Dan has been having a lot of sleep issues lately, between taking on school morning duty after my surgery, an erratic work schedule, various errands we’ve had to run, and his medications; so this morning, I kept Alyssa and Ryan as quiet as possible while the three of us ate breakfast and got dressed, and then we crept out to take care of a few errands. First I hit up the car wash, where I vacuumed out several weeks of kid crud and winter crud from the interior of my car, then took the car through an automated car wash (I know, I know, it’s winter and thus there will be more snow and slush and salt on the roads, but c’mon, I have a black car – the filth that coats it in the winter is just intolerable). Then we went to PetSmart, where I picked up 16 lb bags of cat food and dog food, a 42 lb bag of cat litter (many thanks to the employee who kindly loaded up my cart, then put the stuff in my car so I didn’t have to lift it), a few other odds and ends, oh, and a Betta fish for Alyssa.
When we did the bedroom switch in September, we left the fish tanks where they were – Alyssa’s four goldfish in what became Ryan’s bedroom, and Ryan’s two goldfish in what became Alyssa’s bedroom. In October one of Alyssa’s goldfish bit the dust1; then, in early November, I accidentally dumped too much fish food in the tank, and two of her three remaining goldfish ate themselves to death. Literally. Finally, a few days after my surgery, Jerry, her goldfish from April 2010, suddenly up and died. Meanwhile, Ryan’s two goldfish have been healthy as horses (and aiming to grow as big as them), but in Alyssa’s room; and Alyssa has been wanting them out of her room so she can have a new fish of her own. Hence the purchase of a Betta. Dan emptied out and scrubbed the vacant tank in Ryan’s room and refilled it, and once the water was treated we moved Ryan’s goldfish from the smaller (2.5 gallon) tank in Alyssa’s room to the bigger tank (10 gallon) in his. Then I took care of the 2.5 gallon tank – emptied it, scrubbed it, refilled it, treated the water, floated the Betta’s container in it to bring it up to temp, etc., before finally releasing the Betta, whom Alyssa has named “Nightmare Moon Luna”, into it.
After PetSmart but before the Fish Tank Tasks the kids and I went to Target, where they complained as I slowly (walking cast 2) walked around checking off items on my shopping list as I picked them out, though they were both happy to pick out three new short-sleeved shirts for warmer weather (and I was happy because they were on sale). Also? I found an adorable whale cookie container and a 6-piece heart-shaped donut pan I had eyed up a few weeks ago marked down by 70% – yay for them being considered Valentine’s Day merchandise!
While driving to the stores one of the songs that played on my iPod was Oasis’ (Oasis’s?) Wonderwall, and the one line really struck a chord with me, as lately my mind has been refusing to fully let go of my mother, her issues, and our resulting dysfunctional relationship and indefinite estrangement: You’re gonna be the one that saves me. In a big way, Dan really did save me – from a stressful living situation that would have only gotten worse. At the time I didn’t realize how bad it was; the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees” is really true. When you’re in the thick of things you don’t realize how bad it is; it’s only once you’ve distanced yourself (both with physical difference and especially with time) that you can see it for what it is. Dan and I met in July of 2000, our first date and beginning of our relationship was August 16th, 2000. The following summer he proposed, and the summer after that, 2002, is when I moved to Pittsburgh with him. I moved to Pittsburgh with Dan because I wanted to be with him, but I won’t lie – it was also an opportunity to get the hell out of dodge. At home, it was just my mother, brothers, and I; I worked, and spent the rest of my time being her built-in babysitter and housekeeper (no pay, and very little appreciation or at least recognition shown). She was definitely emotionally abusive at times and manipulative, and I shudder to think of how her emotional/mental issues would have affected me had I not left when I did. And god, the fallout I had with her when she found out I was leaving was ugly. Really ugly. Originally I was going to leave with Dan early on the morning of the 18th of August, I think it was; she found out the night before (from my grandmother, whom I had confided in) and dumped my belongings and myself in the Burger King parking lot where Dan and I worked (he was working that night). Yet several weeks later she was completely fine, inviting me home for dinner and such (there’s that crazy switching shit again).
It’s weird. In the last few years I have actually felt guilt, of all things, for thinking of my chance — and using it as one — to move with Dan to Pittsburgh as an escape. I feel like, in a small way, I used him to get out – even though my primary reason for moving out was to be with him, because we couldn’t stand the distance any longer (when he was at college, there were 250 miles between us – needless to say, we didn’t see much of one another, except during holiday breaks, spring break, and during the summer).
