Last night I broke my solitude and started posting on Facebook, hours and hours on the phone left me frustrated enough to reach out to that strange water cooler we call social media. I can get really down on Facebook and have to reign in my own use as I vacillate between using it only for business and then getting lured into a personal thread or venting like a child about something stupid. I have “friended” a lot of people lately, based on this newfound need for “networking” which to me is akin to my upcoming colonoscopy, unpleasant, but necessary.
In response to the twice yearly thread suggesting I write a book, I will stop with the “aw shucks” and reveal my real thoughts on that. Firstly, not only that anyone in the whole wide world would suggest such a thing, but folks that I know to be savvy and intelligent would suggest such a thing floors me, yes, blows my mind. It is the biggest, greatest most besty best compliment I could receive. I feel both worthy and unworthy, because I vacillate, it’s what I do. Because I’m a relentless self-analyzer and self doubter, I'm a professional, I have a graduate degree in self doubt (oh, fine, it's not from Harvard). I’ve been thinking about this writing thing, this blogging thing, this Facebook posting thing and trying to figure it out because I’m always trying to figure myself out hoping it will lead me down the path to success (my own version of it anyway), and eternal happiness, which for me might be freedom from angst, self-doubt and insecurity and that nagging loneliness of someone who knows they're not going to have a soul mate. I've realized that for decades I’ve been living in my head, narrating my life as I go, trying to make sense of things, and if I’m going to narrate, I like it to be coherent and have rhythm and flow, even if it’s just for me, I like to entertain myself... so I think in essays, or book chapters, if I may be so bold. I am only realizing this now.
I started the blog for functional purposes. I had a situation on my hands that I had no choice but to share with people and it was too arduous to initiate so many individual conversations and endure the same questions over and over, and the particulars of my diagnosis left not a lot of free time. For people in similar situations, social media is truly a godsend. I started the blog to be functional and quite quickly it became a labor of love and then a necessity, an addiction, but the good kind, like exercise, although I’ve yet to experience that glorious addiction. All I do when I write is type out exactly what I’m thinking at the time, it’s prewritten, it’s in my head, it’s how I think, (I always wonder how other people think or if they’re thinking, I do a quick reread for typos and repetition, a tiny bit of crafting happens and then post, pong, it’s out of my life and i don’t have to think about it again. Self therapy, and it’s free. I also think that a lot of the minutia I write about is the daily chatter that one would have with a spouse over dinner or while getting ready for bed, or in snippets throughout the day. But i don’t have a partner to do that with and despite living with someone for 25 years our conversations from near day one consisted of me talking and him looking at me like a deer in the headlights and then getting up and leaving. There wasn’t any back and forth, I yearned for back and forth, I thought back and forth was a big thing to want, something that maybe I made up. It took me years, years and decades to realize that I had no problem with this back and forth thing we call conversation with anyone else, although you could now toss my 19-year-old son onto that list of those with whom conversation is difficult if not impossible. I thought I was needy or delusional or had crazy, unrealistically high standards. All I wanted was to be able to have a little chit chat at the end of the day, but after trying all manner of crazy approaches to that, with my spouse, I gave up and I continued living in my head, and trying to figure out among other things, why my partner and I didn’t converse among many other things we didn’t do. I didn’t grow up with family I could talk to, I didn’t have any adult I could talk to and then I spent a quarter of a century, the better part of my life with a man I couldn’t talk to, so I guess I’ve learned how to live in my head, when not jabbering on incessantly to anyone who will listen. So writing for me is just jotting down what’s in my head that I don’t have anyone to talk with about because while I have friends that love me, I don’t think they want to hear from me nine times a day, and add to that, that while i crave, absolutely crave community, I think I am by nature, a bit of a lone wolf. I like to be alone, I need to be alone a decent amount of time, so there it is. I’m not sure what at this point, but there it is because if I say that, and nothing is there, you’ll think you’re missing something, you’re just not smart enough.
