The Crazy Train

I need to find some way of unclogging words. Words used to flow from my fingertips. No longer. I sit down to write and nothing comes out. Oh, I have ideas, but I don’t have the time to write them. I’m too over-scheduled with nothing. It’s all like yesterday, driving and driving. I drive to work, then drive to here to get a check, then drive to the bank, then drive back here, then drive to the pool, then drive here, then drive to the ice skating rink, and anytime I stop here in the middle I collapse on my bed. My poor children. They’re only going to know me horizontally.

My mom had a stroke on Sunday. Such a weird thing to have happen. Not so much I suppose, but I spent 2 days saying the words out loud to try and make them sink in. Really? She had a stroke? My mom is officially old. It sneaks up on you, this aging thing.

The stroke has brought enormous stresses because my parents are dysfunctional in the extreme, particularly my step-father. He brings criminals and misfits home to live with them because of some delusional, misguided fantasy of recreating his delusional, misguided childhood. He does not ask my mother. He is like an addict in his behavior, filling up on drama. He used to drink, but quit during my teens, trading the booze for chaos. I will get drunk on that instead, his mind seems to say.

My mother is the long-suffering wife who is not asked permission and does not insist on it. She has stayed in this misbegotten union, the first excuse being that she stayed for the sake of my brother when he was growing up, the second being that she did not want to give up their beautiful land. Neither is a valid excuse or a real one. Both are destroyed as a result of this hapless pairing. No two people are more ill-suited to one another than these two and together only bad things happen.

These two people (ages 68 and 69) are also raising my brother’s child, a 6 year old girl, taken from her drug addict, ex-con mother after she was abused violently as a toddler while my brother was in prison. My niece is better off with my parents than she would be with her mother, but that is not saying much. They are too old and neither has strong parenting skills. Even without the crazy criminal running around, I have been gunning in the background for a change for her. I think the best option at this point is for her to live with my sister. My sister may be a fundamentalist Christian who raises her children to smile even when they feel sad, but this is far preferable to the situation the child is in now.

My parents live on a farm. They have cows. A month and a half ago, a cow who was protecting her calf gored my step-father in the stomach. (Yes, cows have horns. It seems to be the first thing everyone says, that they thought only bulls had horns.) It was the most bizarre situation. The horn did not break the skin, not one bit. Yet after the goring, there was clearly damage. He was taken to the hospital where exploratory surgery revealed that the horn had split the muscles lining his gut like a scalpel. The 8 inch slice went clear through, and his intestines were poking out. Yet the skin was fully intact. The doctors had never seen anything like it. They cut the skin open, poked the intestines back in, and sewed him back up. The point of this story, here in the middle of all this other chaos? The cow has chased my father again. She is dangerous, pure and simple.

And finally, the latest ex-con, drug addict my step-father dragged home has been stealing from them and has threatened their safety. My dad has been parking his car at the end of their driveway (the fabled driveway I walked down as a child in rain or snow or sleet), sleeping in it with a gun to protect his precious stuff from the lunatic. I have to wonder whether the label has not been comprehensively applied.

Toss into this salad of insanity a stroke. I have little doubt the stroke was induced by the stress of bull goring, the out-of-control 6 year old, and the crazy criminal drug addict causing all sorts of drama and disharmony.

Tests revealed that my mother’s carotid artery was filled with plaque. For as long as I can remember, my mother has worried about her cholesterol. She is one of those people for whom eating is a chore because she is counting calories and examining labels and worrying and fretting over this cholesterol level. It always seemed to me if she would just eat actual food, stuff that grew out of the ground or walked on the earth, and then tossed in a bit of exercise, she would be fine. But it hasn’t been as simple as that for my mom. She still eats things that have an ingredients list, always tries to fit in substitutes for real food, and does not exercise at all.

Because of the plaque, Mom’s brain has not been getting enough oxygen, which explains her increasing confusion. Because of the stroke, she got surgery to remove this plaque, and will get medicine to keep it at bay. Her brain is now filled with the blood it was so desperately lacking. The doctors can’t do anything about the enormous stress, however. That change is up to her. And us, I imagine.

At the hospital the day before surgery, my sister and I staged an intervention of sorts. We brought in hospital staff to help us explain to my mother that she and our niece are are first priority and that neither can go back to the insanity that has been their life. It cannot happen.  There is too much risk, the obviousness of which cannot be overstated.

