Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bright Side

If you don't yet know the identity of one or both of your genetic parents, and you don't yet have life insurance, consider buying a life insurance policy in 2016.  The forms generally ask for family medical history, and if you don't know yours, your life insurance can actually be a tad cheaper than it would be if you knew just how sick your biological family really is.  I got life insurance between finding out I'm donor conceived and finding out who my biological father is, and my family medical history for those forms was half the length it is now that I've found him.  It's called "plausible deniability."  Might as well force something useful out of parental anonymity.  Happy New Year's Eve, Everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Inside My Father's House

I just saw the inside of my biological father's house for the first time.  I'm not there.  I have never been inside it.  But my half-brother has started posting Christmas photos on Facebook tagged with the town where his parents live.  The only time I've ever heard of that town was when I found my biological father.

Here is what I can tell so far:  I don't like the floor tiles, and the walls are off-white.  I think it was the kitchen I saw, but I'm not 100% certain.  I would call the style "suburban affluence."  It looks like colors and styles picked out by a contractor -- bland and inoffensive.  They also have one of those tiny refrigerators for wine, and it looks well stocked, as does the adjacent wine rack. 

That's it.  That's what I know about my biological father's house (aside from things I'd already found on Zillow, such as the purchase price and an aerial view of the land, neither of which really tells me anything about him).  Still I found myself shaking as soon as I saw the location tag on Hans' photos.  Isn't that stupid?  I felt like I was seeing something I wasn't supposed to see, like I'd hacked into it when all I'd been doing is scrolling through my newsfeed.  It's unnerving whenever one of my half-siblings posts something about their parents, I guess because I know they know who I am and that they want nothing to do with me and I assume they'd find it unnerving to know I'm reading about them.  I'm half-hoping and half-dreading Hans posts a picture of our father over Christmas just so I can see what he looks like now.  A video upload of him would be holy grail material as far as I'm concerned, one of the few things I hope to see before I die.  I'm still not sure I'd be able to pick him out of a line-up based on the photos I've seen, and I've always wished I could hear his voice once and see him in motion.  He looks nothing like me in the post-high school photos I've seen.  Maybe we move alike or something.  Maybe we smile the same.  He never seems to smile in photos.

While I'd never want to go back to not knowing who my biological father is or unknow the fact that I'm donor conceived, sometimes I wish I could flip a switch and forget these facts exist.  I wish I could forget the parents who raised me too, for that matter.  Not forever, and I would never want to go back to the wondering because the wondering is crazy making, but I wish I could stop thinking and caring about them all.  It's a waste of energy when I ought to be doing other things, and it makes me feel so sad.  I ought to be frosting a cake right now and washing the dishes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

An Open Letter to My Mother in 1965

Dear Annie,

I'm writing this to your 15-year-old self because that is when I believe these words might have meant something to you.  We met when you were 30 and I was born.  I think 30 was too late.  Fifty-something, when I tried to tell you some of these things for the first and last time, was far too late.  The last year we were in contact, you were generally drugged and sometimes barely lucid.  So I'm telling you these things in 1965, when you were old enough to understand but still young enough you might have believed you could change and choose your own fate.

Things are going to get rough.  I know they've already been rough.  I know you are the only girl among all your brothers and that you have to help out around the house in ways they aren't expected to, and I also know your dad is kind of an asshole.  Don't try to claim he isn't.  We both know he is, and it's as much my right to say so as yours, so deal with it.  I also know you're poor, but you'll be surprised to learn your family is doing better than the majority of American households fifty years in the future, and your parents are going to be just fine thanks to unions and pensions.  You're going to be just fine too -- physically and financially -- but you won't see it that way, which is the bigger problem.

You are smart.  You might have always suspected this and someone convinced you otherwise, or maybe you never even realized it, but you are smart and resourceful.  If you are willing to believe these facts, you can be unstoppable.  But you have to try.  Continually trying is the really hard part.  Perfection is not important.  It's not even possible, so forget about trying to be perfect and trying to avoid failure, and just do.  Stop taking all the remedial classes in school so that you can get the best grades.  Stop taking the jobs you think no one else wants.  You are smart enough to do more, and you will never be perfect no matter how low you aim.  Just do the best you can.  Take every opportunity you can.  Keep trying, and you'll be fine.  You know how I know this?  I'm really smart.  Trust me.

In a few years, you're going to marry an asshole who reminds you vaguely of your father.  Emotionally stunted, fits of rage, decent provider, all that same old comfortable bullshit.  Don't let him break you.  Just because the disability checks come in his name doesn't mean he is the only one of value in your relationship.  Your innate value isn't based in US currency.  Neither is your daughter's.  Try and remember that.

I know you're pretty hard-wired at this point to buy goods cheaply and avoid investing in nice things, either because you've grown up poor with parents who grew up even poorer or because of your low self-worth or both, but please know this deal-seeking tendency is not the most fiscally intelligent tactic.  You will have plenty of money soon.  You'll have more than you immediately know what to do with, which will prompt you to eat steak sandwiches every night, as you will tell me, because apparently this is a stupid and expensive thing to do.  Anyway, if you avoid seeking deals and shopping for thrills and hoarding because it makes you feel safe, you will continue to have more money than you know what to do with.  When you need a new pair of shoes, spend five times as much as you would on the cheapest possible pair and get something nice and comfortable and sturdy.  It took me years to learn to shop this way, but it's actually less expensive than buying a ton of cheap stuff you won't end up using.  You'll also have less of a hoard, which I realize is also something you're probably hard-wired for at this point based on what your childhood home looked like and the stories you told me. 

You are mentally ill.  I know those words sting, and I want you to understand that it isn't something bad about you.  It's just something that is.  You are too young right now at 15 for most decent professionals to diagnose you with what ails you, and it probably hasn't even occurred to you anything is wrong yet at this age.  You probably seem like a fairly typical teenager.  It will get worse, but it's not entirely out of your control, and a good portion of what goes down will be courtesy of prescription drug abuse.  Yes, it's still abuse even though they're prescriptions.  Remember that.  If you can effectively treat an ailment without a prescription drug, do it, even if it involves hard work like therapy or regular exercise.  I kind of doubt even your 15-year-old self would hear me out on that particular note, but seriously, even prescription drugs can be dangerous and you will have a tendency to get out of control.  Know thyself.

I'm not sure how you feel about control at 15.  I've always craved control over my own life and my own situation, but the version of you I know generally wanted people to take care of her so she could check out.  I hope you aren't like that already.  You are powerful when you try to be.  If you don't like something, you can change it.  Please don't check out.  Please don't expect other people to take care of you like the wilting flower you will pretend to be. 

It might be hard to believe that you could get a full-time job that would support you comfortably or that you could earn a college degree or seek help from a mental health professional until you start to feel good from something other than excessive doses of prescription drugs.  You could do those things though.  I know your parents "don't believe in therapy," but fifty years from now, most of your family will be dead, your parents included, and the rest won't speak to you.  You'll be left with very few options beyond stepping up to the plate and taking care of yourself.  Please rise to the challenge.  Please take care of yourself.  Please be the smart, capable woman I know you could have grown into.  It's not too late.  It's never too late. 

And when your family stops talking to you, it isn't because they hate you or because you're "bad."  It's because you behave in a cruel and crazy way and they choose to stop dealing with you because they have to take care of themselves too.  You are almost full grown, and you haven't been the baby of the family since the year after you were born.  I'm going to lay some ugly truth on you:  you will never again be someone's number one priority.  Ever.  I hope you got the bulk of your mother's attention in the months following your birth, but that was it.  No more.  I realize you don't even remember that time.  I'm truly sorry, but that's the hand you were dealt.  You have to be your own grownup now.  If you refuse, well... I guess someone in a nursing home might keep you alive, but it won't be all that pleasant, and you will still eventually languish and die.  You can be the capable, in control woman I know you can be, and you can choose your own happiness, or you can languish and die.  You don't get to be someone's baby.  You don't get to be the beloved golden child.  Not everyone gets a turn at that fate, and if you ever did, it's long done now.  Sorry.  Them's the breaks.

I hope this letter isn't too much of a downer.  I wonder -- do you ever cry anymore?  I know your dad was kind of a dick about that with the, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about!" line.  You said the same line to me, followed immediately by how much you hated when your father said it to you.  You don't cry much in the future, at least not in front of other people.  I do want you to know though that people see how you feel.  You're not going through it all alone.  They can't do for you the things you have to do for yourself, but people are there and they do care.  They just can't save you.  You have to do that part yourself.  It's really hard, but I know you can do it.  You're smart and capable.  You feel things deeply.  It's hard feeling like you're all alone, but there is help out there, even when you're eventually old and alone.  But you have to try.  You have to choose to be the one in charge of yourself.  If you give up, no one will rescue you.  If you hit rock bottom, you will hit it hard and it will hurt.  No one will scoop you up and save you.  Know that.  It hurts, but it's important to know that. 

