Responsibility vs Love

Like Atlas, I bear
the world’s weight
call it responsibility –
a painful delusion
requiring walls

Life has its own rhythm –
light and dark,
joyous and sorrowful –
orchestration outside
of my domain

Love, however,
is limitless
in its capacity –
open-hearted acceptance
protection in itself.

Trading one focus
for another
permits appreciation –
I vow to assert love
and forgo control.


Who Am I, If Not Responsible?

This pedestal of responsibility
elevates me out of reach,
out of touch, lumps together

Caregiver extraordinaire,
present overcrowded by
obligations, am unwell,
off topic, fed up…surely

I am other abled, have room
for more, non-martyr related –
hesitant to plan, my purpose
for being so intricately tuned

to the needs of others, should
quit while I’m ahead – silence
the noisy uncertainty, free us
all from this unhealthy game.

(Image my own. Poem first appeared on One Woman’s Quest II, September 2016)

Martyr’s Lament 2

I’ve decided, he said, to spend
more time doing what I want to do

I feel the load close in around me,
already burdened by his “me” time.

I’ve learned, she said, to look out
for number one; will not be available

Nice, I think, that you have such luxury
while I tend to the children, chase after
my mother’s needs, hold down the fort.

Take time for yourself – interesting counsel
when responsibility is so ingrained, and
self-care comes across as selfish.

Have so long ago erased personal interests,
will have to shop around to find what it is
that would allow me to abandon obligations.

Who Am I, If Not Responsible?

This pedestal of responsibility
has elevated me, out of reach,
out of touch – lumps together
children, mate, mother, sister…

Caregiver extraordinaire
present overcrowded by
obligations…am unwell,
off topic, fed up, surely…

I am other abled, have room
for more – not martyr related –
hesitant to plan, my purpose
for being so intricately tuned

to the needs of others, should
quit while I’m ahead – silence
the inner nag – free us all
from this unhealthy game.

(This poem first appeared on One Woman’s Quest II
in September, 2016. Edited here. Image my own.)


Is the writing on the wall so cryptic –
graphic images depicting rage,
flames of dissonance,
young men bleeding at their own hands
compassion incapacitated.

A sad awakening for a society fixated
on rights and privileges, dominating
culture to the exclusion of nurturing
humanity, preserving lives.

How can we continue to closet
our children’s pain – their vitality
oozing – hopelessly abandoned
by morality’s shelter?

It is the wall, not the spatters
of blood upon it,
which needs amending –
adolescent minds too tender
to wade through the cryptic messages
of priorities so divided.


Malls possess a certain allure –
contentment-in-a-bag offerings,
an opportunity to escape reality,

except gossip travels in crowds
and I tend to shop for obligations,
will latch myself onto any drama

and take ownership  – it’s small
town training:  I am a passenger
on the responsibility rail – would

kill my own mother to gain lost
authority, be the person in the
know…lose these thoughts of

failure to the distress of disbelief
that we missed the signs, lacked
insight, could have been there for

someone more needy… Have you
seen me, browsing stories?  Career
changers are good, fired up youth,

father’s foibles… Don’t be taken
aback, I can be officious, intentions
not misguided – just need to fix one

piece of brokenness to assure myself
all is not totally lost – this shattered
core, this fictional characterization.

How much simpler life would be
if I shopped like normal people,
found relief in mall discounts…


This Big Old House

Bought myself a big, old house
with a myriad of rooms; needed
it to accommodate all those I
wanted to please – it’s what I do.

Learned it living in a house full
of children – adults that were
children – do it to compensate
for never having been a child.

Raised my own family, bent
on making sure they had
their space, their autonomy,
they’re gone now, still can’t

quit – spend my days cleaning
up in the aftermath: so much
dirt to launder; need it to be
pristine so they’ll come back.

