Fruitcake and Memories

Modified from a FB post:

Here’s a Christmas memory, rediscovered this weekend at Fred Meyer.

Grandma’s fruit and nut cake. Made by one of the bakeries my dad used to be in charge of, in Beatrice, NE. I’ve been there a time or two in my childhood, when Dad would take us along on business trips.

Dad and I were the only two in the family who liked the fruitcake. He’d always get one at the holidays. He’d pack two of the little pre-wrapped slices in my school lunch.

Being the VP of production, he had explained to me how high the quality was, how a lot of commercial fruitcake was made with cheaper ingredients, or skimped on the expensive ones like the fruit and nuts – and thus were dry or tasteless.

This one is moist, chock full of nuts and candied fruit and a hint of booze. It actually falls apart because there isn’t that much flour holding it all together. The candied cherries were always my favorite, and I knew my dad was right because every single slice ALWAYS has a cherry in it. I can’t remember ever in my life getting a slice that didn’t contain a piece of bright red cherry.

In 2000, we had moved from Texas, which was within a days’ driving distance of Dad, clear out to Oregon. And Dad had been diagnosed with cancer.  Husband and I both had new jobs and not much vacation time, so we stayed in Oregon that Christmas, in our rented house.

On the phone with Dad late that year, we must have been talking about the fruitcake and I said how much I missed it. Dad said he’d get one for me. (This was long before e-commerce caught on, and you could just order one online.)

But I didn’t get my fruitcake. Dad died just a couple of months after Christmas, at the beginning of March. It was one of the few times I could remember him letting me down, but of course he was fighting cancer – I couldn’t expect him to care about a fruitcake for me.

When Dad died, my husband and I were staying in his room, as Dad had been moved to a hospital bed in the living room.  I took the opportunity to go through his things, his closet and dresser drawers:  retrieving such items as the “Czech Hockey” sweatshirt my husband had given him (which I still wear to hockey games); the pajama pants I had sewn for him ages ago, which I then wore until they were threadbare; the “Maid Rite” tee shirt that we had gotten him; the sweater I had knitted for him, at his request.

One thing I didn’t find was a Sacajawea dollar.  Dad had really liked those coins, and he had sent one to me.  I used to carry it with my pocket change, along with a small piece of CFM hardware my husband had given me from when we first met, and occasionally a small ingot that had come from my grandfather’s job at a foundry — although that talisman was a little heavy to carry every day.

One day at work, I had dropped a handful of change, and the Sacajawea dollar my dad had given me had rolled far, far under a vending machine where I couldn’t retrieve it.  (Side note:  a couple of my co-workers, mechanical engineers on the maintenance side of things, spent weeks figuring out how to get it back for me.  Eventually they managed it by using a pallet jack to lift up the entire machine.  Thanks Steve and Brett.)

Three months later, in June, Mom died. Once again, most of us were staying in Dad’s house, and my oldest brother decided to clean out the chest freezer in the basement. He came back upstairs headed for the garbage can, laughing about the fruitcake he’d found in there.

I don’t remember exactly what I did: I think I shouted and ran for the kitchen, to rescue MY FRUITCAKE THAT MY DAD HAD GOTTEN FOR ME AFTER ALL.

Also, once again, while staying in his room, I went through my Dad’s stuff — more out of not knowing what else to do than anything.  I had been pretty thorough the first time, two months earlier, of course not knowing I’d be back so soon:  but this time, I found a bank envelope in a top dresser drawer.  To this day I would swear that envelope hadn’t been in that drawer two months before.


Not just one; over a DOZEN, probably 20.  (Well maybe 19, after he had sent me the one.)  It was like Dad had given me a whole envelope full of them, so I’d never, ever run out.

Along with these two occurrences, there was a third thing that happened, along these same lines.  I can no longer remember exactly what it was, nor what order the three things happened in.  But there was a third thing that happened or turned up, a third thing that would not have meant anything to anyone else except my father and me.  I was the only one who would understand those specific things, their significance.  And in my memory at least, these three things also all happened within like 30 minutes:  boom, Boom, BOOM.

I felt like the first one was a coincidence; the second was a little freaky.  But when the third thing happened, it left no room for doubt in my mind, and it made me feel like my Dad hadn’t left me completely alone just yet.

Maybe Dad couldn’t save me from The Susan Incident, could no longer hold anyone to account for how they treated me.  But he was sending me a message, that he wasn’t completely gone, and he still loved me.

It comforted me to think so.

And foolishly, whenever that third thing happened, I spontaneously spoke about those things, and how I interpreted them.  As it happens, I spoke about it to Joe.  (It was stupid on my part, but back then I didn’t understand everything the way I understand it now.)

And what did my formerly favorite brother do?  He took that one small bit of comfort I had found, and he had to tear it down.

He said something mocking my experience, dismissing it as insignificant, something like, “You do realize that all those things happened months ago, and those things are just coincidences?”

What. An. Ass.

What kind of person says something like that to someone who is grieving, and has just found a bit of relief?

One who is completely lacking in empathy.  An angry person.  A hateful, hurtful person.  A person looking to crush another person’s hope.

A person who is out to deliberately cause that other person pain.

Also, probably, an unhealthy, wounded person.

…if you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are an unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are.  (George Lakoff)

I remember the first time I read this quote, I immediately thought of my mother.  And she probably passed that way of thinking on to most of her kids.

