Rattlesnake in the Ivy

confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy.
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Not knowing is difficult. Not being in the hospital is difficult. Zoe, never one for nightmares, wakes up at least twice a week with them now. Being alone parenting a four and a half-year-old is difficult. Contemplating that the entire landscape of your family has changed is difficult.

More difficult are the old narratives. My mother’s family had one sibling to whom all of the parental energy was primarily directed, my mother’s sister, a schizophrenic who was not easily managed in the years before the better medications. The first time I read Toni Morrison’s beloved about the interplay between beloved and her mother… this twining, boundaryless, all-consuming relationship based on reparation and guilt, I wrote an essay about how it reminded me of the relationship between my grandmother and my aunt. Just last night on the phone my mother told me the story again: it was my grandfather’s funeral, my grandmother was pounding on the door trying to coax Margaret out of her room… And my mother turned to her own mother and said “you know you have two other children, don’t you?”

It was my mother speaking her own fear to me.

It is an impossible choice between the vulnerable child who needs you, and the children who need you because you are knit into the very fabric of their lives.

It is too early yet to know anything other than the fact that everything has changed.


2 responses

  1. ah Pam, this one hit so close to home. As I told you on IG, I know too well about the alienation of step-parenting an unwell child…all I can say is hang in there. Willi will come back from this and Gerry will come back to his family. There are no easy answers, and unfortunately you and Zoe are on the outside looking in; the collateral damage of stepfamily dynamics. There has always been this constant tug of war for my husband – his past and his present. I don’t envy his position. I have learned to steel myself to do things on my own with my son. I think of myself as a single parent many times because life with a sick stepchild deems it so. It’s not been easy, but it can be done.
    You are beyond strong. You will get through it. I see and understand what is happening. If you need to talk, email me.

  2. I was thinking so much about how closely fear and love live together. You are not destined to repeat the past. And being mindful will help close that gap (or whatever the right metaphor is).

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