According to my mother, I died the day she was called to school to speak to a counselor in my junior year of high school after moving from sunny Southern California to the gloomy, rainy, dreary grey skies of Oregon. She yanked me out of school, scaring me half out of my mind. I asked, “What’s wrong?”
She said, “Somebody died!”
My heart thundered in my ears as my fear escalated. I asked, “Who?”
“You!” she said with force in that dramatic way of hers when she wanted to control a situation.
The truth is, my English teacher and I had had a misunderstanding about the due dates of a particular project. I thought I was supposed to hand in the paper at the end, but, according to her, I hadn’t been handing in my weekly papers. I had no idea it was supposed to be weekly. How I could have misunderstood that, I’ll never know, because I was an “A” Honor Roll student. This was a new progressive school, unlike any I’d known before, with study periods sprinkled throughout the day in various study nooks. It made sense to me that the project was due at the end of the term – like my science paper.
The situation escalated when the school counselor called my mother in to meet with him. Mind you, none of this was known to me until the day my mother yanked me out of school, declaring my death. The counselor supposedly said, “When a student changes this much in a short amount of time, they’re usually on drugs.”
Drugs? Now I was supposed to be on drugs due to a misunderstanding? Drugs were the last thing on my mind. This was the late ’60s/early ’70s when adults were hyper watchful and suspicious about kids taking drugs. Of course, I only have my mother’s word for this conversation. As I would discover much, much later in life, it was difficult to know the truth about anything because she lied even when there was no reason to lie.
But she might be right about that moment being the day I died, because, honestly, I think I died as soon as she’d decided to leave our beautiful new home in Orange County, California where I had the best year of my life. As editor-in-chief of the school yearbook in the first graduating class, I had many privileges such as being the first editor and naming the yearbook, singing in the choir, and even featured as a soloist in the spring program. Life was looking pretty rosy in that moment.
Not only did we leave this beautiful home, friends, and family and school, but we moved to Oregon and lived in an old 1930s farm house where the kids’ bedrooms were all upstairs where there was no heat. My small container of water I kept for my eye liner froze over. That’s how cold it was.
Not to mention our enrollment in her mother’s religious cult (Jehovah’s Witnesses) where we gave up birthdays, Christmas, in fact, all holidays had to go plus that door-to-door pushing JW magazines with the threat of total destruction at Armageddon, thereby, avoiding “bad associations” (“worldly” friends at school) and the places they hung out (the choir, and all school activities beyond the required). And then there were the male chauvinistic elders who policed our behavior. Eventually, I was totally indoctrinated.
But God had plans to turn things around for me. Fast forward twenty-five years when I met a lovely Christian man at work and we both converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church in Cupertino, California and experienced the most amazing Sacramental Orthodox wedding.
When I informed my mother of this decision, she called me at work (again, for the most dramatic effect), and said she’d called to “Say good-bye.” As a Jehovah’s Witness, she officially would have to “shun” me. Of course, she admitted later that she never really believed in the religion and didn’t consider herself spiritual at all. I concluded it was more of a crutch, a tool to control, than it was any deeply held religious beliefs.
From that moment on, I set out on a journey to find the truth about so many things, including my biological father, which led to discovering the type of person my mother really was. Looking back, I see that, not only did she deprive me of my father and the rest of that side of the family who all lived within thirty minutes of our home, but then she took me completely away from the place I called home, leaving behind everything that was important to me.
Much later I would discover there’s a name for mothers like that and the daughters who must endure their cruelty. They’re called “Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.” or DONM. We hear the word “narcissist” tossed around lightly on social media these days but this is something far more than what we might think. One book I recommend is “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistc Mothers.”
Soon after I met my father, I wrote about meeting my father for the first time and the lessons learned in Myths of the Fatherless but often my fiction has a similar theme. One work in progress is called “She’s Not That Good.” I’m also working on an album I’m calling, “Fathers and Other Strangers.”
So my real life didn’t end at all back then, but the real life I was supposed to live just began.