I did understand that, with Mom’s death, they were all now grieving too. But even if you are grieving yourself, what kind of person would turn on an also-grieving little sister like that?

But this wasn’t an isolated thing.  There was another incident, similar in shape to that.  When I was in my first year of college, I was kind of excited to find that guys were interested in me, that I was noticed for something other than my brains.  I had always been “the smart girl”; suddenly, on a campus where everyone was smart, I was also “pretty”.  I had related a story of how a guy had stopped to hold a door open for me when I was much further away than politeness would have dictated.

Joe’s response was this:

“You may be one of the best-looking things on campus, but remember, there’s not a whole lot on campus.”

I still remember it word for painful word, 30 years later.

I was 18.  He was 32.

(Incidentally, that is how old I was when our parents died.  And I was supposed to hold it together, not “over-react” etc.  When at that age he was being petty AF.)

Again, those words were meant to tear me down, to destroy my pleasure at something that made me happy.  From a 30-something to an 18YO at her first year of college.

And I can see now that his own unhappiness, maybe because of jealousy, is probably the source of this deliberately mean behavior.

Recently I had a flash of insight:  maybe they treat me the way that they do, react to me the way that they do, because they are jealous and angry that I UNFAIRLY managed to come out of this dysfunctional family relatively unscathed  — it’s unfair, you see, if you are in the habit of thinking that I, my birth, my existence, is the root cause of all the dysfunction.

How dare I not be affected, when I’m the very thing that fucked everything up?

Sure, I had it better than they did.

I don’t deny it — but I also didn’t cause it.

Jealousy of a younger sibling probably isn’t wholly unusual, in itself.  I have a dear friend whose FOO includes her and a brother of similar age, and a sister who is several years younger.  Their FOO included a whole lot of dysfunction also:  a molesting father who eventually committed suicide.

And my friend has told me how for a long time she was jealous of her little sister, for growing up with more money, in a nicer house.  After several years though, she came to realize that that was just a fact of being born later:  families usually become wealthier over time, and younger children often live in better financial situations than older children.

It certainly wasn’t anything to do with the sister herself, and my friend realized that to be jealous of her for it was inappropriate.

Similarly, if my siblings are angry and jealous of me for having had it “better”, emotionally as well as financially — what does that have to do with me?  Fuck all, that’s what.

And to be angry or jealous of me for it is also entirely inappropriate.

(Also, there’s a few disadvantages that I’m sure they never thought about.  Like that part where I was only 32 when our parents died.  And none of my 30-something friends even knew what the hell to say to me, so they just didn’t say anything. 

In contrast, while experiencing my husband’s double bereavement 2 years ago at the age of 49, I have seen practically everyone he knows offer sympathy, support, and their own similar experiences.  So I am guessing that’s what my siblings got from their extended circle also — whereas I got nothing from mine, because I and my friends and co-workers were so much younger.)

If my friend can manage to come up with that on her own, after her own horrible childhood, I see no reason for my siblings to not be able to do so as well.  They’re supposed to be smart people.

That is, if they were interested in improving the relationship with their little sister, as my friend was.

However there’s one other little problem with that idea, unique to our family, and that is — if you’re jealous of me for having had it so much better, then you will have to admit that The Divorce was A GOOD THING.

I’ve never denied that their experiences were horrible.  I know — intellectually at least — that they were subject to years of manipulation, dysfunction, and they were so unhappy and depressed that suicide was in the cards for at least one of them.

Then there’s me, with my completely different (better) experiences.  Too young to understand, too un-indoctrinated to be angry over the fact of The Divorce, and it all turned out OKAY FOR ME.

How unfair.  How dare I.  How dare I not go through the pain that they did, because I was only an infant.  How dare I benefit from what my Dad did, once he understood what was really happening…


…Seventeen years later, the fruitcake I picked up at Fred Meyer this weekend tastes just like it always has. It’s chock full of nuts and a hint of booze, and has candied cherries in every slice.

Love you and miss you, Dad.  Thanks for the fruitcake, and everything else.

Which one?

Had a FB convo recently that started off with one member of the group talking about how, as a baby, according to the advice of the “experts” of the day, she had been left in her crib to cry — so she could learn “discipline” FFS — which has led to her having abandonment issues.

A second woman chimed in with this story:

My mother was in the hospital in an oxygen tent for the first 5-6 weeks after my premature birth, with spinal meningitis, so I was home with an incompetent, elderly, agency baby sitter who had to chase after my two older brothers, aged barely 3 and 1.5 yrs old! So I spent most of my time in the crib and I REALLY had abandonment issues!

I am guessing that my early infancy was much the same, unfortunately, as far as the lack of attention goes.  “You had diaper rash so bad that your butt was bleeding,” was one of the few things my father ever told me about that time. Continue reading “Which one?”

Three Strikes

“…I talk a lot about fighting back in The Asshole Survival Guide. There are three factors that especially predict how successful you will be at stopping or bringing down a bully. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is whether you—or them— have more formal power (the more powerful they are, the tougher it will be to win). The second is whether you are fighting back alone or with others, the more allies you have, the more likely you are to win because it is harder to portray you as a lone nut and you also have more power (even against a boss or other powerful person). The third is documentation; keep notes, emails, and social media posts, anything that provides objective evidence that you and your colleagues are in fact being bullied.”

