Say Anything

18 04 2013

I have writers block or something. I have all these posts that come to mind. But I sit down and I can’t even post pictures. All I’m good for right now are one-liners on Twitter.

But then earlier this week I somehow found myself rewatching Pretty In Pink. I love Pretty in Pink. It’s one of my favorite 80’s movies ever. But I’m not sure how I actually watched it. Normally I put things in my Netflix instant queue with good intentions, but find myself watching The IT Crowd over and over again instead. But this week I had a shitty Tuesday and needed some good old fashioned fluff/love/OMD and Pretty in Pink fits the bill. And naturally I had to follow it with Say Anything. Naturally.

I love Say Anything even more than I love Pretty in Pink and almost any other movie, actually. But parts of it hit fairly close to home so I haven’t seen in in a few years. Cause, see, Diane Court’s dad is totally my mom. I told this to Bethany over Twitter and then made myself a promise that I’d journal this out here because it’s way too complex for Twitter. And also because I need to type something here.

I don’t know what my mom actually had – according to her medical records she was diagnosed as bipolar, but my understanding is that to be bipolar, one must exhibit both highs and lows. And I cannot think of one instance in my entire life where my mom was in a manic phase. I think it is more likely that she had some personality disorder. Paranoid maybe. Or depressive. Maybe borderline.

My mom was charming and charismatic and used these qualities to form unnaturally strong bonds with people. In some cases it would be an intense, but short-lived, friendship. In my case it was a controlling need to have me as her “best friend.” Which is confusing for me now that I’m a mom, because I’m always afraid I won’t know how or where to draw the line in friendship with my children as they grow. I think the biggest thing I can do, that my mom was unable to provide for me, is to give them the opportunity to question me, stop me, and make me apologize when I screw up. In my mother’s case even her apologies were manipulations, deposits into some emotional bank account she’d withdraw from the next time it suited her.

Diane’s dad has a similar relationship with her. He genuinely loves her, but he isn’t capable of love the way a parent should give it – freely. His love is controlling, but disguised as friendship. He tells her that she can tell him anything, but of course she can’t because he can’t actually handle it. He can’t handle the idea that she could be growing up and away from him. When I was 13, 15, and 18 – all significant ages in terms of growth into adulthood – my mom would go through a very difficult phase where she would become belligerent and angry with me. We’d fight all the time and I’d be punished for things that normally would not be an issue (for instance, one day I arrived home only five minutes later than we’d agreed on due to car trouble – I was grounded). She would repeatedly accuse me, “You’ve changed.” Which, of course, I hadn’t. I’d grown. But each time I grew a little more into an adult, she knew she was closer to being alone and she grasped desperately at me. It’s a bloody miracle I wasn’t entirely stunted by her manipulations. Being that I am, to this day, so open to what those I care about think of me, I don’t know how I remained strong and continued in my right growth pattern.

I don’t think Diane’s dad was quite as desperate as my mom in that sense. He still functioned in society and had friends. He didn’t have that same distorted need to keep Diane as close to him as possible. Still, there is definite dislike of Lloyd Dobbler, and I don’t think it’s only because he is worried that Diane will lose sight of her goals. I think it’s because he’s afraid that Lloyd will show Diane things her dad has kept successfully hidden from her. Lloyd is honest and that threatens Diane’s father. Truth always threatens liars. So he spends days trying to talk her into breaking up with Lloyd. And she allows him to make that decision for her. I’m not unfamiliar with this scenario. My mom convinced me to break up with my high school boyfriend.

“I just want you to have everything,” he tells her. “Is that wrong?” Suddenly switching from intense pressure on her to break up with Lloyd, he swings into Loving Father mode. Guilt. She has no right to be angry at her dad because he’s just acting out of love. She’s primed for the next step: sympathy for him. He’s being pestered by the IRS, he’s innocent, there’s so much on his plate right now. No. But don’t worry about him. “Live your life.” And he walks away, mid-hug.

And it’s done. She’s decided to give Lloyd a pen.

