Sometimes i suspect that “normal” is always something that i don’t have, and that’s what makes it what it is.
I’ve been sick on and off for nearly two weeks now … nothing serious, just tiny colds and somewhat-sore throats, and today i’m headed into my Nth period of recovery … back to normal. But, this constant feeling of being slightly sick is the norm for some people. And, furthermore, once i am back to normal, something will be very odd about it.
In one of my (many) fits of contemplating how incredibly screwed up i am, today i thought about my mother and father; not as my dysfunctional parents, but as people. My father, for all of his eccentricities, is normal. He grew up in South Philly with three sisters and parents that got divorced after he got to know and live with them both, he played sports in school, he went to a little bit of college and toured with a band and then settled into bartending rather than be a nuclear physicist or any other thing he has the massive intelligence to do.
My mother is not normal… her parents both have diagnosable mental issues, her entire family was too busy scrabbling up out of the most menial of blue collar existences to learn how to be functional, and her father had been a POW in WWII. She was an only child, and she was not allowed to have toys. In fact, her primary Barbie had been shoplifted by her mother out of a five and dime store. Barbie has empty lipstick containers for chairs and home-fashioned outfits rather than pre-packaged clothes, and to this day my mom thinks it’s amusing to point out what Barbie could use every checkbook or soup bowl for. I never really understood whether or not my grandparents were especially poor at the time: blue collar didn’t always equate to near-poverty in the sixties, and they owned their own home for years. So, i’m just not sure. As for my mother, she barely made it out of high school, never even tried to go to college, lived a few fast years of free adulthood, and got married just shy of 25.
I was sitting at the kitchen table at home today when she casually remarked that she had been nearly five years older than i am now when she got married. We were looking at a photo of her sitting in a Peter-Pan-like rig on the ceiling of the London Victory club in her white pantsuit, ready to fly across the ceiling. That was her wedding reception; held at the nightclub where the both of them worked at the time. October 20th, 1980.
I had almost any toy i wanted as a child, and i always had money and education and a love for knowledge. A lot of people i know never had some of those things even though their parents made twice as much money as i had, my own mother included. My mother and i were on welfare for years, and i still have vivid memories of the place on Woodland Avenue where we’d pick up our check and how i could never quite see up past the counter that the teller windows were set behind. I remember paying for things at the corner store with brightly colored food-stamps and wondering why they weren’t the same color as regular money. We were not poor; in fact, with both sets of grandparents obsessively looking after the well-being of their only grandchild we were better off than most of the people on our block.
These are things i never think about anymore. Despite all of them i still somehow found my way into a private grade school, and i always had a few new GI Joes to tide me over from one set of straight A’s to the next. I had what my mother considered a normal childhood … a loving and stable parent, and enough of what i wanted and needed to sustain me. I was missing things though … things she never never had the chance to miss, so she never assumed i needed them. I never had a best friend, or a hobby that wasn’t just a child’s game, or the ability to keep anything in my life straight and organized. I don’t think my mother is normal. My father definitely is, primarily because i don’t have him. It’s as much my fault as his … i had learned to dislike him by the time he had learned to really appreciate me, and it was all downhill from there. I haven’t really spoken to him at length since his birthday — last Christmas Eve.
Regardless of my incessant common cold, right now i don’t feel normal. I’m in college, i play guitar, i have friends, and i feel like i am living some outside life looking into the lives of Lindsay, Erika, and everyone else i know and love. I feel like getting straight A’s again gets me back inside. I feel like drinking puts me inside somewhere i’ve never even been before; writing songs does too. Each thing individually and in the right circumstance is enough to carry me away from this and towards that invisible thing i am striving toward, but altogether they just imprison me. It’s as though i’m trying to fit in some of the pieces of my dad’s life that i feel can root me down … living on my own, going incommunicado with family, establishing a pattern of drinking that i can snuff out later. But, the sins of the father are doing nothing for the son except for leave me trapped with hardly anything that i’m sure about being thankful for.
So, there is my yearly thanks, in a roundabout crushing way: i’m happy that i’ve gotten this far, is what i suppose i’m saying. My stuffy nose is gone, and i am almost back to what is normal for me. Except, it doesn’t feel right at all.
[…] My grandfather was never much of a driver that i remember – between his failing vision and his advancing bipolar disorder he wasn’t quite cut out for traffic. But, that day i somehow convinced him to start up the car and drive to my house. Children have short sight like that: one day my grandfather was lucid, happy, and amenable enough to drive me somewhere and i just wanted some toys to play with. Every time my mother mentions that he was overseas in the war or reminds me of how he lost half of his finger while doing janitorial work so that she could go to Catholic school my memory of him flickers off of the cartoonish and frightening man he was half the time, and off of the feeble thing he was in the nursing home. The image i see, ever so shortly, is the one that is framed on top of my grandmother’s television in Florida. Their wedding picture. Sometimes looking at it makes me very afraid, because they could look so absolutely happy together over fifty years ago without suspecting that any of this would happen … a war, a daughter, a sickness, and a grandson who just wanted his action figures so that he wouldn’t have to hear about any of it. […]