My cousin and I recently connected by email.
We are old. His father and my mother were siblings. Pennsylvania Dutch. Highly intelligent. Well educated. Good looking. Also…narcissistic, alcoholic, unloving.
Everyone is dead.
We have begun to share our stories. Both of us have experienced emotional amputations. Both of us were slowly suffocating from the Burmese python of alcoholism.
We are trying to understand our lives.
He wrote that I was always reserved, controlled, smiling.
I stopped drinking 40 years ago. Piece of cake compared to surviving my childhood.
Today’s email to him:
Never touched alcohol until I was 20.
It was Magic!
Numbed all the emotional pain. Deleted my shyness. Gave me infinite energy; I almost felt that I could fly. Worked all day in an office. Returned to my dark studio apartment. Drank wine before date. Dinner and sex. 4 hours of sleep. Back to the office.
Had no money. Worked hard as a teacher, tutored after school for extra dollars, went out with men Every night for free dinner. Got job at Burlington Industries to make living wage. Executive assistant to president of Klopman Mills. After six months was promoted to production planner of House Fabrics group (only woman in the group), the most profitable division. Hated it!!! All numbers. I am a Word person. Did it strictly for the salary. Awful environment. Crude, vulgar, predatory garmentos. Worked mucho overtime. Hoarded cash so that I could work in the competitive, underpaid world of publishing.
Always tried to be perfect to earn my parents’ love and approval. Some crumb of love and affection for their only child. A hug, kiss on the cheek, a pat on the back. A compliment. An ice cream cone for that A+. ZERO. We never touched…except for my mother’s slaps across the face when I was young for daring to disagree.
After the Mack truck crash, and I landed in the hospital, my parents stopped by for about 10 minutes nightly on their way to dinner.
The nurse screamed: You are a terrible mother! Bring her pajamas from home, her slippers, her hairbrush.
My mother refused to allow me to talk with a psychiatrist. I was 17.
It was the first validation: I was not the bad one.
If you have no safety net, you cannot afford to make enemies.
When I was in college, I was told that I could only return from NY to TN at xmas.
My mother said, “Find someplace else to go. Your visits inconvenience me.”
Years later, my college roommate reminded me…Remember when our dorm caught on fire before xmas? We had evacuated, but you went back inside to get your plane ticket from the closet because you were more afraid of your mother’s wrath for losing the ticket than burning to death.
During college vacations (campus closed) went from cheap hotel to cheap hotel and man to man. (Read Jean Rhys. She is my kindred spirit!)
After I met my second spouse, I was miraculously blessed with many opportunities to experience ineffable joy…and a sense of peace and safety…for the first time in my life.
The darker the tunnels, the brighter the eventual sunshine.
Have always had self-control. Again, survival. Growing up with Mommie Dearest. Total submission and the relentless smile were my impenetrable armor.
Had incredible capacity for alcohol. The wooden leg. White spiders and dry Manhattans. Five drinks, and I started to relax. Several Metaxa brandies late in the evening. Never lost control. Never sloppy. Never lost my purse. Never woke up in strange place. Never had blackout. Never slurred my words.
The glamorous island of 1970s-80s Manhattan…Carlyle Hotel/Bemelman’s Bar. Bobby Short walking his two dalmations on East 57th Street. Stork Club. La Caravelle. Le Cygne. Casual evenings at the boisterous PJ Clarke’s on Third Avenue. Mortimer’s at a front table. Gino’s with the zebra wallpaper on Lexington Avenue. Gawd, it was fun!
Men told me that they liked me better smashed; I actually showed some warmth and tenderness.
Yes. PA Dutch culture is unique.
And so were our parents.