Joe Friday

Question: Six Word Friday

Disclaimer: This is usually a poetic prose entry, however when I thought of the topic word, Question, this is what came up for me. So, there are six, six word questions to meet the criteria for a Six Word Friday entry. Please visit Adrienne at My Memory Art for more Six Word Friday entries.

It has been said there is no such thing as a stupid question or that the only bad question is the one unasked. However, it has been my experience that there are a number of questions that should not be voiced because they are harsh, critical, shaming, and condemning. The person who hears these questions is generally a “loved one” who may already be experiencing feelings of shame, guilt, condemnation, self-hatred, and feeling less-than. To hear these words, especially from someone who is a person of authority or someone who is supposed to be a safe, loving, and trusted caregiver will more than likely cause the one being asked to shut down, tune out, and put walls up between you and them.

What the *expletive* were you thinking?

Why would you believe that’s okay?

What the *expletive’s* wrong with you?

You are not seriously considering that?

What do you think you’re doing?

Did you ever stop to think . . .?

These questions usually are expressed during moments of high emotion when you might be feeling the negative effects or experiencing the fallout from consequences of the words or actions of the person you are addressing, generally with a raised voice dripping with censure while shooting venomous daggers from your eyes in order to get across to them in no uncertain terms that whatever it is that they did is unacceptable and should never have happened in the first place and should absolutely never occur again.

Let me share a little secret with you. That’s called emotional bullying, abuse, and manipulation, especially if it is your usual method of communication. It’s a passive aggressive form of verbal communication. Truth be told, depending on the degree of raised voice and non-verbal facial expression and body language that accompanies it, it can be experienced by the recipient as more aggressive than passive.

I don’t have many specific memories that are readily accessible. Most of them, from the entirety of my life, are almost instantly inaccessible as forgotten as soon as they are formed. I retain knowledge, for the most part, of the sequence of events, in a Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am,” kind of way and I have general impressions of the feelings and emotional atmosphere of some periods. Very few things are readily retained for instant recollection. However, there is a memory from about 16 years ago that is practically branded into my psyche and it has to do with a question of this nature.

Jerry and I met in February 1996 and within a few months he was living with me and my kids who were 9 and 2 at the time. Within a couple of months of him moving in I made the choice to go back to school while working full-time. That proved to be too overwhelming for me so I gave notice at the job, because I thought I needed the degree in order to ever move ahead in my chosen career path of social and human services. Then Jerry’s job ended, for whatever reason, and we wound up in a money crunch and were running low on food.

We went out to his parents house for a visit. His family was overwhelming to me. Mom and dad, still married, with three older sisters and one younger brother. At the time, the “baby” sister and her husband were living in a travel trailer in the backyard of the family home with their five kids, his “middle” sister was living upstairs with her youngest son, and his oldest sister lived a block over and had custody of several of her grandchildren, who were regular visitors at the grandparents.

I grew up as the lonely only of a single mother who was deceased by the time I was 12 years old. The remaining family at that point was the uncle who had guardianship over me and his wife who lived in the same apartment complex as my grandfather and his second wife (who just happened to be the younger sister of my aunt. Yes, my step-grandmother was the biological sister of her step-daughter-in-law.)

My mom had always worked in cafeterias and restaurants, so learning to cook home-made meals was never part of my early education. The things I did learn to cook were from my aunt and “grandmother,” who were from Arkansas, I believe. So, there was a lot of Southern Fried food that I never quite got to learn how to cook. Although, once upon a time I did fry a pretty mean chicken. Well, I don’t know if it was mean before it got beheaded, plucked, and sold in the store, but you get my meaning. Other than that, I never did get a domestic arts education at home. I was the only kid running around, so I did a lot of the cleaning up and washing of dishes, greasy, greasy, greasy, did I mention greasy? dishes. Must be why I hate washing dishes today.

By the time I met Jerry, I was involved and integrating, somewhat, into a Christian denomination that promoted a vegetarian/vegan diet and did a lot of potlucks. So, I had a killer recipe for a wonderfully yummy and satisfyingly fattening spinach-cheese casserole. I also was a master combiner of pre-packaged pasta and rice dishes with canned or frozen veggies with browned ground beef. When all else failed, a can of tuna, a box of mac ‘n cheese, and a can of cream of mushroom soup and voila, tuna casserole in a pot. I wish I could say my cooking skills have improved, but I really can’t. *sigh*

So, here we were, at his parent’s home, with a freezer in the garage, filled with butcher paper wrapped meat and assorted other basics for good home-made, meat and potato meals. This was beyond my experience or comprehension. As we were getting ready to leave his mother comes out of the garage and hands me a white paper covered frozen package about the size of a small watermelon and said, “Here’s a roast for you,” and thrusts it in my general direction.

I looked at Jerry and he looks at me. I look at this package in my hand in confusion and fear. A roast? What? How do you cook such a thing?

I glanced up at her and hesitantly ask her how to cook it.

“What’s the matter with you?” she exclaimed, “Don’t you know how to cook?!” A mixture of incredulous disbelief and displeasure underlying a tone of disapproval sprinkled with disgust.

Sixteen years later and I still feel like anything I say is received with all the same attitudes and criticism.

It used to be part of the problem in the relationship between Jerry and I because he didn’t understand how dismissive and hurtful her words and actions toward me were. After all it was just his normal experience in growing up with her. I’ve since learned that it isn’t just me, she’s like this with everyone. She’s mellowed a little bit. I’ve learned to not react and to shed the feelings as soon as I can like water off a duck’s back. I like her in small doses.

In retrospect, it provide insight regarding why Jerry gets defensive and shuts down or reacts with resentment and anger when I try to ask him questions to gain an understanding of what is going on inside so I can relate to what he’s going through. Questions were the whip used to manipulate, demean, and control the people in his world while he was growing up. yeesh.

So, be careful how you pose your questions and what your motivations are when you ask the questions. Please.