About ten years ago (gosh, really? Has it been that long?) I wrote a novel called Learning to Stay. It was never published. After about 7 agents rejected it, I, uh,
locked myself in the bathroom and cried for four days sort of gave up on it. So I have a fragile ego, sue me. (This was before self-publishing became in vogue or this little tale might have had a different, but equally unsatisfying, ending.)
Actually it was more than the rejections. I knew in my heart the book wasn’t ready and I didn’t want the first thing I ever published to be something I’d look back on with embarrassment, like my first real kiss or that time I was having breakfast with Stan’s family and simultaneously exposing myself where three buttons of my flannel nightgown had come undone.
So, where was I? Oh, right. The novel needed major revisions–somewhere along the line I lost control of it and what was supposed to be a secondary storyline hijacked my original plot. (Words can be so hard to corral, they are like wild beasts, well at least mine are, always going off on their own, traipsing off path, chasing down rabbit holes. See, there they go again.)
My original plot, in a nutshell:
When her husband develops OCD, Kali learns in puppy kindergarten everything she needs to know in order to save her marriage.
I really loved my storyline. I still do. If you’ve never been to puppy kindergarten, you should go. Like right now. Whether you have a dog or not. You learn all kinds of life skills in puppy kindergarten (a.k.a. obedience school) that not only work on your four-legged friends, but also your two-legged ones. My novel had everything: humor, gut-wrenching OCD drama, a spunky heroine, romance, and puppies. (And a secondary plot sucking the life out of the primary one, but then I digress.) So I hired a writing coach to help fix it.
Here’s what my writing coach said. “No one wants to read a book about mental illness.” And I’m not paraphrasing. Those were her exact words. And I paid her to tell me this. She also said “Nobody in this day and age cares whether a couple gets divorced” but it was the first thing she said that bugged me the most.
Fast forward to today. What are the romantic themes making the big bucks at the theaters? Vampires, zombies, and mental illness. I’m not kidding. Twilight, Warm Bodies, and Silver Linings Playbook. So pbttttttttttt to my writing coach. You couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook, I highly recommend it. Realistic to the point of making you uncomfortable–I kept squirming in my seat and glancing over at Stan to see how he was digesting it–there are explosive scenes in public places. Yep, been there and done that. There is bonding over medication history. There is refusal to take medications and delusional thinking. There’s the genetic link. There’s the awkward friend interactions and family who are out of their depth. There is the horrible out-of-character things one does when not in one’s right mind that the whole community remembers and keeps throwing in one’s face. I know I’m not really selling it here but I so appreciate the honesty of the movie. And you feel for these characters. It puts a human face on mental illness. These aren’t crazies. These are real people struggling with the cards they’ve been dealt, making a mess of it, and still finding, yes, a silver lining.
So I might just have to dust off my old novel and wrestle that secondary storyline to its knees. Maybe I was just ahead of my time.
Corporate America is a strange and bewildering place. Like working in a galaxy far, far away only you’re the one who’s the alien. Every company has its own cultural nuances and these can be difficult to navigate without a guide. Hence the whole corporate mentoring craze.
Clearly, the only one responsible for my career is me. The Peter Principle states we will all eventually be promoted to the level of our own incompetence. I don’t think I’m there yet but I still have a massive headache from banging my head against the glass ceiling. I’m not good at getting ahead but I am good at what I do. I’ve won awards 3 years in a row. The company, however, does not recognize me as “talent.” It’s not like I have goals to be President or CEO. I’m not the kind of person who lives to work. Instead I work to live and I want to live comfortably. And retire early. So even though I’m not particularly driven, I’d like to at least reach my full potential. I’ve got more to offer–why can’t the company see that?
I’ve suspected for some time now that I’ve been labeled but I can’t quite figure out what exactly is keeping me from progressing. It continues to elude me. So a few weeks ago I asked my coworker, let’s call him Matt, who’s acting as an informal mentor to me. “I think maybe I’m too honest,” I said. “I’ve been told repeatedly that I can be a bit harsh.”
“Nope,” Matt said. “That’s not it. It’s two things. First, you’re too emotional. You can’t let anyone see how you really feel. And second, it’s your family. You’ve probably shared what’s going on with your sister with your manager, right?”
“Well, there you have it. You can’t get ahead if people perceive you don’t have your personal life under control.”
“But everyone has family stuff. Look at R. His father has Alzheimer’s and he’s shared that with the entire department.”
“Yes, but think about what he says. It’s always ‘the medications are working and slowing progression. The family is dealing with it.’ With you, everything with your sister is unpredictable. She’s doing well. She’s not doing well. You’re overwhelmed. You’re uncertain. There’s always an emergency. Things are definitely NOT under control.”
I did not argue with him. He may be right. But if he is, I guess I’m stuck. I’m not an actress. I can’t be something I’m not. Life is sometimes hard; I can’t pretend it isn’t. If that means I’m not “leader” material, so be it.
Well played, glass ceiling, well played.
My father has lung cancer. Neither of my parents are talking to me about it. What I hear trickles down from conversations between Mom and Jerri. I have no idea what the truth is since history has shown my mother to be an untrustworthy source of information and Jerri doesn’t understand much of what Mom says. At first, Jerri said it was stage 1 which meant the cancer had been caught in the earliest phase, consisted of a single tumor in one lung that could likely be removed with surgery, and my dad would have a 60-80% 5-year survival rate. Now Jerri says it is stage 4 which is the last phase and indicates the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. About 40% of lung cancer patients are already stage 4 when diagnosed. Average life expectancy following diagnosis is about 8 months and less than 10% survive for 5 years. What a difference one little number makes.
