Now, what you should understand is that my family did not hide their dysfunction. We are a family of storytellers and poets and we wear our scars proudly. My parents used to joke that we put the “fun” in “dysfunction”. That’s what was so weird. As messed up as things got, we were always a family united against the world, no matter what was going on in the household.
So I was “researching” my “writing project” and for research, where does my teacher send me? Why, a counselor, of course. I come in to interview her with my little list of questions-entirely hypothetic, of course, and within half an hour, she has me on her regular docket. The problem? I have to get parental permission for counseling. Sticky that, given my unique situation. So I keep coming to see her, and about once a month she asks when my birthday is and did I get the permission slip signed. Finally March rolls around and she tells me, she has got to get written permission from my parents if I wish to continue. But I’m eighteen, do I still need permission? Well, of course not-no problem then. This is honestly what got me through high school intact. But it is also when I really started to unravel. It was in the course of my research that I discovered all the lovely labels that go with dysfunction-like, the scapegoat-that would be my brother. Or, terrifyingly, the lost child-I was determined that would not be my sister. And, in the most classic definition, I discovered my own label-the ENABLER. It is still hard to stare at it head on. I was 17 when I first made this discovery. I had already met the two great loves of my life who have remained in my life to this day. This thing that I had been doing for so long, listening to my mother, giving marital advice, getting my sister to school, dealing with the creditors-all these things I had done to try and help my family-they were the worst thing I could do. I knew then the best thing I could do to help my family and myself, the only thing, was to leave. So I did. I took the school in New York. I left my sister, I left my then fiancé-yes, I was already engaged-I left my brother and my father and hardest of all, I left my mother. I knew that everything would fall apart and I was not wrong. I knew my sister would suffer and I was not wrong. But still, it would in the end be for the best.
I want to take a moment to talk about my mother. It is such a complex relationship and, I suspect common experience to love someone so much and admire them and yet hate them for what they do to you. My mother was the most amazing person. I say was because we lost her a year and a half ago. She was funny, and brilliant, unconventional and beautiful. She used to sing to me when I was little and she used to pull us out of school for “mental health days” to go to the movies, or a museum or the zoo. She never believed that education happened strictly in the classroom. She was an absolute force to be reckoned with if you dared cross her or threaten her family in any way, especially her children. She was sweet and lovely and hilarious and plagued by demons from her past and her present. And she would reinvent herself every ten years or so. She was immensely generous and would create a business, find someone who needed it and simply give it to them.
So when I left, I was so conflicted. I didn’t want to lose my mother or my family. I didn’t want to see them fall apart or hit rock bottom but I had done too much damage as it was. And I was to learn that sometimes you have to fall as far as you can before you can start the ascent. I’ve told you about college, but what I didn’t say was that after two years I left New York. I left New York because over Christmas break, my father informed me that there was no more money for my education and I would have to leave at the end of the term. I was furious. I had sacrificed so much already, I had for years given all of my paychecks to my parents because they were in debt. I had no savings and not much choice. As the end of the term drew near, I tried to make the best of it, convincing myself and my friends that I had really outgrown this program and that I would be happier back home anyway. I was in a show that my family was coming up to see but the day of, only my father and sister came. They told me Mom wasn’t up for it and they ended up doing a one day round trip. I was to return home the following week, although I wasn’t really returning home, I was moving in with my fiancé. I called the day before I was to leave school, and my sister answered. I asked if Mom or Dad was picking me up and she said Mom was still in the hospital. I had no idea what she was talking about. Turns out she had gone into the hospital with 24 hours to live suffering from kidney failure, alcoholic diabetes and other complications as well as an allergic reaction to the meds. And no one told me. I wouldn’t actually understand why until many years later. They just said they didn’t want me to miss finals!
Now before I lose you to this maudlin prose, I want to tell you the twist. It got better. It got much better. It got wonderfully better. It took about two years, during which I continued and finished school at home out of my own pocket since I’d lost the full ride I would have had had I started there two years before. But two years later, my mother was clean and sober, healthy and herself once again. My parents had worked to rebuild the family estate into something rather formidable and I was planning a wedding! It is amazing to me how quickly things can turn around.
My senior year, I had to do a project-a one person show-on any topic I wished. We all of course wrote shows about our life experiences. Mine was about my mother and how angry I was. I wrote this angry show, because I was so angry and so full of anger and I just wanted everyone to understand my level of rage. And when I read the script which I had drafted, it was terrible. Really awful. Self-pitying, self-indulgent crap, to be precise. It took me a while to figure out why, and then I realized. I wasn’t mad. I was on the other side of mad, looking at angry in the rear view mirror. I had been through all the stages of mourning and now I was sitting smack dab in the middle of acceptance. So I rewrote the show. I turned it into a black comedy all about this complex relationship with my mother. I played a circle clown and all of my stunts and tricks would go array when my mother would interrupt. There was even a moment when I was trying to hang myself and my mother called and interrupted my suicide. Dark, but funny. So in preparing for the show, I invited my family as I do for everything. And as they do for everything, my parents came. I told my instructor that my mother would be coming, and she freaked out. She asked me why I would do such a thing and was I sure that I wanted her there and wasn’t she going to be devastated or was I planning to ambush her. Now, my mother knew what I was writing about and what she was coming to see. But I got kind of nervous thinking I was doing something awful. The day of the show arrives, my mother is there in the audience (my father couldn’t make this one) and of course, at the end of the show, everyone is looking at her for her reaction, and she is crying. She comes up to me at the end and says, “Thank you. That was the nicest Mother’s Day present you could have given me.” And she buys me a little clown pendant to commemorate the show. She got it. She knew that we were ok. I told you she was miraculous.
I wish I could just end the story there. I wish I could say that all’s well that ends well and happily ever after, but since this is real life and not a fairy tale, you know that to be untrue. And I feel the need to honest. But for now, I shall stop here for it is late and I am teary. There is much more to tell and many adventures still be relayed and even more to be had. For now, I can only say things can get better, even wonderful, even if for a fleeting moment.