Anyone who knows my yappity-yap-yap self will find it hard to believe that I was terribly shy into my early twenties. An angsty, angry, hot mess of chaos. At one point in Tina Fey’s book she recounts the one time someone called her the C word and she stood up and yelled something to the effect of -- hey!!! my parents loved me, I’m not one of those broken girls who will let you get away with that shit... and she never had a problem in that writers room again. I was that broken girl, my parents, they might have loved me, but it was in a really, really narcissistic and twisted way. I grew up in a “perfect” middle class home with rules, lots of rules and an alcoholic, dangerously narcissistic father who couldn’t understand why his greatness wasn’t acknowledged and revered. He was, by IQ test standards and number of books read, quite brilliant albeit with not even a high school diploma. He lorded how smart, how clever he was over everyone everywhere until audiences were universally vomiting in their own mouths, or conversely, telling him how fabulous he was and he'd say "see, see, how lucky you are to have me as your father". He always showed me how what I was doing was wrong and how he could do it better, down to the simplest arts and crafts project and then would become angry that I didn’t thank him for the privilege. I was always told how lucky I was, I never felt lucky, and I was always, alway, always told that there was something wrong with me, so it’s just ingrained in me that there’s something wrong with me, and I never realized that that’s the thing that was wrong with me. You can’t fix it until you find out what it is. My father needed an excess of love and attention and so he sought it wherever he could, and I lived with the guy. I was the thin, comely one in a fat family and my father would literally lick his lips when seeing me in a youthful, innocent bikini or tight jeans (twas the early 80s). His kisses were too long and too wet, his hands strayed, he groped and made icky gestures and underhanded comments. And then he would sob, he would sob, “why don’t my children love me?”, “I work so hard, I give and give”. I was just a kid, all I knew was that he skeeved me out and I couldn’t stand being around him and most especially, having to touch him. His name was Will, I called him Will the Weeper, but only in my head, because that’s where I lived, in my head... still do to so many degrees. The parental “give me a hug” which today gives me such joy with my children, was not a source of joy for me as child. I learned how to be invisible, I learned how to hide and dodge. Our bathroom was at the top of the 2nd floor stairs which led straight down into the living room. If I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night I would sneak in as quietly as I could because at 2a.m. my father was reliably sitting in just his underwear on the couch with a bottle of gin between his legs, dozing off with a book in his lap and I didn’t want to be noticed.
I was told over and over what a disappointment I was to my father, that I was a “bad” daughter, I didn’t “love” him and he was right, I didn’t have a clue what love was. He felt both ownership and a perverted lust towards me because I’d been sown from his great loins. So that’s what I learned growing up, but at that point there weren’t essays in my head, just a jumbled mess of “I don’t like these people and I’ve got to get out of here”. In elementary school I started counting down the years until I’d be 18 and could get a job and my own apartment, I figured I’d live in a city, because driving a car looked complicated, D N R 1 2 3 how would I ever know what those meant? My father was a travelling salesman of sorts and quite successful and mercifully, he was away a lot. Now here’s the scary part, he was the safer parent. My mother was and is the angriest person I know and most self-righteous, lacking any ability to empathize and unclear on just about every concept. If she ran someone over with her car she wouldn’t feel badly, wouldn't lose a minute of sleep, she’d say they shouldn’t have been that close to the road. I’d feel like its my fault if my kid has a bad day at school. I have an all fault outlook, I'm constantly apologizing for nothing and asking people if they're ok because I figure I must have done something wrong. I believe my mother is a highly functioning sociopath, and, she was living with that guy, so you can imagine. She married him after knowing him for two weeks because he was flashy and drove a fancy car and her biological clock was ticking and she thought she hit the jackpot... not, it was a carefully cultivated facade. My mother had kids so she could scoop up all that unconditional love, but to this day, disappointed in her relationships with her three kids and two grandkids, and most of her friends, she hasn’t figured out that you have to give to get, and she absolutely can’t grasp the theory of the common denominator. Neither of my parents had a clue regarding unconditional love, oh, there were conditions and conditions and conditions. In fact, they were quite clear about the conditions. The only advice I got about sex at a very non precocious eleven, was “if you ever get knocked up, get an abortion and make damned sure I don’t find out about it.” I think this was more directed towards my older sister, but we always got lumped together as “the girls”. I got my period early (for those days) at eleven and seeing my abject fear of tampons and upon request of pads my mother barked that I was being ridiculous. When I left home for college, she told me not to come back until I was a different person, because she didn't like who I was, "think about that". Yeah, I lasted six months in college, I wasn't even sure what college was for, so I got a job as a cocktail waitress and in a record store.