I found out I have no formal power in my own family of origin.

I also found out I was alone in that “family”.

I am the “lone nut”, the scapegoat, the outsider, and as such I am not to be believed, let alone defended.  In some eyes, I am not even supposed to exist, not supposed to take up physical space, be noticed, be cared about.  (With the notable exception of being noticed for what I fail to do correctly, i.e. being criticized.)

And there was no documentation – the incident that started the whole thing, or rather brought it into the light, was deliberately engineered to have no witnesses, other than my husband and a brother who also has little formal power.

No wonder it all turned out the way it has.

A related article shows that there weren’t too many other options.

The powerful bully

Who they are: The engineer with hard-to-replace skills whose creepy overtures get overlooked. The rainmaking dealmaker whose boorish behavior goes unpunished. Whether they’re explicitly in charge or simply influential, too many organizations look the other way when top performers or top bosses behave badly. Sutton points to Roger Ailes — the powerful Fox News chief who left the media empire amid a swirl of sexual harassment allegations. “Going to HR didn’t seem to help anyone for years,” he says.

What to do: Tread carefully. “You’re fighting the cool kids,” Sutton says. In such cases, getting out is really often the best advice — especially if the behavior goes beyond milder incivilities. “This is one when you often leave, or when you hide, or when you lie in wait until their power diminishes,” Sutton said.

Another New Phrase – Disenfranchised Grief

Notes from here

“Disenfranchised grief” is when your heart is grieving but you can’t talk about or share your pain with others because it is considered unacceptable to others. It’s when you’re sad and miserable and the world doesn’t think you should be, either because you’re not “entitled” or because it isn’t “worth it.”

Your relationship was real, but the family (or members of society) would not or does not approve.

Slight twist on this one.  My side of the relationship to my siblings was real.  I tried for decades to fit, to be accepted, to do the things they wanted me to do.
It was when I needed them to do something for me, in return, that it all fell apart.  And I realized how one-sided the relationship had been, and that I had never really been accepted as a real member of the club (at least not by my sister, who now runs the show).

I am grieving something that I wanted so badly, but which did not really exist.

You aren’t grieving how people expect.

This can happen when the way you are acting in your grief is unsettling or confusing to someone else. If you are “too upset” (Dad’s death) or “not upset enough” (Mom’s death)…

If you’re experiencing any of the above (or something similar), you need to know that you are entitled to your grief. Nobody has the right to take away your grief, and it is their failing — not yours — that makes your grief “unacceptable.”

Disenfranchised grief happens because your love and care for the object of your grief isn’t recognized

And in certain situations you may be right — not the part about it being your fault (because it isn’t!) — but because there are certain situations where people try to turn their own pain and anguish outward at the nearest convenient target. Or they’re just super-judgmental people.

In any event, it is not your fault — it’s not like any of us can control who or what we care about — and you have a right to your grief, your style of grief or your reason for grief for one reason: because you are grieving.

It is also your right to be comforted, affirmed and validated.

It’s especially painful when… you are the only one in the family experiencing the deep loss.

An Outsider’s View

“The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe…

“Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power.

“…will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble…  if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted

“… any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy…”

any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it.

“…Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, etc., bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in a short period of time.

“…When someone doesn’t trust you and isn’t open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, there really isn’t much, if anything you can do… no amount of understanding, no amount of respect, no amount of evidence is going to change their minds, assuage their fears.

“Of course, it didn’t help matters there were scapegoats available they could direct their fears, anger, and white supremacy towards… Why reevaluate your beliefs… when scapegoats are available?

From this article about politics, of course, but it applies to my FOO as well.

Their brand of fundamentalism is a combination of Catholicism, Mary/mother-worship, and blame-shifting.

I am the outsider, the convenient scapegoat who can be blamed for the problems; whose views, evidence, and explanations can be easily ignored; whose existence means they don’t have to think too much or feel too bad about what they did or allowed to happen.

Others put bad information — lies about me — into this closed system, those horrible things were unquestioningly believed, and it did a lot of damage.

Codependency and Dementia

My FIL and my husband enabled my MIL to not deal with her control issues and her dislike of me — which was probably because I defied her attempts at control, from the get-go.

Planning the wedding was a nightmare (and, needless to say, I did not have an older sister or a mother helping me out on that one).

We were planning the wedding in Boston, long-distance from Texas, long before the internet would have made it so very easy.  His mother had it all figured out:  we would get married in the chapel of the school at which she worked.  I didn’t much care where we got married, but I wanted the processional and recessional to be the traditional (secular) selections, and kept after her to make sure her chosen venue would allow it (some church venues don’t, because it’s secular music).

I suspect I earned her enduring wrath the day she called and told me, “I found out about your music.

“You can’t have the music you want, but that doesn’t matter.

I immediately replied, “Well, we can’t have it there then.”

And apparently to say that to her was unthinkable.

It wasn’t unthinkable to tell a bride she can’t have her chosen music, mind you, but it was unthinkable to deny her what she wanted.

Looking back, I’m surprised I prevailed, but I did, and without even a fight.

Something in my voice must have told her that this was Not A Thing To Mess With.  I got the music I wanted, in a 130-year-old church instead.