The most important thing you can ever do is take care of yourself.  You have a tendency to want to rescue people, to be their savior.  It doesn't tend to go as well as one might hope, but you could save yourself.  That would be amazing.  I hope someday in the future, more than fifty years in the future, when all the time I've known you is done, these thoughts reach you.  I hope you realize it doesn't matter how old or ugly or fat or poor you think you are.  You can still choose to take charge of your own life and take care of yourself.  And I hope you do.  Because I love you and have always wanted the best for you.  I just can't tell you face-to-face anymore.  I have to take care of myself and my daughter and my family instead because that's how this was always supposed to work.  I can't save you, but I will always pray you decide to save yourself like I know you can.  That's the best I can do.  Now let's see your best.  -- C

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Another Email

For the record, I was grossing $30k per annum in 2007.  I don't even know off hand what the mysterious $2k referenced below was all about.  It might have been something extra my dad had me transfer over when their account was empty, intended to cover the household bills that were on autopay (which was most of them).  I know that was a thing that happened at one point.

From: Christina R. Martin <>
Date: Sun, May 4, 2007 at 2:07 PM
To: Paul Rossetti <>

Hi Dad,

I returned Mom's calls today.  She told me she already spent the $2000 that she discovered in the bank yesterday and then said she had come to me to solve her money problems.  I told her I didn't know what she should do, and she accused me of not caring.  When I told her I care but that I didn't have a solution, she got mad at me for not immediately offering her money -- apparently the solution to her money problems is supposed to be me.  She claims I have "money coming out [my] ass" and that Dante is better than me because, despite the fact that he is getting evicted from his apartment and losing his electricity, "he cares."  She said, "You make good money, dontcha?"  I told her I don't make nearly as much as she does, and she said, "I don't have any money!"  She started to yell some more, so I told her I had to go and I hung up.  She makes me very sad.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Mom... Again: An Email

This one is from January 2007, the year before I cut ties with my mother.  My parents were mid-divorce, my dad was back in the hospital, and my mother had come out of her lengthy bout of not eating or moving or bathing to refinance the mortgage on the house and become worse than ever before.  

When my mother refinanced the mortgage, the monthly payments increased by about 50% (until the first rate adjustment, when it increased by about another 20%) and the mortgage reset for another 30 years of payments.  In exchange for this deal, my mother would receive $40k cash (as referenced in A List of Mom's Antics While Dad's in Hospital).  In order to ensure my dad's compliance since she needed his signature on the refinance paperwork, she promised him half the money.  I honestly think he would have signed no matter what because he tended to do whatever she demanded and then throw his hands in the air and claim he had no choice, but whatever.  

When she spent her half inside three weeks, my dad moved his $20k from my parents' joint account to the new joint account I had opened with him so that my mother couldn't spend it too.  That's the $20k referenced below.  Since she didn't appear to monitor her bank account back then (or ever?) and simply spent until it was empty, I hadn't expected her to notice.  Seriously.  It normally went from five figures to empty in a matter of days anyway.  It might seem odd to a third party that I didn't try explaining to her, "You promised that half of the money to Dad," but knowing me and knowing her, it wasn't odd.  It wouldn't have lessened the yelling or the retribution, and my primary wish back then was to stop getting yelled at.  In my family, telling the truth tended to go badly.  Lying was easier and more effective.  I just wish I'd learned that fact before my twenties.

It gets a little dark at the end. 

Dear Jerry,

I think I mentioned the last time we spoke that my mother had started calling again.  I've found the best way to get through her tirades without dissolving is to put her on speaker phone and watch the amused reactions of Michael and anyone else who happens to be in the apartment at the time.  They reinforce that she is crazy, which means that I am, by default, sane, and this is always a reassuring thing to find out.  

Today was the worst since the "day of inappropriate voice mails left in irrational anger."  First off, the bank sent a letter to my dad confirming that he had transferred $20k to our new joint bank account.  Of course, my mother opened it and read it, as she does with every piece of mail that enters the house, regardless of to whom it is addressed.  The only thing I could tell my mother was that he had wanted to send me money for the wedding.  I had planned out the entire story in minute detail beforehand -- explaining that the money was for my wedding, which she had told me she'd pay for and clearly would not be able to, was the only way she would consider it a lost cause and not try to recoup it later.  Now she is under the impression that my father just gave me a $20k gift and she is trying to convince my brother, who is holding my dad's favorite guitars for him so that my mom cannot sell them, that my dad only cares about me and clearly does not love him.  I had to relay these new developments to my dad so that he could try to explain things to Dante as best as he can without having to trust him with too much information.  Luckily, my mother's interest in anything I have to say wanes the second I open my mouth, so I mostly looked like a spoiled daughter who has no idea what is going on in her finances.  

My mom then asked why I ignored everyone at Christmas.  I think she was referring to the fact that I didn't send her a present.  Neither of us mentioned the fact that no one in the entire family contacted me at Christmas, either by mail or by phone.  She probably didn't think they needed to; I just didn't mention it because I didn't want to get involved in the fight she was trying to have with me. I had meant to send everyone cookies like I did last year, but by the time I had enough time to bake them all, none of them would have gotten to their destinations in time.  I explained that I didn't call her because I didn't want to get yelled at.  I can't think of a nicer way to say it, so that's how I say it.  I have told her this before, but apparently I should know that I deserve to be yelled at and I should stop trying to avoid my punishments.  

The part I remember best was when she told me that I should buy cards for everyone and treat my elders with respect (I guess this was a reference to the fact that my grandparents and I don't write to each other anymore -- she used to get angry when we did because I wasn't writing to her) and that I'm 25 years old and "need to grow up."  I'm already planning to use that line on her the next time she cries about not having enough money to care for herself.  "You are 56 years old, you have never had to work for a living, you can't manage to take care of yourself when handed $6000 per month, and you blame all your problems on everyone but yourself -- it's time to grow up," I'll say.  "I shouldn't be the one to tell you that you have to learn to take responsibility for yourself, but since you've alienated everyone else you know, it seems I'm the only one who will."  That might be a little too preachy.  Maybe just, "Stop whining!  Take responsibility for yourself!" or "Good god, I'd like to set you on fire!"  That would be the most frank.

I hate her so much.  I hate myself so much.  Her calls just make both worse.  I've never been good at taking these things in stride.  I try to act stoic, and I'm trying to be strong for my dad, but I hate her so much.  Every time I hear from her I feel more useless and hopeless than before.  I'm a bad person and everyone in her family apparently thinks I'm a deserter and a "selfish little bitch," and if my genes come from her, what if I get more like her?  What if I have children and ruin my marriage and their lives?  What if they hate me as much as I hate her?  Part of me is totally fine and hopeful and wants to see the world and do big things, but the part that she talks to just wants to kill myself.  My logic is that, even though she'd still hate me for doing something so self-centered, I wouldn't be able to do anything to make the situation worse.  

I'm sick of things being my fault, and if I'm dead, I can't be blamed, can I?  Not logically anyway.  I don't think too much anymore about all the stuff I'd need to put in order beforehand -- since she wouldn't be the one going through my things, what do I care if I haven't destroyed everything I ever wrote? -- though I would want some sort of will in place for the money in my bank accounts.  I've done a little research but the internet isn't terribly helpful.  I don't know what to do.  If I died, I think it would kill my dad, but I don't know what to do.  If I someday decided this is what I want, I don't know if anyone would support me, and I'm not sure of the legal ramifications if Michael knew in advance.  I don't know what to do.  I'm sorry if this sounds stupid or silly.  I don't make rash decisions, so it won't happen tonight, but I've been thinking about it for awhile now, and I think I might do less damage in the long run this way. 

I hope you had a good trip to New Orleans.  Did you do anything fun?  Sorry for the long, depressing email.  -- C

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How I Realized It Wasn't All My Fault

The first time I saw a therapist, I was 28 years old.  I hadn't spoken to my mother in over a year, and I basically sobbed uncontrollably while saying everything I had kept predominantly bottled up for most of my life.  My tears poured nonstop for the first several sessions, even when I wasn't upset.  It seemed like an automatic response to being allowed to let everything out.

