woman lying on the ground under a chair talking on an old-fashioned phone with a cordOne of the most frustrating situations in life is that of knowing you are having an illogical emotion, but having it anyway. The tragedy of this situation is perhaps second only to that of watching yourself act in accordance with that illogical emotion.

In the wonderful collection of short stories Your Duck Is My Duck, by Deborah Eisenberg, many of the characters lack the self-awareness to analyze their own emotions in the first place. This is true of both characters with whom the reader sympathizes, and characters with whom the reader does not. Occasionally, however, a character has a moment of clarity.

Here’s one of these moments of clarity. In the short story “Cross Off and Move On,” the adult female protagonist calls her mother on the phone:

“I called my childhood phone number. To my shock, the voice that answered was my mother’s, and I realized that I had been waiting all that time to assemble a file of unimpeachable credentials before I contacted her. So pathetic. I might as well have been bringing a mauled mouse to my owner’s door.”

O terrible and lovely imagery! This passage rings so true to me. The reader of this passage can’t help but wish the character lacked self-awareness, usually such a good thing to have. But when you lack the ability to do anything about your emotions, watching yourself take stupid actions in their name is gut wrenching.

There’s something about Mother and Father that one can never escape from. No matter whether your childhood relationship with your parents was healthy, unhealthy, or a mixture of both, it’s almost impossible not to keep replaying it over and over, throughout adulthood.

Yes, even as adults, we want mommy and daddy to approve of us.

How tragic that the protagonist’s mother treated her achievements like those of a misguided dog! And how tragic that she was unable, even decades later, to break away from the pain of this!

Perhaps the solution to the protagonist’s problem lies in the story’s title, “Cross Off and Move On.” Perhaps people in such a situation should look for ways to cross off and move on, instead of reliving the loop of approval seeking and rejection.

Have you crossed off and moved on?

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