I’ve been hiding so much that the only way I could sort it out was with a list; a list of things I thought were too awful to write.

1. College applications were hell. Like many delusional parents, it took my kid applying to Harvard early decision to make me realize he wouldn’t be going there. He didn’t want to leave the Boston area, and I didn’t want him to go into debt. On good days I worried he wouldn’t get in anywhere. On bad days I imagined he’d never leave home and we’d live like we’re at the Bates Motel.  But he got into Northeastern University’s honors program with a full scholarship. The campus is three blocks from our apartment. Wondering how much four years would cost without a full scholarship? $294,000. Wondering if I’ll show up randomly at his dorm? He warned me that he’ll pretend he doesn’t know me.

2. Cassie stole $20,000 from me. People have been calling her a scam artist for the whole ten years we’ve been friends. But she’s she helped me with the backend of my site and I helped her with SEO so Cassie Boorn is a scam artist didn’t rank high in Google. Recently she changed my payments system and I felt like I was losing money. Grace investigated and showed me how Cassie was stealing money with invoices. I didn’t believe it. When I confronted Cassie she told me she meant to put the money back, but then the amount got too high. Wondering how it feels to get scammed? I probably get scammed all the time, but now it feels like losing a friend.

3. My younger son got a traumatic brain injury. A year ago the Uber driver announced he was going to run a red light. My son’s head broke the side window. I hated myself that I let him get in an Uber alone. I hated myself that I let him get in a car with no airbags. At some point, it became clear that his hearing will never fully recover. My son used to practice cello four hours a day and piano three hours. For most of last year, he slept about 16 hours a day (common for traumatic brain injury) and practiced cello when he was awake (with earplugs). The neurologist told us this type of brain injury often leads to hearing loss by middle age. The best data on recovery was from live movies of my son’s eyes reacting to pain in his ears.

I told myself I’ll deal with that later. I had to deal with college applications. I had to deal with Cassie stealing money. Then it was the one-year anniversary of the car crash and I told my year-long writing course I needed a break. I said we’ll start up again in May. Everyone retaking the course was kind and supportive – in hindsight they talk with me so much, they probably knew most of what was going on.

Maybe it was I who didn’t know what was going on. When I took a break from the course I didn’t realize I would take a break from writing. For the past four months, I’ve felt like I’m standing in the reflections of Dan Graham’s Crazy Spheroid and I don’t know if I’m recharging or disappearing.

I tell everyone that the writing course creates a group atmosphere that makes you want to write. I didn’t appreciate how true that is for me as well, because here I am, about to start a new session, and I’m writing again.

It’s too hard to write all alone. A writing group doesn’t force you to write. But I think a writing group shows you how to force yourself to write. As someone who has been writing professionally for 20 years, I can tell you that the secret to writing consistently is finding tricks to force yourself to write. I have had to change up my tricks when their power wears off. The writing course has been motivational in such a magical way. Thank goodness I’m starting it again in May.

You can sign up for the course here.

Wait. One more picture. I thought I would use this picture to tell you that I also spent the last four months throwing out stuff that I shouldn’t be throwing out, like my table made from a bowling alley floor. But actually, this picture is perfect for telling you thank you for getting to the bottom of my list. It’s easier knowing someone is here with me.

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63 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    Damn. This all sounds unfathomably challenging. I’m glad you’re back. And congrats on college!
    But I’m truly sorry for Z. What a thing to go through at such a young age. The driver “announced he would run a red light”, what does that even mean? Will Z be able to continue his career in music?

    Reply
    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      I was thinking the same thing. What driver just announces they are going to intentionally run a red light?! WTF! Did the driver think because there was just a kid in the car he wouldn’t say anything? Was the driver driving under the influence? I just can’t fathom how any reasonable person, especially one in a job that depends so highly on customer ratings, would do such a thing.

      Reply
      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I think about how the driver must have lost his mind. On a good day I think okay, I’d also lose my mind as an Uber driver. On a bad day I think the driver would never have done that with me in the car and my son was completely unprotected and vulnerable and he was way too young to be alone in a car. I think back to my driver’s ed class in high school: A CAR IS A WEAPON! At the time we joked about the teacher but now I think, I let my son hang out with some random person with a loaded gun. But then I think that happens every day my son walks across the street. Then I can see how mothers end up not letting their kids leave home. I could become that mom. I think it’s not so much protecting the kid from harm, because kids usually recover. It’s to protect the mom from the unbearable guilt, which maybe we never recover from.

