I didn’t think that hope was something I indulged in, growing up. I saw clearly (I thought), knew what to expect, and was buttressed against vain desires. And I definitely wasn’t buoyant, cheerful, or optimistic.
By the time I was old enough to make self-protective choices, I was pretty sure that I’d emotionally withdrawn from the family, and from Mom in particular, enough that I was safe. I was cynical, believing that nothing about our family pathology was ever going to change. And I told myself that I didn’t care.
But it was the dashing of unexpected, uninvited hope that surprised me earlier this week when I came home from several days at ‘The Lake.’ (And yes, okay, that’s some WASP-y privilege right there, isn’t it? Doesn’t have to be loud or fancy. It’s as simple as the name you give a place — and all the assumptions embedded therein. But I digress…)
Coming home to my home now is worlds away from coming home to the home I grew up in. But I seem to be very permeable to old echoes these days. So as I came home in October of 2022, I found myself feeling oddly like it was Labor Day Weekend in 1962 or 72 or sometime way back then. And while I welcome the insights offered by these rising echoes, they can be very discomfiting til I figure out what’s going on.
Hope Springs Eternal (and another personal myth bites the dust).
You see, summers at ‘The Lake’ meant that my mother’s parents were there the whole time. That wasn’t always easy because it was a very small space and was holding three generations. But Mom didn’t drink around them. And while I see now that Mom was not easy in any state, still Mom-not-drinking was preferable to Mom-drinking.
Brief aside: ‘Talking Funny’ was what we called the change that drinking wrought in Mom. And that tells you how young we were, and how little guidance or input we had, when we were trying to explain her to ourselves.
Anyway, after a summer of Mom-not-drinking, and against my better judgment, hope would get a toehold and grow in me. Summer after summer, right through college, part of me slipped into believing that the coming year might be better — might be quiet — might be that thing I’d heard tell of (and seen on TV) called ‘normal.’
Labor Day and Beyond
We always came home on Labor Day weekend. And usually we spent the weekend doing chores and getting ready for school. As we got older, it was exciting to reconnect with friends. And since it was the long weekend, Dad was home, we were all watchful and around. And there it was — the year ahead looked hopeful.
I might be able to get my homework done. Maybe I would be able to invite a friend over to the house. And maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about Mom calling my teachers on the phone or showing up tipsy at a lacrosse game. Maybe Mom would be OKAY and maybe life would be OKAY too.
But that never, ever lasted long. In a matter of a day or two, and I’d hear the tell-tale slur in her voice.
Especially as I got older, I’d be furious. I couldn’t let myself fully feel the hurt and despair of that first moment — hearing that gut punch slur and knowing I was, again, trapped with it. Mom was ‘Talking Funny’ and the year stretched ahead in a nauseatingly familiar way.