"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just September 27, 2010

No one understands depression unless they've actually been through it.  I'm not talking about "the blues" or feeling sad or even crying at a movie because it brings up some old memory or feeling.  Depression is when you feel all alone, even though you know rationally that there are at least a dozen people you could call, who would encourage you to call in the middle of the night.  It's the feeling of being all alone even though your best friend is lying right next to you and all you have to do is gently nudge him or put your arm around him and wake him up so he can hold you and listen and tell you everything is all right.  And he would.  Deril would.  But I can't bear for him to see me cry because he can't bear it and would I really be able to convince him that it's not him, it's me; that he's the one person in the whole world who can make me feel safe and unconditionally loved?  He's the safest place I've ever been.

In the midst of depression (which still exists, by the way, even though you might be medicated), you clean up the dishes, put the leftovers away, clean the cat box and put the wet laundry in the dryer.  You manage your responsibilities the best you can until you bottom out.  It could be temporary, like you do a few yoga poses after not doing yoga in a year and the tension flows out of you in the way of tears.  And maybe you're watching the "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" again at precisely the wrong time emotionally.
It's hard to write about my childhood, even though I've talked about it, rationalized, even come to terms with it.  But really, what's hard is writing about all the good stuff, the pre-Santa Monica days, the pre-Direll days and the pre-drug days.  The days before I got bullied for a year in 5th grade.  The days before my mom stopped putting us first no matter what. The days before, as Billy Joel writes, "AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz" (from "We Didn't Start the Fire").  I want to go back to the beach with my mom and brother and sister, with Chips Ahoy and Doritos and nectarines ("this one's really juicy", my sister said).  Matt and I would go as far out into the ocean as we could, up to our shoulders and body surf until one of us got pulled under too much and swallowed salt water and got it in our eyes and noses.  And then you get home, sunburned, worn out and anxious to shower off the sand that somehow is still in your bathing suit, between your toes, under your fingernails and in your ears.  That's what's hard to write about.  The bad stuff, the really bad stuff, I can write with adrenaline racing through me, another addiction, I suppose, a crisis addiction.  Things don't feel right if there isn't some crisis to resolve and survive.

I've gotten a lot of support from the people I know who are reading this blog.  My precious cousin Marina emailed me today and I am so touched by her words, that I can only say how much I love her, how pure she is to me.  She's had her own difficulties and hardships in life, and so that's not to say that she is innocent to anything I've written about or am about to write about.  But when she was born, she was like a gift.  I can't explain it any other way.  We used to joke a little about her name because at the time of her pending birth, there was a toilet paper called "Marina" and its sing-songy slogan was "Mar-i-na-a, soft as a sea breeze yet strong as the sea."  It was hokey for toilet paper but it is so true of the real Marina.  If I could have been anybody else, it would be her.  She has the courage and confidence as a girl and a young woman that I so admire and wish I'd had at her age. 

My consolation comes from a quote from a very famous, very successful woman:  "You did what you knew how to do at the time, and when you knew better, you did better."  (My sister cocks her head to the side in a cute way when she gets to the "you did better" part.)

Or something like that.

The End of Days

1980.  Where to start, for here starts my real story of childhood, or rather the end of it.  It wasn't until recently that I realized this childhood was worth grieving over.

We were still in the Mayfield house, but my mom and dad were selling it (actually, I don't know which one of them actually owned it at this point, or what the details of their divorce settlement was with regard to the house).  Mom was planning to move us to Santa Monica to be closer to her job at CPHP, California Psychological Health Plans where she was an administrator of some sort.  (Throughout her efforts to finish her degree, she always wanted it to be in psychology).  I already knew that my dad wasn't thrilled about the move because of the long drive it would require on the weekends we spent with him.  I don't know how I felt.  I was going to leave La Crescenta Elementary, the only school I had ever gone to, and I was always uncomfortable with the idea of living further away from Dad.  And oh yeah, there was Direll.

Direll Dixon was a man my mom met while out dancing.  The story I knew then was that they were dating.  He supposedly lived in San Jose (Northern California) and supposedly had a lot of money.  He said he was educated in New York and a registered dietician.  It all seems so blatantly bogus now, and even back then, his manner of speech and appearance was so diametrically opposed to his presumed background.  He was a street thug, although we didn't know it at the time.  He was almost impossible to understand when he spoke because he didn't articulate his words;  he slurred everything lazily together.  He had a habit of saying "you know what I'm saying?" over and over and putting his hand out for a "gimme 5" but in the "slip me some skin" kind of way.    Like Leroy, he was African-American, which again, didn't bother me, but he was tall and big in an imposing kind of way.  At first, he seemed okay.  He'd come over in his burgundy suit and play with Julie who would hold his hands and walk up his legs.  She was about 4, almost 5.  Matthew seemed entertained by him, too.  I think I didn't care if Mom had a boyfriend as long as he wasn't a permanent fixture in our lives.  Or maybe I wouldn't have minded him if his promises of getting us a big house and a comfortable lifestyle were true.

It was the first of many broken promises, lies, whatever you want to call them - a drive past a beautiful 3 story brick house, covered with ivy.  To me it was a castle.  I imagined living inside, imagined that it would be like living a princess life.  I was a little intimidated by starting a new school in such an urban area like Santa Monica.  It was the L. A. Unified School District, not the safe Glendale U. S. D. where we had dressed up like country people and made a homemade movie of stone soup.  Living in that mansion would have made life seem a little less scary.

Of course we didn't buy that house.  Mom moved us into a townhouse down the street from her work


About 11 years ago, a heart-wrenching thing happened to me.  After only two and a half years of marriage my husband Deril and I were drifting in a sense; he was more and more focused on his career as a ballet master and choreographer, wanting desperately to make a difference and make a name for himself by training his most dedicated and talented dancers to be professional.  Up until this point, I had been the sole focus of his attention, something I had longed for my entire life, to be loved and attended to as I never had been.  I was desperate to have his attention back.  I knew he loved me, but he hardly said it anymore and everything revolved around dance.  We were finding out that we needed to have our own lives in order to have a life together.  I didn't get it yet.

