For various reasons, I have been thinking on the nature of Hollie and Lije Babbitt’s wary relationship…. on abusive childhoods, and on how abused children grow into damaged adults.
The brief background to Hollie’s, is that he was brought up by his strict godly father, after the death of his mother. And as he grew up, being Hollie, he rebelled against everything his father taught him, and tried his damnedest to do the opposite. While Lije, fearing for his boy’s immortal soul if he carried on in his wilful disobedience, tried to beat him back to the path of righteousness with a strap.
Thirty years later, and they’re still locked in the same pattern.
Hollie wanting his father to finally acknowledge that his son is not a vile sinner, wanting Lije to say that actually, Hollie hasn’t turned out so badly, has made something worthwhile of himself after all. That the mother he never knew might be proud of him. That Lije was wrong.
That he was sorry.
And Lije is still wanting to correct, to make his son better – only now he’s trying to make Hollie a better father, and a better husband, as well as a better Christian. But he can’t leave well alone. It’s his way or no way: he can’t relinquish that control, and let Hollie make his own mistakes.
And, you know, it’s an odd thing. The child of an over-zealous evangelist. Or the child of an addict. Or of a girl with too much on her shoulders too young, forced into responsibility for a child that’s stolen her youth and her freedom. They grow up, for the most part, wondering what they did wrong. How they failed, because the person who was supposed to love them did not, and that must be a failing in them, surely, they must have deserved to be hurt, have done something bad.
(Hollie at seventeen, with his shirt over his head, explaining to the woman he was going to marry that he must have done something to merit the scars his father put on his back with a belt.)
That the person who should love them is really a good person, and they make that person angry and sad, and so it’s their own fault. That they cannot mend the person who hurts them, and ask they spend their days trying to be things they are not. Tiptoeing, saying the “right” things, in fear.
(Thankful Russell, at six, promising to be a good boy if his sister would only love him, and not hurt him any more.)
And then they grow up with a dreadful sense of responsibility, wanting everyone to be pleased with them, all the time. Afraid of conflict, because if you make people angry they might hurt you. Trying to manage situations so that everybody’s always friends, like some kind of bright game show where the prize is normality.
You can’t, of course. Taking responsibility for someone else’s behaviour is a fool’s errand: you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it. So you withdraw, because you have to, and you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t because other people only see the shiny side.
Love is not enough, is never enough: you can give everything, like pouring water into a hole in the sand, and it will drain away leaving exactly the same emptiness as before. And there’s a point at which you stop with the water. And then you feel bad because maybe this last bucket will be enough – maybe just this one last few drops that you were going to use to water the flowers but the hole is more important, and so you have to try again…
Until you don’t. You water your flowers. People don’t like your taste in flowers, bugger ‘em.
Walk away. Leave the goddamn hole to empty.
Which is exactly what me and Hollie are going to do.