facing old ideals

In my high school drama class, we had an assignment to create a unique character and then present a 5 minute sketch that would introduce the character to the audience.

One friend wrote the character of a gay man who just found out that he had HIV. The sketch ended with his dazzling high school performance of One Song Glory. After high school, he finally came out of the closet.

Another friend wrote a character of a teenage girl who was popular and pretty but embarrassed about her good grades. In her sketch, she wrote in her diary about her secret love of science class. After high school, she went on to become a veterinarian.

It was a surprisingly honest and revealing project for many of us. Most kids wrote stories of the people they wanted to be, the true selves that were brave enough to do the things they feared.

The character I wrote was a 30 year old cardiovascular surgeon. She was brilliant and beautiful and cold. She didn’t need friends or family. She stayed up all night reading the complete works of Shakespeare and then went to work dazzling people with her skills. (note: no interest in actually saving people’s lives.)  After high school, I went on to do none of these things.

I see now how odd it is that my ideal adult was one who was brave enough to stop trying to eat, sleep or love. In my perfect future, I would have finally succeeded in cutting my dependence on basic human needs. I saw my high school self as flawed because she was hungry (from having no food), she was flawed because she felt lonely (from having no parental affection). She needed to be needed so badly that only someone’s life hanging in the balance, dependent on her as a star surgeon, could fill the void.

These days, in my yoga class the teacher will ask us to set an intention for ourselves. My intention is always “To be free.”. I think it’s always been my intention, I just had a screwed up way of thinking I would achieve that freedom.

In my young brain, my ideal self didn’t eat, love or sleep. I basically thought that I should grow up to be dead.

Today, my ideal self is brave enough to fully embrace the need for food, sleep and love. I want to be free to be human. Free to be alive.

Kermit on a bike

If a tree falls…

If I eat a meal and no one sees, does it really count?

I’m noticing that I have a lot of trouble when I’m alone lately. (not alone in a room, alone in a house.) I struggle to eat, sleep or do things that feel good. It’s like I go into hibernation mode where I don’t have the same basic needs.

It’s like who I am when people are around goes on hold. I go into suspended animation.

This is possibly related to that little girl alone that I mentioned but I’m still not sure that I’m ready to go there…

But I have to dig this up so that I can move on. It’s like a big rotting root stuck in the ground where I’m trying to grow new grass.

Once upon a time, there was an 11 year old girl. Her mom had to go to work in the city during the summer so she stayed home alone at the cottage all day. 3 days a week for 3 weeks.

She ran wild in the neighborhood, playing with friends all day, watching too much TV and eating the dessert her mom left her before eating the lunch that was in the fridge.

It was a glorious time… But, that’s not my story. In my story, the girl didn’t play with any friends (she was scared to go outside), she didn’t watch any tv (there wasn’t one), and there was no lunch in the fridge for her.

She just wandered around the empty living room. She listened to a Sarah Mclachlan cd (Solace). She tweezed hair off her legs. She looked out the window and thought about sitting outside by the lake.  She ate an Oreo and then brushed her teeth. She tried to read a book. She alphabetized the bookshelf. Sometimes she made herself ‘Kraft dinner’ and ate the whole box. Sometimes she’d leave a frozen bagel on the window sill to defrost in the sun and then eat it with cheeze whiz. She played card games like ‘war’ and ‘go fish’ against herself. Sometimes she had a good cry.

At night, her mom would come home and the girl would jump up like a puppy excited to see her. They would swim and play card games with each other and eat a warm dinner. It was wonderful.

But one night her mom had a late meeting in the city so mom planned to spend the night in the city. The girl’s teenage sister was told to be home from her work by 10pm so that the (11 year old) girl wouldn’t be alone all night.  That night, dinner was actually arranged for the girl. She was to go to grandma’s for dinner. And then grandma would take her home to be alone and hope sister returned.

It was 11pm, sister wasn’t home yet. The girl couldn’t sleep. She was scared. Alone. She couldn’t relax to let sleep come. So she dragged her blanket to the couch and sat there trying to be brave. Trying to stay awake. Stay on guard.

Then, a noise. The screen door opened and someone was fidgeting with the door knob. Terrified, the girl tiptoes to the door and stretches up to peak through the peep hole. Relieved to see grandma’s nightgown, she opens the door.  Grandma says she was worried about her on her own (finally) and decided to sleepover. The girl feels loved (?) and safe and goes to sleep.