One night, after a long day of class and rehearsals, we went to our usual restaurant for dinner and drinks (I was in a martini phase - vodka martini with 3 olives).  Deril was being serious; I wanted to be in the romantic place we used to be with each other on nights out.  And then he asked me the question I dreaded:  if we somehow ended up not being together, would I be okay?  He was serious.  Would I have an emotional and mental breakdown?  Would I be suicidal?  Would I simply be able to take care of myself?

At first, the tears came.  I couldn't imagine life without him, couldn't imagine that he could want life without me.  How could I possibly get control of this situation and make him love me again?

But then the old me found myself.  I regained my composure, jutted out my chin and found my voice, bitter as it was.  Of course I would be fine.  I'd been fine my whole life and I would be fine again.  I was a survivor and I was used to being alone.  And the little voice deep down inside told me that I was stupid for having ever thought I could actually have what I want.

It was in this way that I survived my childhood, my life, from age 10 on.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Latchkey at Last

When I was in 3rd grade, Julie was finally potty-trained and my mom was able to send us all to daycare - or rather, daycare for Julie and after-school care for me and Matthew.  It was at a Presbyterian church that I walked past everyday.  After school, a van from the program would pick us up and take us to the church.  It wasn't a religion-based program.  I think they just rented the facility during the week.  It was way more fun than having a babysitter; there was more freedom to do things, more activities available to us.  It's where I learned how to play piano by ear.  I learned "Fur Elise" by one of the counselors named Craig who taught me the keys and I memorized it.  They were nice there.  Most of the kids were nice, too, although there really wasn't anyone my age.  I was one of the older kids.  There were two girls, Melanie and Kristy, who were in the grade below me, but we didn't always get along.  Melanie liked to pick on me sometimes and together, they would make fun of me.  But sometimes we played together because there really wasn't any other choice. 

The first year we were there, the daycare arranged to make a movie (remember, these were the pre-camcorder days when film projectors were used in the classroom) for Christmas about the nativity.  I wanted, of course, to be Mary, but was really surprised when the counselors asked me to be.  This made Melanie and Kristy jealous, but by then I didn't really care.  I was picked to do something special.  We went out "on location" and shot film of me on a donkey and whoever the boy was who was playing Joseph.  There was no sound of course - a narration or music must have been added later.  I still look back in amazement that I was given something I wanted without having to ask for it.  Or possibly, it was evident on my face when the announcement was made.  I'm a typical Leo, always wanting to be the center of attention, at least until I learned how important it was to be perfect; then I ran the risk of failing and so it was easier or more comfortable to be somewhere in the middle, "under the radar" as people say so much these days.

By fourth grade, I stopped going to the church after school and a latchkey kid was born.  I must have liked the independence because it was at this time that I tried to visit my dad, would stop at 7-11 on the way home (where my friend Sharon taught me to steal candy until we got caught and were properly shamed).  Sadly, this would not be the last time I ever shoplifted.

I don't know what much more to say about this time.  It was the calm before the storm in so many ways.  I hadn't reached adolescence yet.  Life was generally stable.  I was too young to understand the kind of lifestyle my dad was beginning to create.  I felt generally protected, and yet there was still a sense, still a need to help keep the order of things.  I took being the oldest very seriously, in fact wanted the title of being "in charge" validated by my mom.  I was bossy at first to Matt and Julie and later on a bully.  I wanted so badly to make my mom and dad happy.

For Mom's birthday, I planned a surprise party for her.  With the help of my friend Dindi, Matt and Julie and I made dinner (I picked up, that is bought), whatever necessities I needed at 7-11 with my allowance.  We might have decorated.  We set the table.  When my mom's car pulled into the driveway, we turned out all the lights and threw rice on her when she walked in, yelling "surprise!".  She was amazed at the effort we went to.  I was only 9.

We watched TV together.  In the late 70's, the mini-series "Roots" aired on network TV and we watched it as a family (sans father, that is).  I remember being horrified at watching the Africans being kidnapped and taken from their families by the white people, being sold at auction as slaves and later how they were abused by their white American owners.  I couldn't believe it.  I asked my mom during the commercial break, "Did this really happen?"  And her answer broke my heart.  I cried the way I cried at the age of 5 everytime I saw or heard the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar.  How could people be so cruel, to mistreat someone because of the color of their skin, or kill someone for their beliefs?  What other unkindnesses lay out there?  My only consolation was knowing that slavery had ended and surely people would never treat others this way again.  It panicked me, this uncontrollable inhumanity.  Even when I was in college in Northern California watching the LA riots that followed the Rodney King verdict, I felt panicked and distraught.  With tears and a fierceness in my voice, I adamantly proclaimed, "There's going to be a revolution!"  My two best friends couldn't help laughing at my passionate outcry, but I like to think they loved me for it, too.  I still hope for a revolution of the masses, the underdogs, an outpouring of empathy and kindness toward our fellow citizen, a true sense of social responsibility and an actual desire to carry it out.  But again, I digress.

Mom went out dancing a lot on the weekends.  Sometimes she had a drink after work with some friends.  She always called.  On the weekends, we usually had a babysitter, but maybe not so much later on.  She had a boyfriend for a while.  Leroy was black.  It didn't bother me that he was black.  He didn't come around too much anyway.  Maybe she was worried about imposing a relationship on us.  I don't know.  She has her own story to tell about Leroy, with whom I learned much, much later, she was really in love.  It ended badly.  He was into some bad stuff, I think, and my mom made some bad decisions.

Mom really tried hard to make life seem normal for us.  As I said, we did family things like going to the beach, bowling, sometimes out to dinner.  I am proud to say that I saw the original "Star Wars" (which I know is actually episode 4 for my "Star Wars" fanatic friends out there) in the theater.  I have to say that at this time, she tried really hard, put a lot of effort into our family life, and her personal life never interfered.  She could be relied on.  And my dad - well, he could do no wrong so far.  He made life fun and funny.  There was an underlying sadness though that in retrospect I realize I didn't understand.  I actually thought I could control it by being good, being perfect.  Yes, I was building my future as a codependent, heading down a rocky road, and I had no idea what was about to blow up.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Denial is a River that Runs in My Gene Pool

Weekends with  my dad at this point seem uneventful.  We would go the drive-in (movie theater, again for the younger audience), and he would let us eat candy, probably while he was getting stoned in the car with us.  His apartment complex was an adults-only complex, common in those days.  We were allowed to visit but not really allowed to be seen.  We could go to the pool if no one else was there.