When I got to the part about how a mother's love is supposed to be unconditional and, if my own mother hates me, then I can't possibly be a decent person, my therapist prompted, "But you ultimately realized the thing about mothers is just a trope and it isn't necessarily true.  You realized what your mother thinks has no bearing on who you are as a person... right?"

To which I replied, "...What?"

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Time My Mother Gave Her In-Laws a Dog

A few years into my grandfather's dementia, my mother decided what he really needed was a dog.  My dad's dad had Alzheimer's, and my grandmother took care of him at home.  He had reached the stage where he believed he was in prison and his wife was his jailer, but he hadn't reached the stage where it was taking a toll on his physical body yet.  In short, he spent a lot of time running away from home, and my grandmother spent a lot of time retrieving him.

My mother saw an ad for a free, unwanted, adult dog in a local Penny Saver and determined the deal was too good to pass up.  The people who were holding the dog said they had found him by the side of the road, so he had already been abandoned at least once before and, based on his behavior, abused as well.  He snapped at people, he was incredibly thin, and there appeared to be something wrong with his skin that resembled eczema. 

My mother gave the dog to her mother-in-law with the explanation that it was to keep my grandfather occupied.  My grandmother accepted the unwanted dog graciously, I presume because she didn't know what else to do.  Then every time my grandfather fled his "jail," Max the dog took off as well.  My grandmother would drive after them, coaxing each into the car with cold hotdogs.  Eventually she told my mother she couldn't do it anymore.  Max created twice the work for her, and she couldn't take care of him anymore.  He became our household's second dog.  Our first dog, Angel, was a sweet dispositioned Cocker Spaniel who we had raised from puppyhood.

I don't remember if it was before Max went to live with my grandparents or after he came back to our house that he mauled me.  He was still new to me, it hadn't occurred to me to be wary of him, and I had leaned down to hug him good night before going to bed like I always did Angel.  I was nine years old.  He had been asleep, I had startled him, and he had woken up taking a small chunk out of my face.  My dad said something along the lines of, "Of course you got bit.  He was asleep," and indicated he'd known exactly what was going to happen when he saw me getting too close to the dog sleeping at his feet.  I wanted to ask why he hadn't said something.  Why hadn't he warned me if he knew this would happen?  Angel didn't bite when I did the same thing.  I didn't know I "had it coming" by hugging the new dog.  Our conversation was cut short when my mother took me to the hospital to get stitches.   

Monday, December 7, 2015

My Adopted Brother

Dante's adoption anniversary is the anniversary of the day our parents -- my mother and social father -- finalized his adoption in court.  He was two months old and had lived with our parents since he was strong enough to leave the hospital.   

Every year we celebrated Dante's anniversary by going out with our mother's extended family -- our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and many cousins -- first out for lunch at Pizza Hut and then to a movie or the bowling alley and ice skating rink.  I loved spending the day with my cousins, almost all of whom were local and spent every major holiday with us, including nearly a dozen family birthday parties throughout the year.  But I was jealous that Dante had an anniversary and I didn't.  It was almost like getting a second birthday party every year, even if there weren't presents.  I was jealous of Dante a lot, any time he got something I didn't, any time I felt things weren't equal.  I think that's a pretty typical kid reaction to perceived unfairness.

When my mother told me I was donor conceived and immediately told me I could never tell another soul, including my dad or Dante, it cast Dante's adoption anniversary in a weird light for me.  Why was his adoption, or the fact that our parents weren't biologically related to him, deserving of a party, while what I saw as a similar facet of my own identity -- being biologically descended from a secret parent outside our family -- was a dark secret?  It didn't seem fair at all.

In hindsight, I think my mother was just doing what had she had been told to do (except for the telling me I am donor conceived part).  Tell adopted children where they came from (to the extent that you know).  Celebrate them.  Tell them they are "special" and "chosen."  That was where adoption had gotten to when Dante was born.  Never tell children they are donor conceived.  Never tell anyone where the donor conceived children came from.  If anyone knows the truth, the intended father will reject the child and the child won't respect him as its parent.  That was where donor conception had gotten to when I was born.  "For god's sake, tell your child," has been the prevailing wisdom since the '90s, but when I was conceived, secrecy was king.  Adoptions used to be dark secrets too, so it seems to me the prevailing wisdom of "what to tell the children" is a couple decades behind for donor conception simply because it's a newer phenomenon. 

It seemed bizarre to me to treat us so differently when the goal was apparently to treat us both "as their own children."  But the prevailing wisdom of the day was dramatically different for our individual circumstances, no matter how similar those circumstances appeared in my mind.  Secret parents.  God knows how many siblings.  Falsified birth certificates.  The wondering.  The perpetual unknown.  His unknown was twice as big as mine, but my secret was darker.  It seemed we had a lot in common, but I wasn't allowed to tell him so.

I'm not jealous of Dante anymore, or of the fact that he got an extra annual party.  I'm not even sure he liked those parties.  He never talked to me or our parents about being adopted or how he felt about it.  It might have meant nothing to him or he might have been broken up inside.  There was no way to know because we weren't close.  We weren't close, and our house wasn't a safe place to talk about such things.  Had he dared to bring up the topic of his birth parents, even if it was just to express a curiosity in who they were, I can only imagine how our mother would have retaliated.

I can only remember my mother bringing up the topic of Dante's birth parents in my presence two times.  I remember her telling Dante that his mother had been 15 and was impregnated by a man whose children she had been babysitting.  I don't know if any of this was true, nor if it was "consensual," to the extent that sex with a 15-year-old can be consensual.  It struck me as a way for my mother to tell Dante that she was better than his birth parents.  Period.  The "slut" insinuation was there.  I'd like to say I imagined it, but as far as I could tell, my mother tended to view any sexually active woman as a slut who "had it coming," even if she was a child or married.  The only other time I remember my mother mentioning Dante's birth parents was once when he wanted money for something in his teens or early twenties.  She'd sneered at him, "Why don't you go find your REAL parents?  Maybe they'll have some money for you."  It had the desired effect of shutting him up.

I remember once prattling away in the living room as a child and accidentally saying "my mom" instead of just "Mom."  Dante and our parents were the only people to whom I called her "Mom" instead of "my mom," so it seemed like a natural slip up to me, but my mother cut me off and laid into me.  "How dare you?" she screamed.  "I'm as much his mother as I am yours!"  I'd never thought she wasn't.  She'd favored Dante for most of my life.  When he hadn't recently done something to prompt her to turn on him viciously, he was the one she chose for her team while I was left out in the cold with our dad.  I knew how things worked at our house.  I hadn't been trying to insinuate that the only brother I'd ever known wasn't a part of our awful family.  He'd been a part of it for longer than I had.  Still she blanketed me in shame.  It feels strange to feel so sure I had made an innocent slip of the tongue with no deeper meaning behind it and to also feel so deeply ashamed for it.  Maybe that's what good parents are supposed to do though -- defend their children against the perceived slights of others.  It was confusing whenever I became one of those "others."

I wish Dante had known I was donor conceived.  I don't believe it's harder than being adopted (or even as hard most of the time, depending on the family and the surrounding circumstances -- half the unknown = half the trouble?), but it's another way of being different, of being "other."  It's something we sort of had in common.  We don't relate to each other at all, and yet I imagine he must've felt like as much of an outsider in that house as I did.  I felt like an outsider years before I knew I was donor conceived.  I remember being in preschool and thinking I must've been secretly adopted.  I thought I had both a mom and a dad out there in the world somewhere -- people who would understand me and make everything make sense.

I wish Dante knew that I wasn't as favored or as belonging as he seemed to think I was.  As jealous as I was of him (sometimes childishly, sometimes with good reason), I could see that he was treated unfairly, especially by our dad.  And that, as often as our mother gave him an undeserved pass on his bad behavior, she sometimes said terrible things he didn't deserve either.  Did he ever see when I was treated unfairly?  Did he recognize how hard I tried to keep them happy?  Did it ever occur to him that his abuse made my life harder and scarier?  Could he care? 

I wish he knew that it wasn't always just him on the outside being mistreated like he seemed to think.  Nothing there was fair, and neither of us was the full-time golden child.  If he hadn't been a psychopath, we might have been friends.  It would have been nice to have a friend in that house.

