Saturday, March 7, 2015

Someone Who Gets Me

My mom and I get along well now, but that's because we're very different.  We don't see our own faults staring back at us from each other's eyes. But I also don't think she gets where I'm coming from, and I'd accepted that years ago. When we did our Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which is a personality test developed by a mother/daughter psychologist team and based on Carl Jung's theories, my mom's results were ESFJ which is the most popular personality type, yet my results were INFJ which is the least popular personality type. Emily Dickinson is thought to have been an INFJ so that gives some indication of what my mom was dealing with while raising me. My dad never took the test, but I believe he would have tested as an extrovert (the "E" in the four-letter Indicator stands for Extrovert, and the "I" stands for Introvert). He was a musician who played in a club band, and when he wasn't performing music, teaching or tutoring, he still always wanted to be out of the house. I can't remember him even once saying, "You know, I'd really prefer to stay at home tonight" or "I need my alone time." That spells extrovert because as an introvert, I find myself saying that at least twenty times a day.

So where did I get my introvert gene? I look to my grandmother -  my mom's mother. She was definitely an introvert, and we used to hang at home together a lot when I was growing up. She didn't really have any outside friends and rarely had people over her house which was downstairs from ours. She didn't want to be involved in the ladies' groups at her church and definitely didn't want to bond with my grandfather's sisters who lived nearby: She was German, and they were Italian, and she believed they always ostracized her because of that. But I don't think that was the reason. They just didn't get her. Probably because her personality was different: She liked to stay home and study the Bible and write about it in her notebooks. They liked to meet in groups to coffee klatch.

The only person my grandmother used to seem to really enjoy talking about was her younger brother, my great-uncle, Richard. Her face always lit up when she told me stories about the two of them growing up in Pennsylvania. She said they'd climb mountains to pick "huckleberries." He was creative like my grandmother and used to paint pictures of people or things that interested him. He painted my mom when she was sixteen, and in it, she lounged on a bed with a bunch of brightly-colored pillows. He always used very bright colors, a lot of pinks and light blues, and often painted the cherry blossoms he saw when he traveled to Washington D.C.

Uncle Richard had dinner at my grandmother's apartment in Brooklyn every Sunday where she had moved to from Pennsylvania and now lived with my grandfather and my mom who was still a child. He always brought along what now would be described as his "partner," a man named Bill who was about twenty years older than he was. My mom said that back in the fifties, these relationships were usually not spoken of. She said it eventually clicked in as she got older that Bill was more than just a friend to Uncle Richard.

Several years later, when Bill died, my Uncle Richard was distraught. First he took up with another man, also named "Bill," but this time, Bill was the younger one. That relationship didn't work out, and soon afterwards, Uncle Richard retired from his office job in Manhattan and moved to Texas.

I only met my Uncle Richard once in my life when he visited us when I was nine.  He stayed downstairs with my grandparents for about a week, and I didn't like him because his sense of humor was extremely sarcastic and what I had considered mean. Nowadays, I would have loved this about him and laughed along, but my nine-year-old little girl brain couldn't appreciate this type of wit. When he asked me if I would be sad when he had to go back home, I answered him honestly and said: "No." Still, he promised me that once he got back home, he'd mail me a Texas girl doll since I loved dolls so much. I watched intensely for the mail for a couple of months but eventually gave up and decided I had been right about him all along.

The only time I ever saw my grandmother break down in tears was when Uncle Richard died. In her younger days, my grandmother was not a woman who had it easy. She suffered two stillborn babies and gave birth to one baby that only lived an hour, yet she never cried or even choked up whenever she told me about them. In his last years, Uncle Richard's health had deteriorated due to alcoholism and probably a broken heart. He moved from Texas back to his hometown in Pennsylvania where my grandmother's sister and cousins still lived. My grandmother's sister said that people sometimes told her they'd seen Uncle Richard wandering around the park or sitting on park benches, looking like a homeless person. Seemed he never really got over losing the older Bill. One night, my grandmother came up our stairs crying, saying she had just gotten a phone call that her brother Richard had died. I always regretted I didn't give Grandma a giant hug right then, but I was a teenager, and I looked for a cue from my older brother who was never really one for expressing his emotions. He didn't move from his spot on the living room couch, so I didn't move from my recliner either. It hadn't been more than a year or two after our dad had died so neither of us were the clearest thinkers at the time. But my grandmother didn't seem to mind. I think she was in her own world. I believe if it had bothered her that I didn't hug her, she would have told me in the next few days. She had always been very verbal regarding any situation where she felt she'd been wronged, so I think she would have mentioned it. It doesn't mean I don't still regret it. But overall, I'm sure she did understand where I was coming from that night because she was one of those few people in the world who truly gets me.

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