Living at your parents’ house as an adult… Histories, Mysteries, Consistencies.
It’s something some thirty-somethings I know have been doing for many, many years. How they stay sane, I do not know. Actually, scratch that, none of them are sane! They are the nuttiest people I know, and usually in the most negative of ways. Nutty is fabulous. Negative is not. Plus, the ones I’m thinking of right now give disability social assistance collectors like me a bad name, as they get as much money as a person paying rent for their own place would, and then do not contribute to their homes in any way, financially or otherwise. Personally, I would feel like a child if I did not pay for my share of groceries,
but I’m crazy.
Fabulous also in my personal news today, as a phone call from an authoritative male (I’m not trying to disassemble patriarchal society right now, I’m just trying to live), namely daddy, explaining my immobility due to my bleeding time got me out of….
“Orientation” in ROOM A to get on disability assistance!!!
All materials I and my doctor need to fill out will be sent to me in the mail, and when they are complete I can book an appointment at a time of my choice to hand in the package and pass go, collecting grocery money, and a little extra for myself. I am so happy about this is makes me want to get up and dance. Sadly, my sick uterus has me in restraints, so I cannot. I am amazed that I was correct in thinking this phone call may do the job, and very, very thankful to have “The World’s Best Dad”. I really do mean it, and do not take him for granted. I hope he knows that. When I made him a t-shirt in early grade school with that phrase scribbled on it in “glitter paint” for fabric (obviously early 90s), I meant it with all my heart, as I do now. If you saw us now, you would never think we went seven years barely speaking to one another.
When we did speak, it would turn to yelling within seconds. Like at the end of so many shorter arguments, I don’t really remember what the yelling was about – why I was so angry at him. The best theory I can come up with is, in the same way that I often feel that he feels I am financially indebted to him for the cost of raising a child, I felt he was financially indebted to me for being his child. That’s all it was ever about – money. Which gets me thinking, makes me question how much, how much,
how much am I worth to him?
Is his love as unconditional as mine?
The truth of the matter. After my mother died when I was thirteen and my younger sister was six, we all did a considerable amount of flailing, as was to be expected. I still think we could have benefited greatly from some family counselling, but I remember distinctly sitting in a “Pizza Hut” restaurant, a family of four filling the table as mom was still alive and the number of people on each side of the booth still symmetrical, staring across the table and watching my little sister eat and play with her food as mom and dad bickered about whether or not this was a good idea. Mom was quite adamant that it was needed, especially for her daughters. Dad thought it would be “too traumatic”.
I also remember a day when she said she was too weak to argue anymore.
Dad hates counsellors. From the time I was born, my parents were obsessed with having another child. Some time in between the stillbirth and eight miscarriages that preceded my sister’s birth, my parents went to see a psychiatrist. He asked them something about why they were not satisfied with one child. Perhaps that child was being traumatized? Perhaps mom was being traumatized?
How dare you! He doesn’t usually mention this though. He mentions that coffee was offered and the milk for the coffee was sitting out on the table, as if it had been sitting out there all day! Obviously, the guy was an idiot.
I’m sure for any adult that returns to live “at home”, i.e. with parents, as a adult, issues that went unresolved during childhood resurface, and often in very inappropriate ways, as there is no appropriate disciplinary distinction between “adults” and “kids” anymore. The grown-up children realize this to a further extent it seems, while the former sole holders of the title “grown-up” do not. Letting go of power and authority is a difficult thing to do. The chief example in the home that I have temporarily returned to is being told what to do ad nauseam, while I do not expect to live as I once did here and have things done for me, like having my laundry done for me or bumming rides when it’s cold enough outside to whine about taking the bus. I know that it is not my right to do this, adult-to-adult – these are not things I would ever ask of a friend, and I like to see my family as just that – my dear friends. These are not things I have had others do for me for nearly a decade.
Dearest Dad, you are the world’s greatest, but why can’t we be friends?
The main source of conflict? “Lifestyle choices.” Certain family members, for example my little sister, and to a large extent my stepmother (hugely to my surprise and rejoicementt!) have found ways to peacefully deal with areas of discord.