He started seeing a woman from his work, Esta.  She was Filipino, petite with long black hair that she used to let me brush and play with.  She was nice, a little shy maybe, but we liked her enough.  Except sometimes she and my dad would argue, or they would go in the bedroom for a while.  I didn't like my dad's attention being taken from us when we were just there for the weekend.

About this time, my dad was trying other drugs, apparently.  Cocaine was new on the scene for him.  I remember a conversation he was having with Esta one time in front of us where he was complaining about this brother, my uncle, taking coke that he had in the fridge.  I wanted desperately to believe that he was talking about soda, but he kept referring to the coke in terms of grams.  I might have been 8 or 9 but I knew that coca cola was not sold in grams.  It bothered me a lot and I kept mulling it over in my head, but I turned on the denial.  I was already in denial about his pot smoking because my parents downplayed it so much.  I knew it was illegal though and not something I could discuss with my friends.

Shelley (24), Matt (21) and Julie (19)

Addiction runs in my family, the Smith side anyway.  My brother smoked pot for years, had his own little aero-garden in his bedroom closet when he was in his late teens, early 20's at my mom's house; he and my sister both tried all kinds of drugs when they were in high school, when I was out of the house: alchohol, LSD, meth, ecstasy, probably cocaine, who knows what; my uncle is in recovery for alcoholism; and later in life, Julie had her own battle with cocaine addiction and questionable alcohol dependency.  I have tried marijuana 3 times:  the first two, I didn't feel anything (probably too much secondary exposure when I was young :)), the last time I didn't like it, the fuzzy brain feeling of not being able to complete a thought.  I did my share of binge drinking in college, but not just in college, although I never started drinking until college - a rarity for most teens these days.

My biggest addiction I realize has been to food.  I learned from an early age that food could numb me out, give me immediate pleasure and take away the anxiety in my stomach.  I would eat in secret or in cahoots with Matthew and Julie, but wouldn't want my mom to know for some reason.  It was not uncommon to come home from high school and order a pizza from money we scrounged up and then have dinner when Mom got home.  We weren't underfed.  It just became an obsession with me.  Once I started thinking about what I could eat or make or bake, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I would scour the cookbooks for things that I could make with the ingredients we had (which weren't many).  I think that's how I really learned how to cook anything.

My dad did it, too.  He lived by himself but he would buy cake mix - 2 boxes, one for baking, one for eating the batter.  Did he bake the cake and eat it all by himself? It wouldn't surprise me.  I can put away a whole cake within a few days myself.

I was never fat, meaning I was never obese.  I was chubby, a little soft, but I looked like most girls my age.  It wasn't until college that I lost a little weight and then later when I became very physically active and achieved a size 4.  Even then, being so active, I could eat anything I wanted and if I felt a little bloated or uncomfortable with my weight, all I had to do was just not eat as much for a couple of days and I'd be back to my size 4.  The thing is I never tried to be that small; it just happened.  After I stopped my exercise routine, around age 30, I started to gain weight and got up to a size 12, still not big by any means when it comes to the general population.  But I was still in denial until I started seeing pictures of myself and started feeling uncomfortable in my own body.  I always thought I was "big-boned".  I'm not, which is what I realized when I was small.  I'll probably never be a size 4 again, but a solid 8 would be nice.

I recently went through an actual diet program, which for the first time, even through all the therapy, even through knowing but not knowing, I recognized my tendency to make a head-dive into food whenever uncomfortable feelings came up.  It was really eye-opening and made me stop and consider what else I could do to calm the inner demon without giving into the cupcake or the pint of ice cream (I have to limit myself to buying a pint, otherwise I'd eat the whole 1/2 gallon).  I don't believe I have an eating disorder; I have generalized anxiety disorder.  My anti-anxiety meds help when I remember I can take one.  Yoga would probably help, too.  I'm just so used to living with the feeling that it's really hard to recognize it when it comes up.  I used to call it my "homesick" feeling, that feeling deep in your gut when suddenly you go way inside yourself and you just want to be anywhere but where you are.  A great book for helping you figure out your level of depression and anxiety is by Dr. David Burns, "The Feeling Good Handbook".  It helped me realize that I wasn't crazy, that I actually have/had issues to deal with and it wasn't all in my head.  That was always my biggest fear about going to therapy:  that the counselor would tell me there was nothing wrong with me and I was making a big deal out of nothing.  Most people I've talked to have said they fear the opposite.

Freshman Year in High School
 Anyway, there was one time in high school - freshman year, I believe - when I received a huge blow to my self-image.  I was having a sleepover with my best friend, Tami, and her visiting best friend from Maryland.  Imagine the anxiety and self-consciousness of that scenario.  No one can ever have 2 best friends (unless one is your spouse and the other is your best friend friend), especially no teenager.  Would Tami still like Charlene better than me?  Did she like us the same?  Is it possible I held a more important place in her heart?  I doubt it.

During the sleepover, my mom had been stitching some shorts for me and she had me try them on.  We went into the laundry room and as I was trying them on, she said, "Honey, you really need to lose some weight." I was stricken, feelings hurt and later couldn't believe she chose to tell me while my friends were over.  At least she didn't say it in front of them. 

I took her seriously.  I went to the library, checked out a book specifically geared toward young girls about dieting and weight loss.  There were recipes, tips, like using lemon juice and salt on your salad instead of dressing.  It mentioned skim milk a lot.  When I asked my mom to buy some, she said no.  In fact, after she put it out there about my weight, she never did one thing to help or encourage me.  Instead, she chastised me for eating a bowl of ice cream. 

Eventually, I let the whole diet thing pass.  Without the support of my family, it was pointless.  So I ignored it.  I'm 5'4 and I think I weighed 120-125 in my teen years.  What I wouldn't give to weigh that now!  Tami was always around 118 and I was envious.  She had the hourglass figure and didn't mind showing it off.  I had no boobs at all, an A cup all the way.  Lucky for me, I had a relatively pretty face but teenage boys want the body and the face.  Unless you're lucky, the face just doesn't cut it.  That's how it was for me anyway.

