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

Curfew

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. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bathroom Privileges

When I was a kid, I only bathed on Saturday nights.  My mother had introduced this schedule as the one kept in her childhood home, and it was how they did things on Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, so I assumed it had some foundation in reality.  My mother didn't bathe much more frequently than me, usually twice per week.  For my dad, showering was a huge production that involved venturing into the generally flooded basement to use the only bathroom in the house with a roll-in shower, so he mostly stuck to what some call "a whore's bath" of rubbing wet towels on himself over a sink.  Dante showered a lot.

At one point when I was in elementary school, something in our primary bathroom broke.  I don't remember what it was, but I do remember we couldn't bathe at home for about a week until it was fixed.  My mother took me to the home of another PTA mom in our neighborhood to use the shower.  She had a daughter my age and one slightly older.  When I finished in the bathroom and was combing out my hair, the girls asked if I would be coming over every single day like this.  "Oh, no, I only shower once a week anyway," I reassured them.  The girls laughed.  "So... you're like a dog?" the younger one asked, and they laughed again.  My face burned.  That was when I realized I didn't shower enough.  Thank god it happened without my having to be "the stinky kid" at school, as so many children of hoarders endure. 

Showering more often was easier said than done.  I couldn't just go take a shower whenever I wanted.  I had to ask permission.  Because, as my mother said, "Someone else might need to use the bathroom," or "Dante might need to take another shower."  She seemed to want Dante to shower at least twice a day.  She frequently told him he "smelled ripe."  If he countered, "I just took a shower," she would say, "So?  Take another one."  He was a teenage boy, but I still don't know what that was all about.  He usually smelled like soap to me.  My mother's most frequent response to my, "Can I take a shower?" was, "Didn't you just take one yesterday?" or "Didn't you just take one on [other day of the week]?"  I wasn't allowed to shower more than three times per week until I moved out for college and no one could stop me anymore.  My mother frequently cited articles that said your hair's natural oils are the best conditioner, as well as the time Dante's pediatrician had allegedly scolded her for giving the newborn Dante baths everyday until his skin dried out.  "These are the face and fanny days," he had allegedly told her, and somehow this quote was supposed to relate to my personal hygiene as a young adult.

No one else had to ask permission to use the bathroom, or let everyone else use it before turning on the shower.  Dante frequently took over what was considered the only usable bathroom in the house for what seemed like hours at a time, forcing me to use my dad's not-cleaned-in-my-lifetime-and-you-could-smell-it bathroom.  My mother insisted the reason I had to ask permission to shower was because no one could stand to use my dad's bathroom and I needed to make sure no one might need to use the bathroom while I was in the shower, but I had to use my dad's bathroom whenever Dante felt like spending quality alone time in the usable one.  If you've read my other posts, you might recall that was not-so-coincidentally where Dante kept his stash of pornographic magazines and my school yearbooks.  It was also not-so-coincidentally the only room in the house where my mother didn't habitually try to walk right in and then pitch a fit if the door was locked.

The last time I stepped foot in my parents' house, none of the bathrooms were in a condition I would call usable.  My mother had moved in with her parents at that point, and she had left the "good bathroom" with a heavily clogged toilet.  It still wasn't worse than my dad's bathroom, but my standards had gone up.  I drove to the local library to use their public restroom rather than deal with the ones in my parents' house.  Then I went back to my hotel and rinsed the mold spores out of my nose and took a shower.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Homemade Gifts

When I was little, I used to make my family members gifts for holidays and their birthdays.  I think this is pretty typical for small children with zero income.  The stress that came from giving my mother gifts started when I was too young to remember.  If I drew a picture, she tended to mention how much better at drawing Dante had been than me even as a small child.  When I stopped drawing pictures and took to just coloring straight lines and shapes in the hopes of avoiding criticism, she told me my drawings were boring and that no one wanted to look at brightly colored lines.  Again, she would point to Dante's drawings (literally) as an example of what was good.  I could copy what he'd drawn at my age easily enough -- such things were still on my grandmother's refrigerator seven years later (hence the literal pointing) -- but doing anything Dante had done first was considered boring too. 