My younger sister has it down – for example, she doesn’t like to “hang out” with me while I am having a painful period. Although she has no idea how much pain I’m in, she imagines it “can’t be that bad”, and blames it on something about my upbringing and not being able to buck up. I’m not going to fight with her, as I can see, she has made up her mind. How the painkillers make my eyes cloud over and reduce my short-term-memory freak her out (even though she wants to be a doctor…, and whereas I’m very open to discussing the details of almost anything, including menstrual blood, just as I’ve always walked around her in the nude without thinking twice, she wold never do the same = no blood-talk, no nudity. A trait that goes back to early, early childhood. I showered naked with my mom while my sister cried a storm if there were no clean underwear to change into at bedtime, to wear under pajama pants. I wonder why this ended up being a point of difference, or if difference was the point… Regardless, the combination of shamelessness and painkiller stonedness bug her, so she simply tells me – I’m not mad at you, but you’re freakin me out a bit. I love you <I interject saying something about the disease of endometriosis> - yeeeeeah. Whatever. So, when are you going to be better so we can hang out again? Sunday, okay, awesome. Her face lights up. Every night, she comes by to give me a hug and kiss good night, and remind me once again, that she loves me.
The key to my sister’s approach as a fellow adult and family member? Well, for one she expresses her differing opinion, but leaves it at that. She says it once, and then doesn’t repeat it. It’s not as if I’m going to forget, like a three year-old who thrives on repetition. But most, most, most importantly:
She does not try to change me, respecting that as adults, we make our own choices. Just as I can not order her to start being more comfortable with letting me see her in the nude, she cannot tell me that I am complaining about pain equal to that which she experiences during her period, as she does not really know. And the painkillers? Also my choice.
Unfortunately, dad, world’s best – there for me every time I’ve driven myself into a metaphorical ditch that I cannot get out of alone – my dad cannot get this one down his throat. Then, a whole worm-can of issues surrounding my position growing up – very fast at a very young age, as five months after my mom passed on, it was suddenly my job to spend the entire summer taking care of a six year-old (not to say that I didn’t enjoy doing so thoroughly) while packing up a house as we were to move – and essentially becoming the matriarch of my family for the following years. As I rebelled against the position, and felt incredibly different from any of my peers, I threw caution to the wind, “experimented” with drugs until I ended up getting through grade twelve emotionally by doing speed – both the prescription tablets that some kids had for “AD(H)D”, and then the kind that came as powdery crystals that you could buy from a very strange woman who lived an aparment covered in fake leopard skin rugs about a fifteen minute walk away from prep school. In realizing the archetypal role I was expected to but was too young to fill, and how it alienated me from everyone I knew and they knew, I learned to forgive myself for that mistake.
Furthermore, I equated sex with love, this being a by-product, no doubt, of not having a mother-figure to be there when I got my first period, of never being explained about the difference between pleasure and pain “down there” and the importance of making a man respect my body, and, it may sound terribly naive – but no one ever taught me about birth control, and I honestly believed I could not get pregnant if I didn’t want to. Besides, I wasn’t healthy, I was “on drugs”. Indeed, pregnancy came as a surprise in Montreal at age seventeen, something my dad still will not talk to me about as an equal adult. His reaction resembles that of someone sticking their fingers in their ears and singing, “na na na na na na, I can’t hear you!” I wonder for a second, did I grow up or did we swap positions? Talking to him about the sexual abuse I endured while living with my first boyfriend – whom I thought was the only man who could ever love me, in all my fucked-up-ness – a serial rapist who told me he would kill himself if I did not perform sex acts on him before I went to work or school (he did neither, so money makes another appearance), who told me that “every girl secretly wanted to be raped” through my tears as he forced me to have sex until I was bleeding, and worst of all, stuck my face deeper in the pillow and disabled my arms while insisting on having anal sex with me, which was the scariest thing in the world to me at the time, as I felt a kind of pain I had never felt before – a pain that meant you have no control.
Who would I talk about this with?
Of course, the psychopath also sequestered me from all of my friends, convincing me they were monsters of some sort. When we broke up, I entered the hospital, was thrown on seven different medications, believed that they must be the magical things that would make me better – that would make me feel happy, that would relieve my fear of returning home after an 8:30 am – 10:30 pm shift, school then work, to screaming and a third “job”, but most of all, that mould make me like the others.
Like the guy who came up to me on the first day of class. I was already feeling self-conscious about my outfit. Why choose this of all things?