I was often told that as her daughter, I was supposed to be close to her, “so tell me who you are, tell me about yourself”. Can that question be satisfactorily answered? And is this how one gets to know their children or should they perhaps take a cigarette break and observe. She insisted that I pursue her interests, so while I wanted to take dance and go to camp and do crafty art classes I was only allowed ceramics and was conscripted into figure skating because my mother loves ceramics and figure skating and wanted to display and brag about my fine pottery and sit with the skating moms. Well, for a kid with sensory issues, clay drying on my hands was a torture, a weekly torture, I begged and begged for years to do painting or anything other than ceramics, but ceramics it was and then, instead of throwing bowls which i just couldn’t seem to get the hang of, I made clay monsters and creatures. I drew monsters and creatures too, the ones of my nightmares. Yeah, I had nightmares and a lot of trouble falling and staying asleep. Melatonin has brought peace and tranquility to this life long insomniac. So in this manicured, middle class house there were 3 fucked up kids each coping in their own ways, each destined for drug and behavioral issues, but separately, very separately and I was the outlier, I was the sensitive one. My house wasn’t a good place to be when you’re sensitive and introspective. But as a kid and young adult and even now, it’s hard to shake your formative years being told you’re doing it all wrong, you’re doing everything all wrong, you’re not fulfilling our needs and you’re bad, bad, bad. My sister and brother seemed to prefer negative attention over no attention, which I think is common, I’ll take no attention any day! I still can’t deal with conflict.
Both parents really hated that I was quiet and awkward and they assumed that I was that way intentionally to torture them, that it was a conscious, defiant decision because they were supposed to have precocious children that put on plays for their dinner party guest's entertainment and dazzle them with their conversational skills. My modus operandi at dinner parties when I was supposed to be showing off, god knows what, was to declare a stomach ache and go to my room. I spent a lot of time in my room, mostly voluntarily and sometimes being dragged by my long hair which I loved until i was dragged by same hair to get it chopped off because my mother needed me to have a Dorothy Hamill haircut. No amount of begging, pleading, gravelling and sobbing dissuaded my mother from anything and she was bigger than me and stonger than me and had a temper and a penchant for loud yelling and name calling. Often times, I think my mother would prefer to see me fail and be right than to be wrong and see me succeed. I once showed a therapist a letter she’d written to me spelling out some of my deficiencies as a daughter and the therapist was aghast, I needed the reality check. She advised me to break it off completely, that my mother was poison, but I’m a softie, I would have loved to, but I just couldn’t do it. Sometimes my mother would “punish” me by not speaking to me for months or years and I always loved those times.
I used to try, I really did... I’d sit in silent car rides with her knowing she was getting angrier and angrier and I’d say to myself “talk, say something, say something.” But I honestly and truly didn’t know what to say... I just had nothing to say and if I did, well I’d be too damned scared to say it. What I remember most about childhood was a searing stomach ache and running, running, after other kids trying to keep up and barely doing so. I used to look at people talking, my sister talking to adults at Thanksgiving and I just couldn’t imagine what they were talking about. What did people talk about?
About 15 years ago when my oldest son was a toddler, my mother was visiting. She didn’t meet him, her first grandson until he was a year old because she was mad at me and my mother is all or nothing. One fight with a best friend and she never spoke to them again and from that stems my fear of loss and so what happens? I keep losing things, I’ve lost love (who hasn't?), I’ve lost my health, I’ve lost a child, I’ve lost friends, I’ve survived loss, but I still fear it. Maybe now I fear it for different reasons, I’ve lost so much, I just can’t handle any more although I do realize that this is first world loss and a first world life. If I advocate for myself, if I make one wrong move, I think my best friends will never speak to me again, it’s so ingrained. I work on this daily, consciously, now that I recognize it, but it’s a hard way to live.
