Absentee Mother

Story telling about my daughter's life of 19 short years, I started a recollection thread, a series of posts looking at my life with Angel that ended twenty years ago - May 31, 1989.

My crash was almost instantaneous upon Angela leaving Colorado in October 1981. A kind of shrieking, needy madness overwhelmed my perfectly imagined life in the forest. The visiting German artist turned out to be a monstrous asshole and my loved ones were a blur of concerned voices around me. I felt driven and I made irrational plans to fly across the country to find my Iowa friend in NYC whom I’d hurt and my Syracuse, NY friend who’d had also divorced and made a royal muck of her life. We friends were all in crisis it seems, birds of a feather. The friend I’d left behind in Colorado had been through her own divorce the previous year and my sisters either had been or were going to end marriages and suffer financial hardship. To me it was an epidemic and I was felt I was burning up - dying inside.

I only stayed a night in Brooklyn, leaving my Iowa friend to sort out her rage and pain with her husband. The asshole was even hitting on me while directing me to the subway. Ugh! My train ride to Syracuse was surreal and I only had one suitcase and a few dollars to start my new life. After a couple weeks my friend insisted I move out because she wanted to be alone. Edited for length, suffice it to say I spent hours and hours in contemplative mode. I wrote long loving letters to my children and made a couple of reassuring calls to my best friend and to my mother, sister.

I ended up at a boarding house with an ex-pro wrestling champ in the next room and huge paintings all over the empty first floor. My comfort level with the disenfranchised, the fringe helped me be at home there pretty quickly. I found a job as a cocktail waitress and besides the few meals I scrounged at work, I lived on peanut butter, coffee and cigarettes in my room. The kitchen was vile and besides, I wasn’t able to pull off much in the way of normalcy.

I learned the bus system, I applied for jobs and got several and left several before I landed in college town. I’d found the goodwill for clothing. I drug a green carpet scrap, some rope and some border wire fence up to my room. I borrowed bedding from my friend and purchased a pink flamingo, clothes pins and a 'keep off the grass' sign with my first tips. The picture is from a Polaroid, but it was pretty funny to me to have my own 'lawn' complete with clothesline (no closet in room). You get the idea. I sent a photo like this to the kids.

The one really positive thing I discovered in snowy, grey Syracuse was the Hutchings Psychiatric Center. I figured out how to get there and met with intake people after filling out all the paperwork. From the very first meeting I was told I wasn't bi-polar. With a father who had been manic-depressive it was the biggest fear I had with any depression. When the shrink read my several year history form she assured me I had good reason to be overwhelmed. I visited every week for some months (for free) and then was done. Mostly it felt like an anchoring, a validation to visit at Hutchings. I was never prescribed anything and only felt encouraged and supported. This was very healing. The toughest thing was my feeling daily of my children. I had what I described as kids outside my door, an ongoing anxious feeling I carried with me that my kids were outside my door and I wasn’t letting them inside. It made me miserable if I let myself hold the thought for long.
What was most freeing was that I was a complete stranger in the city. Nobody looked to me for support and reassurance. Nobody looked to me to live up to any expectations. Nobody knew about my lifelong training to please everyone. Besides my friend and eventually the woman who painted the 'Dancing Fool' painting I am sitting beside and one other friend, nobody knew I was an absentee mother. I systematically began to present myself as someone I wanted to be. I was raised to be outgoing and gregarious - a people pleaser, yet I found that year that I was really a loner and a hermit of sorts. I had some miserable times, yet I don’t remember ever feeling bored. There were many contradictions, and I found a new and different sense of humor too. I wrote voluminously and I also sketched in a manner of my own. At age 34 I felt I was being reborn as my own unique person.

At the New Year 1982 I got some pictures of the kids and this helped. I'd bought Angela a Polaroid and M a little pocket camera and mailed both along with books, stickers and inexpensive art supplies for Christmas. Angela was so thrilled to show off her new toe shoes. They were happy with their classes and saw my mother regularly as their dad was dating a lot.

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