I have a very clear memory from adolescence in which my mother said: “I worry about you just following what other people want you to do.” This was in the aftermath of my mom having found some stray “Black Beauties” that had evidently fallen out of their pouch and into the sofa. Yes, I had a one-month career as a faux- drug dealer in high school. In some ways, I would have been perfect for the job since I did not do drugs as a general rule. I had tried a bunch of stuff, but pills, for me, were always verboten. I have always considered this a matter of having been blessed with the teeniest bit of self-preservation instinct. (Alcohol was the one drug that did not apply in terms of self-preservation, unless you consider the pun involved). And as for them being “faux” drugs—who knows? That those capsules contained actual amphetamine is highly unlikely.
So the gist of what mom was saying was: “You are only doing this because other people are doing this.”
The fight we had following her discovery of illicit drugs in our sofa mostly consisted of me being outraged that she would suggest that I was a victim of peer pressure. Never! Not me. I was the pot-stirrer, the rabble-rouser. I was the one who tried to get us all in trouble. Damn, I had an expulsion and two suspensions to my name. I was the one who totaled Matt’s family car before I even had a driver’s license. I had driven a bullet-ridden Camaro to its safe disposal. I was the one who snuck out to go on tour with the Grateful Dead. I was the one who snuck in cases of beer through the bedroom window. It was our house—my house—that hosted the best parties when the parents were away.
How dare my mother accuse me of succumbing to peer pressure?
I am pretty sure the incident was left at that because, as also explained in that earlier post, there were never consequences from her except her silence. And at that point, I assume that my mom knew that silence was utterly ineffective as a direct weapon of discipline.
Besides, the silence had already done its job. I was impervious to peer pressure in large part not because I was so self-directed. That was an illusion onto which I held for decades. Rather, I was impervious to most external pressures because the person who controlled my mind so thoroughly was the very one telling me about peer-pressure. Peer pressure did not even exist, at least not in comparison to the insidious and damaging force that was my mother, who had become hard-wired into my mind.
I am thinking of this now because I am thinking of the day I left San Francisco. The connections that my mother had worked long, if not entirely consciously, to wire had turned my lover into my enemy. There were only two sides: mine and my enemy’s. My heart utterly shut down. I was cold and impenetrable. My leaving felt like a matter of self-preservation at the deepest and coldest level. Looking back, it is ugly, painful, and barren. Looking back, I know self-preservation had nothing to do with it. I was driven by the conviction that I had to kill my enemy. The rest, literally, be damned.
But as it turns out, I am lucky, not damned. There was, and remains, a difference between my mother and I that is so important that it has ensured my survival. Because the entire time I was shutting down and utterly refusing entry to my enemy-lover, there was a tiny voice in my head saying: “Don’t leave.” I told it to shut the fuck up, over and over again. I think now that this tiny voice was able to speak truth to power. It was the real voice of self-preservation. It was a small but resilient voice and it stayed alive, despite my many efforts to silence it. This has not been a war of words. This tiny voice survived against not another voice, but against a sense of self so seemingly real that I believed in it for decades. This tiny voice kept talking until I was ready to listen. And that is what I am doing now.