Anyway, my mother was talking about those silent car rides to ice skating lessons and by the way, don’t ever ask me if I’m watching the skating at the winter olympics, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not. She told me that I was silent to deliberately hurt her feelings. I explained that while I know I’ve hurt her many times, I have never done it deliberately. That I don’t like to see anyone in pain, I’m overly empathetic and I can loathe someone, but If I see them cry, I’ll feel terrible and I’d give them my shoes to make them feel better (although if you’ve seen my shoes, you’d know this tactic would likely fail). I feel sorry for everyone in jail, especially death row no matter what horrible thing they did, I can’t handle suffering and while I am a flawed, awkward clod, I don’t do things on purpose to hurt people, I’m not a schemer, or a game player and I explained my inability to open my mouth, the pressure I felt to do so, and my absolute, frozen terrified inability. And she said no, that wasn’t true, I was intentionally trying to hurt her feelings. Ah, because that’s what she would do. We don’t have a lot in common. OK, we have nothing in common and I just don’t relate to this woman who is my mother, I always thought that was due to shortcomings and abnormalities of my own, but I have now watched her systematically alienate her only grandchildren who are the axis on which the earth spins and she will receive no gentle nudges of assistance from me on how to relate to them. Nope, she knows best despite it never, ever working.
I always felt guilty about how uncomfortable was around my father, as in physically ill, fetal position, nauseous around him uncomfortable until I saw him with my 2 year old son, the love of my life. It’s incredible what you can see as a third party, that you can’t see when you are 6 or 10 or 12 or even 20. It’s incredible what you can see when you’re a mama who really does love her baby unconditionally. My father asked my sweet, innocent, happy, jolly, lighthearted son if he wanted a present. “yes”, “it’s in my pocket (front pocket, deep pocket, saggy old guy shorts)”, “give it to me”, “reach in and get it”, “I don’t want too, please can I have it?.” And I could see the look on his face change. “If you want the present, just reach into my pocket and you can have it.” “I don’t want it, it’s ok”. And his face changed more, as did my fathers. “you don’t want the present I brought just for you? do you know how that makes me feel? don’t you love me? I love you more than anything in the whole wide world and I brought you a present, just reach into my pocket... unless you don’t love me, do you love me or not?
Bam, I got it, my whole life flashed before my eyes. No, I didn’t make things up as I’d always been told. I wasn’t a bad “daughter” as I’d always been told, I wasn’t a bunch of other invectives either and what the fuck, who tells their kid they’re a prude because they don’t want to take their shirt off while doing backyard chores? What decent man uses that word in a derogatory sense or any sense towards their daughter? Holy shit! I saw the look on that sweet boys face and that was the look on my face for so, so long and I was not ever, ever gonna see that look on that boys face again, ever, because THAT is what mom’s do.
I did continue to see my father and his just as crazy, even more narcissistic 3rd wife for a few more years, I still fell into feeling guilty and their antics would have been amusing, but only at a further distance, which perhaps I now have. Visits were highly supervised and controlled and I would jump on them immediately for anything out of line. It was getting harder and harder as they were pushing for an overnight visit that was never, ever going to happen, and as my father got more verbally abusive, I started throwing it right back at him. They started manipulating the kid mercilessly, telling him all the things they would buy him if his mommy would let him come visit... all the fun his mommy was depriving him of, I would hear these things whispered loudly and also my son saying “no thank you”. Later he would ask me if I was going to make him go and I reassured him, of course not. And I would see another face that looked familiar, when my father would bring a massive dollar store erector set and expect that my four year old would have the attention span to focus on the ill fitted pieces for 6 hours straight “what’s wrong with you? you don’t know how to use a screwdriver? don’t your parents teach you anything?” So when Jonah was a few months old, and the wife picked a fight with me while I was driving a car with my kids in the back, her face turning all shades of red and purple, shrieking every vulgar name she knew at me, I had had enough. And this long suffering citizen launched into the most cathartic series of fuck you’s she has ever uttered. Once I started, I couldn’t stop, I have never screamed at anyone to go fuck themselves like that to this day and it was glorious. Afterwards my father told me I should apologize to her, but that she need not apologize to me because everything she had said about me was true, I was a cold hearted bitch. And that was the last time I saw either of them.
