Family skeletons

My mom and I have been talking again after about two years of almost complete silence. We’ve been writing letters back and forth, which I think I’ve mentioned. I got a letter from her a few weeks ago saying things I really wanted and needed to hear from her, so our communication has been more open since then. I’m still a little wary, but it’s really good to be honest for the first time maybe ever.

Yesterday I got a letter from her that shocked me. Not the entire thing, but just one part of it. She told me that when he was twelve, my father had a severe stroke.

My father was an emotionally abusive, manipulative, pathological liar. I strongly suspect he had Borderline Personality Disorder (so does my mother) and I’m pretty sure he was also a (literal) psychopath. I say this mostly dispassionately. I suspected his mental illness was at least partly organic (he was a very premature baby in the 1950s; I’m surprised he even survived) and partly environmental. I knew he had a bad childhood, growing up in the middle of a household of eight siblings (out of 18 total) with a father who was also physically and emotionally abusive. I knew he was the black sheep, not that any of the siblings have ever really liked each other. I knew he got picked on by my grandfather.

Then my mother told me that after the stroke, he had to learn to walk and talk again, and all throughout his recovery, his siblings and his own parents tormented him, made fun of him, made life generally difficult for him. There was one story–I vaguely remember this being told, but it was told as a family joke–that the family was on a roadtrip and made a pit stop. He went to the bathroom, and they all decided it would be funny to leave him. When he came out, they were all gone. This was their son and brother who was terribly ill. This was their cruelty.

It is no goddamn wonder that he grew up with a borderline personality.

He abused us, my siblings and me. He was especially awful to my oldest brother. I’ll carry the emotional wounds from his neglect and his emotional barbs and his harshness until I die. But I am filled with sorrow when I think about a poor kid thinking he had been left by the family who hated him for no good reason. It explains so much about my life and the things I witnessed growing up. It explains why we moved halfway across the country away from the whole family. It explains the screaming matches that went on for hours after my grandfather’s funeral and around our visits before my grandmother’s death. It explains why my aunts and uncles on that side made occasional half-assed efforts to contact me and my brother but never talked much to my parents. Nobody ever talked about this, of course.


It also makes my father’s funeral into even more of a circus of absurdity than it already was. I need to write that story just so you can see the brand of crazy I came from. Because they are fucked up people.

I’m not sure how to process this. I still think forgiveness, at least of the type most people encourage, is bullshit that’s made as pre-packaged advice to get someone to shut the fuck up about their pain and get over it already. But since he died, I’ve sought to at least understand him better. I wanted to know what made him the way he was, and what he would have been like if he hadn’t been so patently fucked up. It adds another layer to think that organic brain injury may have had way more to do with his behavior than I had ever thought. It doesn’t excuse anything he did to us, his children, or my mother, his partner, or anybody else he manipulated or abused, but it explains a lot. And it is so, so sad.


Rough times

I’ve had a rough week and a half or so. My Christmas break was great. I relaxed a lot and managed to finish my second novel, The Lost are Like This, along with creating a cover. Unfortunately, after that, life resumed the extremely hectic pace it’s maintained since Fall quarter started in September. I’m teaching two sections of developmental English, which is actually really great so far. I feel fulfilled and satisfied after leaving the classes, which is something I could never say at my previous job. I remember why I stuck with teaching for four and a half years. But I’m also doing a full-time Master’s program in Cultural Studies at night. Either one of those things would occupy a lot of my time, but together they’re sapping 90% of my energy away from editing The Lost are Like This, which is a hot mess still.

I’m remembering that I’m not 22 anymore, unlike when I started my first grad program. I didn’t mind spending 16 hours a day away from home when I needed to, because I didn’t have anything else to do. I managed to write most of my first novel while I was working 3-4 jobs outside of school and finishing my thesis, which is a feat I’m sure I’ll never be able to replicate again. That’s probably a good thing, since I don’t wish that kind of insanity or stress on anyone. Still, it makes me begrudge my weariness at only doing three things. It’s a pretty ridiculous standard to hold myself to. The voice in my head is still all WALK IT OFF YOU CAN HANDLE IT LET’S DO THIS. But the rest of my brain is like


To add to that (because Anxious Brain has to add stress to more stress), body image stuff has been creeping up on me. I found out a few months back that the university’s student healthcare plan covers trans surgeries, so I fully planned on making top surgery happen this coming summer. Then I ended up having to buy a new car when my shitty old one became more of a burden than it was worth, leaving me unable to pay the premium for the student health insurance. Thankfully I’m covered by Medicaid, which I’m grateful for, but it explicitly does not cover any trans-related surgeries. 

I’ve been uninsured for a long time now, so ironically I haven’t been at the mercy of the healthcare system as much as I am now. It’s hard to be beholden to something you just plain can’t gain access to. I’m glad for the access (thanks Obama!) but now I’m experiencing first-hand how completely fucked it is. Part of it, too, is the fact that in the past couple of years 1) mental illness and 2) gender dysphoria have made themselves explicitly clear to me, so I require more care than I ever have before.

I feel very much at the mercy of a lot of different things. The healthcare system, my schedule, finances, my own body and mind. It’s overwhelming. Yesterday I had a bit of a breakdown, and when that happens I can’t sort anything out. I lost basically an entire day of coherent thought to scattershot worries and depression and frustration and disgust with my current state of being. I know those days happen, and I’m doing better today, but tired in the wake of it. I’m trying not to think of how many damn things I have to do in the next week and reminding myself that the beginning of the quarter is always like this. I hate my life for the first week or so and then I find a rhythm. The nagging worries about the book and my ability to succeed in my classes remain, but at least I know from experience that I’m able to cope with the worry.

This is a kind of perspective I couldn’t have had years ago. Life dragged me through some serious shit, I broke down and had to build myself back up again. I know I’m stronger and more capable because of it as a whole. I’ll deal, even when it gets exhausting.