Dante is still in that house.  I almost said "stuck in that house," but I suspect that's not how he sees it.  Every time he left -- usually because our mother had kicked him out -- he gravitated back.  When she finally moved out after the divorce, when he was in his mid-thirties, he left his apartment and independent adult life to move back into his childhood bedroom.  Why?  He brought his girlfriend and her son with him, but still, why?  Why would anyone live in that awful, dilapidated house by choice?  And now he lives there with our dad, the person who always treated him the most cruelly.  I don't envy Dante anymore.  He might be happier than me -- I honestly have no idea -- but I could never live the way he lives.  We are too different.  I have never been able to understand him. 

I don't know what effect being adopted has had on him.  No ones knows.  There isn't a "control" version of Dante who isn't adopted with whom to compare him.  I don't know how he might or might not have been different had he been raised by his birth mother, or by more functional adoptive parents for that matter.  This post isn't really about that.  I guess what I mean for it to be about is that you can't predict how someone will feel about being adopted or react to being adopted, and I don't think there is a way to undo the fact that someone is adopted simply by throwing them a party and calling them "special."  And just because you love an adopted family member like they're blood and treat them like blood and genuinely feel like they're your flesh and blood doesn't mean they don't still feel adopted (or donor conceived, as the case may be).  And that's okay.  It'll be more okay if you can let them feel it without taking it personally or trying to make them feel something else.  That's what I think anyway.  I can't speak for anyone else.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The DAR and Cultural Identity

I have craved a cultural identity since I was a young child.  I relished movies about people with strong cultural ties, such as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "Pocahontas" and I really want to think of a third one that isn't "Schindler's List" but every example I think of is more culturally insensitive than the last.  I grew up in a white, Midwestern town where our grasping at cultural identity was probably a large part of what led people to genealogy.  It's what led me to mine.

My interest in the Daughters of the American Revolution began when I thought I'd never know the identity of my biological father.  My social father's mother had been very interested in her own genealogy, and I have a framed family tree she drew that includes pencil sketches of a few generations of her ancestors.  They aren't my ancestors, but no one else in her family seemed to want it, and she's a talented artist.  It seemed less weird to have it hanging on my dining room wall when I thought it was the only paternal family I'd ever know. 

I decided to trace my dad's family tree on since his mother had given me a decent start.  I remembered another family tree she had drawn up that traced her American ancestors back to the 1600s.  I thought maybe I could join the DAR.  If there was going to be institutionalized lying on my birth certificate, I wanted at least to be able to use it to gain entry to a club where I didn't belong.

In case you aren't aware, the DAR is an American group for ladies over the age of 18 who can trace their direct lineage to someone who aided America in the fight for independence.  By "trace," they mean you have to produce birth, marriage, and death certificates for everyone in your direct line back to the ancestor in question.  Most states didn't keep such records until about a hundred years after the Revolutionary War, so that can be a tricky feat.  Fortunately, if a more immediate ancestor is already a member of the DAR -- such as your mother or grandmother -- you only have to prove your lineage back to that person.  Very convenient for maintaining the status quo.  DNA evidence doesn't count as proof nor is it accepted, so no one really knows how many of the members actually descended from patriots biologically and not just legally, or how many meet the bloodline criteria but are excluded because of an ancestor being adopted or born out of wedlock.

I think my dad's mom tried to join the DAR at one point.  When I found a "patriot" in her tree and looked him up in the DAR's patriot database, there was a note explicitly stating that the there was no certifiable proof that the daughter from whom my grandmother descended was legally his child.   

Now that I've done more genealogical research on my own family tree, I've found I'm descended from at least half a dozen "patriots" on my maternal grandfather's side.  While I find a club based around purity of blood rather distasteful and assigning yourself value based on who you were born to rather sad (especially in my case), the DAR still sings its siren song for me.  I crave acceptance and belonging.  Also, "I'm off to my DAR meeting," is one of the WASPiest things a person can say, and I've striven to be WASPier since adolescence.

In case you aren't aware, a WASP is a White Anglo Saxon Protestant, but it has a connotation of snobby old money and power, which is what I find appealing about the term.  I was born white, of mostly British descent, and Methodist, so I'm a WASP in the most literal sense, but I was raised as White Trash.  It's a very different subculture.  We kept a totaled car in our driveway when I was growing up.  My brother has a gun collection.  My grandpa used the "n" word at Thanksgiving dinner.  I don't get jokes about "double-wide trailers" because my uncle lived in one and it was a hell of a lot nicer than the house where I grew up, not to mention TWICE AS WIDE as his previous trailer.  It's a very different subculture.

As I drew up my family tree over the last year, it seemed my DAR dreams would be quashed by the fact that my maternal grandfather was "illegitimate."  I had no idea what name he'd had at birth because his parents weren't married, and his siblings were all half-siblings with different surnames.  Every census since his birth had listed them all under a different surname -- that of whomever their mother had most recently married, even though there was never a man in the house come census time.  I couldn't find evidence my grandfather had even existed under his father's surname before he enlisted in the army for WWII, so I didn't know how to request a copy of his birth certificate. 

Then a couple of weeks ago it occurred to me to try.  I knew his birth date and his mother's maiden name and the city where he was born.  Maybe that would be enough.  I used the only legal name under which I knew him and included his father's name for good measure.  It worked.  It turns out Wilkes -- his father's last name -- was always his last name.  And his father's name was on his birth certificate too.  Where my grandfather and I come from (and maybe across America -- I'm not sure), the mother's husband is automatically the legal father, whether he is present for the birth or not.  If the mother is unmarried and no father is present to sign his name to the birth certificate, the father line unceremoniously reads "bastard."  I'm not sure if this is still how things are done, but it's how they were done when my grandpa was born in the 1920s.

My grandpa's father wasn't present for his birth.  I know this because the line of the birth certificate where it asks for his last known address reads, "Unknown -- Abandoned Wife."  Perhaps it's true.  Perhaps they were married, in spite of the fact that there is no marriage license registered for them in the county where they both lived or anywhere else I have looked and in spite of the fact that my grandmother's letters made it sound like they weren't.  (Or perhaps Michael is right and "Abandoned Wife" was the name of his hometown in Kentucky.)  But I think it's equally likely my great-grandmother didn't want to have "bastard" written on her son's birth certificate.  And I think that was a solid move on her part.  I have great respect for people willing to lie for a good cause, and in this case, my great-grandmother was able to convey more truth on her son's birth certificate than the word "bastard" ever would have.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Time My Mother Found My Address -- and a Contingency Plan

Dear Jerry,

My dad says my mom finally looked up my name on the internet and found me.  My address is on the first page of hits, so it's an investment of about 5 seconds.  I figured it was only a matter of time, but 2 years is a pretty good run.  It's pretty obvious she is in the mania stage right now, based on my dad's email below.  I'm wondering how long this one will last and if she is still living at that group home and if she is or was on any kind of stabilizing medication while there.

My phone number doesn't appear to be listed online yet, but even once it is, caller ID makes it easy enough to avoid 513 calls that aren't from my dad or you or your family.  I doubt she'd take the 8-hour drive to show up on my doorstep if she hasn't been able to reach me by phone in 3+ years, but if she did, I have no idea how one is supposed to handle that situation.  I imagine she would take a bus like she did when she accosted my dad in Cleveland and then take a taxi to my house, and then say she can't leave because she'd need to call another taxi and doesn't have enough money for it to take her anywhere anyway.  Have you ever heard of someone in this situation?  My first thought was that I would call the local police, but I think they'd just say they don't want to get involved in a domestic squabble and that she hasn't committed any crime and she'd be left sitting outside my house waiting for me to make a move.  I'd like to have some kind of contingency plan that doesn't involve giving her money or letting her into my home.  -- C

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Paul Rossetti <>
Date: Sun, Mar 13, 2011 at 3:53 PM
To: Christina R. Martin <>

By the way, you'd better watch out. Evidently your mom has access to a computer, and is with it enough to have found you there.
She's also told Dante she is going to sue me for another $500 a month for monthly maintenance. I'd sure like to know who's putting her up to all this.
Love, Dad...

For a couple years after I stopped communicating with my mother, I still feared her showing up on my doorstep, as noted in the email above.  I had moved halfway across the country since the last time she knew my address, but my new address was highly findable.  When Michael and I bought our house, our county published our names, address, and the purchase price of our house, as they do with all real estate purchases.  For awhile it was the first thing that came up in a Google search for my name, and it worried me.

I live a full day's drive from my mother, but I imagined the craziest things she could do, such as taking a taxi to get here and demanding I pay the thousand dollar cab fare because she had no money, or something similarly ridiculous.  I worried about this scenario a fair amount, and sometimes it kept me awake at night.  How would I get rid of her if she showed up?  What if she threw a fit in my driveway and said she couldn't leave because she had no phone, no car, and no money?  I couldn't control it.  I can't control anything she does. 

