May 13, 2010

Frosty The Snowman

320px-Schrodingers_cat.jpg
there are worse things than being alone but it often takes decades...



It was 1979 and the boy was 7 and playing a Mattel electronic soccer, and Karen was 3 and resting her head on her mother's thigh, but the other part of it was that they were in the hospital and her mother was dying.

The accident put the mother into a coma immediately, but left her that way for another ten hours, nine of which were dreadful waiting.  Waiting for something to happen, waiting for it to be too late to stay any longer, waiting for a doctor to come and tell them what the test that they had waited for was going to show.

The father was there, just coming up to sober.  He had given the kids the soccer game to distract them so he could process his grief.

There was a nurse there as well, she tried to offer the girls some juice, but Karen didn't want any juice.   The boy scored a goal so no one offered him anything.

The mother let out a gasp, then there was some sort of rushing and organized chaos as the medical staff moved parts of her body around and family asked frenzied questions, within a few seconds more doctors were there, more nurses, and both kids were pushed to a corner where they both stared at futility.

Eventually it was over.  It had actually been over well before that.  But.

There is a moment, it comes immediately after the doctors stop working and immediately before you understand that the person is forever dead, where time pauses.  Everything stops.  That stillness is inviolable, it is at that moment when you witness quantum physics choosing between potentialities, you are watching it decide that this not that will be, this is what will be what has happened.

It was in that sacred moment that Karen chose to sing.   "Frost-y the snowman! Was a very happy soul--"

She never actually got to "soul," because by "Frost-" the back of her father's hand slapped her in the face with such impulse that she fell over.

It was a reflexive slap, the song was such an affront to the family and to quantum mechanics that his hand got to her face even before his eyes did.   Everyone winced.  No one said anything.  The staff looked away, down, up, at machines and papers.  The original nurse put a smile on and lead the kids by the hand outside.  Maybe there was some ice cream there, let's leave the grown ups to talk.

"But I want to sing Frosty!" said Karen.  " Just one time?!"

II.

The problem with guilt, unlike shame, is that it is with you even when you are Alone.

Karen grew up and carried the guilt of that accident with her, the guilt of that single instant: she had distracted her father in the car.  Too loud.  Dropped the Oreos.   The father had turned to look at her, yell at her.  The only part that wasn't really her fault was that no one wore seat belts in 1979.

Thirty years later she didn't even have solid memory of her mother, but the accident and the hospital were in hi def.  Her brother's descent into drugs, her father's decline into nothing, all had happened because she hadn't been able to save her mother.  Not directly, but inevitably.  No matter how you worked backwards from the splitting of 30 years of potentialities, they all started with the dropping of the Oreos.

And she had run through in her mind, in those 30 years, every other alternative potentiality: if she had simply sat quietly; listened to her father; died in a fire; died in utero... so many other possibilities and if any of them, therefore her mother would still be alive.   

But those were unsatisfying fantasies, because they didn't change the source of her guilt which was, she knew, the dropping of the Oreos.    That's what had to change, the opportunity missed.   Then her mother would be alive, then she would have succeeded, then the guilt would be gone.

She parented differently now that she had a 3 year old daughter of her own, it was all four point harnesses and Chevy Suburbans and no snacks in the car. 

But you can protect your kids from the world, you can't protect them from you.

When the family goldfish died Karen decided to use it as a teaching experience for her young daughter.  They'd take the fish outside and bury it, and say a prayer, and in this way would learn about death and God and about the enormity and ceaselessness of the universe, that life is finite though memories are not. 

But what do we know about the universe that we think we can teach?  We humans fret about personality and behavior and the relative contributions of nature vs. nurture, but if someone asked God if they should study Francis Crick or Carl Jung, He would spit in their food.  Get thee behind me, Satan.

When Karen sat Catherine in front of the bowl, in that instant of silence when Catherine should have been watching quantum decoherence, she instead did this: 

"Frost-y the Snowman!  Was a jolly happy soul!  With a corn cob pipe--"

And the mother snapped.  "CATHERINE!"

