The Ties that Bind


I'm enjoying the latest Jane Yellowrock novel, Cold Reign, by Faith Hunter. Ms. Hunter writes about a Native American Skinwalker as if she had firsthand experience -- the mark of a great writer. Over the course of the series’ many books Jane has evolved and been forced to compromise her moral convictions—occasionally.  But Jane has never wavered in her moral compass, and that steadfastness is one of her defining characteristics. So, it is no surprise that Jane is deeply disturbed when she is forced to psychically bind a vampire to herself—forcing another being into virtual slavery.  In a previous book, the Master of the City had tried, unsuccessfully, to enslave Jane who remains outraged at the attempt to bind her.  What does it mean to be bound to another?  There are many ties that bind. Ties of love and affection. Ties of duty and responsibility. Ties of dependence and subordination. Ties of weakness and ties of strength. And there are strong and weak ties within each type of connection. There is much variation in the realm of binds and bondage.

I recently returned from a week in NY, providing what help and support I could to my favorite cousin following his mother's heart attack. It was a rough week.  Long days in the hospital, where time moves in its unique rhythm, a beat so very different than in day-to-day life. It never occurred to me not to go. I am bound to both my aunt and my cousin. By love. By duty. By desire and design. My cousin is an only child. I felt bound to help. That binding does not chafe, or at least not overly.  The binding to my extended family feels comfortable and represents security, a tie to my past both familiar and difficult at the same time.

These people represent the superior, if not wholly authentic, versions of my mother and my brother.  My mother, this aunt’s sister, and my brother were and are psychologically disturbed and my ties to them have been attenuated by death and distance. Thankfully. And I've replaced them with ties to my aunt and cousin. Because the ties that bind also keep us tethered to something bigger than ourselves. I find this comforting. But not all ties are as benevolent.

The ties that bound me to my narcissistic mother were more destructive. Those bindings were based on dependency and weakness—my dependency on her, carefully cultivated by her, and my resulting weakness.  My muscles of independence were underdeveloped and underutilized until I was able to transfer my dependence onto someone who encouraged me to push back on unhealthy boundaries. Or the lack thereof. The erosion of those well-tied bounds took time and blood. Escaping from those ties left deep, deep scars on my heart.

Jane understands that irrevocable binds are rarely voluntary, and indentured servitude may seem like a mutually beneficial arrangement, but the mutuality is almost always specious. Jane, and her big cat alter ego, Beast, understand that.

I understand Jane's reluctance to be bound, even to her boyfriend, George, aka Bruiser. And who wouldn't want to tie themselves to someone named Bruiser?  It took me years of therapy to acknowledge my commitment phobia. And why not? I viewed voluntary commitment to another person in the same category as root canal. I had finally freed myself from a destructive, suffocating tie – why would I tether myself again? My logic cost me. Mostly because I was oblivious to my own psychic wounds and the knots into which I was tying myself in an effort to remain unbound. Ironic.

And then I met my wonderful husband and learned that my true freedom actually lie in tying myself to another. That the healthy bonds of true love and union gave me the confidence and security to soar. My husband is the gift that keeps on giving.  I’m glad I put in the work to learn that difficult lesson after my negative experiences with involuntary servitude.

I share Jane’s quandary. The ties that bind can be good or bad, depending on the intentions and emotional skills of the people involved. When we bind ourselves to another we give that person great power over us—our bodies, minds and spirits. Discerning who is worthy of our trust is a tricky business.  Getting it wrong can prevent us from making a second attempt. 

But the ties that bind us with love, trust and warmth ground us. They’re what keep us from floating away without anyone noticing. Being free has its perks, but it's a lonely existence and we are social creatures. So, tie me up, sailor, and keep me close. I'll take sane and loving bondage any day.