“Wow, you look so serious. You should lighten up!”
Obviously, things did, do not, and never will work this way. However, I managed to follow my own convoluted path out of the trouble I had gotten into, first with drugs and then with men, and then with a man and his drugs but that’s not of much importance. I reached my goal of finding myself in Vancouver “a few years later”, just like I wrote in my journal during one of what would be five hospitalizations, two of which were after very serious suicide attempts, also prompted by interactions with men and sexual violence. All that matters at this point, is I survived! I tried one career, did not have the taste for it I thought I did, nor it for I, and will try another one next year. I am on three medications rather than seven. I am not using “illegal drugs”, aside for the odd joint and a small handful of magic mushrooms to celebrate the solstice, the colour, the sun. I wish I could live 100 lives on this planet, and do 100 different things, but I think I’m going to enjoy the next thing I try. In high school I was at the top of my class when I graduated – with the help of speed – and after a rocky start, I graduated at the top of my university class as well, this time without the speed. I have many battle scars, both on my body, and in my mind, but I have found a little patch of light – I have self-confidence, I believe that I am beautiful, I believe in my future.
Then, there’s this trouble with coming “home”.
My life continued to be tumultuous in Vancouver, but this time, it was not because of any mistakes I made. First, I had a crash course in academic politics with a professor who blocked my proposal, while also leering at me, perhaps the youngest and most sexually desirable woman in my “cohort” of M.A. and Ph.D. students, though I still never think of myself this way. I was accused of being “unprofessional” when I reported my concerns to the Chairs of the department. The professor stated that, “he did not want any student’s final project to speak to a larger political reality”. I expressed my refusal to be a hypocrite, by defending my politics and the kinds of projects I expected to complete during this degree, by dropping the class, although I could have easily carried out an apolitical project of his choice – the only task left for the class.
During the fall, the man I fell in love with over the summer, another student whose supervisor was my co-supervisor, and my primary supervisor’s husband of over thirty years , decided to stop taking his medication for the disorder called “manic depression” or “bipolar”, diagnoses that we share. This led to two hospitalizations, so as well as doing my schoolwork and teaching three classes, I had the new responsibility of visiting him everyday. I couldn’t keep up, and was wrongfully dismissed from my teaching positions.
My students and my discovery that I was a damn good teacher who could make them all talk and laugh, was cut short because our boss told us that we were responsible for calling one another to find subs for any classes that had to be missed. When I got a call from my partner telling me he was being threatened with ECT (Electroconvulsive/Electroshock Therapy) I decided I needed to call subs for my classes and go straight to the hospital. It was unfortunate that my boss hadn’t told us what we really had to do – simply call the office to state that we were unable to make it, as any professor would if ill or otherwise compromised, as my tearful, absurdly numerous messages on all other T.A.’s voicemail was probably the basis for dismissal, although I had already been given a warning.
Not a written warning, but a clandestine, “come by my office” call, where I was scolded for leaving the lecture hall where my boss taught the weekly main lecture for to answer a call from the hospital. (The only acceptable excuse for interrupting my lecture would be if you had to vomit,” I was told). A student had also sent her an e-mail with the crucial information that I was “chronically three minutes late for my 8:30 class” – the one that most students arrived to at 9 am. I still regret apologizing for not vomiting. I always will.
The ECT threat never happened – my partner’s doctor informed me as soon as I arrived at the hospital after three hours of frantic calling and crying. When I told him I lost my job, he accused me of being selfish – he was in the hospital, but my “schedule” was more important. This was one of his “lines”. You could tell he was losing touch when they came out of hiding. Usually, these visits ended in him getting angry with me when I suggested that he keep taking his medication until things had settled down – he had gone directly fom a long term relationship with a much different kind of woman into one with me and sold his condo for $100,000 profit. I had been feeling quite depressed and thought it was purely situational, until I found out I was pregnant in early December. I screamed throughout the abortion, and my manic lover screamed at me when I tried to rest at home. He managed to spend all of the money by the end of December, sometimes just handing out stacks of bills to people on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Where was the man I fell in love with under sunnier skies? Was my faith too much? Such questions are pointless.