Someone asked me the other day if I date. I laughed. Right. When? When would that happen? And who? If I had time, which I don’t. If I had interest, which I don’t. And I would be almost embarrassed to have to explain my family to a normal person. I do not participate much in the drama train. I moved away a looong time ago. I get most of my information about these situations second-hand. Whenever I visit, it’s enough to keep me away for months again at a time. It frightens me. It frustrates me. I don’t want my children exposed to it. My children have such a different experience than I had that they are confused by the chaos there. I have not been able to change it; that’s their job. Growing up, I was the black sheep Cassandra who spoke out against it and was punished for it. I’ve come to terms with this, grieved it, accepted it, forgiven it, and moved on. How else could I ensure that I did not pass the insanity on to my own children? I decided long ago, long before a child should ever have to make such a decision, that my children would experience a different reality.

Yet here it is again, the crazy train. I guess I’m glad that I don’t bring my own emotional upheaval to the mix in trying to deal with it. If I were still angry, if I had not worked through all those old feelings, I don’t know how I would have reacted to all this. But it’s weird. Every time we think we’ve escaped, it seeps back into our lives. You can never completely get away.

This is why the words don’t come. My attention is directed in too many directions. I have so little time. I only managed this because I can’t sleep in the light, even if it’s light peeking around light-blocking shades, and I can’t sleep after I have risen, even if it’s at 5:34 a.m. My bladder wakes up with the sun and forces me out of bed, and I can’t go back to sleep. So today I got up, picked up the computer, and wrote this. Sleep would have been more satisfying for me, but oh well. Maybe someday life will free itself and the words will come again. I genuinely hope so.

Black and White and Grey all Over

So the lady who wrote me about the girl who was mean to me in junior high and I had a little chat via email over a few days. I actually enjoyed chatting with her. She seems nice. Anyway, I kept thinking about that time in my life, maybe because my brother is living with me for the time being and I think about childhood, I don’t know. One thing I have thought a lot about was what kind of a kid I was back then, especially from about age 12 to age 14. Looking back, I still don’t think I like who I was. I know there are all these self-help growth books blah blah blah that tell us to go back and love our inner child and embrace that kid who felt so rotten about herself.

Whatever. I don’t mean to be dismissive when a person needs that, but for me, what a load of crap. I could perhaps feel some compassion for the kid who was picked on and whose stepfather had turned out to be mean instead of loving and possibly even for the big dork that I was as I tried to navigate through junior high, hormones, and popularity. But in some ways I was exactly like the mean girls, just trying to survive. Funny what humans will do when they think it will buy them some control.

I watch movies like Mean Girls, where the main characters come to the realization that they are selfish and shitty and shallow, and it’s great that this is how it comes to be for them. But in my life, I was not as enlightened. I decided not to be friends with Sandra Gordon based solely on the fact that the other girls I wanted to be friends with termed her a “scumbag.” I purposely pulled away from her for no other reason than that. I wanted to be included with more popular people and if that meant dumping Sandra, then I did it, even while the even more popular girls were picking on me.

And later I stopped being friends with Dee Roberts for the simple reason that I heard others thought we were gay, and I did not want anyone to think that. So stupid. So shallow. It was years before I grew any sort of personal backbone, years before I quit giving a shit what other people think and standing on my own. Luckily Dee and I have some friends in common so as adults we were able to reconnect.

I look back now and am amazed at my ability to cut my friendships off with such precision. Perhaps we would have grown apart anyway, but I will never know that because when I decided that I was not going to be friends with someone anymore, that was the end of the friendship. Thinking on it now, maybe some of that ability was just the age. I had friends who cut me off with the same sharp capacity when they saw me as a hindrance to their own popularity. Friends one minute, not friends the next.

I followed my friends Rae and Wendy around like a puppy, begging them to love me. Especially Rae. She was my best friend, in my eyes, but I wasn’t hers. I was there for her, but she wanted Shawna Peterson. And at some point Shawna Peterson decided that she hated me. So if Rae was hanging out with Shawna then she was not hanging out with me.  I guess I can hardly blame her.  In eighth grade all my friends had braces.  I had perfectly straight teeth.  So one day I wore tin foil to school.  I told Rae the dentist made me do it.  Seriously.  I did this.  Is it any wonder few people wanted me near them?

Rae never openly told me not to let anyone know I was her friend, but she did not hang out with me at school. I hung out with Sandra Gordon until Rae and Wendy told me I shouldn’t, then I didn’t hang out with anyone. Those years in junior high were utterly hopeless, utterly miserable. Then I went home and life there sucked too.

I wonder where the kids with a backbone get the backbone. In movies, the left out child that the others bully comes back with a vengeance, kicking ass and proving their inner strength. Often the bullies realize that they don’t have to be so mean either. In my real life, I did not have any such inner strength. I hated myself. I think I believed them.