Catherine's head jerked back.  Her eyes darted to the dead fish.

"Why are you singing THAT?!"

Eyes darted back to the mom, back to the fish, back to the mom. "--and a button nose--"

"Stop! Why are you singing that?!"

A sob came up first, back and forth went the eyes.  "...I have to."

"Why?!"

"So he'll wake up..."

Nothing in that room moved, except a flow of tears and Catherine's eyes, watching quantum mechanics take away her beautiful fish.

"... but now it's too late..."

-----

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych









Comments

WTF? Have you lost your mi... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 7:26 PM | Posted by AnonyMouse: | Reply

WTF? Have you lost your mind?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -29 (45 votes cast)
Beautiful.... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 7:30 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Beautiful.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 13 (21 votes cast)
Sometimes I think he writes... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 7:40 PM | Posted by dogtired: | Reply

Sometimes I think he writes these things with himself as the sole audience.

Other times I feel like there's a great lesson to be learned from his posts, but I'm totally clueless as to what he's talking about.

Some people may like that style, but frankly I wish he'd be less cryptic.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 5 (25 votes cast)
Nothing else to add but ^ <... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 8:11 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Nothing else to add but ^

Probably one of my top 3 favorite posts ever written on this blog alongside the Iraq post you wrote way back and the "Near Death of a Salesman".

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Of course he writes with hi... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 8:12 PM | Posted by Billypilgrim37: | Reply

Of course he writes with himself as the audience. But I'm glad he's kind enough to let us join him.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 30 (32 votes cast)
thank you.... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 8:53 PM | Posted by just another guilty one: | Reply

thank you.

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It's a beautiful and moving... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 8:54 PM | Posted by Mark V Wilson: | Reply

It's a beautiful and moving story. For me, it's also a koan - to figure out the parts of the story that are about me. I am curious if any or all of these things happened and, if so, where the author was.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (8 votes cast)
I believe he is a writer. I... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 8:58 PM | Posted by R. Kevin Hill: | Reply

I believe he is a writer. I believe this is what was called a "short story." I believe it was lovely.

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Dropped the Oreos <... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 9:03 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Dropped the Oreos

I'd say, "you've got to be fucking kidding me", but such an affront to the auditory senses clearly required the driver to distract himself further by taking his eyes, attention, whatever, off the road. His wife dying was clearly worth the lesson he taught his surviving generation.

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My mother is a fish.... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 9:50 PM | Posted by Shaan: | Reply

My mother is a fish.

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This is the part where I ge... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 10:31 PM | Posted by syntaxfree: | Reply

This is the part where I get to act smug and say that most people are missing the point.

Here's some music about The Point.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ujk5QTHvdA

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -3 (5 votes cast)
Oreo koansslip to th... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 11:22 PM | Posted by CC: | Reply

Oreo koans
slip to the floor, cry
milk unspilt, laughter

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Alone, if you still read th... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 11:37 PM | Posted by Charles: | Reply

Alone, if you still read the comments (and who could blame you if you didn't), thanks.

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You understand the oreos ha... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 11:41 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by The Title Is The Answer: | Reply

You understand the oreos had nothing to do with her guilt or why mom died, right? Jezuz, I know he's cryptic, but the fact that Dad can't HEAR oreos is kinda the point.

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Yes, I do realize this. Wh... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 11:59 PM | Posted, in reply to The Title Is The Answer's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Yes, I do realize this. Whether or not the girl did anything is not the point. The dad being kinda a dick, is. But if the title, or any song, is the point, I defy you to do better than foreigner.

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Touché. Though it's hard t... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 12:29 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by The Title Is The Point: | Reply

Touché. Though it's hard to imagine that singing a Foreigner song will bring anyone back to life. The opposite, I'd think.

Off topic, but you may know that that Foreigner link is the kind where if you sit through the video, a scary picture comes up at the end. Which would almost be funny but for the fact that no one would sit through a Foreigner song.