I'm digressing.  Addiction.  Food and occasionally the available painkiller my husband takes for his fibromyalgia.  I no longer binge drink, just occasionally enjoy a glass of wine or if I'm among friends in a social environment, a few drinks.  I don't mind others indulging in marijuana, but put me in a room where people are even discussing doing harder drugs and I'm out of there.  I don't want to see it, be around it, have it anywhere in my life.  The big joke between Deril and me is that for someone who's never done hardcore drugs, I know more about them than most people, and at least as much as addicts do.  I am fascinated by the show "Intervention" although my favorite part of the show is reading the end to see if the addict successfully became clean or not.  The most boring part is the actual intervention.  Maybe because it never seemed to work in my life.  I learned early on that a person will never change until he or she is ready to, in more ways than one, and in spite of how much you love or believe in that person.  YOU CAN'T DO IT FOR THEM AND YOU ARE NEVER ENOUGH TO MAKE THEM STOP THEIR SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS.  Never enough.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Babysitters Club, Part Two

When you're a kid, things just blur together.  Or actually, that's not true, because time goes by really slowly to a child.  It's the adult memories of childhood that tend to blur from one thing to the next.  Chronologically, I only have the generals correct, but I do know that as a child you go along with whatever life or your parents throw your way.  You might not always like it, but pretty much you have no say in the matter.  Like it or lump it, this is how it is.

Sometime around 1979 (I was nine), my mom and dad traded places.  Daddy moved out and Mommy moved into the house on Mayfield.  the deal had been that we live with Dad while Mom went to school, but Mom never did get her degree.  She worked as a legal secretary Dad had a job as an attorney with a firm.

(My mom will probably email me and correct my version of this memory, but this is what I know, what I have always believed, so technically correct or not, it's my truth.)

At any rate, Dad moved into the Montrose apartment not far from us.  In fact, it took a while but then I realized that I could walk to his apartment on the way home from school and for that matter, from my house.  I only went there once after school, maybe just to leave him a note, but he happened to be home.  I don't really remember what happened other than we visited.  Another time I went there and waited for him to come home from work.  I made mac and cheese from a box and played his Saturday Night Fever record.  It was one of those times, I guess, that I was visiting by myself.  During the separation and early years of divorce, Mom and Dad always gave each of us some one on one time with them, their way of making us each feel loved and important.

This was later on though, because when my mom moved in, we got a new babysitter, Suzanne.  Suzanne was a model, we were told.  I don't know how old she was - probably in her 20's - but she looked very glamorous.  I think my dad even commented on her.  She had jet black hair, always perfectly coiffed and wore lots of make-up, including false eyelashes.  She seemed prim and fussy, like she wouldn't want to get her hands dirty.  She drove a Cadillac DeVille.  I remember this because around that time, my mom always said she wanted a Cadillac Seville.  It was hard to imagine her being a babysitter, but I when I saw her, I thought, this one has potential.  To be okay, that is - young and hip, and someone who would not ever feed us liverwurst sandwiches or force Miracle Whip on us.  Ah, the seventies.

Well, it turns out Suzanne was a package deal.  With Suzanne came her mother, who insisted we call her Grandma Jeannette.  this woman must have been in her 50's or 60's for us to call her Grandma, so maybe Suzanne was much older.  Even though I thought they were supposed to come watch us at our house, we always ended up at Grandma Jeannette's, where Suzanne also lived, along with a Miniature Schnauzer.  I hated this dog.  I mean, I was the kind of child who never really liked dogs, in fact, was slightly afraid of the larger ones.  (I am not a dog person - sorry dog lovers; I have learned to appreciate the qualities of certain breeds, even offered a couple of times when we had appropriate housing to "let" Deril get a dog, since he had to learn to love my cats, which are his babies now.  It's no small surprise or achievement that he has actually managed to train them to act like dogs at times.)  The Schnauzer, anyway, was definitely Suzanne's baby, but he smelled funny - like a dog - and was a little hyperactive.

Suzanne and her mother were nice enough.  I guess out of all the babysitters, I liked them the best.  They mostly let us be ourselves.  My poor brother, though, he always got the evil eye and was nagged to death.  he was mischievous, quiet and definitely a little boy who probably longed to play with other little boys, doing boy stuff, like playing in dirt.

They liked me and Julie, though.  Grandma Jeannette used to call Julie Juliet Prowse because my sister would sing all the time.  Oh, how Grandma Jeannette would go on and on about Juliet Prowse.

So I guess it didn't bother my mom that even though she had hired Suzanne, we spent most of our time with her mother.  I think it was because Suzanne was supposed to be allowed to go on auditions or what not.

One time, Suzanne wanted to plan a special day where she took me out alone.  She took me to lunch and then we went to the movies and saw "The Main Event" starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal.  It was a pretty grown up movie for me.  In fact, it was a pretty grown up day.  She wasn't like my mother.  She wasn't better, she was just so glamorous.  We went to the drug store, too, for nail polish or lipstick or something.

They used to take us to lunch quite a bit, it seems - either Bob's Big Boy or this little Italian Restaurant in Montrose.  One time, I accidentally put sugar on my pasta instead of salt.  Too bad for me.

And that's probably the most interesting thing I've said this entire posting.  Sorry, folks.  It just seems necessary to build the foundation for the really juicy stuff.  And I'm trying to work out my memory and figure out why I am the way I am.  I tried so hard to be good, to make Mom and Dad happy, as though I had that power.  I felt I had to protect Matthew and Julie, even though Matt and I fought a lot, but it was just normal brother-sister sibling stuff.  I was a control freak in training.  Someone had to keep it together, whatever "it" was.

Suzanne and Grandma Jeannette were the last of the babysitters.  Finally.  Julie was potty trained and we could finally go to daycare - all day for Julie, after school for me and Matthew.  Eventually, I would be given a key on a string to wear around my neck and a latchkey kid was born.  If you're too young to know what that means, google it.  For me, it basically meant time to grow up and take care of yourself.  You're on your own from about 3p-6p.  Sounds great, right?