        Penelope

        Reply
        • Not that Melissa
          Not that Melissa says:

          I’m so sorry this happened. Mom guilt is a powerful tool to unload social problems on to the individual. Traffic violence is a real threat but an incredible amount of energy is expended to convince us that cars are safe to be around, that if it goes wrong then it’s the female parent’s fault. I hate it here.

          Reply
        • J.E.
          J.E. says:

          It’s not your fault. If anything I would think a driver that had just a child in the car would be even more careful than usual because of the liability potential. You didn’t know that this driver would do something like this. There are so many random things that can happen in this world that you can’t let it paralyze you with fear. You may be feeling a tremendous amount of guilt, but I don’t think your son sees you as being at fault for this.

          Reply
        • Ellen
          Ellen says:

          An Uber driver here in Chicago purposely hit someone with their car over the summer. People were just going mad in general.

          Reply
  2. Charlie D'Angelo
    Charlie D'Angelo says:

    You have been through a lot Penelope and hopefully, things will continue to improve. Not even mentioned are all the challenges Covid-19 has brought. Congratulations to your son. A tremendous accomplishment! One thing I’ve learned reading your posts is you’re very strong and can handle anything.

    Reply
  3. Angela
    Angela says:

    I’ve missed you. Sorry about the stress and angst in your life. Hope your sons hearing is on the mend and he continues his musical career. Congrats on the full scholarship for your eldest son!!! HUGE accomplishment for both of you. Good parenting pays dividends, gentle gentle. You’re doing an amazing job.

    Reply
  4. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Good to have you back.

    Small Claims Court might be a good way to deal with Cassie’s theft.
    I successfully got a full refund for a defective pair of eyeglasses–after I mentioned the possibility of taking the shop owner to Small Claims Court.

    So sorry to hear that your son was injured.

    Reply
  5. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    Oddly enough, I was just thinking about you the other day–you haven’t written in awhile and I figured something was wrong because you’ve mentioned before in previous years that when things get bad you don’t write.

    I audibly gasped at your son and his brain injury. Penelope, I’m so so sorry.

    I’m not sure how much reserves you have left in your tank, but I’d take Cassie and the Uber driver to court. Cassie owes you and that Uber driver owes your son-and more than just his medical bills–his musical prospects…it breaks my heart and makes me angry on both your behalf.
    I am so deeply sorry for all your family has gone through.

    Reply
    • Sarah M
      Sarah M says:

      Also-in all the heartache, forgot to mention Congrats to your oldest. He has worked hard for that (and so have you in getting him there). That’s a fantastic accomplishment.

      Reply
  6. J
    J says:

    I always read your emails. Funny thing is just the other day, while thinking about honesty in writing, I thought about how i hadn’t seen your name in my inbox lately. I’m so sorry about the tough list, and I take heart with your truth telling.

    Reply
  7. Sandy B
    Sandy B says:

    Congratulations to your older son. He’s always sounded like a hard worker. I agree with others who suggest suing Uber and the Uber driver. My heart goes out to your younger son. Is Cassie the woman who was your assistant for a while and then went to California and got married? Or am I thinking of someone else? Anyway, welcome back!

    Reply
  8. JoanneBB
    JoanneBB says:

    I hope that once you’re writing with a group again your writing will come back. I’m sorry you’ve had such a traumatic year, I wish a good experience at school for your oldest, and ongoing recovery for your youngest (whatever that looks like for him and your family).

    Reply
  9. Dale
    Dale says:

    Penny,
    I missed you. I knew you must be under it not to be writing, because I know that writing is cathartic for you – you said so.
    Continue putting one foot in front of the other. What real choice do you have? You are a strong person who keeps plugging away in spite of what life throws at her, it is in your nature. So, despite the self-doubt, the disappointment, the fear for your children’s well-being, and the setbacks, you always come back and do so in style. I am sure that this will be the case now. I see in your writing today, you digging your way to a better tomorrow already. You go… I’ll emulate.
    My2centsworth:)
    Sending positive energy your way.
    D

    Reply
  10. Declan
    Declan says:

    Penelope, thanks so much for posting again. Sorry to hear of your misfortunes, but maybe putting them out there in the world will help to ease the burden. Next to Garrison, you’re the author I most enjoy reading on my computer.