In school around the holidays, we often made things like "pencil holders" by decorating old tin cans, which I would eagerly offer up and my mother would accept with the sarcastic reply, "Great.  Another pencil can."  (It's not like she had more than she could use either.  Do you have any idea how many pencils you can find in a hoard house?  They are infinite.

When I learned to sew in elementary school and took to sewing and embroidering small throw pillows because it was all I knew how to make from the tiny scraps of fabric I could get my hands on, they prompted a disparaging snort and the similar response, "Great.  Another pillow."  That was around the time I started saving up all my birthday and Christmas money to buy proper gifts for my family.  I knew only babies made homemade gifts and that no one liked them anyway.  That point was very clear at my house.  That was the year my mother ridiculed me for buying her gifts at the Dollar Store.  It was around the same time Dante started stealing from me.  Childhood is the worst.

Why Doesn't Juliana Look Like Her Parents?

One of my fears leading up to my daughter's birth was that she would accidentally be switched in the hospital and I would only realize it after months or years, when I'd have to decide whether to continue raising the baby I knew or to trade her for my biological baby who grew in my womb.  That sounds like a terrifying sort of Sophie's Choice to me, and people like to make TV shows and movies about it, so I worried about it.  As far as I can tell, newborn babies look more like each other than they resemble their parents, so I spent the first few weeks of Eliza's life staring into her tiny alien face, looking for someone familiar.  Thankfully, after a few weeks, she started to resemble both my husband and myself, and my worries abated.  Sometimes people say, "She looks exactly like Michael," but people most often say, "She looks like a perfect blend of her mom and dad!" 

No one says that about Juliana.

Juliana was born the same year as Eliza.  She is the daughter of my college friends Julio and Isabella.  Julio and Isabella look a lot alike, with the same medium pink complexion and dark brown eyes and dark brown hair, so it came as a surprise to their Facebook friends (and probably their families, but I only see their exchanges on Facebook) when they started posting photos of the startlingly pale Juliana.  "She's beautiful, Julio!  Whose eyes are those?" people asked, referring to the bright blue color that never faded to brown.  "Love those golden curls!  Where did she get that hair?" they continue to post.  Julio doesn't acknowledge the questions except to occasionally post links to articles explaining how two brown-eyed people can have a blue-eyed child. 

He is right, of course.  Genetics is far more complex than our seventh grade science classes led us to believe.  It is entirely possible for two brown-eyed people to have a blue-eyed child.  Still, if there is one thing I've learned from being donor conceived, it's that children inherit features from their parents.  When they look nothing like one or both parents, there tends to be a reason.  And Juliana looks nothing like her parents. 

Here are all the possibilities that went through my head:

1) Maybe they used a sperm donor.  After all, Isabella has curly hair too, and Juliana smiles sort of like her.  They don't look particularly related, but that doesn't mean they aren't. 

2) An affair?  I don't believe this though.  I include it in the list because it's possible in the most literal sense of the word, but I give it a 0.5% likelihood tops.

3) Maybe Julio and Isabella used IVF and used gamete donors or "embryo adoption," or one of their gametes or the entire embryo got switched with someone else's.  I would put more weight behind this possibility if it had taken longer after their wedding for them to get pregnant.  I currently have no reason to believe they used IVF at all.

4) Maybe Juliana was switched with another baby at the hospital.  ::shudder::

5) Maybe a variety of mutations and long dormant traits have caused Juliana to look different from her parents, despite being their biological daughter.  She doesn't appear to have any sort of albinism, but something like that might at least explain the difference in coloring, though not the difference in her other features.

