Several things were going on at the end of 1986 that really changed in our family. The process of family erosion was really evident. Since the county had convicted my father of child abuse, and forced him to pay for the therapy I had to go through, he pretty much ignored me. His neglect was far preferable to his abuse, and it made my home life tolerable. The collapsing of my mother's denial fortress was really starting to crumble by this point, however. Her drinking had now shifted patterns, and now tranquilizers had been added to the mix. She was seeing two doctors, and both were giving her prescriptions for tranqs. This had been an ongoing process for years, but it was now to the point that even when she was sober, most of her life seemed to be seen through frosted glasses. She was wearing a dazed smile a lot of the time, was very forgetful, and often had issues knowing what time or day it was.
I had a new-found sense of independence. I already had been working for two years by this point, paying for my own clothes, books, school supplies, and other essentials. I can't say I was really financially independent, because I didn't pay rent, taxes, utilities, or for half my food. But pretty much everything else I paid for. I was cheap, too, and rarely bought anything I didn't need, because I was saving for college as part of my "get the HELL out of here!" plan. In fact, I think the only "frivolous" thing I ever bought were a few sci-fi books and gaming supplements. The two years of court-ordered (and my requested) therapy which unscrewed me a lot, although looking back, I still took myself and life WAY too seriously. Therapy ended badly in 1987, but that's another story. By the end of 1986, though, I was already thinking how to live on my own. I didn't need my parents anymore, I thought. My father's neglect to the home was starting to become hard to handle (basic repairs, for instance), and I was starting to resent the repetition of my mother 's drinking habits. I was becoming smarter, too, and not falling into those guilt traps she always set up. I spent most of my time either at school, after-school clubs, my job, or Kate's house. I really only used my house to sleep at, and occasionally get food from (when food was to be had). I did housework when my mother didn't, and I did basic repairs of the house when my father wouldn't, but apart from crash space, my home life was narrowing down to a final launch point where I felt I'd leave and never return. Little did I know that I was not nearly as ready for complete independence as I might have previously assumed.
In October of 1986, our old cat Daisy died. While this seems like a kind of odd point to start, in my view of things, this marked the beginning of the end. Daisy was old (16) and had been having seizures, so on the vet's advice, we had her put to sleep. My father was away on business at the time, so I had to deal with the death, my mother, and the complicated issues of my mother's depression about the death. I was also really upset about it, because during some of my darkest years, I felt Daisy was my only friend. Something else had changed, though, and I knew it. I felt that when Daisy died, it was the first marker of the biggest change of my life.
Things rapidly went downhill from there. My mother, in some impulsive reaction, bought a dog named "Prince Charming," which was a Pekingese puppy. Prince was from my friend Kate's mom who bred Pekingese for show. My mother had always wanted a dog; in 1970, she had gotten one from the pound, but ten days later it died from heartworms. This was always a symbolic excuse why we never had dogs growing up: the "heartbreak." So getting a puppy was a big step in my mother's life because she was preparing for me to leave, and I suppose she was looking for a surrogate "child" that depended on her.
But the day after she got the puppy, she got completely wasted and I had to take care of the poor pooch. Honestly, I didn't mind at first. I was thrilled to take care of this dog, because I knew this dog's parents and grandparents, and witnessed him grow up from birth. I'd never had a dog to take care of in my own house; the previous dog was only in our house when I was barely 2. But my joy at this new yappy companion was short because days after the dog started to settle in, my father came home from one of his long business trips. He saw the dog, and reacted quite badly. He said that I had killed the cat to get the dog, taking advantage of my mother's drunkenness, and that this was proof I was a very rotten an manipulative individual. My mother was passed out on her bed, so she couldn't explain anything, and my father wouldn't stoop to listen to any explanation I had. Luckily, Kate's mom took back the dog without complaint, stating she should have known better that something was wrong with my mother (she knew my family very well, and knew of my family problems). When my mother sobered up a few days later, she did apologize to me, but she was also devastated about losing the puppy. I think that the fact she had been passed out for about a week also showed that she would be unable to care for a dog, and my father hated them almost as much as he hated me. It was an EXACT surrogate for me AND my situation, but not in the way my mother wanted.
Thus began the roller coaster of the following few months of ups and downs.