A bit later, sister comes home and the girl wakes up. Sister was 17 and had been out with her friends. She is angry that Grandma is there and mad at the girl for getting her into trouble for being late.

They’d both been set up to fail that night.

22 years later, I’ve been through so much. I’ve purged so much of that garbage… Why do I still find myself keeping a late night vigil until an adult comes home and gives me peace to stop fighting sleep?

That summer wasn’t the only time I was home alone for too long. It happened that way for a few summers (with a new CD each year). And then, once I was 16 and my parents bought a year-round cottage, they would go up alone on weekends and I was home alone in the winters, in a big house with an empty fridge. I had a tv this time- but it was much more than 8 hours alone.

Those endless days and nights alone… like an unwilling hermit… those days were quiet. I learned to turn off and wait for someone to come home and reanimate me. I try not to think about that time as real. I’ll write about that another time.

At least I had a boyfriend so that I didn’t have to sleep alone on Saturday nights. #thankgodforbirthcontrol

I’m done writing about this for now.

The purpose of this digging of shit I don’t want to look at was to try to figure out why I seem to have so much trouble doing things that are healthy (eating, sleeping) when I’m alone?

It begs the question, “If I eat a meal and no one sees, does it really count?” and maybe the deeper question, “If I sleep and no one is there, do I disappear?

girl in window dali

I realize that sometimes parents have to work and there are no childcare options and they do what they have to do. This was not the case. Here are several other options that could have been arranged instead of me staying alone at the cottage all day:
1. My grandparents’ cottage was three blocks away. They were there all day.
2. My sister was riding her bike to work at a day camp nearby. I could have joined her there.
3. We had several friends who were around during the day. I could have gone there.
4. I could have driven into the city with her and been dropped at any of my friends’ houses for the day.
5. My aunt was around either in the city or at my grandparents’ cottage with her baby. If she’d known I was alone, I probably could have been with her.
Maybe I’m grappling for other options here but I suppose 1 or 2 should have been sufficient.

*Questions: Have you had a similar experience? Was this common? Am I just being overly sensitive? Tell me.

It never really happened

I am about to dive into some murky memories.

These aren’t quite blog posts but they need to be written somewhere. As I start to let them in, I can see them playing out in my head like scenes from a movie. It’s a very weird movie, this movie of my life. So, I will write them here – in whatever incomplete state they come to me. I might use analogies or speak in third person. I might go back and edit or add to certain stories after they have been published (something I don’t do with my blog posts). I don’t know where this will go. But this is part of telling my story.

It’s the story of growing up with a father who had given up on life and a mother who was self-described, “Benevolent Dictator”; and who has never seen any mental health professional but has been diagnosed by her family as suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. She is a narcissist with a masters degree in manipulation.

I hope that telling this story- bringing it out of the dark and facing my own shame at having been a part of this, will allow me to close the book on the past and move forward with the rest of my life.

You marry your father?

They say that you sometimes subconsciously marry a man just like your father. But my husband is warm and loving. He’s not anything like the father I had hiding behind a mustache and a newspaper. So this saying clearly doesn’t apply to me. But maybe it does. There was a gentle and kind man in … Continue reading You marry your father?

The food of love

“We all have positive memories of being fed.”-Michael pollen quote from “cooked” My positive memories of food seem to give me a clue as to my current diet: Here they are: -coming home from summer camp for lunch and having a swim or time alone with my mom and eating Kraft dinner for lunch. I … Continue reading The food of love

to tell the truth

Truth wasn’t ever really a thing for me. It didn’t exist outside of circumstance. The Queen (my mother) would simply decide quickly if she was going to agree with what you were saying (thereby making it the truth) or if she felt like yelling at you (which means you must have lied).  Like the Queen of … Continue reading to tell the truth

guest post: the bear at the door

My sister, Lilac, has asked to share some of her memories here in this space. She hopes that her words will validate mine. But I think that they will serve to illustrate just how different our experiences were in the same madhouse. Maybe they are more similar than I want to think. You decide.  I (Lilac) … Continue reading guest post: the bear at the door

what’s in a name?

