Tag Archives: family

Appetite

My body knew before I did. I woke every morning, for weeks, my stomach roiling and angry. I forced myself out of bed and tied my running shoes on and threw my body out into the freezing morning for my training. I ran 6 miles, 8, 10, 15, 18, on nothing to eat, only water and gels I forced down for the longer runs. I came home and stretched and took a shower and waited to be hungry. I just wasn’t. I’d make a smoothie and drink it down. I’d have a piece of toast. Or I’d just have nothing at all. I have posted before about how much I love eating, all types of food, how I would think about food when I’d first wake up, or on my commute to work, or mid-yoga class, when my mind was not supposed to be on anything at all. This was not me.

After we decided it was over, it got worse. My belts became bigger. I bought a size smaller, and then a size smaller. The pants I once spilled out of hung loosely. My sister, who hadn’t seen me in a while, told me my ass is gone, my prized bodily possession, but that I refuse to believe. It’s there still, and it is good. I did lose 20 pounds in about a month, however, and I now weigh less than what I lied about on my driver’s license. I am not an unhealthy weight, but the drastic nature of all of it is unhealthy. I know that. I had some baby carrots and a beer for dinner the other night. My dad, who has been through four divorces, told me that he lived on beer, coffee, and cigarettes for about a year when he divorced my mother. I’ve been sticking to beer and coffee, but cigarettes don’t sound half bad, either.

I wanted to make a life for my kids that was different than my life growing up. I have tried to be smart and practical and make all of the best decisions. It didn’t matter. I still somehow fucked everything up. My body knows. This probably sounds strange and irresponsible, but in some ways I can understand a little bit about eating disorders. There’s something a little intriguing and exhilarating about not caring about food anymore. I like to be in control, and I am not anymore, so I have been cleaning the house daily and not eating.

This whole experience has been like an episode of Out of This World, that terrible 80s show, when the teenaged protagonist, secretly an alien, would touch her fingers together and freeze the world around her so she could reassess the predicament in which she found herself.

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In the weeks immediately following my moving out, I feel like an outsider, removed from the world in which I once lived, and the one that everyone else still seems to be a part of.  It has given me a sad and bizarre but almost comforting sense of clarity.

In that song “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley sings,

                          I remember when I lost my mind

                          There was something so pleasant about that place.

                          Even your emotions had an echo

                          In so much space.

I know exactly what he means.

In the past week or so, my appetite has returned. I think about food again, all of the time, and I am always hungry. Before school let out, several students gave me baked goods for Christmas, and I eyed them in their square, holiday-themed plastic containers and thought, I will never eat all of this. But then I did. I ate orange scones, ginger cookies, lemon muffins, and brownies. I ate it all.

I’m still drinking too much beer, and I don’t sleep very well, or enough. But my appetite is back. My body knows. Things will be better.

Photo credit: http://www.fourthgradenothing.com/2012/01/out-of-this-world-tv-series.html

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four times a year

I am sitting in the waiting room at my insurer’s Mental Healthcare Facility. We all sit together, on this stained and awful circular arrangement of olive green couches. Father Knows Best blares from the tv directly above and behind my head. Why did I choose this seat? What channel could this be? We all avoid eye contact, mostly via cell phone screen, except for the man in the wheelchair. He is staring directly at me, I can feel it even when I’m not looking. I can’t tell if he’s staring on purpose or because he lacks the motor control to look elsewhere. I try to avoid this place. I only come maybe 4 times per year, well under the allotted number of annual visits.

My parents have always been suspicious of educated strangers trained to help. “It goes on your record,” my stepmom used to say. She believed neighbors and employers would somehow find out, that your future could be ruined. I was raised not to tell anyone, not even close friends, my problems, my secrets, to push it down, to hold it in, to suck it up.

I heeded that advice for some time. I kept it all inside. I was very, very quiet. Eventually, something broke, and it came pouring out.

