I get on a Randy Newman kick now and then. Today, playing a Newman cd while I was baking, I was struck by the song â€œMarie.â€ Lushly orchestrated, this version features a warm, romantic background, like so manyÂ Newman songs, belying the barbed lyrics.
â€œMarieâ€ sounds like a love song, but itâ€™s a love song sung by a jerk. The personae of Newman songs are complicated; â€œMarieâ€™sâ€ is drunk and prone to cliche and heedless of Marieâ€™s feelings most of the time. And yet, he manages to sing a moving love song. Newman packs the complexity of an Alice Munro short story into the three-minute length of a pop song, or perhaps I should say â€œpop song.â€
Anyway, there was no stopping me then. I looked up a YouTube video of â€œMarie,â€ and then checked out other NewmanÂ favorites, like â€œJolly Coppers on Paradeâ€ and â€œFeels Like Homeâ€ from his Faust collection.
Finally I landed on â€œI Want You To Hurt Like I Do.â€ In this video, Newmanâ€™s introduction is imbued with his familiar blend of scalding sarcasm and good-humored self-deprecation. Itâ€™s a Randy Newman â€œWe Are the World,â€ he says. Imagine, he says, good celebrities–Bruce, Sting, Kenny Rogers, and other Kennyâ€™s–singing in chorus, swaying to the melody. (So I once again checked out, of course, â€œWe Are the World,â€ which I still like.) Â
But instead of the charitable sentiments of Michael Jacksonâ€™s anthem, Newmanâ€™s begins â€œI ran out on my childrenâ€ and then repeats the refrain â€œI just want you to hurt like I do.â€ Itâ€™s about wanting others to feel your pain. Itâ€™s not about love and light and doing good. Itâ€™s about the dark human tendency to hurt when youâ€™ve been hurt.Â
I relied on this song when writing about my mom and the hurtful lashing out thatâ€™s characteristic of borderline personality disorder. Newman doesnâ€™t let us off the hookâ€”we all do it. But, if mental illness is an exaggeration of the normal, then people with people with BPD, because they hurt more, sometimes do it a little more than the rest of us. Hereâ€™s what I wrote in Missing:Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â A typical exchange would go like this. Weâ€™re sitting in the kitchen, in tense silence. My mother has just told me that Iâ€™m breaking her heart by dating a divorced guy. She canâ€™t sleep. She canâ€™t understand whatâ€™s happenedÂ to her perfect daughter. Why do I not care about her? She shakes her head, and cries, and looks more enraged at every response I offer. Sheâ€™s glad, she says at last, that my father isnâ€™t there to see my behavior. He was a puritan, she tells me. He was conservative about morals and marriage and divorce. He would be ashamed, she says, to know I was dating a divorced man.
I’m 21, and lostÂ my dad only two years before. I still feel sad and guilty about my silence during his illness and write in my journal and pray and cry frequently about failing him. I miss him all the time and find my mother even more difficult to deal with, without him there as a buffer. Hearing that my dad would be ashamed of me is the harshest thing my mother could say to me. Â
So, I try again with my mother. I explain how painful this particular argument is. I tell her, â€œI hear what youâ€™re saying, and thereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m going to forget it. But you should understand how much it hurts me for you to say that Dad would be ashamed of me. Iâ€™ve heard you and will think about what youâ€™ve said. Just never say that particular thing again.â€Â
A fleeting and enigmatic expression crosses her face. I canâ€™t parseÂ my mother’sÂ discomfiting expression. She doesnâ€™t look indignant or offended, still less compassionate and understanding. To say she looks pleased would be going too far, but perhaps I see a split second of satisfaction.
In any event, my plea has no effect. She repeats the remark about my dad often. Though I know her well, this always surprises me. Why would she not explain her concerns calmly and counsel me? Why does she deliberately say the most wounding thing she can?
Decades later,Â after a lot moreÂ life experience, with soul searching and a little wisdom, I gain some insight. A suffering friend told me, â€œI donâ€™t believe anyone can understand how Iâ€™m hurting unless theyâ€™re hurting, too.â€ It was as though my mother had returned to explain herself to me.
My sisters and IÂ often remarkÂ that my mother believed she was powerless. She thought we didnâ€™t listen. She had no idea how deeply her words wounded us. She thought she had to lash out just to have any effect at all.
But now, my friend had explained why. My mother was in pain. She was always in pain and was hurting even more because she feared I was abandoning her. No one could know how much she hurt. But if she passed on a little pain, if she struck out, if she flailed around and made a few barbs stick, maybe someone would share a tiny bit ofÂ the hurtÂ and she wouldnâ€™t feel so alone.
In Alice Seboldâ€™s novel The Almost Moon, a frustrated adult daughter smothers her recalcitrant, critical mother in a moment of rage. â€œIt was my motherâ€™s disappointments that were enumerated in our household,â€ Sebold writes, â€œand that I saw before me every day as if they were posted on our fridge–a static list that my presence could not assuage.â€ I recognize the mother, and I recognize the rage.