P.S.  I just realized that I made an earlier reference in another post to my Mormon baptism at age 8.  That's how it is with the Latter-Day Saints.  You get baptised and confirmed into the church at the magical age of 8.  You would think I would be more educated about the whole thing, but I'm pretty clueless.  The event itself was kind of cool.  There's a special room where people can watch you walk down into a sunken kind of bathtub.  For me, the water probably came to my shoulders.  You wear special white garments and are baptised by one of the men in the priesthood.  For me, it was my dad.  He said a prayer and then I got "dunked" John the Baptist-style in the water.  I was a little worried beforehand about water going up my nose, etc. but afterward I thought it was kind of fun.  Fun.  Nothing sacred, nothing meaningful - I don't know why.  I was already a Child of God, as the hymn goes, a Sunbeam.  The most meaningful part I remember was afterward my mom combing my wet hair into a bun and putting a wreath on my head and I was wearing a pretty dress.  Then later, on a separate day, I was confirmed, which means more praying while elders placed their hands on my head and I was surprised by the weight of so many hands.

At age 8, my parents were already separated, maybe divorced, but apparently not exiled or rather, excommunicated, from the church that my dad couldn't hold the priesthood.  And he must have taken it seriously enough to do my baptism.  By the time Matthew was 8, three years later, they were done.  There would be no baptism for Matthew or Julie, so in LDS theory, they are not members of the church and we will not end up in the same place after we die.  I'm not worried.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Playing Pretend

From an early age, I learned to tell people that I didn't mind my parents being divorced.  Maybe it's because my parents were very good at making sure that we knew we were loved.  I think that they also took great care early on to hide any animosity from us.  I told friends that I would rather have my parents apart and friendly than together and fighting.  I suppose it was a defense mechanism.  I was completely unaware of how any of it affected Matthew or Julie.  Matthew was quiet, kept a lot to himself.  I only remember that on Sunday nights in particular, I would sometimes cry and tell my Dad that I just wasn't used to this.  In fact, now that I think about it, I remember lots of times when I would get up out of bed and tell my dad (and later my mom) that I just felt like crying.  Dad was good about listening and talking to me and encouraging me to express my feelings.  He liked to try to help and solve problems.  He was that way my whole life, always someone I could turn to if I was having a rough time.  He was a really good father in that way.

The early years - before all the heavy drug use began - they were good ones for us as far as parenting went.  I did learn to become pretty self-sufficient at that point.  I mean, I dressed myself, brushed my own hair, got myself to school.  But then again, I always was sort of the writer/director of my own life.

My dad had girlfriends almost as soon as my parents separated.  His first one was Karen, with whom my mom had thought Dad was having an affair, even if it was just an emotional one.  They never lived together but eventually when my dad moved out and my mom moved in, he moved into Karen's apartment building in Montrose, California.

I guess, though, I still wanted "The Brady Bunch" lifestyle.  When I was in third grade, I made up a story to my parents about the school having tryouts for cheerleaders for kickball games.  Can you even imagine?  They believed me!  I took boxes of Kleenex and shredded them and used rubber bands to hold the pieces together to look like pom poms, and then I made up cheers - probably cheers I'd heard on "The Brady Bunch" because what did I know about cheerleading?  I would perform for them under the pretense that I was practicing for the tryouts.  Finally, I decided the day for tryouts would come and I came running home, drumming up excitement (to the point that maybe I even believed this little story myself) and told them I made it!  I was living the dream life, life in pretend.  Oh, if all life could be lived in pretend.  I would be a princess in a fairy tale, Cinderella rescued by her Prince Deril or Rapunzel throwing her hair down to Sir Deril who would whisk me away to a castle.

Eventually, I realized that I had to come clean, that I couldn't make up this story forever, especially because Mom and Dad were hinting at coming to see me.  Plus, where were the real pom poms (oh, we have to leave them at school).  Where was my uniform?  I mustered the courage to tell them that I made the whole thing up.  I think they were amused, possibly concerned by my need for attention and my easy predisposition for lying for so long.

After that, there were no more made up stories - except for one as an adult, to which I had to confess again and it was much more embarrassing.  But all I ever wanted to do as a child was put on plays, write plays, make up shows, be on display; and yet, I was the shyest kid around.  At least that's how I think of myself in retrospect.  Maybe the shyness didn't kick in until we left La Crescenta.  But that's for later.  On to more babysitters!

Argue Your Limitations and Sure Enough They're Yours

I'm starting this out from a place of road rage, frustration, stress over having too many things to do - little things, like making appointments, looking for a random piece of important paper in my new apartment where I haven't filed anything important yet.  Oh, yeah, and then there's the IRS to deal with soon.  Collector called today and I have this ongoing pain in my back that radiates around to the front of my chest - a knotty (naughty!) muscle that I've had for at least a year now.  There is sadness, too, because my husband, my lovely, most wonderful-ist man in the whole world who is my safe haven, is having medical problems and hates his life but loves me and thinks I'd be better off without him.  But because of my dad, he's made a promise that I know he'll keep.  Deril has fibromyalgia which, if you don't know, gives him constant pain day and night, as if he is on fire.  Doctors are rather ignorant with regard to this syndrome and ours has become complacent. 

Deril also has NPH, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (makes me think of Snuffalufagus from Sesame Street - my favorite character).  Last February, he had a shunt surgically implanted in his brain with a tube that drains excess spinal fluid into his stomach.  That's basically what NPH is:  too much fluid on the brain, and it causes memory disturbances, limited intellectual interaction, terrible headaches and difficulty walking.  Oh yeah, and not to embarrass him, but the third key symptom is urinary incontinence which fortunately we haven't had to deal with much.  The shunt greatly improved his mental capacities but it has started to not work so well lately and while it is a good thing that we know why and have a neurosurgeon and neurologist to consult with and hopefully fix it again (as it is something he will have to live with his entire life, along with the fibromyalgia) it pains me that he is going through this.

Lake Tahoe, Our Honeymoon, 1997
Deril Gregor Shannon Balough is the most disciplined, hard-working, attention-to-detail person I've ever met.  He's also the kindest, most generous, giving person.  He will talk to anyone and he doesn't make judgements about people.  He's been through a lot.  His story could be his own blog.  Those from Alaska in particular who were there with him through his trials are nodding their heads vigorously.  Deril is my soulmate.  He has no idea what he does for me, emotionally.  He is my bestest friend in the whole world.  I believe things happen for a reason, and we definitely happened for a reason.