My dad asks me how my week went. I’m having one of those weeks I sometimes have when I feel low, like I am moving underwater. It only happens occasionally. When it does, it is intense, and recent external events have made things more hectic than usual. I tell him it has been a long week, and, to my surprise, he presses for more details. I begin to give them. He quickly stops me. He tells me about his girlfriend’s sister-in-law’s ALS. She can’t move her arms, he says. She can’t speak. We are still alive, he says. We can speak. I think he is trying to make me feel better. It isn’t working.

I hate myself a little when I go to therapy. It such a privileged person thing to do, to whine to someone about my problems when I have my health, enough food, good kids, a stable relationship, a warm home. I have pet turtles that swim in a 40 gallon tank, and some people don’t have water. I am not that man in the wheelchair who probably can’t move his head. I feel obnoxious for feeling like I have problems. I hate everyone in here, I hate my brain. I am sorry for the nice redhead who has to listen to me.

I come here anyway. I force myself through an awkward session of talking and, sometimes, crying. I blow my nose and wipe at my eyes with the cheap, scratchy tissue from the little blue cardboard box. I am exhausted when we are finished.

I would like to be able to sort out my head alone, to not need any help, with anything. I would like to be as strong and repressed as my parents tried to teach me to be. But I’m not. Sometimes I need help. At least four times a year.

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hiccup girl

I 8993036-smalldon’t watch the Today show very often, or ever, really, but somehow I happened to be watching it one morning in 2007 when 15-year-old Hiccup Girl was featured. For more than 5 weeks, she hiccuped 50 times per minute. I tried to imagine how horrible that might have been, a kind of torture. I was happy she found a cure, and I didn’t think about her again until a few days ago. A Facebook friend posted that Hiccup Girl, aka Jennifer Mee, now 22, was convicted this week of 1st degree murder. She was charged at 19. I can’t explain what made me so sad about this story.

Last night, my teenage niece moved in with us, at least temporarily. Her sister just moved back home and is in the early stages of rehabbing from a speed addiction. I had the pleasure of witnessing my brother, my niece’s father, through various bouts of withdrawal from addiction to the same drug when I was in high school. Once, I took a boyfriend home after a date and was greeted by my brother on the couch in the stinking, sweating, shaking throes of withdrawals. I was 17. My niece is 16. Her family lives in a small space. She is trying to do well in school and go to college and secure a different life for herself. I offered for her to stay with us for a week, just until things settle down, because I know how difficult it can be to focus on school and normal teenage life with a sibling unraveling on your living room couch. Her mother exploded with anger and kicked her out when my niece asked to stay with us. “Family first,” she said. “Your sister needs you.” “You always run away.”

Her mother is not a bad person. In fact, I like her a lot. But she is perpetuating a cycle, and it is difficult to break free from this cycle or even see it for what it is when you are in the middle of it, when that is all you know as normal. You are the crazy one if you see it. You are selfish. You are elitist, especially when you use words like “cycle” and “dysfunction.” You think you are better. You push and you struggle and you work hard to break free and, eventually, you do. But you break yourself a little in the process. The people you leave behind will never love you the same. You say, well, fuck them. You convince yourself you don’t need them. Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. In any case, to survive, you stop waiting for the people you love to change, to accept you for who you are, to stop hurting you. You shut down the soft, vulnerable parts of yourself. They harden and ossify. And they stay that way. The cost of breaking free is high, but the cost of staying is higher.

What does this have to do with Jennifer Mee, Hiccup Girl? Probably not very much. I want her to remain a funny story I caught in passing one time on tv, maybe in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or in my in-laws’ living room. I look at that broken girl in the mugshot, who is guilty of breaking someone else. She had schizophrenia, Tourette’s, and “low normal” intelligence. She admitted to setting up the murder. I don’t feel sorry for her, not exactly. I look at my own broken self and the people around me who are breaking. Like I said, I guess it all just makes me sad. Sometimes I wish things were different than they are.