Occasionally I would stand up for myself, but I was fucking scared to death of it. One time on the bus, a torture chamber if there ever was one, these girls put gum in my hair. They were perfect. They had perfect clothes, perfect hair, perfect makeup. And they hated my guts, just because I wore the wrong clothes, the wrong hair, wore no makeup, and probably looked like I was waiting to be kicked. I told the bus driver. She told me to put gum in their hair the next day. I waited, planning to do so, but scared shitless to actually go through with it. I ended up just putting gum on the pants of the girl who instigated it all. I don’t think she even noticed.

Another time, the bus driver made me get off early and walk to my house. I was pissed. So I hid in the bushes in front of my house and when she drove by, I threw gravel at the bus. She pulled it over, brakes screeching. I hightailed it into the house and hid. My sister Melanie wouldn’t let her in. I think I got written up, but I don’t remember. Funny, that bus driver was a friend and an enemy. Mostly I did not like her. She let a lot happen on the bus that shouldn’t have.

It is also interesting that when I would stand up for myself and not chicken out, I was ruthless, kind of like with cutting off my friends. Where is that? Where does it come from, that ruthlessness? That ability to be so cold? I just don’t know. But I could do it. Maybe it’s that survival instinct, that belief in some control.

The main person able to incur my wrath without fear was Kim Dawson, Melanie’s friend. She hated me and I hated her. I don’t recall why. But she was constantly after me. The first time I fought back, I had gotten on the bus wearing purple cropped pants before they were in fashion. I think I just wore them because I liked them but had outgrown the length. As was typical in those days, I did not have a lot of clothes and my parents would not buy what was in fashion. My mom tried making me some pants like the other girls wore, but it didn’t make me popular. Nothing could have, I don’t think.

Anyway, Kim asked me if I was waiting for a flood. When she went to get off the bus, I stuck my foot out into the bus aisle as she walked by, smearing mud on her pants. She was pissed. She pulled my hair when I got off the bus. I pulled hers. The bus driver pulled us apart. We both got written up.

Then another time, the bus was really crowded. I sat in a seat near the front with a little boy. She was in the seat directly behind me. She leaned forward and made some comment about me and the little boy. I reached back and slapped her in the face. She grabbed my hair. I kept hitting her until she let go of my hair. I think we may have gotten written up then too.

Funny, I was written up three times in junior high, but all three times were so far apart that each time, the principal said since it was the only time I’d been written up, he’d let it go at that. Makes me laugh.

The final time I fought with Kim, I beat the crap out of her. I was twelve years old. She was at our house with my sister. The two were nagging me, picking at me, egging me on. Finally, Kim said something to me that I do not remember now. I jumped her. I sat on her and hit her. Melanie screamed. I finally got up and that was the last time Kim bugged me, but we hated each other to death.

Luckily for me, Rae hated Kim too, so we would order pizzas to her house and make hair appointments for her at salons in town. This was in the days before caller id and all that tracking. We knew her address and phone number so it was easy. Later, she got a boyfriend who was a really big dork, and Rae and Wendy would tease Kim about him. I just joined as a watcher. I loved it because I still hated Kim.

I can’t believe now that I got in hitting fights. Actually, my fights with Kim were the only fights I’ve ever had where hitting was involved. And mine wasn’t one of those situations where I saw open violence at home all the time or anything. Our home was filled with the stealthy kind of violence, like a gaseous poison that oozes through the walls; words laced with hate, looks of vile hatred, screaming matches between parents while children hid in their rooms, doors slammed. Except when I would get hit for doing something, which was somewhat infrequent, we didn’t witness hitting or slapping like some of my friends did. My fighting with Kim came from my own inner capacity to whack someone. I don’t know where she got hers.

Funny, I read back through this and it’s as though I’ve unintentionally continued the same theme that permeates all my posts lately: nothing is black and white, human behavior is mostly directed by an illusion of control or an attempt to garner control. Like I said, it has not been intentional. It just keeps coming up. Maybe there is some deep dark purpose behind this, but more likely it is just that these are central themes in human behavior and I happen to be noticing them in my attempt to reach a point. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve been writing for a hour now and my daughter is irritated at me because she wants to go bike riding and she says I “always write” and she can’t understand it. She wants me to stop and focus on her. So that is what I will do. Maybe I’ll have to show her the scene at the end of the movie Stand By Me where the dad is writing and his son who has obviously been waiting and waiting comes in and asks him when they are finally going to leave and the dad says in a minute. Then the boy turns and tells his friend his dad gets like that when he writes. See Milla? I’m not the only one.