Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Path to Separation is Paved with Separations - PART 1

So here's what happened, the whole sordid history, the posts where I dump everything I'm tired of carrying and tell you how my parents wound up separating in 2005. I'll have to save the story of the 3.5 years between the separation and the divorce for another time, because this will be mammoth enough as it is, and I can only handle so much catharsis honestly.

When my parents met and subsequently married 4 months later, it was 1967. My mom had been a "stewardess" in the parlance of the day, my dad was her passenger. He asked for a pillow and she threw it at him. That's the story anyway. It was against company policy for flight attendants to be married,  so my mom gave up the job and globe-trotting she'd dreamt of and followed my dad to the other coast. Within weeks, if not days, of the wedding none of his family or friends attended, my dad told her their marriage was a mistake. My mom recently told me he was engaged to someone else when he proposed to her. Incredibly, somehow that ring was still around, and somehow, my mother got it in the divorce settlement. She's selling it and that's how that tidbit came to light.

At any rate, I believe my dad was seeing another woman while he was a newlywed in his marriage to my mother. I don't know that it was the same woman he was engaged to. I suspect not. But my parents soon divorced, and my dad remarried shortly thereafter.

Then that marriage ended. And then my parents started seeing each other again.

My mom repeated her cross-country journey and lived with my dad. They remarried each other in 1978, and I was born the following year. It's hard to understand why my mother would have remarried him honestly. She has struggled with depression for most of her life. It doesn't seem to me like something a healthy, secure person would do - remarry the same person after all that. Oh, but just you wait.

It sounds to me like there were many affairs throughout my childhood. A memory that particularly jumps out at me is of a single mom and her teenaged son, who lived across the street from my parents in a duplex my parents owned. This woman was almost a stranger to me, yet for some reason she gave me a pearl necklace. I think she'd gotten it on a recent trip to Hawaii. Uh-huh, okay. I was maybe 8 years old. My mother told me last year this woman didn't pay rent. You understand what I'm saying. And I think my dad picked out that necklace.


In 1992 my parents separated. My dad moved out to our cabin, 80 miles away.  I've blocked out most of that year - I have almost no memories of being 12. What remains is the image of my mother's face looking completely vacant for like, a year; cooking nasty frozen potato chunks and caring for my 2-year-old sister when we'd visit my dad; getting a fur-lined leather coat and a trip to Disney World from him for Christmas; and getting an anonymous letter in the mail containing a picture of my dad and another woman at the Christmas party held by his employer of 14 years. I should have filed that audacious behavior in the top drawer, because I failed to recognize it when I saw it again in 2005.

My parents appeared to reconcile. I won't get into it other than to say I guess there was some sort of epiphany after they had a wordless meeting in which they watched the movie The Prince of Tides. At some point after that, my dad came home a very vocal, and very public, self-professed "changed man."

But within a couple of years, there was another woman with a school-aged son. My dad took me to her house one time; he took her son places because his dad was out of the picture. He was "helping this woman out," being a positive male role model. And I wasn't supposed to tell my mom.

And when we got internet access at home - I hardly need to write it do I? - the idea of deleting histories, clearing caches, private browsing... my dad knew none of that. My little sister was on the computer by then as well, and I was terrified that she was going to have porn pop up. I told my mom. She didn't believe me. I think she thought I planted those sites in the history to encourage her to break up with him for good. Seriously. So almost daily I would come clear all the caches and erase my dad's tracks. You don't want to know what kind of porn your dad likes. You really don't.

And you really don't want him to start parenting you in the most authoritarian way possible during that time either, because you will lose most of your high school years rebelling against something that deserves to be rebelled against, but the life will be sucked out of you from fighting it, so it'll screw you either way.

So being a teenager was really rough. I found temporary escape through my friends and through theater, but when I came home from school I was paralyzed and depressed. My grades fell dramatically. I was put in therapy. I was put on medication. I was told I had Major Depressive Disorder. Later I was labeled Bipolar. I was told the problem was in me. At the worst point, I took 14 pills a day. If you'd like to experience what it feels like to be Bipolar I can tell you what combination of medicines can cause that.

And it was 9 years of that before a psychiatrist looked me in the eye and promised me it was all a lie.

I weaned off my medication in 2003, learned some new coping mechanisms, and have never once questioned that decision. There is nothing wrong with me. Pathologizing kids' experiences of family trauma is so singularly offensive to me that at some point I may have to become a very vocal advocate against it.

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