Anyone else intrigued by the fact that Alone has made at least three posts about guilt and death?

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I'd follow you...but my dis... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 12:47 AM | Posted by Psychiatry Student: | Reply

I'd follow you...but my dislike for twitter is greater than my love for this blog, unfortunately. :(

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Exactly. After the song ki... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 12:55 AM | Posted, in reply to The Title Is The Point's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Exactly. After the song kills you, the picture brings you back to life. And the fact that I did not sit through the whole link just proves your point.

On topic, it's not really established whether or not the dad did anything other than look back. The way I interpret it the child just assumed it was to yell at her and at that age assumptions are reality until instructed otherwise.

Beautiful story, though. I almost shed a tear. Almost.

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Thank you for writing this!... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 1:02 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Thank you for writing this!

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The problem with guilt, ... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 1:26 AM | Posted by FunPsych: | Reply

The problem with guilt, unlike shame, is that it is with you even when you are Alone.

Huh? They can both exist independently or simultaneously when one is alone. I don't feel like typing, so I'll just quote from Wikipedia:

According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame is a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violations of one's internal values. Thus, it is possible to feel ashamed of thought or behavior that no one knows about and to feel guilty about actions that gain the approval of others.

Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis argued that "The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus." Similarly, Fossum and Mason say in their book Facing Shame that "While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one's actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person." Following this line of reasoning, Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman concludes that "Shame is an acutely self-conscious state in which the self is 'split,' imagining the self in the eyes of the other; by contrast, in guilt the self is unified.

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1) the father hitting the c... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 2:29 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

1) the father hitting the child is disgusting.
2) a child should never distract her father from the road simply by being a little noisy. If the child were a monster grabbing at his hair screaming in his ear, then yea, maybe that would distract him. But if she was just singing in the car and being noisy, it isn't her fault if her fuck up father crashed the car, and it is a double abuse that he hit her in the hospital.

I think karen is fucked up not because of the fragility of time and the power of seemingly insignificant events to forever chagne life... but karen is fucked because her father is a psychofuckingpath.

Um, this whole post gets a thumbs down for that reason.

And if I were the nurse, I would have immediately taken karen to the side and comforted her, and I probably would have given a heads up to CPS, given that her father crashed the car and is beating his kids in the hospital as their mother dies from the accident HE caused..., he might not be right in the head and all of this points to some kind of mental problem on his part.

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Why is Alone capitalized? ... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 2:54 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Why is Alone capitalized? I don't think TLP is a German idealist...

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It was 1979 and... the f... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 3:09 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

It was 1979 and... the father was there, just coming up to sober.  He had given the kids the soccer game to distract them so he could process his grief.

1)How drunk did one need to be in the 70's to not have the capacity to slap his children after crashing the car with them in it?

2)When was the first portable handheld video game device invented?

3)Why isn't appreciating the loved ones he has left, his legacy and progeny no less, his means of processing the grief?

This is indeed a strange and troubling universe.

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Lot of people here blame th... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 3:21 AM | Posted by Alex-5: | Reply

Lot of people here blame the father... Carcrash is a carcrash, it just happens. It always is a number of conditions rather then one's entire fault. My friend is professional racing driver, champion for his country. I've seen him drive a road car, he's real good (not at driving fast but at driving safe) And yet last year he crashed his car violantly fliping it over 3 times. So you can't say "It was avoidable if the father wouldn't be distracted by Oreos" It was avoidable if more then one circumstance could be changed.

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The point is, it is prepost... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 4:24 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The point is, it is preposterous that the girl would grow up with a guilt complex over an event that was much more clearly related to her father's abuse and neglect. I like to think that any reasonable person would figure that out sooner or later, even if the child self initially felt guilty. Even if we assume the father is not at fault (although by slapping his daughter and never apologizing and stating he behaved in a reprehensible way, I think he clearly is at fault for at LEAST being abusive/neglectful, and we can assume he never comforted her and apologized as she seemed to grow up feeling guilty her whole life).... even if he isn't at fault for the crash (which, given his other insane behaviors toward his duaghter, seems suspect that his mental state was tip top while driving)... he is still at fault for fucking his daughter up for life.