He came back. But just as he became mentally well, I became physically ill, perhaps due to stress. Such questions… – and the reproductive syndrome called endometriosis caused me terrible pain everyday, and pain worse than I had ever experienced before during the week-long periods I now had. Finding proper pain management was a struggle, as was making it to school, and hearing words from my professors about how I should be on medical leave and whispers from my classmates that “some people were getting unfairly special treatment.” I had emergency surgery after fainting, two months before my surgery was originally scheduled and the week final papers were due. When I got home from the hospital, more trouble started in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser – constant harassing e-mails giving me conflicting information about when my deferred papers were due. Policies had changed recently, and not knowing whether or not I should be working like mad, or slowly and more thoroughly drove me mad. Different professors had different information, and only one showed any compassion, stating that my health had to come first. I finished on time when I was finally given the correct dates – the consequence of not doing so would have been disqualification to take the summer course that must be taken before one can embark on their thesis (read: one more year of school, and an extra $10,000 in tuition and fees to be paid while I twiddled my thumbs).
A few weeks into the class, I was forced to sign a contract promising to finish my degree by the following spring. Meanwhile, in the summer class – called “prospectus design” – I listened to students who were going to be doing years of fieldwork abroad before even firming up their topic. Indeed, I was being treated specially. Then the first man I ever loved enough to call “baby” became sick again, but this time much worse. He became violent, blurring the lines between illness and choice. He was having the time of his life. The third time he attacked me, after being called a stupid cunt for two weeks, showing off his machismo with a huge hammer instead of his genitalia, I called the police. Suddenly I was responsible for paying $1500 per month for an apartment, and I was completely alone, as strangely all of our mutual friends of great intelligence knew nothing of the justice system – I was the “bad guy”. I pressed charges and got a restraining order to ruin his educational future! In truth, it was the government, the “Crown” who charged him, due to prior offenses.
I now thought of my recent partner _____, as my first boyfriend, ____, whose name jumped into my head first when I thought of him. He had become the same person during those two weeks, fulfilled my worst nightmares, and made me break a promise I made to myself: never to let my body be violated again. I answered his phone on the last ring, sealing my fate. One of his ex-girlfriends and her current partner moved in with me, rent-free, for the remainder of the summer.
Both were closer to forty than thirty, and lived in their parents’ basements, collecting disability and welfare.
When I finally got angry about their mooching after two months of lying in bed and losing weight, they told me, “they had never met someone so crazy!” I never heard from them again.
I moved downstairs with the friends who helped get us the apartment in that building after my former partner got me evicted from my original residence by urinating in the neighbours mailbox and shouting threats through the vents to the other tenants and landlord at all hours, whilst scribbling on the walls with sharpie marker. Any attempts to get him to stop yielded horrible fights.
Does it take two months for someone to discover how “crazy you are”? Because after two months downstairs, one more couple concurred. One more drug/alcohol-addled couple decided I was the problem. “I had driven a wedge between them, caused major damage to their relationship.”
And so I came home to live with my dad, stepmother, and little sister, in the house my biological family lived in since I was age fourteen, and my sister seven. Thus, I am much more of a stranger here than anyone else. Things have changed. We do not eat dinner together anymore? TV instead of talking? I felt closer to my dad 3000 kilometres far from him than I do now, living in the same house. Perhaps because he can see me, and doesn’t like what he sees. I still haven’t dyed my hair the dark brown that mom’s was.
Dad, I am going to keep dyeing my hair bright red forever.
Does that make you love me less?
I have one vice left – smoking about 3-4 cigarettes per day. Plus, the remaining three psych meds, which I tried to get off of using 3 different techniques while in Vancouver, where I will return next summer or fall – all three being terrifyingly disastrous, reinforcing my fear that I may be on then for life. After my partner attacked me, I remained in a permanent state of shock, and I could not eat for three months unless I swallowed food like a pill. Finally, I have my hunger and love of great food back. I am able to concentrate on a book again. I do not curse the sun as it rises to signal the beginning of another day!
I decided that living with my family for the approximately nine months before I go back to school was a beautiful option. I could connect with them during this unexpected time of both intense recovery and freedom from work, deadlines, and all the rest.