    Reply
  11. Rachelle Butler
    Rachelle Butler says:

    Hi Penelope, I’ve been reading your blog since 2014 and although I’ve never commented before, your perspective has been incredibly important and helpful to my decision making over the years. I have to comment now because I’m just broken hearted for your musician son. I’m a classical pianist and I cannot imagine what he must be feeling and experiencing. As a fellow dysfunctional person I am so proud of you for being strong for him.

    I’m sure you and he are processing his future in your own way and time, so this is intended very respectfully. I just truly want you both to know that the amount of work he has already put into his music career is *far* more than many adult musicians I work with, who make a full time living making music. Even if the top elite careers might be out of his ability now, from reading your blog over the years, I know he still has more experience and knowledge of music than many, many adult pros. I very much hope there is a way for him to enjoy the rewards of his years of work, even if it isn’t the exact career he thought.

    Sending love and support to you both. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing this difficult journey with us.

    Reply
    • Cassandra
      Cassandra says:

      Thank you for this great bit of information. My son is an aspiring concert bassist. I empathize with her story and I have kind of been fretting. Your post is a reminder that whatever path we follow we don’t know where we will end up. It’s the things we learn along the way that ensure we arrive somewhere we want to be. There are many possibilities in life for people who study music. It’s always a worthy endeavor.

      Reply
  12. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    So good to see you in my inbox again! I’m sorry things have been so rough and sad to hear about Z. You cannot second-guess yourself. We are making decisions every day that could affect a life/death outcome. Tragedy is random and can strike at any moment. He will rebound and remake himself and be an amazing human being. Stay positive for him! I’m thinking about taking your writing course…

    Reply
  13. renee
    renee says:

    good to read from you again. mazel tov to your son’s acceptance to college, your other’s son survival of a car crash, your perseverance and fortitude. xo

    Reply
  14. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    Oh my word that sounds hard! Congrats to your older son for getting a full ride — that is incredible! And I’m so so sorry to hear about your younger kid’s TBI and the repercussions for his music. Thinking of you all.

    Reply
  15. Anna
    Anna says:

    I did not know how much I had missed you, until you popped up into my inbox. Am so sorry to hear of your awful experiences, however you are a survivor and in time all of these experiences will have made you a better and a stronger person. It’s good to have you back in my box! Sending you all my hope, good wishes and strength. Take good care of you.

    Reply
  16. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    I’m so glad to see you are posting again. So many heart-breaking things going on in your life. I’m of the same opinion as your son – you are a strong person! I pray things get better for all of you.

    Reply
  17. Dana
    Dana says:

    I’m not surprised by any of this. You did seem really off during that asperger’s women Meetup thing.
    Penelope, you need to sit your behind down somewhere and rest. Just rest. Take care of you, take care of your boys. Rest. Tap into your savings if you have to (as much as you work you should have something saved up). Send the boys to their Dad or uncles’ for a a week or two and recharge. You are doing and going through entirely too much and it’s not good for you or anyone else.

    Reply
  18. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    PT, I’m still not breathing right twenty minutes after reading what happened to your younger son. If it’s sending me half into a panic attack, and I’m not even really close to your family – then I can’t even imagine what you’ve been going through. I assume you’ve been avoiding talking about it since before the pandemic for legal reasons, and that must also have been difficult. I fervently hope for Z’s recovery.

    It is not your fault for letting your son get in an Uber. People do it all the time, kids do it all the time, my kid does it all the time. Uber drivers don’t generally decide to break laws and endanger their passengers. That is 100% on the idiot driver, 0% on you.

    I am still hyperventilating. I think I have to go look in on my son. Oh, here he comes.

    Congrats to your older son. Northeastern is a fine college, and notably good at getting its graduates employed. I hope he does all right adjusting to dorm life. My son (who was finally diagnosed with ASD last summer) found dorm life very challenging, and plans to live at home while he’s at Berklee. At least if your son has difficulties with dorm or campus life he can escape easily.

    Having CPS called on you can also be stressful, in and of itself. I don’t think some people realize what kind of violence a false CPS report is to an innocent family.

    Reply
    • MBL
      MBL says:

      “I’m still not breathing right twenty minutes after reading what happened to your younger son. If it’s sending me half into a panic attack, and I’m not even really close to your family – then I can’t even imagine what you’ve been going through.”

