A New Year — Finally

It has been an interesting year.

If you grow up neglected — which is what happened to me — the death of parents is a fairly significant life event.  Yes, I know.  The death of any parent is a significant life event.  I understand.  My father has been dead nearly 10 years.  My mother died this past April.

For me, it represented the end of that shadow hanging over my life.  It has been several years since I first recognized that I would never — and COULD never actually please either of my parents.  They were never interested in being pleased by a child.  Their only expectations of me were that I would always be a distraction from the lives they actually wanted to live.  I would always be a burden, a disappointment, and someone to blame.

Then one day, my aunt called and said my mother was in the hospital and dying.  She asked if I would like to visit her, even though she was not conscious.  I said, “no thank you.”  My aunt and uncle stayed with her for days until she died; arranged for her funeral; and took care of all the details.  They wanted to know when I could arrange to settle the will, and I assured them that I was not mentioned in the will (as per my mother’s constant badgering threats and attempts to force me to be a victim until long after her death.)

Her lawyer confirmed that neither I nor my son was mentioned in the will, and my cousin had been made executor. My aunt (her sister) was so shocked she couldn’t believe it.  She and her husband assured me that they would not let this happen, and that we would inherit as we were supposed to — no matter what.

Nobody outside my mother and father ever knew how they treated me, evidently — until I was a grown woman and a mother myself.  A close friend of mine (a practicing child therapist) was the one who spotted what had been going on all those years when he met my mother.  Otherwise, I would have continued to believe everyone was “raised” the same way I was.

And telling my aunt/uncle this complicated bad news would have served no purpose.  People thought badly enough of her already.  And she’d made sure nobody who trusted her would believe anything I ever said about her.

Then another will was found — toward the end of her life, she’d evidently recanted under pressure from a lawyer in our extended family.

In the end, what was left of the money she’d inherited from my grandfather; and gotten in the divorce from my father, went to pay off my son’s college loans and pay off all our debts.  Her house went to my son who will be married this year, so he is debt free and owner free-and-clear of a home.  Her car — a Lexus which had only been driven 1600 miles and then sat dead in her garage for over 2 years — paid for much of my son’s and our new Prius(es?)  Pri-i?  2 Prius hybrids.  Her jewelry and house contents bought us 3 new chairs, a treadmill, and new stormdoors and a new kitchen window.  Her portion of the family farmland was sold to my aunt and uncle for half its market value — since they did the horrible duty of staying with her until she died.  So my husband and I — and my son and his future life — each have a little lump in the bank in case of emergency.

And the shadows disappeared.

For about 6 months, it was a fairly tense time here.  The settling of an estate is complicated, time-consuming, and full of unusual duties and surprises.  There was a period of several days/weeks when her malice and hatred of me was tangible in every document and every item I touched from her house.  I had nightmares and was so physically ill from those days, that thought I might go ahead and just go insane to get away from it all.

But it didn’t happen.  My husband, my son, my soon-to-be daughter-in-law –and all our friends listened to me go from screaming to throwing things — and it all eventually passed.

The week my son took possession of her house — he called a local nursery to come and get all the dozens of rose bushes from her house and yard (I am horribly allergic to roses.)  She had planted them every 3 feet or so, and built a special rose garden just outside the back door.  The only conclusion any of us can possibly draw is that she planted them on purpose to keep me away.  Or to make sure I was uncomfortable, sick, and miserable every time I crossed her threshold.  (This was in addition to the rose-perfume she splashed on every morning of her life.)

But I can visit “Nathan’s house” without having to resort to Benedryl and asthma inhalers.

Both my husband and I think it is possible that the rose allergy may be a kind of chicken/egg problem.  It’s basically impossible to know whether I developed the allergy as a child — in response to my mother — or if I had the allergy first and she responded to it by learning to grow roses and finding perfumes made with genuine rose.  Either way —

We sold (through an estate sale) almost everything she’d ever owned.  We kept fewer than a dozen items.  A couple of fairly neutral book cases.  The kitchen table from our house before they (my parents) moved into their 4500-sq-ft monster and before their divorce.  A chair for the dog to sleep in.  The photos of my grandparents when they were first married.  A coffee cup I had always liked.  Nathan kept her sofa — where he loved to sleep when he was a boy.  And we let my aunt take some things she wanted.

I sold one of her pieces of jewelry to a friend coming up on his first anniversary — for the price a jeweler had offered for it (about 10% of its original price.)  His wife got a helluva great piece of jewelry.  But all of my mother’s jewelry felt cursed.  She bought it all for herself — or coaxed it out of people.  She always measured how much someone cared about her by how much money they spent on her in jewelry.  I guess she cared most — because her file folder full of receipts told the tale.  She’d spent more on diamonds and gold than most people spend on their home, all the cars they ever own, their education and computers — more than all of it put together.

And jewelers bought it back for 10% of what she paid.

Jewelry was what she wanted and what she loved.

A lot of old memories have come back since she died.

I remember more of my childhood now.  I remember little tableaux images.  The tree in our back yard.  The path I walked to school every day.  I remember not having friends.  I remember how much lunch cost every day at school. (a quarter, a dime, and 2 pennies.)  I remember being alone in my room for hours and hours and hours.  When I was 6 or 7.  And when I was 10. I remember piano lessons, recitals, and the annual Van Cliburn Competition. (I still have the tiny bronze pin for participating.)

All the time I was growing up.  I remember never being told when to come home in the evenings.  Or on school nights, ever.  I remember that we only ever ate meals together (or maybe it was just that I was never called for dinner) except when she was on weight watchers diet that emphasized cooking and eating together.  I remember summers with my grandparents.

I remember being sick all winter, every winter, with “bronchitis” or tonsilitis.  That I later learned, as an adult, was asthma.  They never took me to a doctor good enough to diagnose it.  Instead, I lived on antibiotics all winter every year, and coughed all the time.

It turns out, the asthma was not the only thing that was never diagnosed.  I am also dyslexic.  And from all we have been able to read and learn, I am probably also on the far end of the autism spectrum.  It’s just as well they never bothered to figure that one out — I’d have ended up drugged and institutionalized somewhere, and would never have found a life of my own.  Instead, I learned to compensate for most of the most telling symptoms.  And I learned to read, in spite of the dyslexia.

But the dyslexia would have been much easier to navigate if someone had told me what was going on.  Instead, I just spent the first 19 years of my life thinking I was really stupid, and too sub-par in intelligence to do or be anything — other than what I’d always been.

Once I got past that — my life was very different.

And once I let go of the people who brought me into the world, and their selfishness and inadequacy as parents — my life was very different then, too.

So 2011 was a different kind of year.  Sweeping it out the back door is a good thing.  Starting fresh this year — is a much bigger and more comfortable fresh start.  A fresh start I didn’t even know enough to have been waiting for.

It’s time to take a deep, long breath.  It was the best Halloween ever this year.  Dozens and dozens of children came to the door — especially when word got out I had lite-up bracelets andn finger puppets instead of candy.  I had the best Thanksgiving of my life this year– a store bought ham, a baked macaroni and cheese, and Nathan made stir-fried broccoli (at his new house.)   And then I had the best holiday season I’ve ever had.  No expectations.  No travel.  No stress.  Simple.  Quiet.  Movies.  Games.  Chauncey-dog running around and jumping on the furniture.

All the rose bushes are gone.

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