And the lies. I lived for years choosing not to see my mom’s lies. They were obvious, so obvious. Embarrassingly obvious. But for one reason or a hundred, I didn’t let myself see them. And I can remember the day I finally had to face them. It was also the day my relationship with my mom became irreparably broken. I see the look in Diane’s face when she goes to the IRS to plead for her father. She gets home and sits for a moment, trying desperately to stay in her safer world of denial before her need for truth takes control and she searches the house, eventually finding the evidence she needs to tear down the facade of her entire world.

“This money’s for you!” Guilt trip.
“I make their lives better!” Excuses.
Switch tactic.
“Go ahead. When I’m old give me someone like me. But go ahead.” Passive aggressive. Distract from the issues. Guilt trip. Make excuses. Gaslight.
Switch tactic.
“Is this because of Lloyd?” Angry. Denial. DEFLECTION.
Switch tactic.
“That’s right. Work it out.” False sympathy. Gross.
Switch tactic.
“Take it easy how bad you make me out to be. I’m the only dad you’ve got.” THREATS.

And she’s done. She’s so ashamed. I know, Diane. I totally know.

Later, from jail: “She can’t still be mad at this?” Actually, you know? She kind of can. Maybe you didn’t notice, but you tore her entire world apart. That’s going to take more than a few weeks to heal from.

And she turns to the only person she has left. Lloyd. And she loves him. She absolutely does. But she runs to him not because she needs him, but because she needs someone. She’s not being dishonest – she doesn’t know how to be dishonest. She’s just reeling, she’s confused, she doesn’t know which way is up. She doesn’t actually know what is real. There are aspects of this that I relate to as well. Needing someone. Running away. Needing to get my bearings. Only I had kids in the middle of that and got stuck as a mom before discovering what my world actually was and exploring it on my own, as an adult.

Maybe that’s why she chose her dad over her mom. Because she was already emotionally tied to him. Or maybe her mom is just that much shittier a parent – she doesn’t represent herself real well in the scene she’s in.

I made the choice, too. Sort of. There were times when I couldn’t stand to be at my mom’s. I remember briefly moving into my grandma’s house as a teenager. Because drunk grandma was better than drunk, lying, hoarder mom. But it didn’t last long. A week? Less? Because I missed my mom.

She always told me that if I lied to her, she’s have a hard time believing me because trust is very hard to rebuild. Ironic, isn’t it? Is that denial? Or was that a subconscious cry to me to stop believing her? In any case, she was right.

There was a time, a few years ago, where her friends called me and told me she’d stopped drinking. And I didn’t believe them. When we cleaned out her house we found no evidence of any alcohol. So they were right. Only. She’d been prescribed a heavy dose of morphine. So how sober was she, really?

So. Say Anything is kind of a heavy movie for me in many ways. And this post was pretty heavy, too. I just don’t have much of the funny writing coming out these days. I mean. Except for those tweets.


Meeting The Internet, Part 3: The Bloggess

16 08 2012

they set her up in the children's section

Why do internet-famous people only come here during the summer? Two summers ago we met Jen from CakeWrecks, and last year we met Dancing Matt. This week we got to meet The Bloggess, and check another one off our list. (We’re almost done meeting the Internet now, right?)

So the kids and I picked up my aunt and we met Summer and Katie at the bookstore. We left earlier than probably necessary because I am scared of north county and also traffic in north county. Once on the road I realized I hadn’t triple-checked to make sure I knew where I was going so there was a possibility of adventure. A possibility which did not pan out because, as it turned out, I did know where I was going. (I know. Weird, right?)


So we wound up in the front row and had actual chairs and everything. We chatted and ate leftover camping chocolate (leftover. chocolate. I know). At some point a bunch of people took a group picture of themselves with metal chickens. This is normal stuff for Bloggess fans (we call ourselves Lawsbians). As the time drew near, the guy in charge of setting this whole thing up made some announcements including one that was all, “Oh and if you brought children, you should be warned that there might be some material unsuitable for innocent ears.” At which point I was all, “DUDE. Who are these kids and why are they calling me mommy? I know them not!” And also? We were all sitting in the children’s section. When Jenny got there she loved that bit.


