When I was young–a child, an adolescent, and even an adult in my parents’ household–we could always seek asylum in books. My mother would hesitate to call us to complete a task if we were reading a book. My recollection could be flawed, but it seemed like I could get out of anything but dinner, if I were reading. No, I couldn’t use it as an excuse to beg off Brussels sprouts, but in time, my mother learned not to serve the atrocious beasts anyway. She probably got as tired of seeing me sit at the table staring them down as my ass got tired sitting in that hard chair while praying for deliverance.
My mother taught me the sacredness of books. They were sources of deep pleasure and entertainment when life was routine. They held new worlds in them, as different and exotic from one’s own as hibiscus and Bougainvillea would be to the Dutchman’s britches and violets that grew on the hill behind our house. They housed people as exotic to me as Kalahari Bushmen, and people as familiar as the back of my hand. They were escapes from the cold, dreary, midwest winter landscape, and they were places you could hide from feelings, from family, from yourself. They contained people you could dream belonged to you and to whom you belonged.
It’s funny in the odd sense that of possible careers, I never thought of publishing, but rather landed in it accidentally. An AP correspondent, an interpreter for the United Nations, a university professor of ethnology–these are what I dreamed of being as an adolescent. I didn’t know then that I would crash and burn at 20. As a teenager, the world was my oyster, and I could fashion as many destinies as I could dream. But I could never come up with a dream as foreign and nightmarish as my reality would become.
I was the star of my family at the time. Oh, one isn’t supposed to admit it, but while I may not have been the favorite child, I was the favored one–cute as a baby’s nose, smart as a fashion plate, talented as the trill of a nightingale’s song, and determined as Nancy Drew with a mystery, there were signs of my illness, but in a quirky family, hardly anything to stand out. And all the time, I felt like an imposter. I knew I was deeply flawed. I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t anywhere close. I knew I was unacceptable and inferior, but I also knew I was doing a damned fine imitation of being someone who wasn’t. I got great grades and at the time thought I didn’t work at it, but I was belittling my efforts. I was a junior high cheerleader, and pretty good at it. I was president of an after-curricular club, and very good at organizing events. I had parents who supported me in almost everything I wanted to do, I had a little business decorating cakes for a restaurant where I worked. I went abroad. I was going to college. And I had absolutely no idea how to survive in the world because the first thing I didn’t know how to do was to stand up for myself and have the courage or knowledge of how to go about making things happen I wanted to happen. How to be who I wanted to be. I did mostly what my parents wanted me to with few rebellions. I got through high school never having gotten drunk or, umm, losing my virginity, and that was intentional. I wanted to be the good girl for my parents. I wanted it so badly. I may have been the occasionally recalcitrant toddler. I did run away from home when I was 11, but didn’t get very far. But aside from that, I tried to be the best daughter ever. I tried to make things right when they weren’t in the family. I tried to be the glue that held my family together, the buffer when others were angry with each other. I could never be angry with my parents, though it just wasn’t done. That would have meant betrayal. I was an individual when it came to my peers. I wasn’t trying to be like everyone else, but I was trying to be “nice.” I never wanted to be on anyone’s radar. My father taught me to be always nice, but he got to be the exception. He didn’t have to be nice because he was always right, and that carried and still does carry the supreme right to judge and condemn and be psychologically cruel. I remember when I was young wanting to shine my dad’s shoes, and grow up and wear a tie and shave just like him. And I internalized being his version of perfect. And inside I became my own little storm.
Honestly, my life has held many pleasures, if not great accomplishment. I have two beautiful children, and have loved being their mother with all my heart. It hasn’t always been hard and painful, though it has been so often. I don’t blame my family for my illness, but I do blame them for my being crazy, if that makes any sense. I have a pretty crazy gene pool, that’s certain. Add some crazy-ass dysfunction from my family who raised me. But then again, who doesn’t come from a dysfunctional family? I had a friend who once told me her family put the “fun” in dysfunctional. I wish dysfunction had been fun in mine. Instead it was repressive, depressed, and hurtful.
My life didn’t end with my first major depression at 20, but my dreams did. Or at least they went underground. Some twenty-eight years later, and I may have the first chance at living them, and really living, yet. Armed with years of therapy under my belt, medications to help me function (the jury is still out on the latest addition) and the ability to ask for help, I may just have the life I want. And if not exactly, I can enjoy it and appreciate it and be grateful for the journey. I’ve learned to live the journey. I have to say kind of…because life with me and being me can still be hairy. Medication changes in the past month and more have thrown me into a tailspin, and I don’t enjoy it and I’m not always enjoyable. I know who I am and when I am not, I feel great fear, dislike, and anxiety. I’ve been a bit of a storm, a Hurricane T. if you will. I can’t help but affect those around me, and I hurt for them as well as myself. Some words of wisdom from Julie Smith in her mystery genre novel Louisiana Lament are, “Never, ever, whatever you do, answer your phone in a hurricane. Unless ya want to live some poetry.” (http://www.juliesmithauthor.com/books.htm)
I’ve taken refuge in reading today. I’m grateful that it takes me out of my head and distracts me from my fear, as it did when I was a child. I’ve taught my children to value that refuge also. I’ve passed on to my children the love and appreciation for reading and writers and stories my mother taught me. My daughter is writing a book from a dream, a Magic Treehouse sort of dream. My son started reading Harry Potter the summer between kindergarten and first grade. We have a saying about reading, my children and I. When we are in the grips of a book, we say we are lost in it. And if you’re going to be lost, what better place to be?
“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ” ~ Anna Quindlen, “Enough Bookshelves,” New York Times, 7 August 1991
1.) Always, always, my children, I love them.
2.) The carbohydrate cravings that come with depression. Fuck calories when you’re depressed and have made cinnamon streusel bundt coffee cake.
3.) Trey*, the port inside my storm, I love you.
4.) Writers, and their stories, my other refuge.
5.) My mother, for bequeathing me her love of books, reading and stories.
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” ~ Groucho Marx
“My Best Friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.” ~ Abraham Lincoln