It doesn’t help me to know that I am not alone, at least not while writing. You’ve heard this story before: bored suburban mother/wife goes crazy while navel gazing, kid with (partially) crappy childhood pulls herself up and triumphs despite it all, brave woman tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (at least the way she sees it). You’ve heard it all before, so why write it again? It’s all been written, there is nothing original, all the stories have been told. I have a tiny voice, often drowned out by the cacophony from the others, that says my story hasn’t been told and I haven’t told it in that way that is unique to me, and so here I am, posting again, which, by the by, is much different than how I write when I write in my journal (it’s been a while).
I get really meta when I procrastinate, though I suppose that’s the very nature of procrastination: arguing with yourself to do something and losing. Also, I think there’s something about this time of year, when I’ve got to hold on just a little bit longer for spring, that makes doing anything beyond the necessary difficult. Hell, getting out of bed in the morning has been problematic lately; books are no longer my go-to escape world, my dreams have been pretty good for the last year and a half.
Perhaps you can see why there’s been such a gap between the last post and this; I’ve been busy procrastinating and dreaming.
I’ve gotten a lot of compliments and comments about how brave I am to tell the story this way, to tell the story at all. From my point of view, the worst has already happened. Bad things could still come out of this, I’m not completely naive (I hope), but I know that when they do, I will still be breathing when they’re over because that’s the real point: things happen and, much to my surprise, I keep going anyway, no matter how I feel (well, assuming I’m not that depressed).
I’ve also gotten indirect comments about letting things go, letting sleeping dogs lie, etc. This is exactly the advice, if you can call it that, my father gave me when I was 15 and in therapy for the first time: “Just let it go.” I would love to; can you tell me how to process the world without relying on past experience? Can you tell me how to make my brain stop replaying unpleasant things when I’m tired or down and generally feeling like a poor example for a human being? Recognizing that I do this – that my brain goes the extra mile to bring me down further – is the first step, of course. Fixing it is an entirely other process.
I fantasize sometimes that staying busy, becoming a workaholic or moving a third-world country where basic needs are an everyday concern (come on people: you are lucky to be reading this right now and I am lucky to be writing it) would solve the problem. I wouldn’t have a chance to think about the past, just the present. (And yes, meditation is on my list along with exercise.) But I was busy – I am busy, when I’m doing everything I should be doing. I had a child under 2, was pregnant with my second, my husband was working in a city 800 miles away, I was lucky to see him on weekends, and I was working full-time, sometimes more than full-time, writing manuals. We lived in an apartment without a washer or dryer that we generally could not park right in front of. To top it off, 2 months before I was due, Brandon broke his tibia and had to be carried everywhere until he figured out how to walk in a non-walking cast.
With all of that going on, I would still pick my old familiar problems up mentally and examine them, examine me, judging myself and finding myself lacking, particularly if I was tired (all the time) and if things weren’t going well.
Let me be clear, here, that I am not asking for sympathy or pity: just understanding and a little empathy. I’m trying to explain (and figure out, still) why I am me, why I do the things I do, why I react to things the way I do. Like a perpetual 3-year old, I still believe in the almighty answer to why, though I am working on straight out judgment, raw decision-making without the why: shitty people do shitty things and knowing why doesn’t make forgiveness or moving on any easier nor does it mean I won’t go back, take back the forgiveness, and find myself back at square one again – and endless loop.
When last we left me, I had finished my junior year of high school, been fired from my live-in job, jetted off to visit my guy, came ‘home’ to my room at Dad & Julie’s, got a job at a B&B in town, and, of course that August, started soccer practice. I’ve been stuck trying to frame my senior year, trying to find the common thread (other than me) and I’ve realized I ironically achieved what my mother always accuses my father of: compartmentalizing all the parts of life so they don’t affect one another. So I suppose I will divvy it up, but I have to back track a bit to explain everything properly, to tell the story the right way.