So she read a chapter all about laxatives and possible rapists passing her notes under her bathroom door. And Margie may or may not be scarred for life. She told me later, “I didn’t understand any of it. It was just weird.” Elliott, on the other hand (the child I was positive I could count on not paying attention because he was drawn into his Angry Birds game), laughed heartily every time she said the word “bathroom”. Apparently, when bathrooms are involved, he can multi-task extremely well.

margie, possibly scarred for life

And now let me back up about 25 years for a minute. There was a night when I was a kid when my grandma became obsessed with the idea that I needed to pick a vase to inherit. As a nine-year-old, vases weren’t really my thing, so I kind of didn’t care, but she wouldn’t let it go. I remember being a little bit freaked out, actually, by her incessant vase-pushing. Looking back, I realize she was probably a little drunk and honestly that explains a lot. Who else pushes vases on nine-year-olds? She eventually picked one for me and stuck my name to it with tape so that when she died, everyone would know to make sure I got it. Years later, after she passed, I asked my family if they’d found my vase. Not necessarily because I wanted my damn inheritance, actually. It was mainly to fact-check myself. But no one knew anything about it, so I assumed it was some weird childhood hallucination.

there's a story that goes with this

Until last summer. When I found it sitting in my mom’s house. Now, one could assume she simply hadn’t noticed the tape on the bottom of the vase. Except that I found numerous references to the whole story in her various angry letters to me that she’d written on her computer and/or the backs of paper plates. Luckily I’m barely even scarred by any of that. In fact, I keep the vase in my living room where I think of drunk, vase-obsessed grandmas, and angry paper-plate-letters and chuckle about it to myself. Fucked-up families are totally the funniest ones.

the vase

Anyway. Back to 2012. I’d already bought Jenny’s book on my Nook, but since you can’t really get that signed (or I guess I could, but it might be very confusing while I’m reading Anansi Boys), I decided to buy my aunt a copy of the book. And I was going to tell her that she better make sure I get it when she dies (cause, you know, family tradition) when I had a better idea. I could have Jenny write it in there. Jenny thought it was brilliant. As I knew she would. THIS is why we need to be BFFs.

it's a family tradition

Summer and Katie weren’t going to participate in the book signing portion of the evening so they headed out after the reading was done. I kicked myself for that later, realizing that they should have at least stayed to get a picture with her. Oh well. She promises to write another book. So next time. My aunt, missing my mom, was drawn to the fact that Jenny’s sister, Lisa, was there with her, so she made her hop in the picture with us as well.

jenny's sister, jenny, luanne, elliott, and me

It was a great evening. Laughter, scarring my kids for life publicly, chocolate, and, of course, meeting the Internet.

People Like Me

18 03 2012

Last weekend 20/20 aired an episode that included a segment about children of hoarders. It’s funny how when I was growing up I felt so utterly alone, and once the shows about hoarders started to air I had something to connect to. And that felt freeing. But I’d never seen anything focusing so specifically on the children who live with hoarders and how it effects them. Through the show I found an email list specifically for adult children of hoarders. And holy mother of god. I found people like me.

Labels can be amazing things. I had no word for my life when I was a child. We used the word “messy”. Which. Honestly. It’s hilarious how much of an understatement that was. And confusing. My friends never understood why they couldn’t come over or even see inside – after all, their houses would get messy sometimes. But now everyone automatically knows what I’m taking about when I say my mom was a hoarder. Which is such an amazing feeling that I cannot find the right words for it yet. My whole childhood I suffered in secret and now it’s just a part of everyday vocabulary. It makes me want to dance. (Which I now have room to do in my beautiful home that has FLOOR SPACE.)

The thing that really struck me the hardest, I think, was the term “doorbell dread”. The second I heard it I knew exactly what it was. You don’t spend your entire childhood living in the dark, holding your breath, pretending not to be home at every knock without knowing that term. For years and years even after I moved out and lived in a presentable home, every knock at the door would strike me with anxiety and send my heart racing. Honestly I think it’s been only the last couple of years that I don’t feel that anymore. I am comfortable with having people over now, but I have to be emotionally prepared for it. I so want to be the house on the block where all the neighbor kids play, but I am just so not that person. I’m conditioned to be extremely private and anything else takes varying degrees of emotional energy.