My parents called our other relatives to tell them of Dad’s cancer. They did not call me. Having
NOT notified me, Mom still managed to be shocked that I hadn’t called Dad to express condolences. She told Jerri I would be sorry after Dad is gone. Sadly, it feels like she is almost looking forward to the day so she will have one more weapon in her arsenal to weld against me. “Your father was dying from cancer and you didn’t even visit him. You never even called!”
I emailed my parents the following:
It’s unreasonable to expect me to respond to news I receive third-hand—you don’t even know for sure that I’ve received it–so please know that in the future, I will only respond to news that comes from you. For example, if Dad is in the hospital and you or Dad don’t tell me, I will assume you don’t want me to know and you don’t want me to visit. Please don’t use Jerri to communicate information to me or to gather information about me. If there is something you’d like to share or know, you can call or email at anytime.
Terri, I assumed that you did not want ANY CONTACT WITH US AS IT HAS BEEN YEARS SINCE YOU HAVE.
What is interesting in this response is I have never, not once, told them I don’t want contact. I just stopped initiating contact myself. They interpreted that to mean we were no longer speaking. They have never, not once, acknowledged that it takes two parties to “not speak.” They have informed our relatives that “Terri is no longer speaking to us.” They failed to inform the relatives that they are no longer speaking to me. They accept no responsibility in any of this which demonstrates that all along the responsibility for our relationship has been mine and mine alone. I suppose I’ve always known this. It is why, after the fallout, I stopped calling them. I needed to validate my theory. And now I have.
Is this twisted or is it just me? Please, somebody, some objectivity!
As the Trophydaughter in this family, there is immense pressure for me to step up now and “do the right thing” which is presumably forget all the pain they’ve inflicted on all of us (Jerri, her children, and me), the coercive scheming that has gone into making me an accomplice in their sins against Jerri, their vindictive attempts to punish and lasso me back into their dysfunctional world, their slanderous propaganda about me to the family, set all that aside and be a good daughter to my dying Dad. Whatever that means.
My friends have counseled me to imagine how I will feel after his death. To do what I need to do in order not to have any regrets. Honestly, I don’t even know how to process that. It’s almost impossible to explain to someone who has an actual relationship with a father who participates in their life the enormity of the dysfunction that is ours and how it so skews the normal, expected human response that even the laws of physics seem not to apply.
Will I regret not having spent time with him over the past 6 years? The truth is even if this rift didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have spent time with him. Whenever I was with family, I had to spend all my time with Mom or else she would pout, cry, get jealous, get angry, get moody, and generally become unbearable. Perhaps in Dad’s mind, keeping Mom happy was equivalent to spending time with him. I can tell you, in my mind, it is not.
Will I regret not talking with him? The truth is even when we’re communicating, we’re not actually talking. He talks to Mom and she tells me. When I heard of Dad’s diagnosis, I texted him (don’t judge, it was the best I could muster under the circumstances) that I was very sad to hear it and even sadder he hadn’t told me himself. He did not respond. He did not text back. He simply showed the text to Mom according to Jerri. In her email, Mom wrote, “Your Dad and I have been married 53 years this April and your attitude toward me has hurt him as much as me.” Really? I guess I’ll just have to take her word for it. As I have my entire life.
When I’ve tried to force the issue and talk to Dad directly, it has not gone well. The last real conversation we had was about their decision not to allow Jerri to stay at their house a few days after her release from the hospital following her colostomy. Her surgeon did not want her to be alone given the possibility of complications such as a clot. He asked my parents if she could stay with them for 2-3 days and they said no. She had no one else to stay with in town. Jerri called, crying hysterically, “I just want to go home. I’ve been here for 2 weeks and I just want to go home. They won’t let me leave unless someone commits to staying with me. And Mom and Dad won’t do it. They say I can’t stay with them.” She was living about 100 miles from me at the time but only about 7 miles from our parents. I called Dad and challenged him. He said, “It was a family decision.” I know it was not. Left up to Dad, he would have said yes. He went along with Mom because if he hadn’t, she would have made his life miserable. I said, “I can’t believe you won’t take care of your own daughter. For 2 days, Dad. Two measly days!” He said nothing. “Don’t you even care what happens to her? The doctor doesn’t want her alone because if something went wrong, she could die!” He said nothing. “Don’t you know that one day you will have to give an account for your actions to God?” He said nothing. “Fine. Don’t you worry about Jerri then. I’ll take care of Jerri.” He said, “Are you finished?” and hung up.
You may think me heartless. I am not. I am deeply saddened that Dad is now at the end of this life. But I don’t believe death is the ultimate end, just the opposite, I believe it is the ultimate beginning.
When I think about regrets, I think mostly of things out of my control. Like Dad’s seeming inability to have a relationship with me that doesn’t go through Mom. There are some things I’d like to say to him but I can’t decide which I will regret more: saying them or leaving them unsaid.
So this is how 2013 begins. Taking into consideration the family drama and the fact that right before Christmas I fell over one of our dogs while running and slid on the asphalt on my face, you’ll understand why its been a few weeks since you’ve heard from me.