My mother never bothered to remember my name. It’s not that she couldn’t remember my name. She could list off her four children (only in order of age). She just didn’t think it was important which name went with my face. As a kid, teenager and adult, my mother would look at me and say “S.J., Zeed, … Continue reading what’s in a name?

the loaded hug

I’ve never told anyone this story. I guess it’s funny or not a big deal, but it’s hard for me to see it in context. When I think of it, I still have the shame of that little four year old girl with the wet underpants. I was in JK. I was four years old. … Continue reading the loaded hug

papa, can you hear me?

Fun fact: The popular tv show The Walking Dead is actually based on my father’s life. That’s not really true. The show is about typical zombies. My father was actually an inverted zombie: dead on the inside, alive on the outside. I will now tell you all the warm fatherly feelings that I can remember: When I was 6, … Continue reading papa, can you hear me?

shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

I want to write about a (not so) funny story that has become part of my family’s narrative. When my sister Lilac was about 9 years old, the family was getting ready for a party and she asked mom to trim her bangs. Her hair was in her eyes and it was bothering her. Mom was irritated by … Continue reading shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

onions make me cry

We got a new stove. I cooked on it for the first time last night. I never cooked anything other than pasta or oatmeal on the old stove. We’ve lived here 6 months. Before that we lived in a condo for 2 years. I can’t recall cooking food on that stove more than maybe 5 … Continue reading onions make me cry

on birthdays and presents

I had about 11 birthdays from the time I was born until I was 11 years old. For my 7th birthday, when I was just starting grade 2, we had a new live-in nanny who started in early September. She was really nice. Her name was Lily and she was from Mexico (I think). Lily … Continue reading on birthdays and presents

cast of characters

Might as well give you a simple reference for the cast of crazy characters that may come up on this journey back in time. Since my family of origin will be figuring prominently here’s a simple tree: Mom – Dad (married 1970) S.J. (eldest sister b.1972) Zeed (brother b.1974) Lilac (sister b.1977) Lyla (me b.1982) It’s a … Continue reading cast of characters

don’t cry, you might worry people

When I was in grade 7, a classmate’s father committed suicide in his car in his garage. A friend called to tell me and I remember my first thought was “o shit, they are going to catch me. They are going to know that I thought it and I will get in trouble now.” I was … Continue reading don’t cry, you might worry people

It never really happened… and it was a long time ago anyway.

I am about to dive into some murky memories. These aren’t quite blog posts but they need to be written somewhere. As I start to let them in, I can see them playing out in my head like scenes from a movie. It’s a very weird movie, this movie of my life. So, I will write … Continue reading It never really happened… and it was a long time ago anyway.

and some more….


A big black box

There’s a blockage. I’m hiding something and I know it.

I don’t want to write. How can I write if I don’t want to hear what I have to say?  I don’t want to pick up the pen or open my heart because I know what is sitting there waiting to come out. I’ve done so much hard work to heal myself but there is one more dusty corner in my heart that’s starting to clog my arteries. I’ve ignored it for long enough. It’s shouting to be heard.

It’s a sad story. I haven’t told this story yet.  I haven’t even told it to myself. It’s a story about a little girl who was always left all alone without any food. She would shut off her body and her mind until someone would come to tell her it was time to raise the curtain and act alive for a bit. Then repeat. It’s my story. (this is hard to admit). I guess it’s my truth.

Those who were there know the basics. I was alone often and didn’t eat much. It’s true. But the shame, the blockage, the days, the part that I’m hiding because it hurts too much. The truth is that the duration and extent of the deprivation was more profound than anyone realized. And if I allowed myself to feel at those times, I would have been consumed by loneliness and hunger. I shut off to survive. And I am ashamed of all of this.

Growing up, I learned a valuable survival lesson that would have been helpful in a concentration camp: Convince yourself that you don’t really need food or love and you will be able to survive the deprivation. The problem was, I didn’t grow up in the war (and neither did my parents or grandparents). I grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood where our bank account was as full as everyone else’s fridge.

There is a lot more to say here but I’m not ready to peel it back right now. These wounds and secrets are buried deep and they are going to bleed when I take them out. So I’ll put the bandaid back on for today and take another quick look tomorrow.

Much love,

xoxo Lyla.

If you fall, I will be there. - floor.