Dan, and his family, plus my own hindsight, have really shown me just how unhealthy my relationship with my mother was, and that she is mentally ill, or at the very least emotionally unstable. Normal mothers do not talk to and about their children like she has & does me; normal mothers do not talk about their adult child’s boyfriend/fiance/husband the way she has & does mine. The woman needs help, and while I will always love her because she is my mother, I can’t stand the toxicity she produces and does her best (whether or not she realizes) to spread to everyone around her. Oh the things I could tell you, if I had the time and desire to dredge them all up (and let it be said that I have no desire to go beyond the surface into some of these very painful memories), about the things she has said about me, and about Dan, even about his family, and our friends. What makes me sick is that I didn’t defend Dan quicker, sooner, by cutting her off quicker, sooner. And I should have. He is my husband, my lover, my soulmate, my best friend, my every-damn-thing. I owed him a defense that came swifter and more forcefully than it did. And I can never apologize enough for that. I thought I did it (defending him, cutting her off) this past summer, with the shit storm that went down between when she was evicted from her mobile home (the last week of April 2011) and when I kicked her out of our house (June 5th, 2011). But with my brother living with us all those months (July 25th, 2011 – February 2nd, 2012), she slowly crept back in. Not a lot, but enough that I did talk with her, though I did my best to keep my emotional distance and be civil without being close, if that makes sense.
I was never impolite, insulting, critical, never anything that would have given her any type of cause to lash out at me, and by extension Dan, Ryan, even Dan’s family, the way she did a few days before I had my surgery, when I overheard a speakerphone conversation my brother was having with her. I let the conversation go on longer than I should have, a LOT longer than I should have considering my brother was under my roof, using my phone, my electric bill, my phone bill, to converse with someone who was talking shit on all of us, while he himself was joining in; but I needed to hear it, to have it driven deeply, painfully home that my mother is Fucked Up, and she’s toxic and hateful and as hard and cold as it is for me to do, I have to turn my back on her once and for all and move on with my life without her, because I can’t handle her craziness and toxicness and nastiness, and I deserve so much better than that, and just as importantly my husband and children deserve so much better than that.
FYI, it was that phone conversation that solidified my decision to make the necessary contact with my brother’s guardian ad-litem and CPS caseworker to request his removal. The very night of that overheard conversation I laid it down for my brother (no yelling, just a resigned kind of firmness that made it clear to him that I was Totally Fucking Done), and he and I both emailed and called the guardian ad-litem and CPS caseworker. It was a mutual thing, really, because my brother made it clear over the past several months, weeks especially, that he had no plans of changing his behavior. Furthermore, he made it clear – in both words and actions – that he hated Dan, had very little respect for me, and while he loved his niece and nephew, didn’t give a damn about how his behavior and attitude affected him. He was happy to leave, and I was relieved. He’s in a residential treatment facility that can provide him the structure and consistency he so desperately needs, but won’t fight like he did ours because there’s no emotional attachment or family ties to these people – they’re just staff members, nothing more. He has his own room, is going to a high school he likes, has a decent amount of privileges despite the type of “setting” he’s in, and we’re still in contact, so it should be a happy ending for us all. Though to be honest, the enormity of all of that – essentially putting my brother out of my life, along with my mother, hit me hard. There’s a bit of grief, too. For all intents and purposes I don’t have a father, at least not in the sense of a father figure (hey Brandy – I will be your bottom feeder!). He’s mentally ill, and has been in a group home since 2007, and before that lived in an apartment with a few other people. I haven’t seen him since May of 2010, haven’t spoken to him for nearly a year, and the last correspondence I received from him was a signed Christmas card. And for all intents and purposes I don’t have a mother, either. She gave birth to me, she raised me, and I guess she loves me, but I can’t have a relationship with her. I can’t tell you how envious and wistful I get when I read some of your blog entries about your own healthy, or at least semi-healthy, and normal relationships with your parents. It must be nice. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’ll never know what that’s like.
On a related note, all of this – these many months (October 2010 – January 2012) of my health issues (mainly the ongoing abdominal pain and the surgeries), the family drama, the stress, and finally, a mini freak-out/breakdown I had after dealing with my mother and brother, my surgery, then my brother leaving – has really come down hard on Ryan. Compared to how he normally is, his behavior and attitude have been awful for the past several weeks, both at school and here at home. He’s melting down left and right, his tolerance for frustration is even less than usual, and there’s been issues with attitude – talking back, a bit of defiance, etc. Both his teachers and therapists, as well as Dan and I, are continuing to provide consistency, stability, and routine; as well as warnings and consequences for his bad behavior, but it sucks SO HARD to have to come down on my baby, my precious five year old son, when I know that the main reason he is acting out so is because of a delayed reaction (thanks a lot, autism) to all of the stress and tension that has been present in our household over the past year. Alyssa has breezed through all of this, and I’m torn between relief (“Thank god she’s so well-adjusted and strong enough to handle this!”) and guilt/concern (“Why hasn’t she cracked?”).
Jesus. 2200+ words now. Sorry guys. TL;DR? I ran errands, we swapped around some fish, my mother is batshit crazy, I can’t help my brother when he won’t help himself, I have washed my hands of my mother, and I am now battling Wife Guilt and Mommy Guilt for not cutting ties with the craziness and related shit I couldn’t handle sooner, which resulted in dragging my family into it and hurting them.