And I got one pissed-off mother-in-law, who basically, childishly, pretended I didn’t exist for the rest of her life:

After both my in-laws died, when we were cleaning out the house, I was talking to a neighbor who had been close to them.  Along with praising my MIL for how warm and wonderful she had been to her — “treated me like a daughter” — and if you don’t think that was a twist of the knife, you are much mistaken — she also said, “I’ve never heard a thing about your wedding.  You could have been married in Jamaica for all I knew.”

In the nearly 20 years that I was married to her son, no one put a foot down and said, “Look, she’s here to stay, you need to figure out why you don’t like her and deal with your issues, because they are YOUR issues.  She hasn’t done anything to deserve the way you treat her.”

Well, that isn’t 100% true.  It happened a time or two, with varying degrees of success.  I can remember a meal at our previous house where the four of us actually had a 4-way conversation — the only one I can remember — and it was really very nice.  And it happened once.

Most of the rest of the time, in person or on the phone, his parents spoke to their son, and not to me.

At one point during that visit, we took them to a place they wanted to see.  There were walking paths, so my husband and I went for a walk around the perimeter.  His parents walked for a bit and then sat on a bench.  When we walked back up to them, his mother looked directly at him and asked, “[name], how was your walk?”  She made sure it was clear that she was not asking both of us.  Only her son.

Standing in the bookstore, his dad came up to the two of us and said, “[name], did you ever read The DaVinci Code?”  My husband said, “Yes, we both did.”  That small statement changed the conversation to be among the three of us, not just the two of them.  But his mother was nowhere nearby.

Another episode occurred when she and I were buying tickets for a ferry.  The woman at the window asked my MIL where they were from and why they were visiting.  She replied, “Oh, we’re here visiting our son.”  With me standing a foot away.  I said pointedly, “And his wife.”

I also distinctly remember another meal during that same visit.  After I had cooked it and served it and we all ate it, his dad looked not at me, sitting across from him, but diagonally across the table to his son, and pronounced, “She cooks a good meal, [name], you can keep her.”

At the time this infuriated me.  I considered it belittling, to refer to me as some kind of property, even one “worth keeping” — and was angry as hell that he apparently just couldn’t bring himself to look at me and compliment me directly.

Now I know that he wasn’t allowed to treat me nicely.  If he had looked at me, spoken directly to me, and complimented me, there would have been hell to pay, I am sure, in the form of his wife’s wrath.  But it was OK to speak to me in the bookstore, because she wasn’t there with us.

We once got a phone message on our anniversary.  His father left a message saying, “[Name], this is your father calling to wish you a happy anniversary.”

Never mind that by definition, an anniversary is celebrated between TWO PEOPLE.  Without me, there wouldn’t BE a damned anniversary.

But of course, there was that thing with the wedding and the fact that she didn’t get her way…

(there is in fact whole a list of weirdness and conflict that happened around our wedding and his mother, including that she used the same pattern for her dress as I chose for the bridesmaids.  And she doubled the cost of the dinner without telling me, and then skipped out on paying the bar bill after she said she would.  The best one was when she decided that one usher (her other son) wasn’t quite good enough, and she wanted her other son – the groom! – to leave the altar and come to the back of the church to also escort her to her seat.  I have a fond memory of telling my mother this, to which my mother replied, “If she gets both of hers [sons], I want all four of mine.”)

Over time, his dad started signing cards “Don or Dad” which I took to at least be a tacit admission that I existed at all.  I’m not sure how he got away with it.  I figure he probably signed the card after she did, and put it in the envelope.

Because no one could call her on the carpet about it.  There was way too much history there.  She had an alcoholic mother — she became parentified and had to do her mother’s job.  And from a very young age, she had to be in control.

When it came to the wedding planning, we later joked that I was probably the first person to tell her “no” in 40 years.  (And I figured out why her own daughter flat-out refused to have a big wedding.)

My MIL (and everyone around her) would probably have benefited from some therapy, but she was of a generation and a culture that didn’t do that kind of thing.  You toughed it out.  Maybe you prayed, but you kept it to yourself and god.

And, you ruined relationships — because prayer is a shitty substitute for therapy.  Therapy actually works a lot of the time.

The result of her inability to grow, to work through her own issues, affected three relationships.  Four, actually, if you count theirs.  When she was suffering from dementia later in her life, there was a lot of anger that came out against her father, and was directed against her husband, who was trying like hell to take care of her.  It was so much more difficult for him than it had to be.

And that’s not love.

“There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult (or child, for that matter) has to be responsible for: herself or himself. When you find yourself in any way paying for someone else’s responsibilities, not only are you stuck with a delayed ending, but you are probably harming that person.”  ~~ Dr. Henry Cloud

If not actually harming, then at least you are enabling them not to face reality, denying them a chance to grow as a person.

I can see the same thing happening in my FOO.  My sister doesn’t let her husband contact us.  This controlling behavior spills over into the rest of the family as well.  And it goes without saying that Joe can’t be friends with us, even if he wanted to.

But dictating who another person can be connected with is inappropriate and manipulating.  Make your own choices, sure, but don’t force those choices on another person, no matter how close.  You get to be responsible for you — they get to be responsible for them.

Anything else is just a way of avoiding hard work.

If you have to control others’ interactions, if you can’t deal with letting other people be responsible for themselves, if you have to force others to also pretend that a family member doesn’t actually exist because you can’t deal with them — then you probably need to do some.