G was very upset, crying, sobbing, shaken, he’d never heard yelling like that and he thought that nana M had been very mean to me. It was a super hot summer day and also monroe dairy delivery day, so we hunkered down in my bedroom with the air conditioner on and ate the whole gallon of melty ice cream that I’d ordered that week with the milk. In this moment, I felt like a” grown up” for the first time, I felt free and that I finally had a family of my own and I just was not going to expose them or myself to this brand of crazy any more, despite the obligations I’d be preached.
I have rarely been clearer in my mind on anything than that being the right thing to do, but I knew I had to live with it, had to have the moral high ground, so that xmas, I sent a card with a picture of the kids and wrote “thought you would like to know the kids are happy and healthy”. I knew my father and his wife well enough to know that he wouldn’t respond, the only thing they would respond to was my begging and gravelling for forgiveness and then paying tribute to their greatness and superiority, apologizing for my dreadfullness and inability to see this sooner, to let them know I repented of my cold-hearted bitch ways, I was ready to learn from them. Yeah, not happening. I also know that his wife was exactly the person who would intercept that card and toss it in the trash. Either way, I didn’t hear from him and I was so relieved. Now i had the moral high ground and figured I would go to his funeral some day, and gain closure with a very clear conscious.
I was in the second of three families albeit the third was filled with steps that he worshipped and adored, he was the much youngest of five and had my sibs and I late and so how long could he live, he’d already outlived his whole family by decades... well, it turns out, a long freaking time, that lifelong, obese alcoholic lived until the ripe old age of 96 and was bopping around Manhattan, skirt chasing and going to the theater, living the life until the month before his organs just gave out.
I was in New Hampshire visiting friends, having a lovely walk around a reservoir when I got the call last summer. I felt nothing, absolutely nothing. On the car ride home later that day I started reliving stuff I’d not thought about in years, the only time I thought about him was when on occasion I’d imagine what it would be like if i were expecting a visit and as I’d start to clench up and feel queasy, I’d suddenly get so happy that I just didn’t have that in my life any more and why, oh why, did I endure it for so long? Training and guilt, powerful tools. People say, oh everyone has family drama, everyone has crazy relatives, this doesn’t help the ones of us with truly, truly toxic families of origin.
Thoughts of his death faded quickly as I got back to my house to find it completely destroyed by my now 19 year old son and his fellow camp counselors who were spending the summer becoming experts in finding party houses, and equally non adept at covering their tracks, but that is surely another story.
I didn’t go to the funeral, felt no need whatsoever and if I feel anything at all, it’s slight relief he’s off the planet and no one on earth, especially my brother has to deal with him ever again. That guy was a piece of work, a harcore seriously, one of a kind, fucked up sanctimonious piece of work.
I have so many stories of my father and his wife, both of whom fell out of a bad woody allen movie, that yeah, it could fill a book, ok, i admit it, I’ve had two therapists that I could never afford to spend extended time with tell me I could write a book about these people, (who could make them up?) that well, maybe I’ll write a book. If I were tragic, it would be tragic, but I’m not tragic and there really are stories, because until you’re met real narcissists, you don’t know nothin’. She fancied herself an “actress” because she took an acting class for 50 years and had once been in an off, off, off broadway play, she did her makeup every day like she was about to go on stage, if I were a small child I would be frightened if she came at me too fast. She had strong thoughts about make up. “Kim, you could be pretty, if you’d just try some makeup.” The talk of her acting and her art was nonstop and once, she wrote a script for a t.v. show, based on herself, that she made everyone read. She literally put into words the way she saw and often described herself... the nicest, most big hearted person who loves, loves, loves everyone, “did you know that not only have I never said anything negative about anyone ever, I’ve never even thought it, I’m only able to love, that’s just the way I am, my son bob, he’s brilliant, brilliant, one of the most brilliant people in the country and it’s like his wife doesn’t even know she’s fat, you’d think she’d want to dress better when her husband is such a handsome man. Although she is smart, she is almost as smart as him, but I think the kids really miss out, it’s like she doesn’t know she has kids, and how can you take care of kids when you don’t even care about taking care of yourself?”