He is WAY too hard on himself.  He expects so much more from himself than anyone else, and being a former ballet dancer, teacher, chef, he expects a lot from others.  He can't accept that he is an amazing, incredible person who is stuck with a body that just doesn't want to cooperate.  The stress of his life that he has forever internalized is now ravaging his physical self.  I love him.  I love you, Deril, and I hope you feel up to reading this soon.  If I were writing with paper and pen, there would be an ink blur on the page from the tears that are welling in my eyes as I think about how helpless I am to make your life better, more tolerable.  But as I say to him always, everytime there seems to be a setback, THIS IS NOT OVER.  WE ARE NOT DONE WITH TRYING TO MAKE THINGS BETTER.  It will never be over, not for me.  To quote from Deril, "Argue your limitations, and sure enough they're yours."  Well, for the millionth time, would you please take your own damn advice, my love?

There, that's it.  I only meant to take up a paragraph with my own venting and then go on with my story, but this is my story today.  Next posting will pick up from 1978, I promise, back to the days of "Grease" the movie and my Mormon baptism (!).  I must have my timelines confused, as my mother pointed out, but you get the jist.  Till next time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Correction from the Editor

It's hard to remember the order of things when you're a young age.  It makes sense now after talking to my mom.  Fat Amy (as she called her :)) was our first sitter which makes sense because since we were living with my dad at the time, he went through the church to find someone.  The reason she stopped being our sitter is not that she quit (and I remember this now) but she was FIRED because my mom found a big red handprint welt on Julie's bottom.  I think that my dad and Amy were trying to potty train her too early - she was only about a year and a half old.  Fortunately, my dad was on board with my mama tiger and they fired Amy.  That's why she cried. 

After Amy came Bobbie, which now makes sense, too, because I was older.  Third grade, I think.  Don't worry, by age 10, I have the timelines down pretty well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Few Words About My Mom

My mom, Patricia Robinson, is an amazing woman.  I know that I have spent a lot of time so far in my life story focusing on my dad.  I think that is partly because the early years (year?) of the separation and divorce, my dad was the primary parent because we lived with him.  But I have so much admiration for my mom, for being strong enough to move out on her own, to work and go to school as much as possible, to establish herself and prepare herself for a life she didn't intend on.  I've been there, in the starting over place.  It's not easy and it's not fun.  I have never doubted my mother's love and devotion to her children.  I have some very touching memories of her that I'll share later on.  I am in awe that she, like most single parents, are able to go to a full time job and then come home and immediately have to take care of the three kids clamoring for her attention.  You will be amazed, too, when you learn what else she had to go through.  Sometimes I feel deep down that I am my father's daughter, and that helps keep me close to him; but there are many more times that I find myself - or catch myself - doing exactly what my mom would do.  We are soul sisters in a spiritual way and share the common experience of being the oldest child, trying to be perfect, taking care of her family, making sure everyone else is okay.  If it weren't so annoyingly dysfunctional, it would be almost comical the way we codependently try to accommodate each other.  Throw my sister into the mix and it's just a mess:  the old "I want to do what you want to do, except I really do have an opinion so let's hash it out for twenty minutes and then make sure that everyone's okay with each other and the decision that has been made." 

My mom has been there for me at times when I can't imagine she had the energy to even feed us.  She is an amazing seamstress, a lover of books, a new age thinker and philosopher of life.  She is a survivor.  She taught me early, early on that decisions have consequences; that when faced with a difficult decision, the best question to ask is "what's the worst that can happen?"  If you can live with the worst, then you can't really go wrong.  And finally, perhaps the least responsible philosophy, but one that's helped me through some hard financial times is this:  there is no debtor's prison.

That's my mom and I love her.


My dad's suicide in 1993 was not his first attempt.  I don't know how many times he tried.  I only remember his 33rd birthday.  It was a night or two before his birthday that he didn't come home.  His girlfriend, Karen, stayed with us.  I am a little confused by what exactly happened.  It's only with retrospect that I realize what must have happened.  Bottom line is he went out, took a bunch of pills and probably drank, too, and then went driving.  He ended up in a car accident, but was only minorly hurt.  No one else was either, thank God.  I think he purposely crashed into a median or something.  We (my brother and sister and I) had no idea.  The adults around us were very careful not to explain anything, other than that Daddy was in an accident.

During the hours that he didn't come home, Karen loaded us into her car and we went to look for him.  We drove on the freeway until we got to this part of the freeway where there was a pull-off.  She pulled over and got out and hung her handkerchief on the chain link fence so he would know she'd been there.  What did this mean for them?  I don't know.

At any rate, my uncle, I think, brought my dad home on his 33rd birthday.  We had made a cheesecake, with Amy's help, of course, and put candles on it in the shape of two 3's.  My dad was definitely out of it when he came home, but he sat at the table and blew out the candles anyway.  That's all I know and remember.  It wasn't until some years later that I knew he had tried to kill himself.

I wish I knew more about his depression, where it came from, how it felt; how long had he suffered?  I wish I knew more about the kind of kid he'd been.  I wish he was still around for me to ask him these questions because in some ways, I really feel as though I didn't know him at all.  Being a child and then losing him as a young adult, I really only scratched the surface of who he was.  I only know him as a parent, even when he was barely that.

So I have this weird association with the age 33 that I usually keep to myself.  I shared it with two of my close friends when I turned 33; it was bittersweet and a little unlucky:  first, my dad tried to kill himself at age 33; second, Jesus died when he was 33.  I know that's weird because I am not a traditionally religious person, but it creeps me out.  Thirty-three was also when I went through a major depressive episode that I couldn't think myself out of, the way I always had, and was finally diagnosed with generalized depression and anxiety and started my anti-depressant and therapy regimen.  I was pretty relieved to turn 34.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


June 9, 2010

Today's my dad's birthday.  June 9, 1945 - he would have been 64, like the Beatles' song.  It's hard to imagine how he would be now, his older self, just as it's hard to imagine sometimes that my mother is almost 63.  In my mind's eye, she is always 35.

