I’ve spent most of the past few days working intensely on my NaNoWriMo “novel.” It is going to be much, much longer than the 50,000-word goal I set for myself. I initially planned to write a memoirs in the vein of this blog, cataloging the past several years of my life and events that led to me losing pretty much everything. But it’s not about that at all. I haven’t even touched on that. I’ve written a fair amount about my bizarre upbringing, childhood bullies, the beginnings of my health problems, my mother’s illnesses, and her drastic change in personality after years of emotional abuse and physical disability. My NaNo profile is linked to in the right sidebar; just click on my Rebel badge. If you’re doing NaNo, you should be my writing buddy. I should hit 16,000 words before I go to bed tonight.
Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death, by the way. I’m trying to ignore it. Last year, I was quite sad because it was also election day, and she had only become an American citizen about three years before her death, and I remember helping her vote and how excited she was about getting to vote in the States for the first time.
I joined a small writing group for motivation to finish my book. The more I write, the more I’m terrified of having anyone I know read it. I’m realizing a number of things: my father is mentally ill. Very seriously mentally ill. I suspected this, but I never thought about it much. Every once in a while someone will say something, usually about someone they suspect to be mentally ill, and I will have a glimmer of a memory but I squelch it. As I write down the details of incidents that occurred in my household, I have to face them and admit what was going on. I have heard through only semi-reliable sources that two of my father’s siblings and his nephew (my cousin) were diagnosed with schizophrenia. That cousin lived with us briefly when I was about four years old (he was about 15) and there was definitely something wrong with him. He kept removing the batteries in my battery-operated toys and putting them in backwards. He told me repeatedly “This is the right way to put the batteries in” and would act bewildered when I told him he was wrong. If it was a joke, it went on a really long time, because he stayed with us at least a month, and this happened almost every day. He would sneak into my room while I was at preschool and move all my batteries around. That’s my only memory of him. He used a lot of cocaine and was in an institution for a long time and for all I know he still is. In addition to the two siblings that are rumored to be schizophrenic, another one of my father’s siblings changed her name and fled to South America. She abandoned her children and no one knows what became of her. Except for my cousin, these were all deceptively functional people: a doctor, a dentist, a real estate mogul.
My father’s mental illness doesn’t make him less of an abusive prick. I cut all ties with him over seven years ago. There is nothing that could go wrong in my life that he wouldn’t make abysmally worse.
So, the memories are flooding back and I wonder how I turned out semi-reasonable. I also have many of my high school journals (though I destroyed the ones I wrote before age 15) and it’s quite appalling the number of times I was punished for reacting logically to his bad behavior. A lot of this has altered the way I react to social situations and professional situations, the way I interact with strangers, and the ways that men scare me make me nervous.
I am rereading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, which is part of my inspiration. I read it for the first time when I was about 18. It is the memoirs of a woman who had a rare form of cancer as a child and the surgery she had as a result left her disfigured. Lucy Grealy died of a heroin overdose in 2002. While I did not have cancer as a child, I had other illnesses that altered my appearance and I went through many of the same experiences. Some of her experiences are so similar to mine that it drains me to read. I was so engrossed in the book last night that I missed my bus stop on the way home from my writer’s group. Unfortunately, that also meant that I missed the last bus, so I could not transfer and had to walk over two miles through the ghetto, doing my best to ignore all the guys who called me “Shawty” and tried to chat me up. Two miles in my uncomfortable shoes with the soles half-off. It took me over an hour because a lot it was uphill, my shoes are in disrepair, and I have very short legs.
But enough of that. It is time for me to cuddle with my cat, crank some David Bowie, and get to 16,000 words.