Good news came when I found I had been accepted to George Mason University, as well as the University of Hawaii at Hilo, although I could not afford out-of-state for the latter. While this was good news, my mother started to worry how I was going to pay for college. I had saved up money, but only enough for one year at George Mason. That wasn't exactly true, I had more than she knew. I had to hide money from her because I had to hide money from my father. Not that my father needed the money, the guy made almost $500k a year in the *1980s* which was even better then than it is now. He had a large house in a nice neighborhood, a yacht, two luxury cars, and a classic 66 T-bird. But I still had to hide money from him.
Let me explain my father's twisted thinking. My father did NOT want to pay for my college, although he said if I didn't go to college, I was even MORE of a disappointment. I always thought of this as part of his ongoing hypocrisy, because it always seemed like he was thwarting me from ever keeping any money I earned. I never got paid for chores, although, I wasn't asked to do them per se, so that sort of makes sense. I never had an allowance. When I tried to start my own business, my mother sabotaged that for different reasons. The thing that I hated as a kid was when my found out relatives had sent me money in a card, for instance for a birthday gift or something, he'd take it for my "college fund." That money I never saw again, and it got so bad, it eventually started an epic fight a fight between my parents when I was about 13. I remember one night listening to them argue about what my father considered income. I recall a phrase, "if those damn people are stupid enough to send money to that dumb kid, I deserve to take it from him. I never got free money at his age, why should he?" Eventually, I learned to hide those cards and money, which was made easy by the fact I took in the mail. When I got a job, I completely lied about how much money I made, although by then, my father was ignoring me and it was probably unnecessary. Sadly, part of the lie was telling my mother the same lie (she tended to blab secrets turning the chatty stages of her drinking), which made her worry more than normal about paying for college.
Years after my mother's death, I learned some interesting facts from my Swedish relatives on my mother's side. The biggest thing I heard was how greedy my father was. While my father called relatives "useless" and "stupid" for the most part, the feeling everyone else got was that my father was paranoid everyone was after his money. This was ironic, because my mother's parents paid for my father to go to college and get his PhD in engineering, which led to his amazing job opportunities, and the main reason he became so wealthy in addition to being cheap. What I also didn't know was that my grandmother had sent money to pay for my college for two years. Wonder what became of that money? Along with my mother's family heirlooms? So while my father has not dignified me with any response to these questions, I am led to believe at the end of my mother's life, my father's motivation was to keep and hoard his wealth at any cost. I only digressed down this path because this becomes very important in understanding his motivations later on in this series of blog entries.
Despite the approaching storm all of us were oblivious to, even MORE good news when my long-distance friend and constant pen-pal, Neal, told me that his Christmas present from his parents was to fly me down to Texas to be with him right after Christmas, into New Year's. Then I got even better news: my friend Julie and I were to be guests artists at Evecon 4! Wow! I really felt, suddenly, that my senior year was a springboard of great things to come. But it only distracted something sinister that was creeping into our house. The evil of my father was predictable and for the most part, avoidable. But none of us saw the change in my mother. My mother was, up to this point, the same declining alcoholic I had grown to know and take care of as a teen. I was paying attention to her less and less because... quite frankly, I was tiring of her subtle negativity and whiny behavior.
So then my mother, in an act of defiance, canceled Christmas. The story is in this entry. I actually thought this was good news, too! Ha ha. I felt Christmas was just an excuse for us to fight as a family, and I resented its hypocrisy and lies. There was bitching about who paid how much for what, and whose gift was better, and in the end, my father would tease me until I cried, and then laughed at or yelled at my crying. So I felt this move on my mother's part was just superb; like she had finally seen the light and cut loose the dead wood rituals from our house. Hind sight is always 20/20.
Then, I got devastating news in the beginning of December. For years, I had been having a lot of problems with physical exertion, and my heart rate had always been erratic. They found a heart murmur, and did a whole lot of tests on me. My father didn't like the medical profession, and felt they were all "quacks." He'd illustrate the tranquilizers my mother took as proof, and my mother constantly had to pay for my needs behind his back. Luckily, she controlled the books, so she could pay for stuff without my father being made aware. So after a bevy of tests, they sent the results to the lab to see what to do about this strange heart behavior. Results were due in about the time I was in Texas, so we didn't find them out until after Evecon.