And, I didn't take "sober" to be literal sober re: alcohol use, I interpreted as sober from the shock of trauma. If the dad was drinking then that much more clearly puts him at fault for the crash, which only makes the girl's guilt even more fucking ridiculous.


Really, people do grow up and look back on shit their parents did and say "wow they were fucking assholes".

My dad was a drunk and he would become abusive toward my mother. When I was 4 or 5, I would beg my mother to apologize to my father so he wouldn't be upset. When I was 9, I had a revelation that my father is a gigantic abusive asshole.

People realize these things, eventually, when they grow up.

Children don't stay in that frame of mind where they keep blaming themselves for shit that they didn't fully understand. Sooner or later they mature and something clicks and they get enraged over the injustice.

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"I like to think that any r... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 4:48 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Alex-5: | Reply

"I like to think that any reasonable person would figure that out sooner or later, even if the child self initially felt guilty."

Sadly it doesn't work in that way. Usualy human's mind is closed to himself. People lie to themselves a lot. So even to understand that you live with a guilt complex is an achievment. And again the way human mind is constructed understanding it wouldn't just let you overcome it, forget it. You have to treat it in psychological ways. But it is not always availble.

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It doesn't matter whether K... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 7:42 AM | Posted by Dolores: | Reply

It doesn't matter whether Karen caused the accident or not. All that matters is that she believed she caused it, hence the guilt.

The capitalized Alone obviously is a clue that this is a personal story, although I doubt whether there really was a car crash. Are accidents where one person is killed while three other people in the same car have no injuries, very likely to happen?

Is Alone Karen, the father, brother or Catherine?

Does Karen really think she caused her mother's death or made the father believe her she did when slapping her when she started singing? Karen yelled at her daughter for singing and the story says she missed her chance to bring the fish back, by singing. So her daughter will feel guilty about the fish forever, because of Karen yelling? Because guilt for both of them is created by missed opportunities?

'You can protect your kids from the world, you can't protect them from you.' I like that.

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I didn't think that the fat... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 8:02 AM | Posted by Stephanie: | Reply

I didn't think that the father was meant to be characterized as an abusive asshole, just a normal flawed person. A parent, having a bad day, with rowdy kids in the car who aren't listening, a daughter who's sing-songing, "Ooops, I spilled the Oreos!" might in frustration turn around to correct them.

And I could hardly blame the father for the "reflexive" slap when his daughter started singing "Frosty the Snowman" when her mother was pronounced dead. Your wife, whom you love dearly, who helps you carry the burdens of life, has just died, and your child erupts with a frivolous song? I can't blame the father, who probably later regretted the slap. All parents make mistakes; not everyone is a saint with perfect composure.

Of course, it's not the girl's fault either, for being a bit rowdy in the car as children tend to be, or for being overwhelmed by something as huge as her mother's death and reacting in a way adults found shockingly inappropriate.

It's these moments when no one and everyone is to blame, when strange and powerful events unfold according to their own "quantum physics," that shape us. The girl's, and later, the woman's guilt, was inevitable. Children always tend to blame themselves when things go wrong, especially in situations where one of their actions was part of the cause of an effect. I think the arc in the story of her daughter repeating the same song, while improbable, is beautiful: in that moment, the grown woman now understands that moment when she sang "Frosty" in a completely different way; it was her childlike way of trying to make things better, to use magic to make the bad things stop.

I imagine, in that moment, she is able to finally forgive herself.