My dad is Gregory Bennion Smith.  He killed himself when he was 47, less than one month before his 48th birthday.  He hung himself with a rope off his balcony after an episode of using.  A drug addict and alcoholic, he ws supposedly in recovery, but I realize now that he was actually in the midst of relapse.  He used alcohol the most, but he also smoked weed and took any pills that were around.  Crack cocaine was his favorite next to alcohol.  The only thing he didn't ever try - to my knowledge - was heroin, and as far as I know he never shot up.  Not that that really means anything; what I think I know or whether he shot up, that is.  Smoking crack is one of the most addictive forms of drug use there is.

I don't really know why he did it, other than the obvious reasons of just not wanting to live anymore.  Depression had hold of him early on, and, I would bet, from a very young age.  But the only remedy available to him really at the time was talk therapy, which he tried.  Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications that are so readily available now just weren't back then, and by that I mean the early 80's and 90's.

The problem with the 80's, too, was that no one started the decade out thinking that cocaine was addictive.  I know, it's ridiculous to think tha tnow when we've seen how it destroys lives.  Even later in the 80's when the "crack epidemic" revealed itself, it seemed to a problem relegated to urban areas, to low income people.  It was a poor class, non-white problem.  (Remember the movie, "New Jack City"?)  And trust me, crack is no different that powder cocaine, other than how it's processed and used (you "freebase cocaine" but you smoke crack; big deal).  My dad was a white collar, white attorney and so were many other users, as we know today.  As a culture, as a country, we were so naive back then - in the 70's and 80's.  We were like children, experimenting as a whole, because we just didn't know any better.

And then there was AIDS.  I remember somewhere around 1981 or 1982 my dad reading the newspaper and being totally freaked out about this "new" disease that you can catch by having sex or even kissing or any exchange of bodily fluids.  And worse, there was no cure.  As a child it disturbed me, this idea that there was this disease that couldn't be fixed.  (What did I know then about all the diseases out there that can't be fixed, especially cancer?)  And it seemed no one was safe from it.  I had  never been faced with such a reality of life before, it seemed.  I don't know why, but I felt I needed some reassurance that we, my family, were all safe from AIDS.  I know why my dad was freaked out now - all the sleeping around he did after the divorce without a condom, I'm sure.  For that matter, my mom, too, should have been at least a little worried.

I inherited my father's depression, I believe.  You'll see later that there are a lot of reasons why it makes sense I developed depression, but I have always been like my father in the way of feeling things.  I have never wanted to actually kill myself, but I have definitely been in the dark space of "I just wish I wasn't alive."  Like the line in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody":  "Mama, I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all."

I don't feel that way today, and don't worry, I'm medicated :)  But it's a demon I'll always have with me.  Or a legacy, if that sounds better.  I imagine that is partly why I am the eternal optimist.  I carry hope everywhere I go, hope for myself, for the world, for a better future.  My glass is half full all the time, and if I take a drink, you'd better be sure I'll fill it back up.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Babysitters Club, Part One

In 1977, I was in 2nd grade, my brother was in kindergarten (both of us at La Crescenta Elementary) and my sister was just 2.  The babysitters or daycare givers, rather, were the worst part about my parents being separated and later divorced.

First, we went to a woman named Bobbie.  She had 2 kids and babysat a couple of others around Matt and Julie’s ages.  Her oldest son Kevin was my age.  Bobbie was a nice woman except that everyday in the afternoon she made all of us older kids go outside in her backyard so that the babies, including my sister, could nap.  I hated it. The backyard was all dirt and it was hot.  I was a girly girl, and I was the only girl.  There were hornets and wasps, a crappy picnic bench and DIRT.  All I wanted  to do was to stay inside and read, but she wouldn’t let me because she didn’t want to make exceptions to the rule.  She made us sandwiches with Miracle Whip, the miracle spread of the 70’s.  I ate everything on the sandwich except the bread with Miracle Whip.  I was repulsed by Miracle Whip (still am), but she made me sit at the table while I refused to eat.  Finally, she spread some peanut butter over it to hide the taste and I begrudgingly ate it, as she assured me it would be just fine.  So I ate it.  I have never gotten that, making children eat things they find repulsive, as long as they are in general receiving proper nutrition.  But that was how people thought back then – the adult children of the 50s.

Her son Kevin was obsessed with naked women.  He was always asking me to strip for him.  He had a clubhouse in the backyard, but wouldn't let me or Matthew in unless we agreed to draw pictures of naked women.  In the clubhouse he stashed whatever porn he could get his hands on.  I was always a little surprised that his parents never went in there or maybe they just didn't care.

The worst thing about Bobbie’s was that whenever Julie would cry and wouldn’t stop, Bobbie would spank her.  I immediately cried every time, wanting to protect Julie from being even slightly abused or at the very least any sort of meanness.  I was very protective of her.  It wasn’t Julie’s fault she was crying.  She was just a baby and she probably just wanted her mommy or daddy.  Bobbie and her kids used to try to tell me that the spanking didn’t really hurt.  It just sounded loud because of the plastic pants or disposable diapers.  Then what was the point in spanking her?  I've never understood that either.  If a child is crying, why would you inflict pain on them to get them to stop.  I get discipline, but there are other ways. In general, I think parenting has improved these days although I know there are some who still subscribe to the spanking theory and worse.  My heart breaks for abused children and children who are made to feel unloved.

I don't know why we eventually left Bobbie's but after her we got a babysitter from the church named Amy.  She was a young married woman, probably in her early 20's, with no kids and she was obesely overweight.  She was nicer, I guess, but boring.  She wasn't very nice to my brother, probably because he was a boy and her own neurosis.  She stressed my sister out completely because by now Julie was being potty trained and every time she wet her pants, Amy got mad.  Julie would cry and say "I goofed" and most of the times was afraid to tell anyone.  I can still hear her coming to me, "Shelley, I goofed."  I loved my sister and it broke my heart to see her cry and be so tormented.  She needed protecting and someone to take care of her and I was the only one there for her.  I didn't particularly like people picking on my brother either but it was so easy myself to quarrel with him.  He was mischievous and a boy with no friends to play with, not outlet.  He took the quiet road, kept his feelings inside and never talked about them with me or Julie.