After seeing what my FIL went through, I can’t imagine how my brother and my BIL will deal with their wives if they ever develop dementia.  As with my MIL, unresolved issues from early life can be reactivated, but by then it’s too late to deal with them cognitively.

“Relatives and front-­line care staff often notice a history of trauma in the lives of people with dementia. Investigations into the backgrounds of an initial 51 people with dementia identified what appeared to be unusually high levels of childhood loss, particularly the death of fathers…

“When I was considering with the son of one of them the concept that the burying of traumatic memory might constitute a route into dementia, he commented that his father and numerous uncles and aunts had the advantage of being able to complain heartily to each other about their childhood experience whenever they met at family gatherings over the years because their father was profoundly deaf and couldn’t hear what they were saying(!)”

“Having someone to believe and validate one’s traumatic experience is an essential part of the healing process. Siblings may, at least sometimes, be able to help each other keep painful memories within conscious awareness rather than feel obliged to bury them.”

But of course, you’d have to love the other person, really care more about them than you do your own comfort, to go and face your issues and deal with them, after a lifetime of trying to bury them.  Of course my sister and SIL won’t do it for me, as my MIL did not.  But maybe they should do it for their spouses and children.

capture(from “Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s Or Dementia“)

Cleaning House

2016-08-29 11.22.51Man, it is annoying as shit, the painful ways your past finds to ambush you when you least expect it.

I cleaned out a bunch of books this weekend.  There are cabinets in our bookcase that I probably haven’t opened since we moved six years ago.

And what did I find but eight — EIGHT — Thurber books.

To understand the significance of this, you have to understand that Thurber is practically a religion for my sister (venerating our mother, of course).

The holy book of this unholy maternal worship is The Thurber Carnival.  There is a dingy brown-and-orange hardback copy of it that was our mother’s, which I am sure is in my sister’s possession now.

This is the only Thurber book that counts, of course.

Yet over my younger years, I apparently collected EIGHT different books of Thurber.  There is a kids book, which I am sure no one else has ever read.  I even read his biography once.

Thurber is something that never fails to make my sister laugh.  But in her hands, it is humor that excludes:  a kind of a specialized language that the older siblings, especially, use to communicate among themselves, and exclude anyone who isn’t really in the club.

I guarantee not one family gathering goes past without some reference to Thurber.  Just a few words of a cartoon caption from someone (but it has to be the “right” someone), and they are off and running and laughing themselves sick.  Most of the time they don’t even have to finish the sentences.

Which would be fine — except that in-laws, for example, don’t have a hope of understanding what is going on, let alone of joining in the fun.

And for some reason, this conversation always seems to happen in the kitchen, or some other public, central place — and because it is so loud, with (certain) people shouting bits of prose at each other, and gasping with laughter, it grabs everyone’s attention, and takes over the entire gathering when it happens.

It is so much a part of my memories of family gatherings:  it always happens.  I can remember witnessing this display, trying to join in even, and eventually being pointedly aware that I was being kept firmly on the outside, looking in.

The humor of Thurber generates power for my sister by strengthening the bonds of the Triumvirate, and excluding anyone who doesn’t “get it” (because of course, they weren’t there) — thus neatly defining who the “real family” is, in a very subtle way, as it also emphasizes the all-important connection to Mom.

Today, I immediately recognize my Thurber collection for what it was:  another sad, desperate, failed attempt to be accepted by my own family, to be admitted “into the club” — by my sister, and probably by extension, my mother.

It’s sad, but it didn’t make me cry, or want to cry.  Instead it made me super angry by about the time I found the fourth one.  It made me so angry to see this physical remnant of how I stupidly tried to earn acceptance into a group — or more specifically, acceptance by one person who runs the group — that has never had any intention of truly accepting me.

It’s funny how well I understood the unspoken communication, telling me that I am not a part of the “real” family, and it’s sad that I so diligently tried to find a way in anyway.  Like it was my job to somehow become worthy of acceptance.

And it’s infuriating that my maladapted sister has the power here.  Who died and made her the fucking arbiter of who is worthy to be in the club?

Oh, wait, yeah.  Dad and Mom died.

And my sister has, equally desperately perhaps, tried to make me into nothing ever since.  Her job would have been a whole lot easier if Mom had managed to hang on longer.  Then again, maybe I would have figured everything out a whole lot sooner, in a post-Dad world, a world once again run by my mother.  Who knows?

Normally, the chore of dropping off donations at various places is my husband’s job.  But there is one box of books that I will be taking personally — or just possibly setting on fire.


Independence Day

14100339_508486292684313_6929781733484702103_nToday is my own personal Independence Day.

It’s been four years since I sent that first letter of resignation to my FOO, and started out on a journey of trying to figure the whole mess out.

Four years since it finally got so bad that it was more painful to have a “family” than not have one.

Four years since I realized I did have that choice, and that there was a better chance for me to be happier if I made it.

Last night I dreamed I got an email from one of my nieces, telling me that one of my brothers was dead.  It was very realistic:  I could tell you exactly what it said, who sent it, who had died.  The dream woke me up, and I was a little startled, and a little sad.  Because if I find out at all, that’s how I’ll find out.  I know that.

And I know that’s how this will all end, because — barring an act of god or some other form of miracle — I know this is how it will all stay.

