22 June 2011

Figuring resentment out

Last night, Yoko and I got a chance to get away on our second date this month thanks to Yoko's mum being here. We went to Harvester (my favourite restaurant in the UK as they have the salad cart) and then on to Starbucks. We talked about things other than the kids, about the future, about our dreams. I looked into the future for a moment — the baby is coming, yes, but our future has more dates at Starbucks ahead of it. The kids are getting used to us being away: the new one will take her cue from the older ones and in 18 months, tops, we'll be going out twice a month.

Some unintentional archaeology of past came up in this realisation about sexual taboos — namely that men are free to have as much sex as we want, but what we shouldn't get someone pregnant unintentionally. I had never articulated this, although I had experienced the shame that comes from it when we found out that we were going to have Naomi. Naomi was not planned at all, and at the time, everyone around me (this was in Japan, particularly) treated me in a way that I never quite understood, but figured out last night. It was pity: people had pity on me, a 24 year-old English teacher who had knocked someone up (albeit his wife); pity from observing someone do something wrong and having to live with the consequences. The fact that we were married had no bearing on the situation: you would think that it would, but it didn't. My best friends at the time, from all different walks of life and ages, acted like my life was over, that they would stick with me, but things were going to be difficult. A guy, an old English teacher stuck in a dead-end job way outside of Niigata, told me that he gave up everything for his family and I would need to as well. In 20 years, I could think about myself again, but not before then. Not having experienced any of it before and being scared — I suppose I should admit how scared, weak, and insecure I was — made me particularly vulnerable to what others said. Work too, I remembered as I talked to Yoko last night, everyone at work treated me in the same way: you dumb sap, god help you.

Yoko's experience was, of course, wildly different. Getting pregnant after having wanted a child for so long:  Naomi was the ultimate success. Everyone around her praised her, she was overjoyed. But I wasn't — our new marriage, struggling as new marriages do anyway, had snagged badly, been retarded from an unfettered, successful rise that seemed only a week earlier to be completely without limit. And then in a moment I felt foreign again, like everything was out of control, like the lights had gone out and I was feeling for walls to guide me to a way out.

You dumb sap: that's how I felt. It was a deep shame, made deeper by the fact that I had been so chaste myself before marriage and hadn't acquired the knowledge that I needed to have been more adept in avoiding pregnancy and the only people around me I could talk to about it--well, I couldn't, of course, talk to. What's wrong with you, man? I carried the weight of the shame around like an albatross, until the moment Naomi was born and I saw her face. At that moment, the shame was gone. She was there, she was mine, and suddenly, the way you would expect evolutionary processes to make sense of these things, it made perfect sense. I had done what I was put on the earth to do and it felt right, inexplicably and perfectly right.

Now, four years later, Yoko pregnant with Mia, I am less ashamed, more confident, more experienced, more aware. Naomi was not planned, but I drew strength from the hardship, made a life that was arguably more secure, more profitable, more bright. My experience with Naomi also helped mitigate the unexpected coming of Mei. We moved, started a new life, and Mei was just a part of the new life.
Four years is a long time to take to figure this out, but sitting in Starbucks at six-thirty last night I realised what I needed to say along: there is nothing to be ashamed of, there was nothing to be ashamed of. I realised why I had been angry for 2006-2007 and why I was still having flashes of anger about it. I resented it, yes, resented Yoko, resented my friends for not supporting me, resented society, resented my Evangelical Christian upbringing, and being able to identify this resentment made it suddenly disappear. I thought back on the people who looked at me in that pitiful way and I finally knew what it was: I understood it and its impact on me. Yes, that was difficult, but it's over now. There is no shame anymore: we can all, as Whitman says, be free to rejoice.