About a year and a half ago, Julio and Isabella announced that they were expecting their second child.  I waited anxiously to see what she would look like in a way I wouldn't admit to people I know in real life.  I wonder if anyone else was doing the same.  If she resembled Juliana, I felt I could rule out the "switched at birth" scenario, which I personally think is the most scary and upsetting.  If she looked like Juliana, either they were using a donor who was passing on a lot of physical characteristics, or they were somehow passing their long dormant traits along themselves.  Though I admit "long dormant traits" are something I stopped believing in when I found photos of my biological father.

Emilia was born a few months ago.  She is beautiful.  She has both her parents' dark brown hair and eyes.  Her face looks so much like a tiny, fat version of Julio's that it makes me laugh.  There is no question of who her parents are or where she inherited her features.  Juliana stands out more than ever now. 

As much as I wonder what the truth is behind how Juliana came to be Juliana, I hope she doesn't take a DNA test before she is eighteen because I feel 86% certain Julio and Isabella are not her biological parents, and I feel 75% sure they believe they are, in spite of any nagging thoughts that might linger at the backs of their minds, and nagging questions from oblivious and sometimes tactless friends on Facebook.  I am afraid there is another little girl who was born on or around the same day at that same hospital in Queens, who has beautiful dark brown eyes and hair and doesn't blend in with any of the strawberry blond, Irish-looking people in her family.  And I hope none of those parents have to come to terms with the realization that their biological daughter -- the one who inherited their looks and some of their personality and some of their mannerisms and intelligence -- is living in someone else's home and calling someone else "Mommy."  If there were such another little girl and they found out she existed, then all the parents involved would have to figure out what to do about that.  At eighteen, I feel like the girls will be grown and probably in college and able to associate with whomever they choose -- ideally all four of their parents.  It wouldn't make coming to terms with the truth any easier for them -- harder probably, based on every person I know who has found out hidden truths about their parentage -- but at least it would be more an existential problem than a logistical one at that point.

Of course, if she is DC and they are simply hiding it from everyone, I hope she finds out sooner rather than later.  Because if there isn't another little girl in another house, there won't be the question of where Juliana will live or who her "real" parents are, even if Julio and Isabella aren't biologically related to her.  If she is donor conceived, Juliana will have to deal with the brunt of that reality alone because she is the only one who will have lost family in that equation.

Unless of course the IVF accidental embryo switch scenario is the one that happened, in which case Julio and Isabella's biological child might exist somewhere else, born sometime else to someone else, and they will never find her or even know if she exists unless she takes a mass market DNA test.  Now I can't decide which scenario sounds worse. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Swamp of Sadness

When I was a child, the most secret, most off-limits part of our house was the master bedroom where my dad slept.  My mother hadn't slept in that room since before I was born -- she sometimes slept in the lower bunk bed of Dante's room, but she usually set up camp on the living room couch -- and her instinct seemed to be to hoard up Dad's areas first.  My dad's room was large and had two twin beds pushed together, one in which he slept and an adjacent one full of his self-care-related medical supplies, such as gauze and catheters and chux disposable underpads, the smaller items stored in tackle boxes and the rest simply strewn about the bed.

The master bedroom was large, with one wall taken up entirely by closet and another wall hosting a heavy armoire, stuffed to bursting with old clothes no one had worn in my lifetime.  The bedroom had French doors leading out to the backyard patio, but I cannot remember ever seeing those French doors in use.  Aside from a wheelchair-width stretch of floor that led from the bed to the door to the bathroom, the rest of the room was covered in four to five feet deep of gym mats, cardboard boxes, and random detritus.  My dad had dubbed it "The Swamp of Sadness" in homage to that miserable quicksandy place where the horse sank in "The Neverending Story."  It probably started out as a joke, but for as long as I can remember, that was it's real name.  I didn't even know it was a movie reference.  We called that part of the house "The Swamp of Sadness" like normal people might refer to "Dad's office" or "the den."  