I became incredibly close with my father for the first time ever during my very first days in Vancouver, mid-mania of my own, but some deal better than others. I called him at all hours of the night when I needed someone to talk to. Goddess, if it hadn’t been him, it would have been a voice at the other end of a crisis hotline. He talked me through aloneness, through strange states of consciousness, he showed me a side of him I had never seen before – he could relate with many of my bizarre mind-driven experiences, and he was my comfort. My ex-partner would grow weary of seeing me in pain, a body in pain, but still the same body. He wanted to feel pleasure more than he wanted me to feel safe. My dad was the only person in the world I could talk to about the pain, who showed me unconditional compassion when there was a problem getting the medication I needed – again. Dad was the one who assured me I was not being crazy when I felt further victimized by my school. He supported my decision to get out. He invited me home. He let me stay in a hotel and heal for two nights, ordering as much food as I could eat – and now that I can eat, I can eat a lot.
Quite tragically, there is one thing about moving back in with family as an adult that anyone is warned about – it will destroy that newfound closeness that many, myself included, find with formerly estranged parents . I desperately do not want this to happen, so I ask for your advice. This is the problem:
Like my sister’s very opposite tendency to walk around nude, but add holy christ on a cross 180 degrees apples and oranges black and white, in comparison to me – I feel emotions much more than others do. I feel strongly that I have accomplished multitudes in my short life, by simply surviving, and surviving with a smile on my face, and a love of life, of the world that is essentially responsible for my struggles!
Now that I am here, in the flesh, dad is different. We cannot have a single conversation without him picking out something that is wrong with me. Dad is no longer a shoulder I can rest on. He was the last one left. I cannot have a conversation without him mentioning past, present, or future mistakes. I thought I was doing well for what I’ve been through – slowly coming back to life with the eating and the reading and the friendly conversations with strangers that are my lifeblood. I am actually excited to write a difficult standardized test. But I will always be the crazy one. A volcano apt to blow any second. A loose screw just waiting to go up.
The following find their way into every conversation, and they are driving me crazy. To repeat from the beginning of this lengthy tale, I know, and they do not need repeating. Each time they are repeated, I feel more like “the one that didn’t turn out right”, “the one who made choices so insane, they can’t even begin to comprehend it…”, “the one who let herself be abused, impregnated, violated”, “the one who made choices that were just stupid“,
“The one I will always love, but who will always make me sad. The one who had potential, but threw it all away.”
No matter how much material “success” I attain in life, this is my role.
Those things that work their way into every conversation?
Smoking. I smoke a pack a week. I used to smoke a pack a day. Getting lung cancer. Smelling like smoke, which produces a certain scowl.
Not “going to the gym”! The gym in the basement, that is. For not working out at least five days a week, because that’s what most doctors say you have to do now, if not six. “Just wait until we see you back on that elliptical! Cut out the butts, and you’ll be better in no time!”
Getting off all psych and pain meds. First of all “reducing that Effexor!!”, reminding me of my three failed tries. “But this is the perfect time to do it!” Yes, I want to spend my first break from school in 23 years crying for no reason all day as lightning bolts crash through my head
You’re on a heavy narcotic. “Yes, I’m 26 and I’m going to have a hysterectomy so that I don’t have to be. Will you be there when I have the surgery?” “Maybe…” YOU LOOK SO TIRED. YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’RE HAVING TROUBLE WALKING. YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’VE BEEN UP ALL NIGHT. “ARE YOU ON DRUGS?” (yes, I am…you’ve known this for a year…I guess you didn’t have to see how not pretty it is though…
Money. Your sister doesn’t spend like you!@!(#)()#@$& And do you want me to get into things:!?!?!? When you were living in that apartment with Josh?!?!?! “I was also working and going to school full time. When I was my sister’s age I had been working for five years.” (/ignore – I guess that was just a fun hobby). “We all have to tighten our belts around here!” (Yes, you do. Stop taking it out on me like you have been since mom died, pleeeeeeaaaaaaaase! I did not decide to take out this mortgage, get 12 “Infinite Visa” cards, and whatever other debt-machines you have up your sleeve. Really!)
So, 5 things that got me the hell away from SFU, and 5 things that are driving me away from the man – a great man, a world’s best dad deserving of the title – who I know is underneath all this crap. But we haven’t had a real conversation not revolving around something I do “wrong” since I’ve stepped off the plane.
Is distance that important?
The illusion of it…
The ability to “sound” better than you look?
Or at least for them to be able to imagine…