I went to Texas. And I got my annual ENT infection (bad timing), and had to go to a clinic. I was really, really sick through most of the time I was there. I got better towards the end, and spent New Year's at the house of one of Neal's friends. She was captain of the debate team, and the fact I was an "out of towner from Virginia" seemed to cause quite a stir. In fact, I was flirted with by several attractive girls, but having never had that happen to me before, I was completely oblivious to it. Neal had to point it out several times. He was completely dumbfounded I didn't know what flirting was.
I remember coming back from the trip, pretty psyched up about being flirted with. Wow, like a real person and everything! Then I went right into Evecon, and that weekend I was on Cloud 9. Guest artist, my art was in the program book, badges, and I was on many panels. I former friendships that, to this day, still hold strong. All the while the doctor kept calling my house, begging my mother to take me in for some fairly critical news. Finally, that Tuesday after the convention, we got the results until after I got back from Evecon.
Bad news, Grig. You're dying.
I recall everything with granularity at that moment. I recall the doctor's office, the wallpaper, the brown vinyl doctor's table, the smell of iodine, everything. Looooong story short, I was born with a heart defect, undetected probably since birth, and one of my ventricles had a huge lump on it, which stunted its growth, and when the rest of my heart grew, it did not. So I almost had a 3-chambered heart, which accounted for its rapid beating and irregular rhythm. I needed massive heart surgery, and my chances for survival, since this went undetected for so long, was scarce.
That was the only time I have ever openly reacted to bad news with nervous laughter. "You mean," I said, "I spent half my life trying to attempt suicide, and when I am finally cured of wanting to kill myself, my own heart is going to do me in?"
I didn't want surgery. I didn't want to have to be in the hospital, where people go to die. "What if I do nothing?" I asked. "Then you will probably never see the age of 20," said the doctor. He looked like he was going to cry. My mother was sobbing. Jesus H. Christ, WTF? Time out, God! Unfair! This game is rigged! Things had been going up and down and up and down... and my emotions couldn't handle it.
I am 35 this month, and last time I edited this, I was 41. I am not going to go into a side story of what happened with this, but you can probably guess I did not die. This is why this story is so hard to tell in a straight line; there's so much stuff interwoven into it. This entry needs like 50 footnotes, and parts of me go, "Oh, and THIS happened, too!" But to satisfy any short-term curiosity, it turns out I was probably misdiagnosed, my heart got better when I was on my own, but I spent a lot of my life (and still kind of do), thinking at any moment, I am going to keel over. Between the end of this sentence, and when I am 75.
But this was probably the last straw for my mother, who had sacrificed so much for me emotionally. She probably thought that her entire struggle with my father, from waiting 10 years to have me, then finally and defiantly going off birth control, would not end with her seeing a son graduate college and be a pride and joy. The decades of relatives begging her to leave my father, to take me with her, and start a new life were ignored because she felt my father was a good provider, and she was going to prove them all wrong. She had been married to my dad for almost 29 years, enduring his behavioral quirks, sociopathic behavior, and being his beleaguered ambassador of good will so that my father could survive social events to promote himself to potential employers without pissing everyone off. She had spent the last 15 years without physical affection beyond a kiss or public hand holding as repercussion of a break of trust for having me against my father's direct wishes of "NO CHILDREN!" And the last 10 years had been a fog of drinking and tranquilizers to dull the pain of seeing my father's cruelty towards me, trying to shore up the denial despite eventual county involvement with Child Protective Services. She had pretty much run herself to the ground with her destructive behavior, holding onto the hope that her only child (and she tried to have more, with no success) would be the best expression of her devotion. She sheltered me from much of my father's abuse, snuck in medical care and emotional support where she could manage it, and tried to be a friend to me even though as a teen, I was ignoring her as teens do. And now, her only hope would probably die in 2 years. All that work, all that struggle, and for what? What was to become of her now? She said these things to me in some of our last fights, but I turned a deaf ear to her pleas, not understanding at a mere 18 years of age her sacrifice. I felt I needed a mommy, a parent I could curl up in a lap and sob in, during my great fear of death and just the hopeless futility of it all. But it was too much for the both of us, and during the end of her days, all we could do was fight as if alone in our plight. And in less than 4 days, she would lose that fight for good.
Continued in Part 2: I can never love you, until you love yourself...
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000277.html