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high / low

woman-bipolar-disorder-290x300I cried once during our family vacation to Austin last week. Elliott and I were locked in the “family” bathroom stall of a movie theater. He was screaming at me, threatening to throw his chew necklace onto the bathroom floor. We had been watching Monsters U in 3D. (Side note: I hate 3D for the headache it causes me and the extra expense, but it was all that was playing at that time.) During the climax of the film, Elliott accidentally bit his finger. He roared in response. I threw everything in my lap onto the floor and whisked him up into my arms, as the whole theater seemed to turn and stare at us. He was angry that he had bitten himself. He was angry that I was rushing him down the dimly lit stairs and away from the movie. We were in the last row, and it seemed to take hours. I wasn’t worried about him. I know the difference between his screams of rage and his screams of real pain. I was mortified. I was frustrated. I was exhausted. It had been a difficult day.

We burst out of the theater door, and the ushers stared at this screaming, kicking child and his mother who had forgotten she was still wearing the goddamned 3D glasses. They seemed to find us mildly amusing. In the bathroom, I put Elliott down and caught a glimpse of my ridiculous self in the mirror. “I WANT TO WATCH THE MOVIE I WANT MY GLASSES I HAVE BOOGERS EXCUSE ME I HAVE BOOGERS I WANT TO WATCH THE MOVIE NO THANK YOU NO THANK YOU,” he screeched. As calmly as I could, I told him he needed to stop screaming or we would not be going back. He screamed for several more minutes. I considered my haggard, pathetic face in the mirror. I wondered if the people in the hallway could hear us, the horrible things they must be thinking about my parenting abilities. I felt tears well up but I pushed them away.

He finally stopped screaming. We watched the last two minutes of the movie, which no longer made any sense. He wore my 3D glasses because I couldn’t find his, so the final scenes were blurred for me. As the credits scrolled, he said, “Did you like this movie, Mommy?” as if nothing had happened. I had to put my face against the filthy, cold theater floor to reach far enough under my seat to collect all of the items I had dropped.

We stepped out into the blinding light and overwhelming heat and humidity. He demanded his sunglasses, which I produced from my purse. We walked to the car, the boys happily chatting about the movie. Meanwhile, horrible thoughts ran through my brain. I wondered if he loves me, if he has a conscience, if he will be like this, or worse, when he gets older, when puberty hits, when he is bigger than I am. Will he still kick me and scream at me? Will he hurt me? I thought about the woman I know whose autistic son nearly drowned her. He was 22 and had a tantrum in the pool. She had bruises all over her body.

My thoughts were very bleak, and I was feeling very sorry for myself, and I am not proud. As we walked to the car, my face twisted up and tears started pouring. Ben saw me and got upset. Unlike Elliott, Ben has a surplus of empathy. One kid couldn’t care less, and the other cares too much. I know I shouldn’t have cried in front of him, but I couldn’t stop.

Most of the time, I don’t feel like this. Most of the time, being Elliott’s parent is pretty incredible. Every year, every week, every day he is doing something new, and every accomplishment feels like an occasion to celebrate. Most parents are happy when their kids are potty trained, but when Elliott finally pissed in a potty chair, we jumped around the house, giddy with excitement. I felt like shutting down the streets and throwing a parade. It had taken him nearly 3 years.

This morning, I had to wake Elliott up very early to go to an occupational therapy appointment we had been anticipating for months. Elliott has been doing this for years. The appointments are generally several hours long, and the assessors are sometimes patient and kind, and sometimes not. Elliott is asked to perform task after task, often with no breaks. Balance on one foot, skip, do this puzzle, spin, close one eye, do this with your tongue, wear this cap, go into this tube, say this, etc. During the long, traffic-filled drive, Elliott and I played word games, listened to music, looked for sight words in the billboards. I marveled at him. Most kids don’t have to do the crap he has to do, and he is generally so amazing about it. During the assessment, he listened well and tried his hardest. It was over after 2 hours, and he was allowed to play for a few minutes while the therapist discussed the results with me. As he laughed in the other room, she told me everything that is wrong with him, and there were a lot of things. My face grew warm and it became difficult to swallow, but I pushed it away.

I cried as quietly as possible in the car as Elliott sang along to the Hairspray soundtrack. Somewhere inside, I already knew the things she told me, but it didn’t make it less difficult to hear. I took him out to lunch, and as we waited for our food, we played Rock, Paper, Scissors, and he cheated, like always. Then, he grew serious and said, “I love you, Mommy.” He almost never says this unprompted. He was immediately silly again, doing crazy dances to the music playing over the restaurant speakers. I watched him and wondered if he knew that I had been sad, if he was trying to make me feel better in his own way. Who knows.