And yet, even for all the things I have in common with these other people, there’s a deep chasm where we differ. My mother’s hoarding was caused largely in part by the fact that she simply ceased functioning. She wasn’t one of those who was afraid to throw away any junk mail or piece of trash. While I do have a reflex to throw things away secretly for all the times I was yelled at for getting rid of the wrong thing, I at least knew my mother loved me deeply. It seems many hoarders cannot express that for their children, and the kids are pushed away by the sea of trash and junk into a place where Stuff really is more important than they are.

And as I reread that paragraph, I see that I clearly have some redefining of my mother’s mental illness to do since that’s a really weak argument up there for why she isn’t the usual kind of hoarder. I wonder what I’m holding on to with that ideal?

Anyway. It’s been a big week. I’m not alone anymore. I’ve shared stories and common thoughts and fears with people who understand in a way that I need to be understood. I’ve listened and talked and offered my thoughts and experiences. And all that is kind of incredible.


31 01 2012

After being on the market since October, and after several false starts, it appears that my mom’s home is about to be sold (KNOCK WOOD). I’m glad. I’m ready to be done. I’m over paying $700 a month on the space rent. It’s beyond time to move on. I’m thrilled. Really.

But also I’m sad. Really sad. And I did not expect this. I like having that connection to her, being able to go there and sit with her. Carrying her keys in my purse. Being the caretaker of the house. Of her. I like the sense of duty I had when I had goals to accomplish; cleaning the place, holding an estate sale, hiring a realtor. I wasn’t looking forward to paying the monthly rent, but I was looking forward to having a job. It’s easier to grieve, I guess, when you have jobs.

Suddenly I feel a little panicky that I won’t be able to go visit her. I find myself frantically trying to think of all the things I should take pictures of tomorrow so that I can remember them, remember her home. I have to leave the key on the dining room table, but I feel panicky about letting go of it, like that last sweep of a hotel room, sure you’ve left something important in some nook. Only I’m leaving my last connection with my mom. And it hurts.

But here’s the funny thing. The house is set to close on Friday. Friday will mark 11 years since my grandma died. I can’t help but feel this is a gift from her. Or that she’s here comforting me. Or something. As though to confirm that, in the previous paragraph autocorrect changed “connection” to “conniption” – a word my grandma used to use often, a word I cannot hear without hearing it in her voice.

So I guess this is the next step in grieving. Saying goodbye. This is the coffin lowered into the ground. Making what was once tangible, no longer so.

OK, Universe, I’m ready.

Goodbye, Mom. I still miss you.

In which Madeleine L’Engle doesn’t help me write this post at all.

11 12 2011

In what ways are you like your mother? And if you’re a mother, how is/are your kid(s) like you?Jessica

My mother was funny and charming and creative. And she had hazel green eyes. I think I inherited those qualities. Except the eyes, which are more a “body part” and less a “quality.” Although I did inherit them. Which actually makes me a little bit like Harry Potter in that I look like my dad except for my eyes. I’m not so good at flying on broomsticks, though. Only now I’ve forgotten what I was saying.

Oh right.

She also loved me fiercely, respected me deeply, and followed a lot of what we now call attachment parenting – all things I try to replicate in my parenting. I’ve said before I think her love and respect are what saved my sanity and kept me strong enough to grow through and beyond all the shit. I hope to give the same for my kids, along with a more solid foundation so they can grow even beyonder. Which is what we want for our children no matter what, right? Beyonder. Autocorrect keeps trying to change that to “be yonder” which is pretty deep, actually, and makes me wonder if Madeleine L’Engle is helping to write this post. She always did rethink words like that. Except I think she started with real words, not made up ones. Whatever.

Although I bet if Madeleine L’Engle was helping to write this post, it would have been a lot less disjointed. And also maybe had a proper ending. Thanks a lot, Madeleine L’Engle.

Golden Rotten Eggs

13 11 2011

golden rotten eggs

Originally they were called Goldenrod Eggs, but my aunt, as a little girl, misunderstood and her version stuck. Because it’s more awesome.

