When surveying the psychological wreckage of my childhood, two central, pre-SSRI coping mechanisms emerge as tropes: my love for animals and the escapism provided by music. People in my family of origin are not exactly known for being in touch with their emotions, and I am not too much different: to this day, I can relate more freely and openly to animals than I can to people, and there are times when I cannot reach my own emotions until I hear a song that calls something up in me and allows me release.
Example: when we went to put Sidney down, I couldn’t really cry. I tried to cry. I cradled her head in my arms and I told her goodbye, and that it was OK. Both Mr. Right-Click and my stepfather (both of whom were in the room with me when she was anesthetized) had tears running down their faces. I kept thinking, “I am sad, I should be feeling sadness now, this is a horrible situation and I’ve dreaded this day, why am I not crying? Why can’t I cry?” But all I could manage was a few tears that dried up pretty quickly.
When this happens I always feel like such an asshole. Like, I know I am upset but for some reason I cannot go through emotions like a normal person. I feel like people must think I’m dead inside, and I think maybe I am dead inside, because didn’t I really love this dog? Didn’t I use her and Ryan as a surrogate family during my late twenties and early thirties?
Then I heard an old Prince song (of all things) and oh yeah! there it is — all of the sadness, all of a sudden — now that I’m disjointed from the reality of the loss it hits me, linked somehow to this stupid song by Prince about an abandoned woman and Prince’s desire for nothing more than a one night stand.
I asked her if she wanted to dance
And she said that all she wanted was a good man
And wanted to know if I thought I was qualified.
And I said: Baby
don’t waste your time
I know what’s on your mind.
I may be qualified for a one night stand
But I could never take the place of your man.
[WHAT THE FUCK?!]
When I took this Freud seminar in graduate school the instructor said that the great thing about Freud for literary critics is that the assumption is that everything is always overdetermined — that you cannot really read into anything too much, because the meaning is in the work of figuring out the meaning. So I thought, maybe it was the year the song came out? Maybe it was the year I got Sidney or something? But no, my reasearch assistant, Mr. Wikipedia, informs me that, though originally recorded in 1982, “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” was a single off Prince’s 1987 album, Sign O’ The Times. In 1987, I was a freshman in high school, a time that was fraught with difficulty but still years and years away from when Sidney (2001) or even Ryan (1993) became part of my replacement family.
But then again, the song — however superficially — is a song about replacing a loved one. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t that what animals did for me throughout my childhood, and what Sidney and Ryan did for me in early adulthood? Aren’t we all just looking for a good man (or whatever) to take the place of something or someone that disappointed us? Wasn’t that what my late twenties and early thirties were all about, in some form or another?
(Oh, and not for nothing, Prince, but I’m going to call bullshit on the whole “baby don’t waste your time” bit, because I have a little experience in this area and I can tell you that is never, ever what they say. But nice try.)
Because these music-related emotional outpourings always occur at wonderfully opportune moments, I also had one at my brother’s wedding last month (“Crimson & Clover” this time — still haven’t been able to deconstruct that one). When I tried to articulate what was wrong with me to Mr. Right-Click, I said, “I always know that I don’t have a family, not really. I know it intellectually, but sometimes I don’t believe it until I have to.”
Mini, in another room of the suite, but apparently still listening, said, “Mama, I will be your family, OK?” And Mr. Right-Click said, “Yes, honey, now we are your family.”
And I guess that, too, is what it’s all about. The feelings hit you when they hit you, and the good man comes when he comes, in whatever form you can manage at the time. My animals were mine for over a decade, and with Sidney’s death that time is really over now. I feel sad, and even so maybe it’s not the worst thing to be able to feel feelings, even if you have to use 80s pop music in order to get there.