Behind the Scenes

Perhaps I should tell you a little more about myself, just to put some of my more recent posts into perspective.

My parents divorced when I was 11.  I would love to say that I saw it coming, but I didn't, not in a million years.  I have a very distinct memory of walking home from school about a year before, past a house in our neighborhood where, it was said, a woman lived alone with her kids, a "broken" family.   (Gasp!  This was, after all, the 1970s).  "How lucky I am," my 10-year-old self thought, "my parents will never break up."

But they did.  My father went on a training course for six months to Florida where he met another woman; she was 20 or 21 at the time, a precocious medical student; he was 36 or 37, a surgeon and researcher at the top of his career.   We got to go to Disney World when we visited him there that summer.  Three months later, he was home, and my parents called us all into their bedroom. 

"Your mother and I aren't going to be living together any more," he said.  I screamed, "No!" and turned from the room and fled, already in tears.

The next few years are a bit of a blur.  My mother went back to work to finish her residency, we kids hung out at the neighborhood pool, and somehow or other we muddled along without Dad.  Birthdays became an occasion for awkward dinners out at "grown-up" restaurants (Dad always loved a steak), but otherwise Dad was fairly well out of the picture.  He and our now stepmother moved away within a year or so for him to take up a new position (in Reno, no less), and we started keeping Thanksgiving with Dad.  I remember thinking quite vividly to myself around this time (this was the summer before we moved to Texas) how it was actually okay that I only got to see Dad once a year; being a surgeon, he had spent a lot of time on-call and even when he did come home in the evenings, it was late.  "I never really had a father," I told myself.  "Nothing's really changed."

But, of course, it had.  Everything had changed.  What it meant to be loved.  What it meant to feel lovable.  What it meant to believe that everything was going to be okay.   Some things were fun.  Dad invited me along several times when he and my stepmother went skiing at Jackson Hole; there was always Thanksgiving, which, I am happy to report, he and I kept more or less annually until he died.  But there were also long phone calls, particularly when I was living abroad, particularly after our stepmother left him to marry somebody else and raise her own family, particularly after he started drinking and hanging out at, as they say, "gentleman's clubs."  Meanwhile, our mother remarried when I was in college and got divorced again just after my son was born when it turned out my stepfather was also a drinker and not much of a businessman (he's dead now, too). 

Did I mention that I have a problem with feeling loved or feeling good enough to be loved?  Not to mention, with fear of being abandoned?  "Oh, kids bounce back.  Look, you kids turned out fine.  It's not like you were abused.  And your mother took such good care of you, there's nothing actually wrong with what happened to you."  How many times have I heard that in my life?  Well, guess what.  It turns out it's not true.  Fancy that.*

Good thing I finally found myself in therapy, eh?

*It's funny, even as I write this, I can feel the backlash.  "Stop complaining, you're just whining, other kids had it much worse, you're just too needy.   You think you're special just because your parents got divorced?  Everybody's parents got divorced!  You'd be fine if you just snapped out of it.  Stop being such a burden on your mother.  You're just doing this to get attention."  Oh, these demons are strong.


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