My son left. He’s in Boston now. My friend Lauren agreed to take care of him.
“Until when?” I said.
“Right now, just get him on the plane. He doesn’t have a cello and he doesn’t have a teacher and he just needs someone to help him. I can help him.”
I want to believe I picked Boston because there is a teacher there who is a good fit. But really I think I picked Boston because I never tell anyone how much I’m failing my kids, but Lauren visits me a lot, so maybe she sort of already knows, because she says things like, “There needs to be a lid on your trash can so the garbage doesn’t make the whole kitchen smell.”
When she could see I was going to lose the cello, she also said, “Why isn’t your family helping you?”
“They think I’m a lost cause.”
She hugged me. And that’s how I knew Boston would be the right place for my son.
When you put an unaccompanied minor on a flight you have to wait at the gate til it takes off. I sat away from the window to make sure my son couldn’t see me from the plane and then I cried. The gate agent brought me a tissue. Then she brought me the whole box of tissues. Then the plane took off.
When you grow up in an abusive household you can be really tight with your siblings, to survive, or you can leave them all behind, to survive. We are tight.
While my brother Mike and I were growing up, my parents tortured me, literally, and my brother watched from the sidelines, terrified and almost invisible. From the time we left college, I took care of our much younger brothers, who were also abused. My brother Mike took care of me and Mike’s wife Rachel took care of Mike.
This is how we got through the next fifteen years. It was the four of us siblings, plus Rachel, who has been with us so long now that my younger brothers can’t even really remember life without her.
My mom would tell people about her kids: an economist, a chemist, an investment banker, and an author. My siblings would tell people: a mental ward, a stint at rehab, a case in court, an accusation of assault.
At least once a month I’m incapacitated by a flashback from my childhood. Sometimes it’s predictable: I’m driving by the ice cream store where we used to go to when we ditched Hebrew school. Sometimes it’s a surprise: my wood floors got refinished in the wrong color and now they look like the wood floors in the house we grew up in.
For me, the flashbacks have the cumulative effect of making me anxious, ashamed, and awake all night. For Mike, the effect is that he always picks up when I call, even when he can’t really talk.
But the last two years I’ve been unraveling. And I wasn’t sharing very much with my brothers because I thought they’d just brush it off. But then I called Mike crying. I told him I wasn’t fit to take care of the kids. And I asked him to take my older son.
He thought it was one of my panic attacks. But the next day I sent my younger son to Boston.
Then I called Mike to arrange sending my older son to him. But Mike said, “Rachel’s coming to Swarthmore.”
Rachel has never visited me.
She sat in my blue chair in my living room and I almost couldn’t believe she was there. She said she was sorry that she had not realized how hard it’s been for me. She didn’t know how long this all had been going on and she’s talked to my brothers and they’re all so sorry they didn’t know how hard it was for me. And she cried as she kept talking. She said they knew something must be very wrong if I am asking people to take my boys.
The thing is, I don’t want them to be sorry. Because I love them so much. I just want them to understand me.
Rachel said, “We see now that we were expecting you to do things you’re not capable of doing. We don’t always understand why you can’t do them. But we understand you need help.”
The blog post where I told you I was falling apart is what saved me. I didn’t know who to tell. So I told you. And when I told you, my siblings listened.
I feel so loved. I want to tell you that I feel so loved. I am not sure I’ve felt this way before. I feel more secure than I’ve felt in my whole life maybe because I feel so understood and cared for by my siblings.
Rachel called Melissa to better understand how to help me. To ask her what I can and can’t do. My three brothers and Rachel are all helping me now –– it’s a lot of work to get me back to a stable place, that’s good for me and good for the boys. And now I see that Melissa’s been doing a four-person job by herself for a long while.
One brother said that if I weren’t so good at earning money I’d have been homeless a long time ago. He’s right. But I think it’s not just money that keeps a person from being homeless — it’s love.
It’s my job to make sure my boys are safe and secure. And to make sure they feel the same kind of love that I feel right now. Because you can’t give it before you can feel it. And you can’t feel it before you make yourself vulnerable enough to receive it.