It’s funny that you never really realize you live in a illusionary world until the illusion breaks.
I can pinpoint the first moment the illusion crumbled for me. I came home from college, my Junior year, and there was a note on the counter from my Mother that said:
“We are at Bowman Gray Medical Center. Your Father has Cancer and is having an operation. We didn’t want to disturb you, so I’ll call you later and let you know how it goes.”
That was the first warning I ever had that my carefully constructed world was crumbling. My friend Gail was there when I got the note. I bet she doesn’t even remember as that was not especially unusual behavior for our parents….
As usual, during college vacations, we just went out and got drunk.
It’s no wonder I’ve alway valued my Friends more than my Family.
My friends were realists. My family specialized in illusions….
The one commonality I have with most of my friends is that we managed to survive our families. For most of us, that was no small achievement.
I’ve probably only had a half-dozen honest conversations with my sister in my entire life. She has the family trait of avoiding the unpleasant.
But I’ve had innumerable honest conversation with my friends.
That may be why I consider the phrase “Family Values” to be a total joke.
The only values my Family had were in “keeping up appearances” even if it involved a fight to the death to do so.
That may be how I ended up being a total realist.
There is a thin line between the romanticism of “Moonlight and Magnolias” and the worlds of Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor. I’ve seen both sides now…
I’ll always remember the hymn from Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Frankly, that’s evil, manipulative bullshit. I’ve spent my life working past that devotion to “kindred minds” and doing everything possible to program people so all minds are “kindred”…
That day in was a turning point for me. It was the last time I ever felt safe and sure…and that’s not really a bad thing. I eventually realized it was one of those times when my eyes and mind started to open.
My Father had always made a lot of money, for the times. The problem was my family spent it as fast as it came in. Or faster.
I had never felt poor, even though my parents fought about money constantly throughout my entire life. I just thought that’s how things were….
I had also always worked, from being a paper boy to working summers in my Father’s company or the Mill, to the News Office at W&L while in college, so I also had always had my own money.
I knew we weren’t Rich. Of course, I saw the BMW’s parked next to my Chevy Vega at W&L, but most of my friends there didn’t even have cars. I thought we were safe and comfortable enough…
It was all an illusion.
Within the scope of a few months, we lost all our money, Daddy was dying and, on top of that I was struggling with the accepting the realization I was Gay.
Lot’s of illusions were shattered pretty quickly.
I’ll never forget the embarrassment of them taking up a “love offering” for my family at our Baptist Church. The Church where my parents were founding members. Or how little love was shown. It got back to me that one of the deacons said: “My God, they have 4 cars, if they need money, they should just sell one.”
I once wrote a check to cover the electric bill out of my personal account because I had more money than my Mother did.
I left Washington and Lee….I came back to Danville to deal with it all….
And stayed for longer than I anticipated…
Loss and fear can make time pass faster than it should. Having a desperate, manipulative Mother can also delay things when she does everything she can to stop you from escaping…
After a long, long illness, Daddy died and my Mother became the Insurance Queen. He made sure she was left very comfortably. I think she bought new appliances and clothes within a month of the funeral.
He always looked forward and thought of family responsibilities before himself…even if he resented the hell out of it….
His IRA’s and the insurance money are what is still keeping her ensconced in the Assisted Living place…..
He’s been dead almost 30 years and he’s still taking care of her…and probably still resenting the hell out of it.
But left all that behind. At least physically…
I went back to W&L in 1986 and graduated. I paid for it myself.
It took some time, but I got out and made my own life….
I made also my own “Family of Choice” in addition to the “Family of Birth.” I’m still much more comfortable with the former than the latter.
And I don’t have illusions anymore. It’s better that way….
Reality is much safer….
And life is much happier….
Oh dear Scott, I do remember now that you have unburied that day. I am sorry now that I didn’t do more to allow you to have your emotions, to cry together, to share the moment. Frank would have been a better companion that day and would started the fake crying to get the party rolling. It wasn’t that I was totally insensitive. No, I was raised in the same environment, where secrets were kept and only told because we happened to come home at an inconvenient time.
Both of my parents managed to keep their secrets until death, while telling the world that their devoted daughter was right there until the end. Anybody else would probably have dropped into the depths of depression or worse.
But not me. Because I had my friends. The night before my mother’s funeral was one of the finest nights of my life, surrounded by friends who laughed as I repeatedly shocked our server by saying my mother just died. Because that’s how we deal with secrets. It was strange that we are now a half-century old, talking about our parents’ finances and how they finished or are finishing their lives.
Thanks for being there, Scott. After almost 30 years I don’t feel like we missed a beat.
Gail, you were the perfect one to be there that day. We react to things the same way.
Frank would have fake cried and gotten dramatic, then I would have had to slap him and we still would have just ended up going out to get drunk.
I’m so glad we are back in touch and still pretty much the people we were 30 years ago. Just a little older and a lot smarter….
The Frank scenario was almost right. You would have had to slap him (my God, I can SO see that), then you would have gone to his house to get drunk because Frank has always been too cheap to drink in public. Then, the fight would have started with Grandma, demanding she return the vibrator to stir the drinks……..
My only regret in life is that I live so far from those who truly know who I am and where I’ve been.