And while it’s a shame, it’s still better for me than going back to the way things were.

I’ve made this decision, knowingly, consciously, rationally, because things were shittier for me without this decision.

That is my reality.  That is what is real for me.

My FOO will instantly say that I’m wrong — because they have no other option.  I cannot possibly be allowed to be right, even about myself and my own reality.  Is that the epitome of arrogance, or what?

But they need for me to be wrong, so they can continue to be right.

That’s why nothing is going to change.  Because what needs to be true for them is to deny me my reality.  They need to erase me and diminish me, and hurt me — or at least, allow me to be attacked and hurt, and refuse to do anything about it:  refuse to protect me, defend me, or even just to listen to me.

And what I need from them:  justice, fairness, and accountability, for the Susan Incident — along with equality, respect, and acceptance, for the long term, the things that are missing which allowed the Susan Incident to happen — they are still adamantly unwillingly to give me.

Given all that, it should have been an easy choice.  It wasn’t.  But my choice was really between two shitty things.  For me, there was no “good” option.  The choice to keep the peace, not make waves, not stand up for myself, just “forget” about the horrible way Susan and Joe acted towards me on the worst day of my life — that was also a shitty choice.  It was an easy choice for everyone else, so for years I tried it.

Then four years ago, my youngest brother just had to throw it all back in my face, and that’s when I finally had had enough.

I am sure no one has blamed him for picking that fight.  I am sure I get the blame for that too, right along with the fight I supposedly picked with Joe and Susan.  And they can, and will, go on believing what they need to believe in order to make it all my fault.

I’m definitely better off without that bullshit.  Easy choice, no.  Right choice, yes.



I found out yesterday that a high school friend of mine suffered a serious stroke in late April.

Of course I hope she fully recovers, which it appears she is well on the way to doing.  I feel sad for her, and glad that she obviously got prompt medical attention and her life was saved.  Those are normal feelings that healthy people with empathy have for other people in misfortune, and of course I have those feelings for her.

That isn’t what this post is about.  It is about the other feelings that have come up for me with reading about this news.

My friend’s Facebook page, and the website they set up to keep everyone updated, is chock full of family and friends writing things like, “I love you so much” and “Thinking of you every day” and “Love love love to you and to your family” and “I’m so proud of you”.

All that tangible, visible proof that the people around her love her and care about her, in the biggest crisis of her life.

Her mother.  Her mother-in-law.  Some of our other high school friends, who are like sisters to her.  REAL sisters, I mean.  The kind that don’t heap a lot of shit on you that isn’t your fault, but just love you instead.

They just love you.  Out loud, in writing, with a little note or a phone call or a comment on a web page.

I have another high school friend whose Facebook page often shows a comment from someone in her equally large and extended family.  A niece, or her sister, or a brother, or a sister-in-law.  Always something loving and kind, and obviously not there because it’s a birthday or something — just because they felt like saying it.

I don’t know what that’s like.  I see it, and it looks wonderful.  I wish I did.

I actually can’t imagine my sister writing anything like that to me, ever.  “I love you so much.”  I challenge anyone who knows both of us to try it.  You can’t picture it, because IT NEVER HAPPENS.

She has excuses — there are too many years between us, she was busy raising a family, we are poles apart on many things — but shit, it’s not like she ever tried.

I did, once upon a time, but after enough failures, eventually even I got the message.

PiPhiMom1Nor did I get that kind of love from my mother.  Facebook wasn’t around 30 years ago, but the one time that I know of where my mother was invited to write a letter about why she was proud of me, what I got was a chilly, formal letter.  It was so bizarre, I don’t think they even read it at the pledging ceremony — or if they did, it was in such contrast to everyone else’s letters that I have blocked the memory, out of embarrassment and shame at how impersonal my mother’s letter was.Mom2

She didn’t even write it by hand — she typed it.  In the handwritten note that accompanied it, she even wrote “end”, as if it were a business communication.  And of course, she had to make it about a topic that was important to her:  religion.

Years later, my sister defended my mother’s coolness on this occasion with a bunch of bullshit about “she didn’t know who was going to read it” and so on.

Fucking hell.  Someone who loves you doesn’t CARE who reads it.  THAT’S THE FUCKING POINT.

But that’s the way it always goes.  I expressed my disappointment in the way my mother wrote this letter — because it hurt me to be shown so starkly the contrast between the chatty, friendly letters that she wrote to my sister when she was in college, versus the one that I got when I was in college (by the way, there aren’t any personal letters from my mother from my college days, because I was expected to call HER every week).

And my sister didn’t say, “I’m sorry she couldn’t love you.”  My sister didn’t say, “I bet that was important to you.  I’m sorry you were disappointed.”

No, what my sister did was defend my mother’s abnormal behavior.  Because my sister has apparently inherited that abnormal behavior, that unwillingness to love me, or to let anyone else love me.

This is very similar to my mother-in-law, who was the oldest daughter of an alcoholic mother, and also strongly parentified.  And while she couldn’t stop her son from marrying me, she wouldn’t let her husband be too nice to me, either.

Once she was gone, he spent his few remaining months trying to finally be friends, but he didn’t have much time to work with.  But we could have had a loving relationship, I think — if it hadn’t been for my MIL, and the anger she directed towards me for us making a life decision that she didn’t approve of, and as she saw it, depriving her of her “right” to grandchildren.