My grandmother, Dad’s mom, Betty, had started getting sick my sophomore or junior year – or maybe earlier; I’m not sure. My grandfather had died in 1982 and she started dating someone around the time that my parents’ marriage disintegrated. She shacked up with Henry (really, they were very sweet together) at least by spring on 1988, my sophomore year.
She was an alcoholic, though my grandfather managed to deny that to his dying day, in spite of watching her go through the DTs in the hospital when she broke her hip, and a heavy smoker. I don’t really remember when she was diagnosed with cancer, though I do know that it probably began when she was having thyroid problems (huge weight gains) and then was diagnosed with emphysema. She would cough so hard and so long that conversations stopped while her body tried to save itself convulsing. It was a smoker’s cough, to be sure, but constant and a full-body cough, like her body was trying to turn itself inside out.
And then the cancer diagnosis. Lung cancer. Esophageal cancer. Cancer of the larynx. Cancer cancer everywhere. I know now that cancer of the esophagus & is common in alcoholics. There was treatment – radiation, chemo. She had a tracheotomy at some point (that summer? my junior year? I don’t know) and her voice box was removed. I was very uncomfortable talking with her after that; I had a hard time understanding her when she used the electrolarynx. She wrote a lot of notes.
She did not quit smoking or, probably, drinking. I don’t think she stopped until she went into the hospital the last time in early November 1989. By that point she had an oxygen tank as well. Imagine all of the stereotypes of the smoker who can’t quit and she was it. She was who I thought of when I finally quit 2 years ago: I would rather kill myself quickly than suffer through that bottomless need, forget about the breathing problems and the cancers and pain.
I don’t remember a lot of the details of Grandma’s illness. Aside from being 17 and too cool to hang out with family, I avoided Dad and Julie as much as possible. After moving back in with them, Dad had decided to be parent again. I had a curfew, which I was more than happy to keep, and though I had spent the night at the house my boyfriend was staying at (the one who was out west) and he had spent many nights with me at the Braeside, Dad balked at me staying with the boyfriend in a hotel room shortly before he had to leave the area. Dad and I had a huge fight on the phone: “What will people think?” he said. I know he was concerned for me, but I laugh every time I think of this fight – what will people think? Well, what did people think when I lived on my own in a motel? What did people think when they found out he’d had an affair? What did people think when he got his girlfriend pregnant and then they didn’t marry? I did my best not to wonder what people thought and just do what I thought was right and so I spent the night with my guy.
Along with Grandma being ill, my stepbrother’s asthma was getting worse. The twins room was right over mine and, because I was smoking openly by then, my stepmother blamed his worsening asthma entirely on me. Much of that blame does lay squarely on my shoulders, but Dad and Julie did not figure out the solution – make the entire house non-smoking – until Peter spent the night in the hospital a few floors away from my grandmother. Even after the solution was reached, it mainly applied to me. Julie still toked up in the open living room-dining room kitchen though, if I recall correctly, she was not smoking cigarrettes at the time. When her parents visited, her mother sat in the mud room (also under the twins room) in front of an open window. This all sounds ridiculous now, like a farce. At the time, it just underscored how unwelcome I was in that house.
The night that Grandma died, I was at a friend’s house in Killington having a girl sleepover with her & another friend. Though it had started snowing pretty heavily early in the evening, I navigated over Sherburne Pass and into Rutland where we went grocery shopping (mainly for Pillsbury Cinnamon Buns) and rented Beaches.
A quick note on my high school friends: most of them came from families as dysfunctional as mine. One friend’s mother had tried to kill herself our freshman year and was later diagnosed with manic depression. Another’s mother and stepfather separated and divorced, but she stayed on with her stepfather so as not to have to change schools. One moved in with her much-older boyfriend our senior year and her family moved to another town out of the school district. And on – so many kids I knew who had messed up family situations. I would not have made it through everything without knowing that I wasn’t the only one or without my closest friends.
So Dad called my friend’s house to let me know that Grandma died. We finished watching Beaches, a sad movie to begin with, but I was glad to be with my friends instead of my family. I stayed the night – it wasn’t a good night to be out on the roads – and went home the next day.