My highs are a little too high and my lows are a little too low, and that’s how I’ve always been. Maybe it has something to do with my mother’s bipolar disorder. Or maybe that’s just what it’s like being a parent of a kid with special needs. Maybe it’s a little of both. In any case, after some time alone, during which I chainsawed some vines outside and bought a cute new dress, I felt so much better.

My friend Lashawn reminded me of Elliott’s epic tantrums last summer. He would scream and rip away his shoes and clothing, throwing each item in our direction, his face angry and red and tearful. Once naked, he’d throw his body around, slap his own cheeks, writhe against the rough carpet. This would go on for 20 or 30 minutes. This was his response to our first family vacation, to Portland and San Francisco. This went on for weeks, nearly the entire summer. I had actually forgotten about it, maybe because I wanted to. This year, he whined a little and had one major tantrum (fully clothed!), and now he is back to normal. He threatened to throw the necklace, but he ultimately put it back on.

Things still need to get better, but I need to remember how things keep getting better.

Photo credit: http://www.basicspine.com/blog/bipolar-disorder-treatment/

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mother’s day

Sunday is Mother’s Day. This year, I decided to end my relationship with my stepmother, who raised me, and my biological mother is dead. Both of these women lacked the resources or capabilities to be effective parents. My mother-in-law is amazing, but she did not raise me. And so there is a bit of an empty space where a mother should be. Most of the time, this does not feel like sadness. It feels like relief. Every year, I used to try and find a neutral card to give my stepmother. There were rows and rows of cards with pictures of flowers and heartfelt, saccharine poetry. Generally, I’d find something blank and scrawl something inside.

Dear Mom (I don’t want to call you Mom, but remember how you forced me to when I was 8?):

I don’t really know you even though we lived in the same household for many years. Please accept this candle/lotion/chocolate that I felt obligated to purchase for you. I hope the weather is satisfactory today.

Regards,

Angela

That’s what I always felt like saying, anyway.

This dumb photo of Gwyneth Paltrow and her mother made me cry one time.

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My friend recently lost his mother. Although I wasn’t close to my mother, and I didn’t know her very well, and I have in my possession only one photograph of us together, and I rarely think about her or cry about her, I feel that absence intensely from time to time, like  pain in an amputated limb. I am so sorry for my friend, who was close to his mother. I know the pain he must feel is 1000 times more intense than what I feel, and that there is nothing anyone can do to change any of that.

I guess what I am trying to say is that Mother’s Day, like all holidays, can be complicated.

I have two lovely boys, and I hope I know I am a good mother to them and I know I can do better. Last night, I helped Ben cast his Mario Bros. toys as characters in Hairspray (again). Mario is Link. Luigi is Corny. Princess Peach is Amber. Toadette is Tracy. I was exhausted after work, and this made me laugh and laugh. This morning, Elliott insisted he didn’t need a sweater, and I told him to step outside and see. I watched as he stood alone in the backyard and felt the breeze wash over him, squinting into the sunlight. He finally agreed to the sweater. Like me, he is stubborn. It is sometimes frustrating, but I also love that he needs to decide for himself.

I want to say thank you to these little guys for teaching me what it is to be a mother even as I am still figuring it out. I want to say thank you to them for making Mother’s Day meaningful to me, something to celebrate. And I want to say that I am sorry to those of you out there for whom this holiday is painful and complicated and nothing like the cards or commercials try to convince you to believe that it should be.

Let’s make this day, and every day, our own.

Photo credit: http://jjscholl.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/i-heart-mom/

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david

David and I slide down the steepest side of a dirt and gravel hill. Our bodies rattle, plumes of dust rocket from our sneakers, we scream out in terror and joy. There is dust in our teeth, dust in our lungs. We have scraped our legs. Everything is blue sky and orange groves. Our stucco tract home is no more than a couple of miles away, but it might as well be gone. Our sister Sally is still there, neatly tucked into the sofa, reading, or playing Solitaire. She prefers to stay inside.