Bought this old house partially
furnished – remnants of lives
before me – the crumbs of past
denial hardened now, panicked

to imagine what petulance has
been drawn to their neglect,
becoming obsessed about the
infestation, erasing the past

confine myself to the main floor,
ignore the filth on walls – crayon
figures pleading for help – until
daylight reveals truth, and leaves

me no options but to toil harder –
cannot let these patterns repeat,
need to save the innocents –
this work is never done – refuse

to see that I am not responsible
for it all – project rage onto my
spouse (latest in a string of
targets) for the sin of taking

pleasure, when I cannot relax,
(everyone knows how to unwind
but me, Super Woman) feel the
compulsion to flee, but disability

allots me no recourse – thank
goodness for this big old house –
places to hide, be forgotten –
if it wasn’t for the old crone

who haunts my dreams, drags
me out of my spinning misery
forces me to extend myself,
meets me at the edge of calm

where tranquil waters soothe
my inner churning, and where
kindred spirits come to play,
and connections are real, and

I can roam freely, unattached,
until illness brings me back –
reminds me of my limitations –
that I have been eternally lost

in a house with many rooms
aimlessly wandering in hopes
or renewal, lost for so long
that I’ve forgotten how to let

go, and only in my dreams do
I find the freedom to walk away
and reclaim the life that awaits



Choosing Self Love

The day was sickly hot, and my allergies were bugging me.  I just wanted to hunker down in the corner of my room and lose myself in a good book, but when I tried the back door, it was locked.  I knocked.  No response.  I knocked harder and longer.

The door swung open angrily, and my oldest sister yelled for me to get lost, slamming it in my face.

I knocked again, more persistently.

She opened again hissing at me:  “Seriously, V.J.!  You need to stay away, or Mom will kill herself.”

“But it’s hot and I don’t feel well.  Please let me come in.”

“No way!  Mom can’t handle anything else.”  She slammed the door again.  I heard the lock slide into place.  I slumped down on the step, thinking over what she had said.  Was it really possible for me to be the cause of my mother’s suicide?  The rest of the family, save for my Dad, were inside.  I was the only one locked out.  Was I really that bad of a kid?

That was the day I learned that I could be responsible for another person’s well-being.  I wasn’t yet eight years of age.

* * *

“I am not a very good daughter,”  I explained to the therapist I had been seeing.  I was thirty-seven and having difficulty with my own daughter, so I sought help.

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, I upset my mother and she hasn’t spoken to me for a week.”

“You think you are that powerful?”

“Pardon me?”

“You actually believe that you can influence how someone feels?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way.  “You mean, my mother’s reaction is out of my control?”


* * *

“My husband tends not to look after himself when I am away.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

Eighteen years later and I am back in therapy again.  Situational anxiety and depression is the diagnosis.  I feel like I have regressed.


“Why is that?”

“Well, if I was home I know he would be cared for.”

“So you are responsible for his choices?”

“No….well…..I guess that is what I am saying.  Shit!  How do I let this go?!”

“You will not always agree with the choices that your husband makes, but you can at least let him have responsibility for them.”

“That makes sense, so why is it so difficult for me?”

“It’s really about control.  Somehow you believe that if you can control the other person’s behaviour, then everything will be all right.  It never works, of course, but it’s a product of growing up in an out-of-control family environment.  It’s part of being a people pleaser.”

I thought I had dealt with all this years ago, and said so.

“The subconscious tries to heal those parts of self that are still wounded, so it repeats patterns.  The secret is in re-parenting yourself.  This need for control is a reflection of a childhood need that wasn’t met.”

“Like the part of me that thought she was responsible for my mother’s suffering?”

“Yes.  As an adult now, you need to offer that little person a different perspective.  What would you tell that little girl now?”

“Well, I would sit down on that porch step with her and explain that whatever her mother was going through was not her fault.  I would tell her that her sister was coping with a bad situation, and that it was not related to her behaviour.  None of it was her fault.”

“That is a good start.  Can you see anything else that the child might be missing in this scenario?”

“Caring for.  I was hot and tired and needed shelter.  I probably needed some comfort too.”

“So how will you give that to her?”

I think this over.  Am I good at looking after myself?  Occasionally, but not always.  “Why is looking after myself so difficult?”

“You tell me.”

I look back at the little girl locked out of her house, and I suddenly know.

“She doesn’t think she deserves to have her needs met,”  I realize.  “I still don’t think my needs matter.  Others are always more important.”

“So who should you be responsible for?” the therapist asks gently.

“Me.  And her.  She needs me to take care of us.”

“Can you do that?”

“It’s the only choice that makes sense.”