My stepmother killed herself when I was 13, on a night when I retreated to bury myself in The Wizard of Oz to avoid the fighting that led up to it. After that, I was the person in charge of the house, in charge of raising my sisters, in charge of my own life.
I’ve come to the conclusion that 13 is much too young to do that.
I mean, sure I did it. I cooked the meals and cleaned the house. I made sure my sisters were in by curfew (before I went off to college) and that they had clean clothes for school every day. I inspired myself, because my single father chose to drown his sorrows in bourbon and spend his nights at a local bar playing “resident psychologist” so he could feel like he had friends. At the time, I felt like I was doing a pretty good job. My dad paid me $10 a week (hey, it was 1970) and I thought I had things all right. Even when I had to skip some of my friend’s events to take care of kids. Even when I didn’t get to make trips my friends did. Even when I never had a real boyfriend all through high school.
But looking back after my third failed marriage, I think I didn’t have a handle on things. Without loving, adult guidance through those stressful teenage years, I didn’t learn how to relate well to a partner. Everything was just, “Get through the day and make sure you’re not losing any loose ends.” I’m good at that. Perhaps a bit of a control freak, even. So I’ve been told by every man who’s left me. Hard to deny it, I guess.
When you grow up having to mother everything in sight, I suppose that takes a swipe at your ability to choose a good partner who will be strong enough to help you, or Heaven forbid, actually take care of you. I’m sure the psychologists would say that I was drawn to men who needed to be taken care of instead. Well, that certainly played itself out. Bottom line is I find myself older, damaged, and alone.
It’s pretty sad some days when the only empathy I get is from my dear autistic daughter, who struggles so hard with her own understanding of others’ inner lives.
Now that I’m spending days being introspective, I wonder if my flawed upbringing ruined my sisters’ chances for happiness. (Not that I carry all the blame for that–it’s a parental issue, but I still feel responsible.) Can I have demonstrated enough of a lesson for my daughters even to see, to incorporate in their own lives? I hope they’ve learned somehow, even just by cherry-picking the past for clues. Here it is, 40 years later, and I don’t know if I’ve learned anything myself, other than to get through each day and desperately chase the loose ends that seem to multiply the older I get. No matter what I’ve achieved–and I’ve met many of my life goals–I still feel like I’m that kid trying to juggle so many adult issues armed with a spatula and an old pair of Keds.
When do you finally feel like you’re good enough?