Last week we had a special night in my mom’s name. I can’t really say a funeral, and it didn’t feel like a memorial either, and it was just as much a chance for those who’ve worked so hard on her house to get together and relax as it was a chance to remember her. So I don’t know what to call it, really.

Let me back up a bit. Mom’s house is pretty much done. Wanna see before and afters? Of course you do!

Her bedroom:



The spare room:

the spare bedroom

master bedroom all shiny and gorgeous

You can see the whole set here.

And so we’re done.

I invited those friends (including my aunt) over for dinner last week during Dias de los Muertos. Er. Two weeks ago? This post has been in draft form for a looong time. Anyway, they came for a dinner in honor of my mother, and in honor of all the work we have done together.

Because Dia de los Muertos (and Samhain) is about family and ancestors, I chose to serve an old family recipe. I also chose to serve it because I rarely cook for people willing to eat it. For some reason, the people I’ve lived with since moving out of my mom’s home when I was 20 have not been big fans of eggs. This is sad for me, but I usually feast on Golden Rotten Eggs every year after Ostara since even kids who won’t eat them must dye hard boiled eggs. After-Ostara is one of the happiest food times of the year for me.

Golden Rotten Eggs, How To Make Them:
1. Make a white sauce. I’ll let you Google this because the fact of the matter is that I have a head cold and it’s simple enough to make, but complex enough that I don’t feel like trying to explain it. I will, however, say that I recommend actually measuring things out b/c I tried eyeballing the milk and made it too thin (I will never ever ever learn to follow my own advice. Never). Gluten-free people: Just sub your usual GF mix, it works just as well in my experience. In fact, I made the entire white sauce using all substituted ingredients since I can’t have the butter or cow milk.
2. Cut the hard boiled eggs, setting the yolks aside and chopping the whites up.
3. Mix the whites in the white sauce.
4. Pour the white sauce mixture over toast. You can dry-grill toast on the stove if your toaster oven gets broken and then stolen like mine did.
my toaster oven got broken and then stolen so I toasted bread on the stove
5. This is the fun bit: Put the hard boiled yolks in a strainer and mash them through onto the top of the rest of it. This part, apparently, looks like the goldenrod flower, but I never even knew this until I was 28 so it’s not necessary to know to enjoy the food. In any case, the food definitely does not resemble the Golden Rotten. I guess, unless you don’t like eggs, like all those people I live with.
and then you smash the yolks through the strainer


We set up an altar for our passed-away loved ones, and after dinner we sat around and talked. We talked about my mom, what to do with her ashes (sand art, perhaps?) (it’s a joke. mostly), other family members we’d lost, and sexy big bird costumes (naturally). At the end of the evening, my aunt asked if it had brought the closure I was seeking. And while she quickly retracted it, knowing it may be too early to know, I’m glad she asked because, funny enough, it did. Even though it wasn’t a true funeral, and wasn’t focused solely on my mother and her memory, it really did click something in my brain or heart that changed things, subtly but truly. The emotional work isn’t over, but since that night I’ve been working with a simpler, more pure form of grief than I had previously.

After everyone left, I neatly piled all the dishes in the sink to wait until the morning, and I climbed into bed, emotionally spent and happy. With loads of leftovers to feel me all week long.

I’m doing Science and I’m still alive.

10 10 2011

I’m not actually doing Science. Or maybe I am. Depends on how Scientific you want to get about Science. POINT being that I haven’t properly updated or even written anything here for you as evidence of my Science-doing or lack thereof. Here is an update. I am definitely still alive.

My numbness has mostly dissipated and somewhat evolved. In that instead of feeling numb, my eye feels twitchy. And instead of my hands being confusingly wholly numb, now it’s more of a carpal tunnel thing. Which is way less alarming. But still bizarre in its origins. The rest of it is either gone or so mild I can’t tell if it’s there. Which is, of course, where it began so I don’t feel out of the woods by any means.

