My friend Jane, who was raised by a Dorothy Parker-esque emotionally abusive alcoholic single mother and was functionally bonkers for years before she found Alanon, once mused that Prince must be in a lot of pain since he felt compelled to pulverize people–namely this people–who didn’t see things his way. She suggested that I light a candle for him.
I found this infuriating.
Then I went to my therapist, who I can no longer afford to see because I am clavicle-deep in legal fees. She told me to imagine Prince “in the light,” and that doing so might make him soften towards me.
I found this infuriating, and also kooky.
But perhaps worth a try. Or so I’ve been thinking lately. Obsessing about where Prince’s next dastardly curveball will be coming from, or if I will develop rickets, or a tumor, or some other horrible stress-related affliction that will further deplete my pocketbook, does me absolutely no good.
This morning I was talking to Sophia Van Buren, who writes an excellent blog about being a non-custodial mother. She told me she decided to give her vengeful ex full physical custody because she didn’t want to hate him more than she loved her kids.
While I’m not nearly as evolved as Sophia, and I don’t know if I will ever feel strong enough to shrug off the stigma surrounding non-custodial mothers, I know this: I love my kids more than I’m mad at my ex.
So with that sentiment in my mind, I’m going to shine a little Empathy Light on Prince.
- He is the original Poor Little Rich Boy. His parents were more like Domestic CEOs than a mom and dad. He was raised by revolving nannies, given every material object his heart desired, and essentially ignored.
- He comes from a long line of wildly successful men, and wildly social-maven women. Since the moment he burst forth from the womb, he has been burdened with the expectation, and the pressure, to be an Uber-Success. And he’s not.
- He fields daily parental phone calls that resemble an Inquisition more than a conversation: What’s going on with his latest project? Why isn’t it further along? Is he aware that the living room rug doesn’t work at all? Is he playing tennis with the right people at the country club? And what happened to his serve, anyway? Does he understand that if he doesn’t use Rogaine every day he will end up with not one hair on his head?
- He spends most vacations with his parents, per their demand. Sure, he gets to go to fabulous resort locations, but only with his parents: King and Queen Machiavelli, who plan every meal and orchestrate every activity. There is no relaxing on these vacations. They are work. And they are yet another reminder that Prince will never get to become King.
- Prince’s parents are legendary for their cutthroated-ness. Wander outside their inner circle, and you’ll hear tale after tale of back-stabbing, undermining, ripping off other’s ideas. When Prince and I were married, Queen Machiavelli launched a lawsuit against an extended family member. The nuclear Machiavelli clan members relentlessly slandered this person, as if reading from the same script: that relative was “mentally ill!” “stupid!” “made bad decisions!” and was “an unfit parent!”–all allegations that Prince would later hurl at me. The point is, by becoming as cutthroat as his parents, Prince did what he had to do to survive. Any display of vulnerability was met with scorn. Any attempt he might have made to stand up to his parents, and he would have been destroyed.
Besides empathy, I owe Prince an amends. One afternoon shortly before our marriage blew up, I sat in my therapist’s office listing in minute detail all the things I hated about Prince. I said something to the effect of, “I love everything about my life but him.”
Over dinner that night, Prince said to me, “I feel like you love everything about your life but me.” I cringed. He then told me I must have accidentally hit the speed dial on my cell phone. When he answered his phone, he heard the entire therapy session. Every word.
I have often wondered how much that accidental phone call has fueled Prince’s rage over the years. Would we have had a kinder, gentler divorce if it had never happened?
Ultimately, I doubt it. Still, he didn’t deserve to hear me list the ways in which he made me miserable. (Even though he was miserable too). He didn’t need to hear me talk about how much happier I would be without him. The fact that the pain that I inflicted was unintentional didn’t make it less painful.
If I could talk to Prince, and if he could listen, I would tell him how sorry I am that I hurt him. I would tell him how much I wish I could take back what he heard. I would tell him that I can still remember the times, years ago, when he made me laugh, when he was both the object of my desire and my admiration, and when I couldn’t imagine my life without him.