The funeral was a few days later and was open casket, as my grandmother requested. I remember Aunt Sue remarking on Grandma’s fingernails; she always took great care of them and the funeral home had given her great final manicure. My brother had come home from the Navy and was staying … well, I’m not sure where. Perhaps with his high school girlfriend’s family, maybe with my mother, though (let me remind you and I) she was married and living in Hanover in an already-cramped duplex at the time.
To my surprise, Grandma left me some things; a snuff box with a lid that looks like tortoiseshell, some jewelry, her watch, and her engagement ring along with the original setting. To this day, I still don’t understand why she left the ring to me, of all people. Was it because of the guy I was dating, because our families were so close and she expected that we would be getting married? Was it because she knew I’d take care of it, save it, appreciate it? Of course my stepmother told me to not ever pawn it or sell it; perhaps she was speaking from experience? Or maybe she was preparing me for what was to happen over the course of the next year, mainly that they would move to Florida and any remaining semblance of support (i.e., financial) disappeared with them (I wrote several angry letters in college referring to the terms divorce decree so I could keep health insurance while I was in college).
So I still have everything, or almost everything. The ring. And the box. And the other do-dads, including the play tea set & porcelain doll (her name is Clara) she gave me when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade (probably when they sold the farm). I think I’m missing a few heart things; she loved hearts (and ducks, but I passed on the duck stuff). And since I’m linking, here is a clipping of her obituary and the laminated copy (front, back) given out at her service.
I went to the funeral, but not to the internment in Rhode Island. I used the excuse that I had to work, though my boss would have readily given me the day off and did send me home after I served breakfast that Saturday. Spending any amount of time with Dad and Julie, trapped in a car, was completely out of the question. I could have ridden down with someone else in the family, but really, I couldn’t handle it and so avoided it.
Shortly after grandma died and her will was executed (assuming there was one), the dispute over Beaver Meadow began. Scott & his family were living in the trailer my grandparents had moved into in Beaver Meadow after selling the farm; all agreed that they should stay. Joel and his girlfriend would get another part of Beaver Meadow on which to build a house. Aunt Sue had already been given part land in (what I think of and what may very well have been referred to as) the upper meadow at Wyman Lane & Gabert Road in the 60s. She & Uncle Terry built a house and lived there (mostly) until they divorced in the late 70s (I’m guessing about when they actually split). My father (though really, I suspect it was my stepmother pushing my father) felt that he should get a portion of Beaver Meadow as well because that was the fair thing.
Dad had been offered land in the upper meadow at Wyman Lane & Gabert Road, in fact, our first house was a trailer that on the top of the hill between Gabert & the farmhouse. My father had decided he did not want to go into dairy farming, probably when he signed up for the Marines shortly after high school. I think building a house so close to the farm, on the farm, in fact, would have meant Dad would get roped into helping out on the farm or maybe that would have been part of the agreement. At any rate, in 1974 or 1975 my parents bought the house in South Barnard and moved. I don’t know if my grandparents helped them buy it, but Joel (really, I suspect it was his girlfriend at the time) argued that Dad had basically turned down the land and his inheritance long ago.
The cat fight between my stepmother and Joel’s girlfriend, Debbie, was both epic and unnecessary. Left alone, Dad & Joel would have worked things out amicably; both are/were easy going. I don’t even know when it was finally resolved – December or January of 1990? But I do know Dad & Julie stopped hanging out with Joel & Debbie, who formerly been close enough to go on a trip to Hawaii together (Dad & Julie’s honeymoon trip in, I think, the spring of 1989, though they’d gotten married the previous summer).
With Grandma gone and a rift between Dad and Joel (though really, it was mainly between Debbie and Julie), the stage was set for Dad and Julie to pack up and move to Florida the fall of 1990. They probably started looking into it that winter, though I’m reasonably sure (fooling myself here?) that Dad waited for me to turn 18 before he really considering it seriously.