Backing up to that week. It never totally went away for days. The Thursday after I’d been seen in urgent care, I had another moment of strong numbness while in the library with the kids and I spent an embarassing amount of time in the bathroom smiling at myself to see if both sides worked. (They did, but turns out my smile is somewhat uneven. Discovering that while wondering if you are having a stroke is… interesting.) But it passed and I went through my day as I did the rest of the week: feeling fragile, but going through the motions and living life.

And then that night, somewhere just before dawn I think, I had a thought. I’d often heard people say that body parts in discord relate directly to psychological discord. For instance, a sore throat means you aren’t speaking up about something. So I tried to relate my numbness with a psychological issue and – BOOM – I was already quite aware that I was putting certain aspects of my grieving on the back burner. I had made the conscious choice to stay numb.

There were a lot of reasons, some sound crazier than others. Part of it was time. Part of it was the fear of having to cry, feel sad or angry, to make all that hurt raw again. Part of it was that, after she died, I felt her Spirit and her Crazy were released into the atmosphere and I was terrified to invoke her and risk imbibing some of her Crazy. I was afraid to become her.

The same night I had this thought, my aunt had one with the same intent. Totally separate instances.

The following day was the first day my numbness got much better. (Although, as I type this out, I feel it more strongly right now. Which either means that I am totally right or totally wrong. The Universe is sometimes unclear with her messages.)

So I have spent time nearly daily working hard on grieving. I tried journalling and only learned that I’m afraid to move forward. And then, a few days later, I had another thought come to me in the night: to write my mom a letter. It seems really completely obvious to say it like this, but you have to understand that this was a part of my mom’s Crazy – the letter writing. She always had at least one 20-page letter active to someone or several someones about how they’d wronged her. We found probably over ten boxes of papers, many of them were notes or letters. TEN BOXES. So I didn’t even consider it for a long time because of Invoking the Crazy. And then that night I remembered: Embrace the goodness of mom to heal from her badness. Do not be afraid to channel her. Write her a letter. It’s a good idea. And so I did. And then I read it aloud to her. (Because that’s not crazy at all.) Immediately I felt lighter.

I learned two things from writing that letter. First that I always made her a part of my life as much as I could. I always talked to the kids about her. “This was my mom’s favorite song.” “My mom taught me that, she was a smart lady.” Having read all my mom’s notes this summer I had allowed her to trick me into thinking my kids knew nothing about her. And I realize that she wanted more. I did what I could for her, too. I sent her pictures, videos, allowed her to read the homeschooling blog so she’d know what we were up to. But recently I realized something else: I saved my kids from so many scary experiences with her. It’s impossible to remember all the things that never happened, but considering the times she did break through my wall into my life in the last six or eight years, my kids wound up scared because of her Crazy.

The second thing I learned was that the wall I built, the one made to protect me, was built of all the bad things, and it hid the good things from me. All these years I’ve tried so hard to remember the good things because I wanted to be balanced, and it turns out, I carefully hid those good things from myself so that I could live safely and sanely. I gave up all the good parts of my mom. And now I don’t know how to find them. I love my mom. When I got that phone call that day back in July, I started bawling before I hung up and didn’t stop for about 12 hours, and then only to go about my day as needed. I fell into the dark for a good month or more. I love my mom. But I am having a hard time finding love for her now. Isn’t it strange how emotions work? I can have directly conflicting ones raging inside me at once. I love her, but I can’t remember how to love her.

When I mentioned this physiological-psychological connection to my acupuncturist, she suggested reading Louise Hay’s book on the subject. And then the Universe was all, “Yeah! What she said! That’s a great idea! Here, let me make it easy for you.” Browsing books on sale on the Nook, I found it for a couple bucks. I opened it up last night and read the descriptions of my current issues:

Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome: Anger and frustration at life’s seeming injustices. (Note that I recently made a category for this blog called “2011 is a Fucking Motherfucker”)

Face: Represents what we show the world.

Numbness: Withholding love and consideration.

Fairly insightful, I think.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m trying to catch up on work, on homeschooling, on handling my mother’s affairs. So when it comes to writing, it’s mostly deep, dark shit that I need to spew privately. Which may or may not be Science. But I am definitely still alive.