*

David tells me he sees visions of our dead mother all of the time. God inserts these images into his brain. God talks to him, too. He tells him to stop listening to Supergrass and Radiohead. I ask David, “If God told you to injure yourself, would you?” He hesitates before he says he doesn’t know. David was too young when she died. He doesn’t remember her.

*

David asks me if I have thought about my long distance phone service provider. I have not. He wears dark, shiny shirts now. Ties. Slacks. There is gel in his hair. He says “sweet” all of the time, like punctuation. He is a member of a pyramid scheme that has been banned in several states. I tell him I am not interested. I use very few words. I know I am hurting him.

*

David brings a Franciscan monk with him to Thanksgiving. The monk is a stereotype. He looks like Friar Tuck from that 1970s Robinhood cartoon. He wears a brown robe, tied at the waist with a rope. He is cheerful and round. He eats two slices of pie. I want to make fun of him, to shout to everyone, “There’s a monk at our table!” But he is kind and we take a photo together. I rest my arm on his shoulder and smile.

*

My friend Betony posts an Instagram of her brother on Facebook. His hair is brown, wind-whipped and frozen in place, and he wears a button-up denim shirt. He’s smiling. He looks like Betony, especially around the eyes. His fingers are curled around a tiny plastic figure. The caption says, “Love means making your brother pose with a Twilight doll.” I laugh when I realize her brother looks exactly like the miniature Robert Pattinson. They are wearing the same clothes. The hair, the complexion, it is all the same. Then, suddenly, I feel like crying.

*

David will propose to a girl this year. There will be a ceremony at the Catholic church where she lives and teaches. I am not invited. The news I receive about David never comes from David. I heard she has an extraordinary amount of siblings. 16? 17? Aren’t they all girls? That can’t be true. David holds signs outside of abortion clinics. He tells me he is praying for my children. David believes I should stay at home, but I can’t stay there. I can’t believe in God. We seldom speak, there’s too much to avoid. David will marry this girl and move back east, and there is nothing left to recover.

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little ray

Big-Idea

We used to call him Little Ray. My father named him after himself–he’s the first child from my father’s first marriage. I’m the third child from my father’s third marriage, and we’re about 14 years apart. We have never been close, but a little over three years ago, he began telling several of my siblings that he was going to bring one of his many guns over to my house and teach me “a lesson.” He thought I thought I was too good. He thought I was turning my teenage niece, his only daughter, into an atheist, a feminist, a liberal. (And maybe I was, though that has never been my intention.)

Ray has been using hard drugs, mostly speed, since he was 13 years old. He dropped out of high school at 15. He’s 46 now, though he looks at least 10 years older. His body has been through a lot. Ray knows a lot about history, particularly Civil War history, and when he is high, he can deliver a lecture that rivals that of any historian. When he is not high, however, he is barely functional. I have seen him spit in my father’s face. I have seen him in withdrawals on my father’s couch, stinking, sweating, raging. I have seen his eyes shine with pride watching his daughter perform a solo at her school assembly. I have seen him rip cabinets away from the walls with just his hands. Ray’s been to rehab before, and he always emerges with hope and plans. He has enrolled in GED programs before, community college classes. Once, when we were on speaking terms, he told me he was taking an astronomy class. “That’s so great,” I told him. And I meant it. There were weeks, months, when things were good again. But that hasn’t happened in a long time.

My father wants us all to get along. I tried to explain to him that it is difficult to get along with someone you barely know, especially when that person threatens to kill you. “He isn’t serious,” my father said, waving it away with his hands. He really wants us to get along, even if it means ignoring reality. I thought it over. Ray had guns. He was angry, irrational, and using methamphetamines. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I refused to attend any family function to which Ray was invited. I started looking over my shoulder when I left the house, and at work. After several weeks of this, with escalating threats communicated to various siblings, I finally just got angry. I decided to write Ray a letter, demanding to know why he was threatening me.

A couple of days later, I received a reply. The handwriting seemed erratic, oversized, pressed hard into the paper. If there were a font called Pain, my brother was writing with it. The note offered no explanation, but pleaded for forgiveness. It was difficult to read, and I instantly felt all of the built up anger dissolve. I just felt sad.