What I can control is how I react, so I hatched a contingency plan so I wouldn't lose any more sleep imagining this stupid scenario.  First, I had to decide what else I had control over and what I would be willing to do.  I have control over my house and my property and my body and my money.  These were all things she had seemed to control up until I got my own apartment and a full-time job, so it was easy to forget I was a financially independent adult who could put my foot down. 

I decided I would not pay anyone who brought her to my home.  That would do nothing to benefit me, and no one could legally make me do it ("no one can legally make me" has become a big deciding factor in letting myself say "no" to things -- I say "no" to a lot of things now).  I also wouldn't give her money or let her into my home under any circumstances.  I could just imagine her kicking off her shoes, lying down on my couch, and declaring squatters rights or something.  I know squatters rights don't work that way, but it would still be harder to make her leave once she got inside.  I also wouldn't drive her anywhere in my car.  I refuse to put myself in any situation in which she could try to abduct or kill me, likely or not, and I also don't care for the inconvenience.

What I would do is tell her politely and firmly that she is not welcome at my home or on my property and that, if she doesn't leave immediately, I will call the police.  No conversation, no "hearing what she has to say," just my telling her politely and firmly to leave.  If she said she couldn't go because her cab already left and she had no phone and no money and it was raining -- my god, the rain -- and she had nowhere else to go, I would be willing to give a little to ease along the progress of the situation.   

If it were raining, I would give her an umbrella I don't mind parting with forever.  We have at least one cheap, collapsible umbrella that is sort of half-broken but still in use because it's small enough to fit in a backpack.  If it were raining, she could have that (envision "I am a benevolent god" meme here).  I would bring the cordless phone to the door (after locking the door behind me while I went to fetch it so that she couldn't sneak in) because if she tried to steal it or break it, I have two others and they don't work beyond my yard anyway so it would just be amusing to me.  I would let her call someone on my cordless phone to retrieve her, and if she swore she had no one, I would call her a cab myself.  I would allow her to wait at the curb for the car rather than calling the police on her immediately.  There would be a time limit on how long I would allow her to wait in sight of my home, and it would be based on how long it typically takes a cab to come.  Maybe 30 minutes.  I might be willing to pay a taxi driver in cash to take her to a bus station or airport, but I would give no money to my mother directly, and if she came back, I would not pay another cabbie again.  I consider this very generous of me since paying the cabbie in the first place isn't my job and calling the cops is free.  

If she came back again or refused to go in the first place, I would call the police, and they would come and remove her because the police in my town are very helpful and I am a thirty-something, affluent, white woman, while my mother looks like a crazy homeless person.  I forgot this fact a lot when I was younger.  I am an affluent white woman, I have power, and the amount of respect I receive from strangers has increased dramatically since I entered my thirties.  Even if my mother tried to claim she has a right to me and everything I own because she is my mother, the cops wouldn't accept that because it is crazy and not how America works, even if it's how my mother's mind works.  I would calmly and quietly explain that my mother is severely mentally ill, refuses any sort of treatment, and that I haven't been in contact with her for the last seven years for this exact reason.  I would express a subdued but believable amount of fear and, now that I have a child, mention protecting her.  They would take my mother away from my home because it's their job and also because I know how to behave in a variety of situations and she does not.  I have no problem calling the police as many times as necessary.  And unlike my dad, I have no qualms about pressing charges if it came to that.

I also had a clever plan in which I would sneak out the back door, go to my neighbor's house, sneak us both back in through my kitchen door, and have my neighbor answer the door to tell my mother I had sold the house and moved.  I think it would take too long to go get my neighbor though.  It might be worth trying if my mother were higher functioning and more dangerous, but I think the flat out rejection of sending her away or calling the cops would be equally effective at getting rid of her in the long-term.  She doesn't handle rejection well, and I don't think she'd be willing to put herself out there a second time.  I think she would crumple.  Sometimes I think if I were to look her dead in the eye and state point blank, "You aren't worth the trouble," she would explode into a pile of ash.

[Edited:  Re-reading all this I realize my contingency plan has changed.  I would tell her to leave and then call the police.  I wouldn't give her an umbrella or call her a cab or let her wait at the end of my driveway for a ride.  I would just call the police.  Apparently I don't have the patience or benevolence I had four years ago.  Oh well.]

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Post-Divorce Antics

The following email chain took place a year after the last time I spoke to my mother.  It was awhile after my parent's divorce became final, when my mother had moved in with her parents and finally made an effort to cash the spousal support checks my dad had paid her for the entirety of their separation.  Because she had ignored the checks for months and then couldn't find them, the court had replaced them with a $30,000 mega-check.   

Dear Jerry,

I can hardly fathom how much junk food one could buy at Walmart with $200. 

My dad's lawyer sends him regular notes on what he's been doing on his case (i.e., "why I'm charging you another $250" notes -- just think how much junk food he could buy from Walmart!).  He's ultra-professional and the notes normally just state quick little facts.  Which is what makes the attached note and its tone of exasperation slightly amusing. 

I'm so glad my mother doesn't have my current phone number or know what state I live in.  Dante said she's been trying to call me, looking for the next check ever since the check for $30k went through, but the phone number she has is from two apartments ago.  -- C

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Paul Rossetti <>
Date: Wed, Jul 8, 2009 at 4:37 PM
Subject: Fwd:
To: Christina R. Martin <>

Here's the note. By the way, She's calling Dante on a daily basis now. Looks like she's trying that with my lawyer. I'm damn glad she doesn't have my number or address. Dante also said that when she tried to cash the $30k check, the bank would only give her $100 until it cleared because of its size. She then took that $100, borrowed another $100 from grandpa, took a cab, and went to WalMart, and bought twinkies and other junk food. She's also off one of her meds, which explains her behavior, I think.

Love, Dad...

July 7.          Annie Rossetti attempted to call me at 11:20am and at noon. Both times I refused to talk with her with explanation through my secretary that she has a lawyer and I am not permitted to talk with her. She clearly is having mental health problems right now again. That may be worse than they have been. She states that her personal property is to be turned over to her by July 31st and that she took a cab and went by the house in Cincinnati recently and the locks were changed and she could not get in.  She threatens to file a contempt of court. She said she has tried to talk to her own lawyer and her own lawyer will not talk with her anymore. All of this was in a long winded voice mail to me. She claims she will file a contempt of court against client.
            I am not going to talk to Annie Rossetti and even when I get a voice mail from now on I am just going to ignore it rather then take the time and record it in the file and pass it on to client. Unless Paul instructs me by email to do so I will be ignoring any messages from her.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Unexpected Relatives

I found another second cousin today.  On Facebook.  On accident.  He had replied to a school friend's post, and his surname was familiar, so I asked where he was from and suggested we might be cousins.  Turns out our grandparents were siblings. 

One of the best things about second cousins is that they are distant enough relations that I can say who my paternal grandparents were and we can establish how we're related without raising any eyebrows.  I don't have to tell them my father's name or that he was an anonymous sperm donor.  People don't usually expect to know their second cousins, so we say "small world!" and laugh and move on.  I've done it before.

And as soon as I wrote that sentence, he messaged me, "Who is your dad?  My dad wants to know."

I didn't know what to say.  If I told him my father's name, it might get back to my uncle who still lives in the same town, and even though he knows who I am, I don't know how he feels about my existence or my advertising it.  If I said, "He was an anonymous sperm donor, but he doesn't like people to know, so keep it quiet," that would raise eyebrows and probably more interest.  It would also make me an interloper who doesn't belong in their family, at least in some people's eyes.  This is why I don't reach out to my first cousins or my uncles, even though they are the ones with the old photos and the family stories I want.  It would be awkward.  I would feel like a tattletale or even a liar, claiming the family of a father who won't claim me.  I didn't realize how much of a secret I was still keeping with his identity.  I have never kept his name secret from friends or advertised it publicly, but today was the first day someone who wasn't a friend asked for it.  Even on my Ancestry tree his name is private, and no one has ever asked for it.  Today was the first time I had to draw a line. 

