If I do, well maybe I am. Maybe I am also deeply hurt. I defended myself just about every single day of the first 50 years of my life. I mean that literally, because it is in fact, the truth. From the moment I was born, my mother felt that she had finally found a human being she could blame for every ill-fated event in her life, even before my birth. It worked for her, not so much for me.
And so, I became the goodest good girl of the Fifties and Sixties, trying, trying, trying to get it right day in and day out. I also took on a heavy caseload since mental illness was running rampant in my family and being as I was the sane one in the group, I took them all on. I was six years old, after all.
My father was the guilt ridden, excommunicated Catholic and the oldest of six Irish kids reared by what sounded like a sweet mom and a raging alcoholic, abusive father. The story he told many times is that his younger, red headed brother was the favored son (the only other son) and that my father had potatoes thrown at him regularly at the dinner table with shouts of “You are so ugly, son.” He also reportedly, rescued his mother from a drunken, violent rape by his father. It is hard to imagine this, but who knows what really took place at the time. It matters not, as this was my father’s truth along with many other miserable and violent events until he ran away and hopped freight trains around America following the war. How was he excommunicated by the ever loving, every forgiving Catholic Church? He married in wartime, came home and found his wife in bed with another man, so he ended the marriage. Sounds reasonable, no? Not to the Catholic church which damned him for eternity. And then, seriously holding onto the “Worst Possible Picker” status, he chose to marry my mother after a few dances at an Arthur Murray studio. His role in my family became the Grand Enabler and Victim, as he too strived for redemption, forgiveness, and recognition for the rest of his life.
My mother’s parents were Hungarian immigrants living in the lovely Park Slope area of Brooklyn. I have always had difficulty integrating the image, both physical and descriptive of my grandmother. The photo of her as a young woman does not have a single physical characteristic in common with her elderly self. She was completely kind and caring and gave me the unconditional love I desperately needed throughout the 16 years I had with her on earth. My mother’s rendition was that of a punitive, pushy, unrelenting mother who put her in an orphanage for a while and vomited throughout her life from “nerves.” She died of “stomach cancer” so perhaps there was some truth to that. My mother once put a fork through her mother’s hand in a rage and was horribly angry with her whenever I saw them together. My grandmother seemed weak and timid in many ways so it was so hard to imagine. My grandfather on the other hand, was an odd artist although, I think he was well on his way to dementia by the time I got to really know him. It was very suspect that my mother adored her father and that he “bathed her through her teen years,” What could that have been about? I’d rather not go there, though I wish my mother had at some point in her life. Maybe facing the truth of her wounds, might have resurrected her soul.
They were Hungarian Jews and yet, this was not particularly acceptable when looking for a job in the 1940’s, so my mother changed her last name from “Hubsch” to “Hubbs” and was ever so grateful that they had named her Florence, rather than Frieda, which they had planned on. When Florence proceeded to marry an Irish Catholic and went on to have two children who my father brought to church, she insisted that the “Jewish ties” be completely covered up. I never knew a thing about it until I was well into my teens and ironically, was the president of The Catholic Youth Organization. I’m sure this was very hard and insulting to her parents, but since they both seemed terrified of their daughter’s relentless rage, they acquiesced.
My grandmother’s sisters and brothers were all quite neurotic with a smattering of murders and suicides thrown in amongst the eight or so children brought on the boat from Hungary to Ellis Island. When you are growing up, you figure “this must be normal.” But, when you get to a certain age, though I am not sure what that age this was for my sister or me, you realize, “Uh, uh, not normal at all.”
But, suffice to say that my mother blamed me for every bit of her wretched existence, her demons, her travails, her misfortunes and her insatiable need for love and approval. It was a hopeless task as I literally defended myself day in and day out against what she titled me as “the evil one.” “I am not evil. I am not responsible for that. I cannot make you better. Please don’t kill yourself, Mommy. It’s not my fault. I am not ugly. I am not in love with my father. I am not plotting against you with my father. I am not a fake. I am not a liar. When you die it will not be my fault.”
Even when I was 50 years old, the mother of four sons, and clearly a fully developed, middle aged adult, my mother would still call me in the middle of the night to say, “If I die tonight, I want you to know that it is 100% your fault.” I remember that she was here in North Carolina, nearing the end of her life when my fiftieth birthday came around. My friends took me out for a wonderful dinner, followed by a surprise party back at my house, where my five sons also awaited. My mother was furious that she was not invited to either. Was she kidding? Was I finally standing up for myself? Who knows. I just know that there was no possible way I wanted her there. She died some 10 months later.
