kind of thing less. My Dad died when Roderick was very young. I do wish he could see his grandmother more often, but it just hasn't happened as much as I'd like.
DR. BRAWNEY: Do you find that awkward as well?
ELEANOR: You mean, when my Mom sees him? I mean, she treats him very well. He always seemed happy when we visit home - it's quiet there, there's a lot more space for him. And Mom never says anything unkind to me, so it's not that. When we're there, I just feel...wrong. Guilty.
DR. BRAWNEY: Guilty in what way?
ELEANOR: Never mind.
DR. BRAWNEY: Eleanor, you broached the topic. Why do you feel guilty?
ELEANOR: I'm really not...okay. Mom never met Roderick's father, or maybe she did, I guess I don't know, but she never saw us together. No one really did - we kept it secret, a lot of people wouldn't approve of that kind of relationship. So my mother really never knew until I told her I was pregnant. And when we're together, when we're at the dinner table, I feel judged, just having Roderick there. And it got worse, because as Roderick is getting older, he's started to really look like his father. So when she sees him, when she sees us together, in my head it's like she's seeing...you know, what happened. What's wrong with me?
DR. BRAWNEY: We do sometimes hear comments like this from people who were brought up in an environment of shame. Does that describe you?
ELEANOR: No, I don't think so. I mean, no one ever shamed me for anything, but on the inside, when anything went wrong, it just hurt me. Maybe more than it should. God, did I pass that on to Roderick? Is he learning that from me?
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