Because of course she can’t direct that blame at her son, and besides, women are “supposed to” have kids — even if they are women as fucked up as her own mother, and my mother, I guess.  See how well that worked out.

Over the 20 or so years that I knew her, she did her best to retain some control and undercut me with “her” son as well — even criticizing me to him under our own roof — and often she pretended I didn’t actually exist.

I remember one time they visited us, and she and I went to buy tickets for a ferry.  The woman at the kiosk asked my MIL why she was here, and she replied — with me standing right next to her — “We’re here visiting our son.”

Another time we were all out at a garden, and my husband and I went for a walk while his parents sat on a bench.  When we came back, she looked directly at him and, using his name — so it would be clear that I was not included in the caring, no matter how trivial — she asked him, “How was your walk?”

On another memorable occasion, his dad left a phone message wishing him — specifically and only him, again by name — a “happy anniversary”.

Kind of like my sister not even giving me a welcome hug, or noticing that I’m in the room.  (At the same time that she can sure as hell notice that I failed to ask her about being a grandmother.)

Little wounds.  Over 20 or 40 years they add up to big ones.

It would be one thing if the people involved were like this to everyone, not just me.  But they hurt even more when, after she’s gone, you get to hear from the neighbor how wonderfully warm and loving your MIL was to her — treated her “like a daughter,” in fact.

So eventually you learn that no matter if you are nice, and caring, and give love to others, they don’t give it back.  And you learn not to make the effort any more.  That’s the person I’ve become.

Which is why my siblings will say – have said, in fact – “Well, but YOU don’t show love to US!”

Because of course, to them, it’s all about them.  (Except the part about who’s responsible.  That is most definitely not about them.)

We are each too wounded to put our own pain aside in order to love the other person.

The difference here is, my siblings’ wounds were not inflicted by me — but mine were inflicted by them.  I don’t have anything to apologize for, but they do.

I tried for years and years, and got rejected over and over.  And the ultimate wound, of course, was the moral injury of the night my father died, and the morning after.  And the lies about it, and the believing the lies, and the not upsetting Susan and Joe, because it was easier and simpler to upset me.

Their wounds were not inflicted by me.  Theirs were, at the heart, inflicted by a mother who was selfish and sick and couldn’t let anyone else have love.  Our mother’s version of the control was to not let “her” children love their father.  She deprived them of that hugely important relationship, for her own selfish reasons.

See the pattern here?  Selfish, angry, injured women, deliberately ruining relationships between others.  I’m not the one who’s doing that.

I used to have brothers, and even a brother-in-law, who at least appeared to care about me, but they are no longer allowed to do so.

My brothers have said some nice things to me in the past.  One of them once said he enjoyed conversations with me, but of course that was said in the context of the rest of the sentence, which was that he refused to discuss the family issues any longer.  So yeah, he enjoys conversations with me as long as they are on his terms.

I have other brothers who probably couldn’t say a nice thing about me if their lives depended on it.

My sister won’t let her husband speak to me any more.  Nor, I suspect, are her kids (and eventually, their kids) allowed to contact me.  Once in a great while, as on the actual birth of a child, I get a picture or two from a niece – that’s the return I get now on the investment of years of caring about my sister’s kids.  Of course my sister never had to put out anything for the ones I didn’t have.  And we aren’t even told about their weddings any more.

This isn’t exactly new:  we have been left out before, not told about get-togethers until someone lets it slip after the fact, not invited until it’s too late for us to come.

This is controlling and dysfunctional and fucked up, of course, but it kind of works.  It’s easier than the alternative.  Can’t do anything to upset my sister and SIL, or there will be hell to pay.

As my father used to say, and I know where he learned this lesson:  “In an argument between a reasonable person and an unreasonable person, the unreasonable person will always win.”

They are the ones who have won, by being unreasonable, by being the bigger threat to familial harmony.  By having the power to throw the bigger tantrum.  Me leaving is no big deal, compared to what they could pull off.

Another Facebook friend has a son who is getting married this fall.  All week her posts have been about planning the wedding, her excitement, her happiness about having a new daughter-in-law to love.

It’s hard to read those posts.  I actually don’t like to think about my own wedding, because even for the one fucking time it was supposed to be all about me, it wasn’t.

Not for my mother.  My mother wouldn’t even shop for her own dress. I had to go shopping for her in Dallas, buy and ship a few dresses to her, and then harp on her to send the others back so I could return them.

For context, up until my wedding, my mother’s immediate first concern about any such event was what she was going to wear, down to shoes and accessories, and she often sewed her own dress for such occasions.  I had to hem her fucking skirt myself, the night before the wedding.

In hindsight, the complete lack of giving a shit is crystal clear.  And, I suspect, it also sent a subtle message to everyone else that this event wasn’t something they needed to care about.

The excuse made for her is that she was getting sick at the time, but I defy you to show me another loving mother who lets physical illness get in the way of caring about her daughter’s wedding.

Not for my MIL.  I recently found out from that same neighbor that my MIL never spoke about our wedding.  “You could have gotten married in Jamaica for all I know,” she said.  The only thing she ever heard about our wedding was that at some point, apparently my father asked where my FIL was, and said he needed to talk to him, and went to find him.

Somehow that offended my MIL.  What she had to say about our wedding day, after the fact, was vague criticism for my father.