I remember getting into trouble once when, as a young child, I had asked a visiting friend, "Wanna see something crazy?" and cracked the door to let her peer into my dad's bedroom.  My mother had caught me to our mutual horror, but if there was a punishment, it was a forgettable one, probably because she was too embarrassed to do much about it.  In hindsight, I don't know why she wasn't more embarrassed of the entire house.  None of the rooms were "visitor ready" in the strictest sense of the term.

I remember once or twice in my childhood, when I was feeling particularly daring, going on a Frodo-and-Sam-style adventure with Dante over the Swamp.  He moved the gym mats and egg mattresses to the top layer to make it like mountain climbing, and we stepped across them precariously, nearly touching the ceiling, never knowing when a cardboard box would collapse beneath us or a sinkhole would form and claim us for the hoard.  I remember making a tragic misstep and sinking into the mess and Dante having to lift me out to safety.  It was scary but thrilling at the same time.  Our mother got mad whenever she caught us playing near the Swamp of Sadness, but she got mad at lots of things.  It also seemed it wasn't such a big deal as long as Dante had been doing it too.

My dad eventually cleaned out the contents of the Swamp in the late '90s to make room for his new electric wheelchair.  It was the second time I realized his paraplegia didn't actually prevent him from cleaning up; he had just always opted not to bother.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

When I Die

My grandmother didn't get a funeral.  Neither did my uncle.  Or my grandfather.  I'm pretty sure their bodies were donated to science because that's how you can dispose of human remains for free and get out of doing any of the official paperwork.  I've checked.  I don't want to be disposed of as cheaply as possible and then promptly treated like I never existed.  When I die, I want someone to acknowledge it.

I told my husband what I want to happen when I die, but I want to write it down too for future reference.  I have life insurance, so this shouldn't cost anyone anything from their own pockets.  First, I want to be cremated and my ashes spread somewhere outside.  I don't really care where, but I don't want to be embalmed or buried or kept in an urn under someone's bed.  Next, I want there to be a party.  It doesn't need to be at a funeral home and people don't need to be somber or anything, but I want there to be good liquor and rich food.  Maybe hold it at someone's house or at a park if the weather is good.  My best friend should be invited, obviously.  My remains do NOT need to be present because gross, but there are some flattering pictures of me on my Facebook page if someone wants to print one out.

People should tell funny stories and maybe have some music.  It doesn't all have to center around me, but someone should give a toast at some point acknowledging my death and the fact that I was once alive.  Maybe someone could read the letter Jerry once wrote me describing what's great about me because I can't imagine anyone coming up with nicer things to say about me than that.  She described me as though I'm already the person I've always wanted to be.  I think she might actually see me that way.  I don't even know how that's possible.  I keep that letter in my jewelry box.

I would also like a factually accurate obituary run in at least a couple local newspapers for the genealogical purposes of future generations.  I don't want my genetically erroneous birth certificate to be all there is to go on.  Here is a template for what information I would like included:

Christina Rossetti Martin* was born April 15, 1982 in Cincinnati, Ohio with the assistance of third party reproductive technology.  She died at [specific date] in Little Township, Illinois after a short battle with colon cancer (I'm guessing) and a long span of being toyed with by God and man.  Christina was raised by parents Annie Wilkes Rossetti* and Paul Rossetti.  She met her husband Michael Martin when they were college classmates at The University of New York.  They settled in Little Township, Illinois in 2010 and had one child, Eliza.  Christina is [survived by / preceded in death by] her mother Annie, her biological father Joseph Von Trapp, her adoptive brother Dante, her paternal half-siblings Hans and Simone Von Trapp, possibly some other paternal half-siblings no one knows about, her husband Michael, their daughter Eliza, any grandchildren that might exist, and her best friend Jerry.  And to anyone who says she "lost her battle with cancer" as though "winners" live forever, she would like to cordially invite you to go fuck yourself and remember that death is coming for you too!


*You know by now that these are all fake names, right?  Well, almost all of them anyway.