Bobs wife was the salt of the earth. I only met them a few times, but they seemed like a great couple and a great family with two lovely welll adjusted daughters that were thriving. She was kind, warm and smart, easy going and funny, and had a very rewarding career in technology while being a most excellent involved mother. Like many of us, she coulda lost a few, but she was a happy person that had created a happy family with this lucky man. So there may in fact be a book in there, somewhere, someday. I’ve always thought, oh, it’s just too long a story, but I guess that’s what books are for. And then there are Marilyn’s thoughts on where homosexuals come from.
In the back of my mind I’ve known that if I ever really did write a book, this is where I’d have to go. Because that is the story, the theme, the thread. It’s how you go from fucked up childhood, to fucked up twenties, to fucked up marriage, to fucked up pregnancies, to fucked up divorce and fucked up cancer and all sorts of fucked up things in between and find happiness in the process. How it takes some of us 50 years to get to where some people are emotionally in their twenties and where many people never get. Happy. At peace. Mistresses of their domain. How you wander along aimlessly with very little in your corner, no tethering support system of family or extended family and somehow you build a life. A quiet, peaceful life. How you become a poorly dressed, frumpy warrior princess at 51 with no boobs leading the way, shining light in the darkness. How you make peace with not having things you really wish you’d had, real parents, cousins, family picnics, family traditions and how while you tried to create those things by getting married and having babies it didn’t quite work out that way. You don’t have what you envy in some of the families around you, but you made it, you made it all by yourself and it’s beautiful and you don’t take a blessed thing for granted. It’s about that. It’s about not, not, not ever being a victim or making excuses, sorry victim/excuse loving culture. It’s about the ability we have to fix ourselves, it’s a choice, it’s our responsibility as human beings to grow and evolve and learn and change, and anyone with half a brain can do it (but you need at least half) It’s about laughing, it’s about ridiculous things, it’s about tenacity because is there really any other choice? It’s about making yourself do scary, scary things ike speaking out loud and then, after decades, expecting someone to listen, and then talking to strangers and before you know it you’re stranded in the dominican republic typing in an outdoor shaded lounge on a warm but not hot day listening to frank sinatra and having a cup of tea because you’re body just can’t, can not handle another coco loco.
And it’s about people, the awfulness and beauty of people and how unexpected people can touch you in unexpected ways at unexpected times. So this little essay is dedicated to Donna Golden and Anastasia Tompkins. Neither of which is my BFF, they are casual friends, esteemed acquaintances that because of that horrible/beautiful thing called FaceBook I stay in casual contact with, but they have chosen to read all of my posts and repeatedly say “book, book, book”, they have given me a much needed dose of confidence and encouragement so consistently since I started the blog. What I know about them is that they are smart, discriminating, very different women and I’m going to choose to trust them. I choose to stop or at least try to stop listening to that voice in my head that says, you are average at best, what do YOU have to say? you’re ok, you’re a little funny, a little interesting, but mostly a neurotic, insecure nutball (not an actual ball of nuts, i’m not that crunchy), I’m going to try to drown out that voice with Donna and Stasia’s voices. And I’m going to follow my bliss. I really fucking love to write. So fuck it, I’m a narcissist, I’m writing about myself, my observations, my perceptions. Read it or don’t. I’m a bad ass scuba diver, I can do what I want. Thank you ladies. And my BFFs, you know who you are, you are my family. But seriously, who’s picking me up at the airport?