But, here’s the point I want to make. I am done defending myself. I think 50 years worth is more than enough. Recently, I was given a litany of all the things I have done wrong, all the things I am that I should not be. I was told that I am a “harsh person” and that I said things 35 years ago that I should not have said. I was told that I am always “upping the ante” with my choices in food, lifestyle, furnishings etc. and that I think I need to be “perfect.” I was also handed the fact that others feel the same way about me but don’t tell me. And, worst of all, quoted on something I said on the night of my son’s death 19 years ago when I did not offer gratitude or grace. That is quite likely true. Little did I know the incurable and unresolvable grief and anguish that lay ahead of me for the next few years. Besides, this is unspeakable, sacred and exquisitely painful territory, so the lightest treading is generally recommended. Hopefully, you will never know this extreme hell, but if you have, you know. It is the club no one ever wants to belong to and believe me, anything said during that time is to be forgotten and forgiven.
I have been interested in living with as few toxins in my home as possible for a long time. I read a book called, “Non-Toxic and Natural” in 1984 and never forgot it. When we chose to build a “non-toxic” home in Long Island, that was what WE wanted to do. Was I saying that each of my friends and relatives do the same or they would not measure up to my standards? Not at all! No way. I never could understand why that was assumed by three of our former friends. Fast forward a few lifetimes and my latest interest has been in non-toxic furniture so when given the opportunity to re-furnish my new condo, I took that on in a big way. I’m just the kind of person who when I read new research,I want to know more, more, more and begin my own quest for information. My friend, Laura introduced me to the concept of non-toxic, natural latex beds and it made so much sense when I learned more about it, that we got a new bed and I love it. In this case, it all seemed right to me and I proceeded from there.
In a way, perhaps I am an artist of sorts. I say that in no grandiose manner because I do not paint or know how to, but I love color and creativity and proceeded to be painstaking about each item we chose for our new home. I wanted to really LOVE each thing. And, when I finish one part or another, I often say, “Ooooh, let’s just add this too and it will be even better or more beautiful.” Do I care if you are happy and satisfied to go to “Home Depot” or “Rooms to Go” and furnish your home? Nope. Don’t care. That’s your choice and in most ways, a lot easier than mine, which involves arduous and lengthy research and a hunt that while challenging, is actually fun. This is my journey and often, I may share my findings on Facebook or directly with you. I guess I do that simply because I think maybe others would be interested in what I have learned and if not, fine.
Last year, my cholesterol and blood pressure levels were dangerously high. I do not like taking medication, which I already take for blood pressure, asthma and low thyroid function. I did not want to add more, so when I attended a course at Whole Foods on a plant based diet, this appealed to me. My husband, Shep is the main cook in the family and he too, loved it. So off we went onto a plant-based diet, our levels came down to normal, no extra drugs, delicious foods and I am completely baffled as to why that would bother anyone. We manage fine, eat in restaurants, can find something to eat wherever we go and like what we do eat, not missing what we don’t – well, maybe Shep’s scones at this time of year!
As for the latest – beeswax candles… I never liked the smell of paraffin wax and hated the dripping and mess of candles. Scented candles or scented anything for that matter kick up my asthma and make me feel queasy. So, when I got a beeswax candle at a school fair and loved the natural, honey-ish scent, I proceeded to find out how to purchase only beeswax candles from now on. They were all too expensive so Shep and I found a way to make them all. It was simple, it was fun, it was satisfying and they are beautiful. Why does that bother anyone? Why is that “upping the ante?” Where’s the contest? I missed that.
So, now I have defended myself here, haven’t I? But, I want you all to know that I am done with that, or at least I am going to make a supreme effort to stop defending who I am, what I do, what I believe in, and what I try to make better or more beautiful in my world. Most “blamers” never listen or hear anyway. I will continue to want the best, the most beautiful and the healthiest things I can afford and when I can’t afford them, I will either make them myself or be satisfied with a reasonable facsimile. I am who I am and I am not evil in any way. I am kind and I am caring and I can only do my best with what I have and what my heart can provide. I go to the dark and sad places in my soul as they come up, because much as I hate to go there, I trust that it makes me grow and deepens my spirit. I cannot cover it all up with drink or drug or mania. It just won’t work for me and if it works for you, so be it. I will not judge, so please don’t tell me anymore, all the things about me that you loathe. I am no longer going to listen.