Let's be clear this is not the death of my child. It is the death of my inner child — that sad little girl that was always trying to please, prove her value, get someone's attention — and keep it. That girl, that child was aware from second grade on that despite the familiar adult adage, "Don't worry, everything will be alright." I knew, I knew even then that everything would be far from all right. And that's the way it was. Me always wishing, hoping, yearning for things to be taken care of, to be normal, to be as it was on TV, to be all right. But it wasn't.
It never was. Not third grade, not fifth, not sixth or seventh, or any time after. My sister (7+ years older) escaped with boys and got married as soon as possible. My brother (2-1/2 years older) was in and out of trouble — first small things at school or in the neighborhood, then juvenile detention, escalating to jail, eventually prison. My parents ran around trying to bail him out, over and over again. All their resources physical, financial, emotional went in to this endless pit of problems that just got bigger and more horrible as the years went on.
If only, if only I did enough good, enough right, my parents would pay attention to me, see me, hear me. The lead in the school play, all A-s on my report cards, being chosen to give the class speech, winning the awards none of it none of it could compete with lawyers, and courtrooms and judges, bail hearings and sentencing. My mother's shame, my father's rage, the feeling of everyone at school and in town casting their eyes downward, not wanting to look you in the eyes, knowing the awfulness of the trouble he was in. And nothing, nothing I could do could compete with that.
School became my refuge. I was the classic teacher's pet — in love with every teacher, craving praise, desperately seeking love and attention. But all the straight A-s, all the excellent reports, even being Alice-in-Wonderland wasn't enough to get their focus on me. I grew up hungry for someone, anyone to see me, to take care of me, it was all I wanted. Starting at fifteen, I began working beyond my parents' store, I found paying jobs, opened a bank account and began saving for the day I could move away. The over-arching message was that I had to take care of myself or no one else was going to do it. My sister certainly looked out for me, did some wonderful things for me but with our age difference she was already gone from our house and struggling with a life of her own. My brother? Well, let's just say that there was more harm than good.
I did take care of myself, put myself through college, found a job in educational publishing, an apartment in Manhattan, a group of best friends who were caring and supportive — I took care of myself — but all the while, all the while inside I was dreaming, hoping, praying — to be rescued, to be taken care of — unconditionally and forever. Preferably by my parents.
While I knew in my head this was an unrealistic dream, my heart yearned for the fairytale. I kept thinking, "I shouldn't need anyone else. I can do this myself. I've been doing it for years and years." But it didn't stop the longing. I'm still wishing — all these years later. As one wonderfully enlightening therapist told me, "It doesn't matter how smart you are — emotions aren't rational."
Turns out if I'm going to get past the past and move forward, I'm going to have to give up that longing — I'm going to have to let go of that little girl. And whether it makes sense or not, the thought of losing her, killing her off in a way, makes me incredibly sad.
So when am I gonna smarten up?