      I understand exactly. It took me a couple of hours and a long walk to even start to process this–but it seems weird to feel like, “Poor me! This is hard for me!” My daughter is 3 months younger than Z and this hits really, really hard.

      My (typical) novella level comment is awaiting approval but I was wondering how many “old-timers” would be having the same visceral response.

      It sounds like you and your son are able to figure out a way to make things work–I hope that goes well.

      Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love the protective nature of the comments. Thank you so much. At first, I had no idea how bad the head injury was. All I knew was the driver announced he was running a red light and he totaled three cars. So I called a lawyer the day of the accident.

      Penelope

      Reply
  19. MBL
    MBL says:

    Congratulations to Y and I am so sorry about Cassie’s betrayal.

    But Z! I am so sorry to hear about that. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for all of you. My first thought was, “Oh no! The negative impact to his music!” But then I thought, “There is no way that the typical prognosis for a typical brain could be very relevant to that of a hardcore musician.” Obviously, no one knows what the future will hold, but Z is in the very best position to create a staggering new neural network.

    You probably know about these, but I’ll put them out there anyway in case it gives a little hope to others who are as devastated to hear about his injury as I.

    The Musician’s Brain: Does It Recover from Trauma Better Than Others? By Carol Shively Mizes.
    “This book describes the incredible recovery stories of 5 musicians who all suffered different traumatic brain injuries; a car accident, two bicycle accidents, a ruptured brain aneurysm and a terrible fall from the fourth story of a building’s fire escape. Their riveting journeys from horrific injuries, nearing death, through intensive care treatment and rehabilitation accounts for what many trauma patients and their families endure. However, these stories especially focus on their rehabilitation through the use of their musical skills as well as physical, cognitive, speech and language abilities. The book compares what they all had in common in their recovery process and how this may be related to having a musician’s brain. It is well documented that the brain of a musician is quite different than the brain of a non-musician from hours and years of practicing their instrument. Playing an instrument and reading music recruits many brain regions simultaneously. This is much like a workout for the body only it “works out” the brain. This book describes the differences between a musician’s brain and that of a non-musician’s, cites research in that area and also begins to demonstrate the possibility that musicians may recover more efficiently than non-musicians who suffer similar brain injuries, because they have more neuro-networks in many brain regions acting as a “scaffolding” for the brain; this helps compensate for injured areas. Some preliminary research is cited that purports professional musicians do not suffer degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, as much as non-musicians. My goal is that this book will help to begin a discussion between clinicians and researchers, connecting musicians, neuro-scientists, rehabilitation therapists, music therapists, music teachers and medical personnel working with people who have acquired brain injuries.”

    ” I could not tolerate most sounds or most music. I did find, however, that there was certain music or sounds that worked like “brain massage” for me. ” from Music as a Healing Tool After Brain Injury
    Linda W. Arms, TheBrainFairy site at brainline.org/article/music-healing-tool-after-brain-injury. Linda’s blog seems like it could offer an interesting perspective.

    I wonder if Hearos Hi Fidelity earplugs make a difference?

    Reply
  20. Tara
    Tara says:

    I cannot imagine how much this has been. A lot, clearly.

    In other news, I used to live just down the street from Northeastern myself, and it’s nice to picture you in the area.

    Reply
  21. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    Words fail me.

    As for campus life, I have always thought that I would do a year in a dorm, to know what it’s like, and then live in a shared house of men and women.

    Sometimes I can be sad for a second at having two different jaws. I had thought I was safe because there were heavy stopped cars ahead and behind me. I forgot about digital devices; the guy behind me plowed into me because he suddenly looked up from his distraction and saw the light had changed without realizing that we weren’t ready to move off yet. So he goosed his gas pedal. I can be angry for a second but my life is too short and busy to worry. I had my jaw way out of line to suck sour candy at the time of impact.

    Cell phones are for real life, not driving. Leave the satanic device in the glove box, trunk or back seat

    As for self-blame, when a fellow had a heart attack at our meeting, I took care, as we met in a circle at the end, to tell everyone that I observed us doing well, without hesitating to search everywhere for a defibrillator, and doing good CPR. In such circumstances, people can be vulnerable to a lifetime of second guessing and crazy messy logic. Therefore I role modelled off a doctor after someone had died.

    For this post, in general, words fail me.