On the other hand, he wasn't afraid to blurt things out.  When we used to visit my uncle and cousins with my dad, we used to pass this gigantic American flag, and Matthew called it "the flag fatter than Amy."  It was our joke.  I felt bad for her because she was clearly distressed by being "heavy" as she called it, but it was still funny.  One afternoon, Matthew was lying on the couch looking at a plastic fish in water in a plastic ball.  He held it up so that he got the view from the bottom which made it look really large, and next thing he's saying not 5 feet away from her, "it's the fish fatter than Amy."  She glared at him something awful but didn't say anything.  I looked at him and tried to shush him.  He didn't care, or was only 6 and didn't know any better.

She was another one who forced us to eat disgusting food.  Liverwurst sandwiches.  Who feeds a child under 10 that?  Bologna, too, which I didn't like.  I wasn't really a typical kid.  Even peanut butter and jelly grossed me out a little.  But by then even I was probably a little ball of anxiety.  I got good at hiding those uneaten or partially eaten sandwiches in my napkin.

Amy finally had her own baby, Jenny, and really it just felt like her whole attention was on her baby.  I also felt like we were subjected to a certain amount of judgementalism because my parents were divorcing and we didn't go to church anymore.  She and her family were what I call hardcore Mormons.

When Amy quit, I think she might have been pregnant again, not that one would notice, as fat as she was.  She cried on her last day.  I don't know why because she never seemed to like us.

Friday, September 3, 2010


How many places have you lived in?  Not cities but buildings, structures, homes.  Did you move around a lot as a child?  Did you stay in one place until you struck off on your own? 

I was thinking tonight, on my way home, about the house that Deril and I just had to move out of, are still in the process of moving out of.  We lived there for 5 years, rented it, loved it - our 1700 square foot home, with a great kitchen and beautiful pool.  We loved it like it was our own.  And then we found out in May by official notice from the trustholder that it is up for auction and in active foreclosure.  Our landlord never called us back, never told us, and the sad thing is that he was a friend who promised to never do us wrong.  Well, friend, you done us wrong, just by not talking to us.

I've kind of been in denial about the whole thing.  That's my modus operendi in general:  when faced with a problem, power through it, see the bright side and move forward and continue seeing the bright side until you actually believe there is a bright side.  There are some bright sides to our move, but I think a part of me still believes I might go back to living in that house.

I've lived in family houses in nice family communities, urban condos, ghetto apartments, a motel, a dorm, a fancy house on a hill, "luxury" apartments, a quaint studio apartment and a sweet duplex on "Sweet Way".  All my life I've imagined that if I only lived in the right house, the perfect house, the house unscathed by the filth and disappointment of reality, that everything would be fine.  I have been disappointed and broken-hearted over my dwelling so many times.

Right now, and for the past 13 years, home has been mostly for me, in my husband's arms, the safest place I know, the most comforting.  While that will always be partly true, I am realizing that home is not exactly where the heart is, but in one's heart, inside one's very being, the deepest part of one's self.  I don't know where that is yet, but it's the journey I'm on.  In the meantime, I will nest and decorate and find my glass half-full, as always, in this new place we call home.

Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath

I slipped in the shower yesterday.  Yes, exactly as it sounds.  I put one foot in the tub and as I started to put the second foot in, I felt the slip.  Straight down I went.  And now I am feeling the pain of a sore back, tailbone and right buttock.  Ouch.  It was the kind of fall that makes you want to cry initially, but I didn't.  I sucked it up and took my shower.

"Splish Splash" is one of the songs my dad used to sing to us as kids.  My favorite was this one:

"Oh, I know two girls named Hazel.  Yes, Hazel that's their name.  Oh, one's got class and one's got style but I guess they're just the same.  Which Hazel, which Hazel, which Hazel shall it be?  Which Hazel, which Hazel, well I guess they're just the same."

Silly, huh?  But that was my dad, always silly, always silly with us kids.

My mom moved out when my parents separated.  She got her own apartment in Verdugo Hills.  We stayed with my dad in our house because he was working full time as a lawyer.  My mom was going to go to school to finish her degree now that she had put my dad through law school.  It was kind of fun that my mom had her own apartment.  Suddenly my parents became these new people.  Mom got breast implants (she had been very flat-chested; for years, I had hoped I had inherited my dad's genes although he didn't have sisters, and I didn't know if boobs ran in his family) and bought two white cushiony love seats for her apartment - not exactly kid-friendly.  She and Dad started smoking pot, although the first time they tried it they were still together, with friends.  They also both started drinking beer.  We started visiting my mother every other weekend at her apartment.  It was only a one bedroom.  Sometimes we all slept in her bed, other times, maybe some of us slept on the cushiony couches.  We were so young, especially Julie, who couldn't possibly have known what was going on.  My mom seemed happier.  She took us to the park.  She seemed good.

At home, Dad worked all day.  Sometimes he would come home in a bad mood.  I remember him folding cloth diapers all the time, as my sister was still in diapers.  I brushed my own hair in the morning whereas before, my mom used to fix it for me, sometimes French braiding it or putting it up in pony tails.  My dad stayed up late at night watching TV, smoking pot and eating sunflower seeds with the shells.  My brother used to wake up at night and would go out and sit with him.

Things had suddenly become hard, worrisome.  I fought with my brother a lot.  I complained when life didn't seem fair.  I had to go to bed at 8:30 when I wanted to stay up until 10 like my friends who talked about the cool shows that started at 9pm.  I got upset one night, crying and complaining about it and called myself "little miss 8:30".  My dad had to keep from laughing, he thought it was the funniest thing, but I was serious.  I wanted to be like everyone else.  In retrospect, I realize that it was the first time - or actually one of the last times - there were actually rules in the household.  Set bedtimes.  Later on, I would wish or regret that I didn't have that in my teen years.  Anyway, Dad compromised and let me read in bed from 8:30-9pm, at which time he would promptly come in and tuck me in.

Now that I think about it, he probably desperately wanted his alone time.  I look back at my mom and my dad and am overwhelmed with amazement at how they managed to be single working parents, how hard it must have been, how hard it is.  You work all day and then have to come home and take care of 3 kids.  There is no "you" time.  So Dad probably couldn't wait for us to be in bed so he could kick back, get high and eat junk food, shut off his emotions and go numb, before he had to go to bed and get up and do it again the next day.  I don't have kids but I sure can relate in a lot of ways.  Later, when things would get really bad, I reacted the same way, not with drugs, but with food and writing and daydreaming, anything to go numb and imagine that life might be different if only. . .