I didn't respond to my second cousin.  Ignoring his question seems rude and I don't like doing it, but I don't know how to respond, so Jerry suggested I just never respond because it will do the least damage.  I'm on here posting everything I remember about my mother, but I'm still keeping my father's secret.  I feel nauseous. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Minor DC Discovery

I had my birth certificate out the other day because of bank-related nonsense.  As I was putting it away, back in the lock box with the passports and the social security cards and the letter from my sperm donor father, a familiar name caught my eye.  The doctor who delivered me was the same doctor who had inseminated my mother.  I don't mean my biological father.  I mean he was the man who is now known for having impregnated patients with medical student sperm.  I learned his name from another local DC person long after the last time I'd look at my birth certificate.  I don't know why it surprised me.  I guess I had assumed he had been something more than a run-of-the-mill obstetrician and that he wouldn't do prenatal checkups or deliver babies.  Impregnating women with donor sperm doesn't require a medical mastermind, but I'd assumed he'd specialized in infertility.  I'd assumed he treated... something.

I wonder if the same doctor delivered Hans.  I was conceived the semester our father started medical school.  Hans was born the semester that he graduated.  It doesn't matter.  I'm just grasping at things we might have in common.  I wonder if Hans and I have ever known someone in common.  I wonder if my father and I have ever unwittingly been in the same building at the same time.  I never thought about these things before I knew who he was.  Then I thought how likely it was.  

I wonder if any medical student anonymous sperm donor has ever examined a woman carrying his child, or been present for the birth of his own child.  It didn't happen to me because first years don't see patients, but what if someone donated as a third year or fourth year?  Third and fourth years see patients.  If a medical student had his obstetrics and gynecology rotation when a patient or four were gestating his offspring, it seems like there would be a decent chance he might see one of them.  He could see one of those patients or possibly even be present for the birth of his own offspring and, based on the secrecy and alleged lack of record keeping at the hospital where I was created, there would be no way he or anyone else would ever know.   

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Time My Mother Gave Me Caffeine Pills

My mother started giving me caffeine pills my senior year of high school.  I was very tired.  I was in the school plays, took private music lessons at a local university twice per week, was an officer in several school clubs ("colleges want well-rounded students"), and spent all day every Sunday at various choir practices and church groups.  I frequently fell asleep doing my homework and broke down in tears when I had yet another paper to write.  My grades didn't suffer -- I had made straight A's for several years, and that didn't change until I finally got an 89% my last semester of AP Calculus -- but my crying seemed to annoy my mother. 

One day my mother gave me a little yellow box of pills she had bought and told me they would help me get my homework done.  This was the same year she gave me anti-depressants, about three years after she started self-medicating with pain killers and muscle relaxants, and several years after she started doling out to both of us pretty much every vitamin supplement she read about in magazines or saw mentioned on television.  Dr. Oz wasn't a thing back then, but something comparable must have existed because she had us on multiple supplements I had never heard of anywhere.  I don't even remember how many pills I was taking daily back then.  Six?  Nine?  I want to say nine because I knew I could take eleven pills -- including a couple Tylenol -- in one giant swallow.  Most of the supplements she bought had no discernible effect, such as the aloe pills and the garlic pills and the vitamin E.  The caffeine pills did though.  The box she gave me said each pill contained the caffeine of two cups of coffee.  I didn't see how this would work significantly better than just drinking more coffee, but I did as she said and took one, as I always had when my mother gave me medicine.

The caffeine pills didn't help me think or stay awake.  I still felt exhausted, but now I was shaking and freezing cold too.  They left me too wired to fall asleep, but writing essays still took work.  My mother urged me to try the pills again, to take another.  She seemed sure they would help me get my work done, as I always had regardless of what I took or didn't take.  After a couple more tries with the caffeine pills provoked exactly the same shaking and chills, I stopped taking them.  My mother was wrong.  They only made me feel worse.  I would make do without them, as I always had. 

The number of pills I consumed dropped considerably after I left for college.  I didn't have money to waste on supplements that did nothing, and the doctor I saw at university health services when I needed a prescription renewed had made fun of me for being on so many things at my age.  No one had ever bothered to make fun of my pill consumption with my mother in the exam room.  No doctor had ever dared to imply I should take less than what my mother was doling out.  She has a knack with doctors.   

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Words of Wisdom

I had a really hard time deciding to go 'no contact' with my mother, which seems to be pretty standard for people cutting ties with their parents.  In one phone conversation with my best friend Jerry, I remember saying how I like to believe there is a point to everything we go through in life and that we're meant to learn something from each hardship.  It gives a point to the hardships.  If I cut ties with my mother, I would be giving up on learning whatever lesson that relationship was meant to teach me.

Jerry replied, "Maybe the lesson you're supposed to learn is when to walk away." 

Friday, November 27, 2015

"Daughters Are a Lot Harder Than Sons"

When I was pregnant with our first and only child, my husband and I were delighted to find out at my 20 week prenatal appointment that she was a girl.  I shared the news with my dad, who wished me luck in what struck me as an insulting sort of way and sighed, "Daughters are a lot harder than sons."  I can only assume he was referring to the fact that my spectrum of displayed emotions as a child had extended to feelings that confused him, such as "sadness," while my brother Dante's had tended to stay in the more familiar "violent rage" category.

I wanted to tell him, "I'm glad to hear you feel that way because you are going to be taking care of Dante until you die."  But I didn't.  I was silent.  He is going to be taking care of Dante until he dies.  No one needs to say it out loud.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

An Attitude of Gratitude

Some people I went to high school with like to post on Facebook about how, if someone is depressed or having trouble loving life, it's because she is lacking "an attitude of gratitude."  To which I say, "Go fuck yourself."

While I agree that it's great and helpful to look on the bright side and count your blessings, hearing that advice from a third party who knows nothing about your situation can appear to lack empathy and sound a little bit like, "Maybe you'd have an easier time snapping out of it if you weren't such an ungrateful little bitch."  To which I repeat, "Go fuck yourself," and add, "You sound like my mother."

I know this judgment probably isn't what's intended with most "attitude of gratitude" posts and my interpretation is biased by my own experiences, but I also know my experiences aren't unique.  I think audience perspective is worth bearing in mind when doling out blanket advice to hundreds of acquaintances on social media.  Yes, happiness is a choice that comes from within, but implying happy people are doing it right and unhappy people are unhappy because they're doing it wrong is a vast oversimplification of the human experience.  Life is hard.  Maybe we're all just doing the best we can with the hands we've been dealt.

Anyway, I think more helpful advice informs people not what to think or to feel but what to do -- because, while thoughts and feelings come and go regardless of how we try to force them, action is what we actually have control over.  So rather than try to follow "be grateful" or equally unhelpful and invalidating advice, in honor of Thanksgiving today, I am making a list of things for which I am thankful.  Making a list is an action.  It is something I have control over.  Everything on my list of "consolation prizes" belongs here too.

Here is my Thankful list:

1) I am thankful for my BFF Jerry.  We've been best friends since my senior year of high school nearly half my life ago, and she knows my mother firsthand.  I can't even list all the ways she has been important to me and vital to my continued existence.  She is the closest thing I've ever met to a soul mate.

2) I am thankful for my husband.  He works hard and is the most resilient person I've ever met.  This is not hyperbole -- he is the most resilient person most people who know him have ever met.  We have different interests but the same sense of humor, and I never really get bored of spending time with him, even if we're just sitting on the couch watching YouTube videos together.  I ultimately married him because I could not imagine another person who would give me a better shot at being a happy, fully functional person than him.  He's the kind of person you'd want on your team.  I also like who I am when I'm with him.  I feel like myself. 

3) I am thankful for my daughter.  I have never had a greater incentive to keep trying than her.  She is resilient and cheerful in ways I never was as a child.  She is smart and creative and beautiful and legitimately funny.  I hope she somehow develops an athleticism that no known person in her family tree has ever possessed, but even if she doesn't, she is perfection.

4) I am thankful for my home, which is in pretty good shape and which keeps my family safe and warm and dry.  I am thankful for the neighbors who I see when I go outside.  It's so friendly here.  We know each others' names and say hello like we're in a more spacious and physically comfortable version of college.  I am thankful I generally prefer getting rid of things to hoarding them.  I am thankful I generally prefer getting my home repaired to living with issues that make me feel ashamed of it.  I am thankful I have the money to do the things necessary to maintain my home and also that I know how to handle money.  I am thankful my mother taught me about finances, even though she couldn't manage her own.

5) I am thankful for the public library system, which saves me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per year in books and videos I can borrow rather than buy and keep.

6) I am thankful for my sun lamp, Yogi brand's St. John's Wort herbal tea, my elliptical machine, Netflix, the gym near my house with all the good weight machines, meditation as described in Pema Chödrön's How to Meditate, and everything else that helps me to feel okay.

7) I am thankful for the people who share their stories and feelings on the internet and make me feel normal and sane.  I am thankful for the people who read what I write and make me feel less alone.  Thank you.