    Reply
  22. Jane
    Jane says:

    Penelope!!! Go check out Asea Redox supplement! I just found out about it and it’s basically redox molecules that help our cells heal! I’m testing out the product now but there is one testimonial where this lady had brain injury as well from an accident and she said it helped her heal. Plus you don’t need to join some marketing scheme to buy, they sell it retail as well on their website. See if it can help your son!!! Wish you all the best, being following you for years!

    Reply
  23. MJSC
    MJSC says:

    I am so sorry, Penelope. I’ve read you for years. Disagreed with you, and also agreed, and enjoyed your writing (though you are “confessional” and I am “chickenshit”) and though your life has been not great recently I can selfishly say that I am enjoying reading what you have to say. My very best wishes and all of the good energy I can summon to your and your boys.

    Reply
  24. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    You are such a good mother. So much grief to process, and you are doing so well. Well looks and feels like hell. Sending love to you all,

    Reply
  25. DB
    DB says:

    I’ve missed you; you always enlighten me. This has been a devastating year. Thank God he is alive.

    And thank God for our little communities, even the ones we never meet. Sending all of our love.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I feel grateful for those things, too. I think all the time how close he was to dying. The angle of the car. The angle of the way his head hit the glass. The seatbelt was broken but it could have been broken a little differently. So many things are lucky. I try to think that way. And I always remember that I’m lucky to have this community. Sometimes I think I’m lucky that I have a hard time understanding the difference between being in person and not in person because you have always felt in person to me.

      Penelope

      Reply
  26. Kitty Kilian
    Kitty Kilian says:

    So please start blogging a little more again and teaching a little less. I’ve missed you, all of us have missed you. But first of all, go get these fine young men of yours out into the world safely.

    Reply
  27. Diane Ott
    Diane Ott says:

    I wondered where you’d been. I worried that since you were getting to the end of homeschooling we wouldn’t hear about your boys anymore. I am shocked and horrified about your younger son’s accident. I pray that he will recover more than the doctors think. It will take a long time but he’s young so he has time. You are a great mother and teacher/guide. Your older son’s success is proof. and you are stronger than you think. Your followers have missed you and are glad you’re back, me included.

    Reply
  28. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Wow this is heartbreaking. What a lot of trauma to suffer, especially for someone who has been through so much and also at a time when the collective trauma of this pandemic is palpable. My heart goes out to you all

    All the more reason to celebrate the scholarship – huge congratulations to you all for your continued determination in the face of all this hardship.

    Reply
  29. Judy
    Judy says:

    only an occasional reader but I am horrified about the TBI. Heartbreaking, I agree.
    At the same time really impressed with the NEU admit. Not everyone knows how selective Northeastern has become. My teen was accepted this year also but offered the abroad program for the first semester and spouse felt insulted by that offer even though teen wants to study international stuff. So not going there. But even the NU international program has a cult following and the countries (Greece, London, others I forget) all filled up right away. Anyway, your unschooling worked! I’m surprised, actually.

    Reply
  30. Fernanda Raiti
    Fernanda Raiti says:

    Hi, I´m so sorry to read how difficult this time has been for you. Have you checked Anat Baniel Method for brain injury recovery? Her work is simply awesome and backed up by real neurocientists as Jill Bolte Taylor and Dr. Michael Merzenich. Hope this helps.

    Reply
  31. Starrie
    Starrie says:

    The brain’s neuroplasticity can allow amazing recovery for TBI patients. Vitamin D supplements, Buffered Vitamin C and high quality fish oil supplements can help a lot.

    Reply
  32. Starrie
    Starrie says:

    Penelope i just want to thank you for all your homeschooling posts for the past 10 years. You were so, so, right. I followed you since the time my sons were born and it is working.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you so much. I don’t think I was right all the time. But it was hard to keep doing it once we were applying to college. I was so scared. I was so scared I let my son down. It takes a lot for me to be too scared to write. I mean, I’m the person who liveblogs domestic violence. I’m glad it’s over. I feel in a way like I don’t even know what happened. I need to process. But that’s what this community is for!

      Penelope

      Reply
  33. Morning Upgrade
    Morning Upgrade says:

    This was a great read and reminder to live life day by day. Take care of our problems and situations today, no matter how big or painful. So that we have the energy and strength for tomorrow’s journey. –Ryan

    Reply
  34. Nicola
    Nicola says:

    Hi Penelope,

    That is beyond tough what you have been through. Your writing is magically soothing and hopeful to me. I hope you find our comments back to you the same.

    Wish only the best for you and your handsome sons

    Reply

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