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Great story. Sure, we back ... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 8:42 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

Great story. Sure, we back into it, instead of having it presented like a case conference. If some of you readers cannot handle it, tough. Just don't go into psychotherapy, where everything gets presented backwards. Myself, this story reminds me of the client who actually did cry for a long time. Over 30 minutes. rookie therapists fear emotion, partly a fear of now knowing what to do, especially if it goes on for a long time. I had pretty much gotten passed that stage of training when a client revealed her long-held guilt, from when she was 7 or so, over following a (crazy) parent's instruction to throw lit matchbook in a (hated) neighbor's open window. A toddler, and everyone else, got out of the house safely, and the fire dept came. This woman had lived for years thinking of herself as a heartless murderer. Because she was so culpable, in her mind, she had no grounds for standing up for herself, or striving for her own interests and goals.

Instead, she let others drive her life. Decent, respectful people recognize that it just is not that great to drive other people's lives. But psychopathic and narcissistic people have no trobule with this. So, this woman had a life course of being led around by such people.

After the crying session, this changed.

She quit asking me if I thought her husband was cheating, because the case laid out required no answer. It simply required believing in yourself enough to believe your own answer.

If I tell a story like this in a logical order, it makes sense. But it is nothing like the way it was revealed over several sessions.

Singing "Frosty" brings Frosty back to life. but it has to be at the right time. Some of us readers missed this crucial point, so for y'all, I am giving you the Cliff's notes answer. Man, some of y;all can really take the humor out of a joke, I bet.

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Hey Doc,Great Post... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 10:29 AM | Posted by BillyBoy: | Reply

Hey Doc,

Great Post. I think that in spite of how much one can painstakingly analyze a tragedy to the point of creating alternate outcomes (What if I didn't drop the oreos? What if I were just quiet?), sometimes those situations are simply out of our control. It's a question that goes beyond our own realm of understanding within the great cosmos. It's something called fate, perhaps. And with it goes the creed that "everything happens for a reason".

If people can grasp that concept, then the burdens of guilt and remorse would be diminished.

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I'm sorry, I hate to bre... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 10:57 AM | Posted by Alone: | Reply

I'm sorry, I hate to break the fourth wall here but FYI I had to change the last line of the story, from "I lost my chance" to what it is now. Not a big change, but it is so obvious in following from the front pic caption/Bukowski poem that I can't believe I didn't think of it immediately. I was thinking quantum mechanics--> chances, but this fits much better.

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It's a beautiful little sto... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 11:22 AM | Posted by DJMoore: | Reply

It's a beautiful little story, and everyone worrying about slaps and Oreos and Child Abductive Services and so forth is seriously missing the point. As has been said, it's a koan.

Linked over at my place.

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The abusive and bizarre beh... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 11:31 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The abusive and bizarre behavior of the father and the bizarre reaction of the daughter and the lack of correction by anyone observing is so distracting that it is impossible to see the point of the frosty song and such.

Because the first thing I'm thinking is "why the fuck is the baby made to feel guilty for the crash, why is she never given support by her family and council from professionals -- why does the father hit her and never apologize -- why does not a single nurse intervene -- why is this situation so fuckedup and bass aackward?"

I don't know maybe this actually happens, but if that were me I would probably grow up to hate my dad and think of how wrong it was that HE killed MY mother and blamed me for it, subconsciously, meh?

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medsvstherapy - no offense,... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 11:48 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

medsvstherapy - no offense, but, I seriously doubt that single incident is the reason your client was so fucked up/distressed over. Odds are she was abused terribly and chronically by her parents, given the fact that it was her own parents who instructed her to do this. Normal people generally don't encourage their children to comit murder and arson... so it was probably the combined effect of an entire childhood filled with abuse and neglect resulting ing your client crying for 30 minutes in your office... not this one single event remembered and released.

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Congradulations. With that... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 12:49 PM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Congradulations. With that one change you've managed to make the story somehow even more depressing. But, I suppose, in those brief moments between glances back and forth the repeated observations convey "too late" better than the words ever could.