And to anyone reading this who is feeling depressed today because they are alone or feel alone or have to spend time with family and only wish they could be alone, I say, "That sucks.  I'm sorry you're having to deal with that.  Have you tried watching Netflix or, if you're with family, surreptitiously watching Netflix on your iPhone?  I hear the new Aziz Ansari show is good, and I always recommend Firefly for a good distraction.  Have you tried making Bingo boards of all the crazy and casually racist things your mother might say over dinner?  Have you considered cataloging the most ridiculous things your parents say and sharing them with friends or the internet for our mutual entertainment so that you can look forward to their madness rather than dread it?  Have you tried bourbon or cheesecake?  I'm sorry you're having a hard time today.  You're not alone.  I hope you feel better soon."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Time My Grandmother Visited My Mother as a Ladybug

Once when I was in my early twenties, my mother told me she hadn't felt like going to church that Sunday.  "But then I saw a ladybug, and I just knew it was your grandma telling me I needed to go to church." 

What makes this idea slightly less crazy is that my uncle used to call my grandmother "Ladybug" as a nickname.  What makes it slightly more crazy is that my grandmother was still alive at the time, recovering from a surgery or sickness that kept her from church that particular Sunday, but otherwise fine. 

Methodists don't usually have animal familiars, so I suggested my mother ask her mother, "Did you visit me in the form of a ladybug yesterday?" to confirm.  I don't think she ever did.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"57 Reasons I Hate My Mother": An Email

I was referring back to my old emails while writing the story of The Great Clean Out of '06 (or The Time My Mother Scammed the Poorest People We Knew), but I think this email might be better in its original form.  A few of the things I said at the time make me cringe in the rereading (e.g., repeatedly calling my mother a terrible person; calling the Gardner family "trashy" -- they remind me of Kenny's family from South Park, but still, it was unkind), but I prefer to keep it honest than to edit it to make myself sound better.  The first bullet points might sound familiar from other posts.

Dear Jerry,

It really relaxes my head to list off what is pissing me off about my mom, but I can understand how listening to someone complain can get old really fast (believe me -- I know), so feel free to skip the numbered section of this email.  Please note though that there is a shitload of crazy in there and you might find some of it interesting and/or amusing.  There aren't actually 57 reasons.  I just liked how it sounded.

1.  She called me repeatedly starting at 6am yesterday to tell me she wanted to fax me something.  I discovered later that she had started calling my cell phone at 5:30am.  She told me today that she had called about six other people before that because she couldn't find my phone number.  When each asked why she had called at such an ungodly hour, she got increasingly angrier.  I finally got her off the phone with less than an hour before I had to be at work.  The all-important fax was the name of a hotel in Cleveland, a wedding price list for the chapel in Cincy, and something that looked like spam and said something about 'girlfriends' on it.

2.  She called me tonight for her daily venting and to ask me to wire her $2000.  She said the car that was formerly mine -- which my brother ruined the engine on and then she tried unsuccessfully to give away -- was in the shop and wouldn't be leaving until she had $2k.  She said she hadn't planned on taking the $2k that my father had very carefully set aside in a money market account to pay their property tax, but if I wouldn't give her money, she'd be forced to use it.  Either she doesn't have access to the money market account, or my dad is completely unaware that she does and will probably have a breakdown when he finds out.  I hope for the former. 

Money she spent today:  her $2300 bed was delivered, and she had several scans run on her brain.  Tomorrow she is having an MRI, and she is having people come by to talk about installing automatic handicapped doors on the house. 

Do you know the Gardners (i.e., the very nice Tim Gardner's mostly -- not all, but mostly -- trashy family)?  Otherwise known to me as the poorest family in Cincy?  Well, my mom owes them money.  She told the youngest children and their boyfriends that she would pay them each $100 and all the candy they could eat to clean out her basement but that she would have to give them IOUs and pay them later (she mentioned this part after they arrived).  She also said she'd pay them to get my brother's car out of the shop.  Apparently their father called and yelled at her because his children had to put gas in the car to get it to her, and so far, they have made negative money.  She also offered the pregnant teenager Mikaela and her boyfriend a $1000 IOU to go to Queens and drive back the $3000 van she is still hell-bent on buying.  Mikaela backed out because she is in her 3rd trimester and recently learned that she isn't supposed to be flying.  My mother is a terrible person.  

By the way, I didn't give her the money.  I told her truthfully that I don't have that much money in my checking account.  There is no reason for her to ever know that I have a high-yield savings account and an 18-month CD because she is never ever getting her hands on them.

3.  She announced in church last Sunday that she needed help cleaning out her house and that she would pay people by giving them bags of candy and praying for them (I'm serious).  She was angry and resentful that people who were "supposed to be [her] friends" didn't chip in, and even "the Mormons," some new-ish neighbors who had once said, "If there is anything we can do..." didn't help (apparently "if there is anything we can do..." now constitutes some sort of binding verbal agreement).  Only two people came, a couple from church who we've known for decades who are around my parents age, maybe a little older.  When they asked if there was anything they should bring, she asked for Rubbermaid storage containers.  She told the woman how she wished she could scrub out the bathtub but that her fingers just weren't strong enough.  The woman scrubbed the bathtub clean for her.  I don't think it had been scrubbed since the mid-'90s.

4.  After she bitched about having to wait until tomorrow for the scans of her brain and after I denied her request for $2000, she told me she had no idea if my dad had had his surgery today or not.  She hadn't called the hospital to find out.  She said she had tried the hospital in Cincinnati and expected them to transfer her to the hospital in Cleveland but they hadn't.  Not sure why she didn't call the number she has for another division of that hospital in Cleveland, but apparently she gave up quickly.  That's when I told her that I had actually bothered to look up the hospital's phone number and talk to my dad's nurse, who said he was recovering in his room and doing fine.  My mother seemed genuinely shocked, though I'm not sure about which part.

5.  She tells the same stories ("complaints" might be a more accurate term) every time she calls me.  I think she tells everyone the same thing and actually forgets who she's told her shit to each day.  That, or she just doesn't care.  That's fairly likely, actually.  She is such a terrible person.  I really can't stand her.

6.  She has decided that as soon as my dad gets out of the hospital she will give him an ultimatum that either he treat her "like a human being" or she is divorcing him.  She said she has a terminal illness and life is too short to spend it unhappy.  What a lovely lesson to learn after wasting all of your youth, beauty, and money.  I am thankful for her sometimes.  Watching someone close to you make such catastrophic mistakes helps prevent you making so many of them, and sweet jesus, she covered a lot of them for me.  I honestly believe that, while I might not be a better person for having known her, I behave better for having dealt with her.

Okay, I'm finished with my list for today.  The good news, in addition to the fact that my dad's surgery went smoothly, is that I've been researching Ohio divorce law and Ohio is an "equitable-distribution" state.  This means, among other things, that upon divorce, the debts are divided up as fairly as possible to whomever created them.  My dad would still have tens of thousands of dollars worth of marital debt -- debt they earned jointly, like the mortgage -- but it would most likely free him from her mounting hospital bills.  The only thing really working against him is the fact that he is their sole source of income and a judge might determine that he stands a better chance of paying it off.  However, if he sues for divorce and cites the financial insanity -- and other insanity -- as cause, he might be able to get rid of those debts and of her, though I'm sure he'd have to pay alimony out of his significantly lighter check.  Also, there is a 90% chance (probably better) that he would get the house and would then be able to stop her from calling more and more people to do more and more expensive things to it.  Then I'd only have one parent spiraling out of control, and as long as she doesn't come knocking on my door (hell, if the pizza delivery guy can't find it, why should she be able to?), she can do whatever she damn well pleases.  Michael and I will move to Arizona where the schools are good, the property taxes are reasonable, and the weather is fine, and my dad can sell everything he owns and get a little house not too far away in the desert, the only place it seems he has ever been happy.

I am so looking forward to our Cleveland adventure.  Do you have any ideas for where we should eat?  The CDs I ordered for my dad arrived yesterday, so I now have some 15 CDs worth of jazz to upload onto his new mp3 player.  Plus, I consequently have a new $200 jazz collection.  Which is actually not bad.  I used to hate the stuff, but I think it must have seeped into my brain as a child because so much of it is familiar to me now, and hearing it is really soothing.  "Willow Weep For Me" and "Misty" always make me think of my dad because they are the two songs he played on his guitar every damn day for as long as I can remember.  I actually like them now, I guess because I hadn't heard them in so long.