Ray moved back to Ohio last year, and he lives with his mother and his aunt now. His mother was one of the first people who introduced him to drugs, but she says she’s found Jesus and things are different now. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go at this point, and it isn’t going well. Ray’s guns are in storage in a public unit somewhere in Southern California, and my father foots the monthly bill. I am grateful for the distance.

When we moved into a different house, several months ago, I found the letter Ray had sent me. The sadness rose up again, and I crushed the paper in my hands and threw it away. He doesn’t know where I live now, and I don’t know where he lives. I used to call him Little Ray. Now, I rarely call him anything at all.

 

Photo credit: http://www.kenandpaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Big-Idea.jpg

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the big a

“By the way,” my father said on the phone this morning, “Diegolina died a few days ago.” He dropped it in casually, after detailing his weekend. He’d gone snowshoeing for the first time, with his girlfriend. He and my stepmother have been divorced for several years now, and Diegolina was my stepmother’s mother. I had been taught to call her Abuela. My father called her The Big A, made her a joke. She never thought that was funny.

Abuela had a hard life. She dropped out in elementary school, sold tamales wrapped in banana leaves on the street. Her home was a collection of tar paper and tin shacks. She cooked food over a fire in the dirt. She had seven children. Her husband was a drunk who beat her constantly and, once, tried to force her to drink poison as my stepmother watched. He hit her in the face with a belt buckle, and, as a result, she was nearly blind in one eye. Abuela lived with us for weeks here and there throughout my childhood. Ay dios mio, she used to say, all of the time, stereotypically. She watched telenovelas endlessly, the loud music and dramatic exclamations bouncing through the house. She cooked a red soup with chunks of shark meat floating in it, homemade corn tortillas. She cried for hours and hours. She told me I was fat. She told me my stepmother betrayed her country when she became a citizen. “Angie, Angie,” she called me. I bent to embrace her tiny frame, as I was required to do, and she’d cup my face and kiss my cheek with feathery lips. Her brown skin felt cool, and smooth, like wax. She smelled like flowers, and something else, something bad. I was expected to love this virtual stranger, whom I first met when I was 8, and whom I saw in short, sporadic bursts.

I did not make an effort to know her. I am ashamed to say that mostly, she annoyed me. I was a selfish teenager, and she sighed and criticized constantly. She took up a bedroom, and I had to share a bed with my sister. She spent what seemed like hours in the bathroom. My stepmother was even meaner than she usually was with Abuela around. I didn’t have the patience for it. My junior year of high school, she got sick, and I had to take over her job for no pay at the Wishy Washy Laundromat. Abuela was sick a lot–she had diabetes and gall bladder problems and severe depression. I was in high school at the time, and for weeks, I stayed up into the early morning hours, scraping hair and gum from the wheels of the laundry carts, sopping up strangers’ scum.

When I wasn’t annoyed with her, I made fun of her. I have a photograph of her wearing a black t-shirt featuring a huge, fluorescent green marijuana leaf. It says, “This bud’s for you.” She had no idea what she was wearing. She poses for the photograph, stony-faced, somewhere in San Bernardino. None of my stepmother’s Mexican family smiled in photographs. It was only after she lived here for several years that my stepmom began to smile. When you think about it, the constant smiling is goofy, for people who don’t know true suffering, who expect everything to work out. For Americans.

It was cruel of me to make her into a joke. I make jokes all of the time, about everything, even when I shouldn’t. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of knowing about her life and the lives of all of her family back in Mexico. Were they my family too? Who was she to me? Who were they? My stepmother didn’t seem to care, then, or now. Abuela was sick in a hospital in Mexico for awhile, and my stepmother didn’t visit. Her family will call her for money, and she will send it, like she always does, and she will do so begrudgingly. She will not go there to face all of those hungry and angry faces, all of the chaos that will surely result from this death.

Once, when I was maybe sixteen years old, Abuela sang a birthday song to me in Spanish, in front of my family and a few of my friends. She had tears in her eyes. I know it took a lot of courage. I didn’t love her, but sometimes I think she loved me.