I'm conflicted about the father slapping the child. It's not a fart in church where everyone's sense of pomp and importance conflates with equally meaningless ritual; this is actually a time for serious reflection and pause. The slap was, afterall, reflexive. The problem isn't that Karen didn't recieve counseling after the acident, but that aparently noone recieved counseling after the accident. In 1979 everyone was Alone. At least in this instance.

That you changed one line tells us that nothing in this story is left in or out without great forethought. It ends as abruptly as it begins but not before Karen realizes her mother might as well have been a fish. Sometimes life just up and fucks you for no good reason, but your nuerons will always make one up.

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The point is, it is prep... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 12:51 PM | Posted by A Girl: | Reply

The point is, it is preposterous that the girl would grow up with a guilt complex over an event that was much more clearly related to her father's abuse and neglect. I like to think that any reasonable person would figure that out sooner or later, even if the child self initially felt guilty.

Yes and no. I can emphathize with Karen's pickle: She dropped the oreos, therefore her mother died. Regardless of what her father should have done, the fact is that her action preceded his. Cause and effect: If she hadn't dropped the oreos, her mother would be alive. In later years she may have come to understand that it was her fathers job to keep his eyes on the road and navigate it safely, but still doesn't take away the cause and effect, even though it may be based on the (possibly erroneous) perceptions of a six years old.
In my experience, guilt takes more than the intellect to get rid of. Knowing that your parent is 'crazy' only makes it worse - then the pressure is really on you to 'do right.' Forgiveness requires sitting down with someone who can explain to you what could reasonably have been expected of you at , and who may utter those golden words, "Ouch, that must have sucked." That does wonders for the 'Little Trooper Mentality' (Be strong, feel nothing, try to keep your nose above water and just keep going).

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Something dies, a kid sings... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 1:35 PM | Posted by EH: | Reply

Something dies, a kid sings "Frosty" to bring it back to life, and a parent reacts cluelessly. The cycle continues.

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Anon 11:48: good call. ther... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 3:03 PM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

Anon 11:48: good call. there were many terrible things in this person's life. the getting-slapped incident of the original story would have been a good day. The buring match deal was the worst that stuck in memory, and marked a turning point, when finally brought up in therapy.

EH: funny! Let's break the cycle!

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I think it's a clue of some... (Below threshold)

May 14, 2010 3:39 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by RC: | Reply

I think it's a clue of some sort.

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I Alone survived to tell th... (Below threshold)

May 15, 2010 7:04 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I Alone survived to tell thee...

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One Hundred Years of Solitu... (Below threshold)

May 15, 2010 8:28 AM | Posted by Ann: | Reply

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a beautiful book about generations that don't hear each other, don't learn from each other, and end up repeating the same lives again and again.

because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

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As I see it, Karen is a nar... (Below threshold)

May 15, 2010 10:04 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

As I see it, Karen is a narcissist. Her guilt made her a narcissist.

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Repetition compulsion mirro... (Below threshold)

May 15, 2010 9:17 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Repetition compulsion mirror neurons Catharsis for Karen Catharsis, used to could get paid big bucks for that.

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When my mother was small he... (Below threshold)

May 16, 2010 1:46 PM | Posted by rox: | Reply

When my mother was small her father was an alcoholic. He was not physically abusive, he would simply get drunk and not make sense and not speak to anyone, and was angry. He was a war veteran. She hated him.

When my mother was about ten, he became ill and she watched him die over a period of two years. During that time she struggled with her hatred for him and wished he would die.

When he died she has lived with feeling that it was her fault. You can know that wishing someone to live or die doesn't really make the difference, but yet the weight of that has never left her. Feelings often don't have a basis in conscious thought although they are related.

You can tell yourself it wasn't your fault, but the weight of knowing you at the very least, could have wished him to live... and you'll never know if you missed the opportunity to participate in a miracle.

Even if you don't believe in miracles.

My father watched his mother die as well, though she was in a mental institution for most of his early life, she died there when he was 14 of unknown causes. (Though we can suspect that a lobotomy procedure or the many other horrific "therapeutic" techniques used in the 1950's and 60's were at least in part or fully to blame.)