It'll be good to see him, and I know there's a selfish reason behind it, but I love giving him gifts.  He's so good at receiving gifts, and I love that I know he'll really like this one and that maybe he won't be so sad or so lonely because he'll have something pretty and familiar to listen to and he'll know that it came from someone who loves him and wants him to get well.  I'd better head to bed since it's getting really late.  Be thinking of fun ways to spend our evening together.  There should definitely be mischief involved at one point or another, though I'm not sure how so.  I hope to talk to you soon, my best and favorite friend.  -- C

P.S.  #7)  She got upset when I told her after 11pm that I needed to go get ready for bed because I have work in the morning.  Michael says I should set the fax to call her in the middle of the day and wake her up and see how she likes it (ha!).  -- C

Send the Parents to Jail

I remember being very young the first time I heard that children don't go to jail.  I believe this topic came up because I was terrified of unwittingly doing something illegal and being separated from my mother and sent to jail, but otherwise I don't remember the context of this conversation. 

My mother told me I didn't need to worry about being sent to jail myself as a preschooler.  "Parents are held responsible for their children's behavior," she explained.  "So when a child does something bad, she gets taken away from her parents, and her parents get sent to jail in her place.  If you did something bad, I would be the one who went to jail."  Cue new and more exotic fears.  I don't remember when I learned this was a lie, but it took years.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


My mother refused to give me a curfew when I was growing up.  I wasn't allowed to go anywhere without an adult chaperone until I was old enough to drive anyway, but even then, she said "no curfew."  She just told me to be home "at a reasonable hour."  Each time I arrived home, she would decide if the hour was reasonable or not.  She also wanted me to call and inform her every time I left somewhere or arrived somewhere else, though I interpreted that rule literally enough when going out to pick up friends that she told me to stop it in exasperation.  I think it was still my sixteenth birthday.

The first time she assigned me a curfew was the summer after my freshman year of college.  I had been living on my own in a big city far away, I was nineteen, I was working full-time to save up money for the coming school year, and I had finally started going on dates.  She said my curfew was 9pm.  If I wanted to go to a movie with friends or be out after dark, I "just had to ask."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mother's Apologies

There are two ways I've ever heard my mother apologize to anyone.  The first is to say in a bitterly angry but choked up voice, "Well, I'm sorry I [hyperbolic accusation that no one actually made]," and typically spirals into a rant about how hard she works and how ungrateful everyone is.  Example:  "Well, I'm sorry I was such a terrible mother that I spent all my MONEY and STRESS and SLEEPLESS NIGHTS on YOU and what you wanted and didn't focus on teaching you to be GRATEFUL for the people who gave you EVERYTHING YOU COULD EVER WANT!  Like YOUR MOTHER!"

The other variation is simply to say "sorry" but to say it sarcastically and drawn out into four tonal syllables, sort of like Vietnamese or Chinese.  First tone "Sah," second tone lower "ah," third tone even higher than the first and put the stress on this one "AH," fourth tone lower again like you're completely giving up on anyone ever appreciating you "ree." 

Friday, November 13, 2015

"I Wish SHE Were My Daughter"

When I was in college, my high school friend Allie told me she and her sisters had saved up $10,000 over the years from the monthly allowance their parents gave them, and they were giving it to their mother for her birthday.  She had been wanting to re-carpet the house or something she considered frivolous, so they were stipulating that she had to spend it on something frivolous and couldn't spend it paying bills.  When this news got back to my mother, she caught my eye and told me pointedly, "I wish ALLIE were my daughter."

I don't remember being offended by the comment or taking it personally.  It was sort of typical of my mother.  She may as well have said, "I'm hoping to guilt you into giving me money."  I also knew Allie and her sisters all received substantially more in allowance than my parents had ever given me and that, had Allie been my mother's daughter, she would have had nothing to give her.  Knowing that helped. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mother Takes Her Cut

At the end of my sophomore year of college, I applied for and accepted a campus job as a Resident Assistant.  My payment was a rent-free studio efficiency apartment that would normally cost a little over $10k for the school year.  In order to accept the job, I had to quit my mail room job I had worked since freshman year.  It had been my sole source of income during the school year.

Because my RA apartment didn't come with a meal plan, I had no way to pay for food.  I also had no way to pay for the phone line the school required me to have, or clothes or anything else.  My social security checks were still being kept by my mother to pay for my books and tuition.  My parents kicked in a lot toward tuition, and I paid for the rest with a hefty academic scholarship and student loans.

After my explanation of the situation -- that she wouldn't have to pay for my housing and could redirect funds toward the things I'd previously paid for with my mail room job -- my mother agreed to give me a monthly allowance so I could buy food and necessities.  I believe it was $150 per month, if I recall correctly.  I know the budget I worked out allowed me to spend $20 per week on food, so I had to stop buying whole grain healthy stuff and eat a lot more ramen.  Unfortunately, that was the same year I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, so I had a lot of doctors bills, and I had to pay bus fare three times per week to get to the hospital for my initial follow-up appointments and some related blood tests.

I called my mother and told her I needed more money to pay hospital bills, and she screamed at me for daring to pay any of them in full.  ALWAYS put them on a payment plan, she told me.  NEVER pay hospital bills in full!  I hadn't known.  I asked for payment plans going forward, but I still needed more money.  I was barely getting by, and my boss got mad whenever I argued that I didn't have money to eat restaurant food with the other RAs.  My boss expected me to pitch in an equal amount whether I ate their food or not.  My mother eventually gave me a little more money and purchased me a small supplemental meal plan through the school so that I could eat larger, healthier meals occasionally.  Then she spent somewhere in neighborhood of $70 -- more than three weeks' worth of grocery money in my world -- to send me a Hershey's Chocolate Tower of Treats made up almost exclusively of foods my doctors had told me to avoid, such as nuts and popcorn.  I had even told her about the diet restrictions before she sent it.

After graduation, after my mother went off the deep end, my dad mentioned the monthly allowance I had lived off of for those last two years of college, except the figure he quoted to me was more than double what I had received.  "She told me you hated me," he said.  "She said I had to give the money to her because you would never accept it if it came from me directly because you hated me so much."  And then she had taken a more than 50% cut for herself.  Every single month.  I'll let slide the fact that she told my dad I hated him because parental alienation was old hat with her and shouldn't have come as a surprise.  But knowing I was struggling, hearing me cry over the phone that I couldn't afford anything and was embarrassing myself in front of my boss, she made the repeated decision to take her cut.  Every.  Single.  Month. 

My dad didn't even control their money.  He only ever bothered controlling his own comparatively tiny social security checks, which were about 10% of their total monthly income.  The rest was all hers.  About $9k per month, all hers, at least $6k of which should have been disposable income.  I guess she wanted more.

[Edited:  I forgot to factor in my tuition and their various car payments -- I don't even remember how many cars they would have been paying off at that time -- when I said they had $6k in monthly disposable income.  I was going on what their finances looked like when I took them over a couple years later.  I think their mortgage payments were less back then, before the refinance, but I don't know by how much.  They might have had as little as $4k disposable income per month. Of course that number also factors in if my mother had paid both the home equity line of credit payment and my tuition rather than paying the HELOC payment every month and then immediately borrowing against it again to pay my tuition, which is what she said she did (in one of her "you are why we're poor" rants).  Actually, she said she paid for at least one car with the HELOC too, so that payment wouldn't have been extra.  Never mind.  I can't even picture what finances looked like when my mother was in charge of them.  I've tried before, and that way madness lies.]

My Mother's Pillows

When I was little, my mother usually slept on the living room couch, both during the night and for intermittent naps throughout the day.  When I was sick, sometimes she would pile her pillows up high and let me lie on the couch so I could watch TV.  I never got the knack of how she piled the pillows up so that I could recline at an almost exactly 45 degree angle, but I liked it.  It helped me to be able to breathe better, and I found it comforting.

I always liked the smell of my mother's pillows when I was little.  I found it comforting too.  I remember once as a small child hugging my mother and then saying out loud in surprised delight, "Your hair smells like pillows!"  She pulled away from me like I'd said something wrong.  "I like it," I had added by way of explanation. 

When I was an adult, I noticed once that my hair smelled like pillows too.  I hadn't washed it in a couple days.  The comforting smell I had associated with my mother and her pillows was just the smell of unwashed hair.  It isn't comforting to me anymore because she isn't comforting to me anymore.  I wash my hair before I go to bed now.  If it isn't clean enough and I turn over in my sleep, I catch the smell of my mother in my hair and it wakes me up.  It makes it hard to sleep.