Sunday was a weird weather day for SoCal. We were under threat of a hurricane which was then a tropical storm, which was then just rain. And while we were at home enjoying the Sunday down time, we had a pretty good earthquake. And then many aftershocks. Weather definitely was screaming at the top of its lungs, “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!”
And how could we really do anything else?
My son called and normally a later at night call is not a good time for us so I typically don’t answer, having learned that he and I tired is a great combination for a challenging call where the past takes over and we both wish that we had just skipped it altogether.
But I answered. I immediately regretted that decision...
The phone call started like this...
“Mom, I TOLD YOU! I TOLD YOU CALIFORNIA WAS FUCKED! YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF THAT FUCKING STATE LIKE NOW!”
It went on but I will spare you more of that.
I immediately felt defensive. I was tired and it had been a long day. My son calling to gloat that he was correct in predicting California’s imminent demise was annoying and didn’t feel like love, in fact it felt like the opposite of love.
But I attempted to listen. I attempted because I think I did start off with something snarky like, “Wow, thanks, your concern for our wellbeing is so appreciated...” Sarcasm which never goes over well with someone on the spectrum.
I realized that my comment only made him defensive and then the age old spiral began. And I didn’t want to spiral with him. I wanted to go to sleep. But I just let him talk. I did my best to listen to him repeat the same thing over and over again, realizing that all those years of tuning him out caused him to be the broken record. And so the only amends I can make is to listen to him now. Even though it is hard and even though it is irksome to me.
So I listened and let him talk.
And because I listened I was able to hear an undercurrent that has probably always been there but I just didn’t ever hear it because I was too busy tuning him out or mounting defensive lobbies of my own.
But Sunday night I heard it, he was calling because he was afraid. He was scared that he might lose his family. He was agitated because it scared him that my parents, his sister, brother and me might perish in some Calitastrpohe, which his imagination is expert on creating.
Now, I would have preferred this, “Hey mom, you ok? The storm and the earthquake have caused me to be a bit anxious for you. I don’t know what I would do if I lost you and the rest of my family. Please take care of yourself and promise me that you will leave at the first sign of danger...” All said in a heartfelt, if not a tearful tone.
But that is not my son. No he says that but with very different words and tones. And most of the time I miss his sentiment entirely because it is so frequently buried under vitriol and angst and a fuck ton of swear words.
But Sunday night I heard the love. I heard the concern. I heard his fear and panic and his anxiety. And even though I would like him t o have that expressed that love so much differently, I was proud of myself that I heard it at all Sunday night, because I am sure this is not the first time he has said this exact thing and I have missed it every time.
I get caught up in the language and I miss the nuance. I miss the sentiment that is driving the call to begin with, I miss that he loves me even while he is lording his knowledge and predictions over my head. And that is what I got Sunday night, the love, the care and the concern. I miss it because I haven’t been able to hear that it has been there all along. Buried under all this other shit, so it is easy to miss. But I did something different Sunday night and so I was granted access to a place within my son where I frequently have believed doesn’t exist: the place where he thinks and cares about others...
That is why he called. Yes there is a perverse part of him that enjoys being “right” and prideful in his delivery, but the underlying reason for the call was because he loves me and his family and he was feeling alone and scared and far away and just needed to connect up.
And for a moment all that other stuff fell away and I was able to see my son miles away, disconnected and alone and feel his panic and dread. And I was able, at least better than I have in this past, to HEAR him.
So sometimes love looks like a prideful gloating boast that seems devoid of any true sentiment. But if you are patient and listen carefully, you might just find that beneath that arrogant veneer is a heart beating and breaking and welled up with love and compassion. Sometimes love actually looks very different from how you would like it to...but it remains love nevertheless.