In my entire life he has only mentioned his mother to me twice.

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Your stories are good, but ... (Below threshold)

May 17, 2010 12:12 AM | Posted by Nadia: | Reply

Your stories are good, but your non-fiction is amazing.

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it would be a better story ... (Below threshold)

May 17, 2010 3:01 AM | Posted by Pablo botelho: | Reply

it would be a better story if the goldfish was a cat instead ;P

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At least Karen asked her da... (Below threshold)

May 17, 2010 3:43 AM | Posted by Whatever: | Reply

At least Karen asked her daughter why she sang instead just reacting to it. It doesn't seem like much but that's real progress. In a couple of generations maybe mom won't even have to ask - they'll be singing together.

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Its ironic and eerie how wo... (Below threshold)

May 18, 2010 12:09 AM | Posted by RB: | Reply

Its ironic and eerie how worshipful the comments can get on this blog.

A lot of interesting ideas, well written, but you guys talk about him like he's some kind of an all-knowing mystic giving you little personal riddles that are somehow going to make you enlightened. Its like watching the beginning of a religion. Is this what it looked like when Joseph Smith started doing his thing?

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It's a beautiful story.... (Below threshold)

May 29, 2010 6:20 PM | Posted by SusanC: | Reply

It's a beautiful story.

People often seem to resort to magical thinking when death is close (their own or someone else's).

Some people, at least, are prone to irrationally blaming themselves for bad things that happened--sometimes, even when they know (rationally) that they were not at fault.

And parents can loose patience when they're stressed out by bereavement.

===========

The nearest I've personally come to a "Frosty the Snowman" moment: It was after my grandmother's funeral. We'd had a reception at her house afterwards; most of the family had gone home; and I was doing the dishes and tidying up. I got to a point where normally I'd have to ask her permission "Grandmum, where do you want me to put this?" I got about a syllable into asking before I realised she was no longer there to be asked, and stopped myself saying it. But just enough sound got out of my mouth for my mother to know what I was about to say.

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The way I see it, Catherine... (Below threshold)

July 10, 2010 10:51 AM | Posted by eeeeaaii: | Reply

The way I see it, Catherine's singing of Frosty the Snowman helps the mother understand how and why she was not in fact being disrespectful of her mother, but was trying to bring her back to life. The idea being that what your parents tell you about yourself when you are a child is often much stronger in your mind than what you really were.

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Have no a lot of cash to bu... (Below threshold)

August 29, 2011 3:29 PM | Posted by BridgesTonya29: | Reply

Have no a lot of cash to buy a house? You should not worry, because it is available to receive the home loans to resolve such problems. Hence get a term loan to buy everything you require.

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Kids have a way of assuming... (Below threshold)

December 2, 2012 4:39 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Kids have a way of assuming responsibility for things they are in no way responsible for and carrying that into adulthood whether they know it or not; growing faculties of mind such as adult logic can make it even harder to access various aspects of that and that in turn can hurt your relationship with your own kids. You're cut off from them because you're cut off from yourself. Also we have a way of imposing our interpretations of our own experience onto them as "lessons" that can be incredibly damaging.

Even though singing Frosty won't bring the fish back to life, it would be good to let the child express the big hearted wish on any level she is able to.

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This is a great story, than... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2014 6:10 PM | Posted by GhostOctopus: | Reply

This is a great story, thank you for sharing it.

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a married couple in their 5... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2014 4:08 PM | Posted by H: | Reply

a married couple in their 50s was driving in the city. raging narcissist husband was behind the wheel and nearly ran over a young girl while making a turn because of his carelessness, but his angelic, borderline wife screamed loud enough to stop him. they missed the girl by an inch and she was strangely calm enough to smile at them after seeing the horrified looks on their faces and walked on. first thing husband said to wife after this fortunate incident was, "you just saved my life! i could've gone to jail!"

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