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options

(I know I look angry here. That’s just how my face looks.)

We don’t look exactly alike, but when I saw this photograph of my grandmother several weeks ago, I was startled by the resemblance. Part of my surprise came from the fact that I’d never seen a photo of her so young. All of the photographs of her at my dad’s house, she’s seemingly forty to fifty years old, no matter the age of her children. She just had one of those faces that seemed to spend so much time in one decade. Now, she’s 95, spending her days reading newspapers in an assisted living facility. She doesn’t remember any of us. When my father tells her how old she is, she puts her hands up to her cheeks and forms an exaggerated “O” with her mouth, a Macaulay Culkin-esque gesture of extreme surprise.

In this photo, Grandma is probably somewhere around 18-20 years old. Years ago, she used to tell me how ugly she was, how ugly her mother told her she was, how her mother used to dress her up and put makeup on her and place her on a chair out on the front porch and hope someone would see her and want to marry her. No one did. My grandmother’s parents were from Sicily, but she had been born in Ohio. My grandfather and his parents were from Sicily, too. That is no coincidence. You see, my grandparents were first cousins. Their mothers were worried about them. My grandfather was a womanizer. My grandmother would be an old maid. The solution? Arranged marriage!

As you might guess, that didn’t turn out so well, though they did remain married until my grandfather died in 1991. My grandfather was an abusive alcoholic. He slept with many other women and did little to conceal it.  My grandmother accepted this, and she grew hard and mean and abusive herself as the years progressed.

Old-school Italians, at least the ones I grew up around, are not kind to their women. Their women stay inside and spend hours kneading dough and allowing it to rise and baking it into bread and serving it with sauce and noodles and pig ears and feet and kielbasa. They stand and sit and stand and sit, retrieving forks and napkins and coffee and ice, and finally eat their meals when they are cold.  The men move to the other room and the children move outside, leaving the aftermath, which the women dutifully clean. The men grunt and smoke and curse and watch t.v. They compare cars and sons. They beat their women if they talk too much.

After my grandfather died, my grandmother had a minor stroke. Her life had been centered around him for over fifty years. A couple of years later, she was visiting his grave and saw a man visiting his wife’s grave. They went to coffee and became girlfriend and boyfriend and eventually moved in together. He is dead now, too, and it is just my grandma again. As she has lost her memory, her edges have softened. She doesn’t remember any of us, but she is happier than I ever remember her being.

My father is Italian-American and my stepmother came from Mexico. Neither of these cultures, in my experience, is kind to their women. Though I was not placed on a porch, I was raised to know my place. I was hit for talking too much. I was told no man would ever love me. And I believed that for a little while. I might have spent a life filled with despair and hardness, like my grandmother did. But I rejected all of that, because I was able to. I had options that my grandmother never had.

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The Winter Bites My Bones

Collected Poems of Dennis McHale, 1986-2013

A Birth Project

Transracial Adoption from one black girl's perspective

Quartz

Quartz is a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.

The guilty preacher man

& the Abandoned Illustrations

terribleminds: chuck wendig

Chuck Wendig: Freelance Penmonkey

projectophile

\ˈprä-JECT-oh-fahyl\ (noun) 1. A lover of projects, especially those derived from scavenged materials and made more beautiful through paint, thread and sandpaper.

Return

Just another WordPress.com site

Another angry woman

Thoughts and rants from another angry woman

unkilleddarlings

Faulkner said, kill your darlings. I say, put them on the internet and let strangers read them.

We Will Begin Again

"To hold a pen is to be at war." -Voltaire

MiscEtcetera v2

Random bits about libraries, digital culture, life, and writing

glass half full

This is my blog. I write a lot about autism, raising boys, and my own alcohol consumption. I also tend to cover topics like poop and toothpaste. You've been warned.

Evening, Mister!

Humans, creativity, curiosities and all things awesome: one writerpower magazine.

The War in My Brain

A Personal Struggle with OCD

Platform 9-3/4

A product of my boredom !

The Belle Jar

"Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences." - Sylvia Plath

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