Ever seen “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”? (And Virginia forgive me if I spelled the name wrong). That was my upbringing. Sometime I’d love to do a reading of the play and do Virginia, just to get all that anger out of me. My mother, Virginia, was a vituperative bitch. My father was a drunk, clever and charming and easy-going. An interesting note — he hit her once, and she had two black eyes. He must have been very drunk, and she must have been raging “go ahead, hit me, I know you want to” was heard in my childhood. So he hit her, and was so horrified he never touched her again. This was in the 1950’s or early ‘6os, before anyone paid attention to battering, but I think it’s interesting. They always say if they hit you once you leave and never come back because they’re going to hit you again. He never did. But that was after at least fifteen years of marriage and my mother was the vicious, hateful one (in behavior) in the relationship, though my father could definitely take cheap shots.
My family has been haunting me. I dream about them at night — trying to take care of my mother, screaming for my brother to help me (there was a dead body in the dream). I wake up and wonder where one of them is — my sister or my brother or my parents. Fortunately my nephew isn’t haunting me. I think of him with love and grief but I don’t wonder where he is. I know he’s okay.
But the others are creeping into my sleeping, dozing hours, and they won’t leave me alone. So that everything around me brings back memories and history. That corner was where the police found Dougal passed out behind the wheel of the car a couple of days before he died. That was where my sister went shopping and she drove too fast on Halloween. That’s where my mother lived. My father’s been gone a lot longer than my nephew, Stuart, and yet it’s my father who appears in my dreams and my memories.
I was feeling sad, driving home and suddenly dixieland music came on the radio (a great version of “I’m Walking”, btw.) My father’s life was dixieland music — he was a drummer and he lived for it. I bore it, thinking about my father and the fact that he never made it New Orleans and how unfair that was, and then came Neil Young singing “Needle and the Damage Done.” My father and brother and favorite cousin died from their addictions, though with my cousin it was the long term aftereffects. I hit the off button so hard on my new car I almost broke it.
The interesting thing is the papers. We’re trying to empty one of our storage areas and it’s filled with my mom’s papers. So I had to go through them (this is after the dreams and the radio, mind you). The place was costing us too much money.
One box was easy — professional awards, her retirement dinner, etc. You have to be brutal at this point. And her writings. She was an award winning writer who didn’t write, she mainly rewrote. I have most of her stuff on a zip drive, so it’s safe, but I didn’t want to read her stories. Right before she died she sent me the most vicious story about a mother very much like her who wanted to get revenge on a daughter very much a combination of me and my sister. The revenge was for ruining her life, and when the daughter gets a HEA the mother goes for a drink. And the mother is the protagonist — we’re supposed to sympathize with her. I never knew my mother had so much rage and resentment toward me and my sister.
So needless to say I wasn’t going to read any more of her short stories. Those got tossed, most of the letters got tossed. But I looked at some of them. My favorite was from her, and I couldn’t find the date but I know she was hospitalized when I was in the third grade and other times as well (family secrets, of course). Anyway, the letter started :
“Darling, I feel magnificent! I think this new combination of Benzedrine Sulphate and Phenobarbitol is really the thing.” And my mother wasn’t the one strung out on drugs. Sigh.
But I didn’t want to read their love letters — I skimmed a few, and quickly found out my father was devoted and drunk and doing what his parents told him to do and my mother was obsessive. He even wrote her a letter from Officer Candidate School (it was WWII) and said he was worried about her intense reactions, both positive and negative, to things.
It gave me insight into the rages of my childhood, but I really don’t want to remember those times. And yet, along with the ghosts, they keep coming back.
So my mother loved bennies (already knew that — she took my diet pills away from me and took them herself). My father tried hard but he was a drunk (letters with apologies for drunken phone calls even back then). My grandfather committed suicide (sympathy letters and then letters coming up with alternate explanations — they would have been good spin doctors). And then I just put all the letters in the trash. She didn’t keep any letters that reflected badly on her. I’m sure my father would have written her often when she was in the hospital, but there aren’t any letters, and I don’t need those questions answers. I can’t understand my parents and what caused them to do what they did. I know it was alcohol and bipolar illness with my father and depression and narcissism and some kind of rage syndrome with my mother, who might have been abused by her father.
(I thought about keeping them. It would make a fascinating book, you know. Two very troubled people, the twists and lies. It could make a magnificent book about a doomed marriage and doomed lives in the last century. But then I realized I would never, ever want to immerse myself in it to write it. So they’re going in recycling.)
But anyway, that’s not my life. I can’t fix it (and God knows I tried all during my childhood). It’s too late, let them rest in peace, amen.
But can’t they let me rest in peace?
(yes, I know, none of this is really interesting or stuff that matters to you guys, but in the work of remaking my fabulousity it’s stuff I have to deal with, and you get to witness it. Tomorrow I’ll talk about my new commitment to healthy eating and it’ll mean more to you).