Before the fact was worse.  The planning was a nightmare.  She had her own separate guest list.  She literally doubled the budget for the reception dinner.  She used the same pattern that I chose for the bridesmaid’s dresses for her own dress.  At one point she told me directly that what I wanted didn’t matter.  And there are weirder parts that are too long to tell here.

It would have been awesome to have a sister and a mother or even a matron of honor who was on my side through all of that, who could have been a reality check, but no.  It will be no surprise that my matron of honor was also a narcissist, who was also no help to me at all, and actively contributed to my problems, instead of helping.

[Side note:  A few years later, when we told her and her husband that we were leaving Texas and moving to Oregon, the first words out of her mouth were “Oooh, I’ve never been to Oregon!”  The first thing she thought about was herself and what good we could be to her.  Classic.  We never gave them our new address.]

And not for the rest of my family, either.  Ask them about my wedding, and you will hear about how much fun they all had in Boston together the day after, without me or my husband.

But, they will say, you had just gotten married.  You were busy.

Of course, that’s not the fucking point, but that is seriously how they see it.  That’s their excuse.  To all of them, the important thing about that event was not their sister (their daughter, their son, their friend) getting married.  It was not welcoming their new brother-in-law.  It was about them, having fun doing something else.  Something that, in fact, specifically didn’t involve me, or us, because I was “busy”.

The “something else” that I was busy with was, in fact, supposed to be the center of attention and the whole fucking point.  That’s how it is when people love you and are happy for you, anyway.

They didn’t ask us what we would like to do that last day.  I don’t think we had anything specific planned, but it’s not like anyone said, “Hey, what is the plan for Sunday?  What would you like to do?  Oh, there’s nothing planned?  Well, here’s what we thought we could all go do.”

They didn’t even ask us if we wanted to go along.  They just assumed, I guess, that we wouldn’t want to go?  I don’t know.  I do know we didn’t get invited, even though it was the last day everyone would be there and we all knew that and it was MY FUCKING WEDDING.

“Often clients tell me that they felt that their family didn’t understand them, that they felt different from the rest of the family or like an outsider. What is being described is the trauma of invisibility.

That doesn’t even come close to describing it.  It’s not so much being invisible – it’s that they see you, and they don’t care anyway.  They don’t love seeing your face, or think of you “just because”.  In fact, they hate the sight or the thought of you so much they will pretend you aren’t there.

Years and years and years of being rejected by the people, especially the women, closest to me — being met with criticism or disdain, or  unacknowledged or taken advantage of, every time I tried to reach out and build relationships — has taken its toll.

I don’t reach out to anyone any more, because my love kept getting met with rejection.  Rejection from my mother, from my sister, from my mother-in-law:  all women in my life that you would think would have been a bedrock of love and support.  The kind of love that is visible, the kind I see other people getting.

Love that is allowed to be expressed, and doesn’t have to hide for fear of pissing off some fucked-up, controlling, unhealthy person, who can’t stand to see someone they hate being loved.

I don’t know why I ended up with so many of these women in my life.  Some sources say that being trained by one narcissist leads you to attract others.  Certainly I think the familiarity factor is how my SIL ended up in the family, and why she is so welcomed.

Intellectually at least, I realize now that they all had issues.  Just as I now have issues, and am unable to simply feel for my friend, without also being envious of what she has that I don’t have.

I don’t have the capacity to just be openly loving and caring, without these other feelings getting in the way.  I don’t have enough logs in my raft, the hole hasn’t been filled enough.

I could have been that person, though.  It’s what I wanted to be — still wish I could be.  A healthy, loving person, with people to love, who love me back.

But at least I have the guts to work on my issues, and not perpetuate the bullshit.

Sometimes I am that person.  For example, one thing I have noticed in the past couple of years is that I don’t do art unless it is something FOR somebody.  I am not an artist for myself.  I don’t make time to draw, or paint, for my own enjoyment.  But let me get an idea for something someone I care about would like, and I am all over it.  I love to make art that will make someone I love happy.

There have been loving women in my life, here and there:  a housekeeper, a friend’s mother, a junior high school teacher — but they all fell away, one way or another, because they just didn’t have the same tie, day in and day out, that you get with a mom.  You don’t get a second chance at having a mother or a mother-in-law or a sister, someone who’s been there your whole life, who just loves you.

I did have Dad.  I got about 15 years less of him than I should have, but I did have that.  I have loving notes, and letters from college, and some saved emails, and a box full of other things that I still haven’t gone through in the 15 years since his death.  In the absence of a loving mother, that’s what saved me, but it’s still not the same.

Mostly, it’s just too late.  I don’t see where I will ever find that kind of love at this stage, or people TO love.  I’ve been cut off from the next generation of my relatives.  And the healthy people all have wonderful loving families of their own.  There’s no room in them for a couple of strays, and there’s no replacement for those 40 years of shared history that we wouldn’t have.  I don’t see any way now to find or make a place like that where I really belong.

Maybe if I’d had kids, I’d have one.  More likely, in my 20’s I’d have been the lousy mother that I suspected I’d be, even though I didn’t quite know why.  I understand why a lot more now, and I even think I’d be a decent mother now.  But it’s pretty late for that, and “to not be alone” is a shitty selfish reason to have kids anyway.

At least I’m not carrying on the tradition.