Auto-fiction/"memoir" in progress
Chapter 5, Fight Scene between Mother and Son
*This is totally in progress, meaning not polished.
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Releasing his figurative and very literal grip on his dream of living in Manhattan was not easy. He knew it wouldn’t be. This was not going according to his plan. But as they say: We make plans and God laughs. He’d been staying with his parents for two months now. What was he doing here, in foreign, paradisical Santa Barbara? In his youth he’d hung out in this town perhaps a dozen times. Isla Vista a few wild, drunken nights. A few punk shows, driving up from Ojai. Surfing sessions a handful of times. Stopping by on the way up to camp at Jalama State Park. But it wasn’t his town, not like Ventura and Ojai were. Those towns were in his DNA; they swam like fish through his blood. They were “of” his very nature. To Michael, Santa Barbara reeked of white wealth and privilege, convention, conformity. He pictured Venture Capitalists, lawyers, doctors, hedge-fund managers, transient UCSB students, wannabe surfers, bros and blond beach bunnies, and Baby Boomer centrists.
And yet, here he was. It was summer, 2021. He was 38 years old. His father was likely dying. He lived once more with his parents. The whole scenario was absurd; insuperable and inscrutable. Bizarre-o.
The past eight weeks had been hectic. Besides running around caretaking for his father more or less fulltime, he and his mother had had several massive fights. On the surface the fights were about varying things: Michael not showering often enough; Michael getting annoyed at his mother’s incredible panic when things briefly went wrong; their arguments about what Mom actually said versus what she claimed to have said; Michael’s emotional exhaustion a la his mother’s intense, laser-beam, no-boundaries, all-ego personality.
But deeper the issues were always cut from the same cloth. It was their age-old fight of good versus evil; right versus wrong; love versus fear. Mom, Michael felt, was delusional. She lied to herself to feel safe. She told herself convincing stories which no one questioned. No one, that is, but Michael. All his life things had been this way. He and Mom were both passionately close and yet profoundly distant from each other. He felt she’d never trusted him fully. She felt he’d never given her a real chance. Both had hurt one another innumerable times.
This fight—the worst one—was about Michael’s niece; his mother’s grandchild. Michael’s older by 13 years half-sister’s kid. Georgia. His mother’s daughter from her first failed marriage in her early twenties. The kid had just turned 17. Just before Michael flew to California in June (this happened in mid-May) while writing early one morning in his East 70th Street Lenox Hill apartment in Manhattan, he’d received a call from his mother. It wasn’t yet 7:30am. This was very unusual. They usually texted. If they talked on the phone they planned it ahead.
He had crossed the room and grabbed his iPhone. He answered. His mom was crying. He knew then something was deeply wrong. He remembered the spring weather that morning—sunny and cold outside on the street. He heard a blaring distant siren cut through the air. City life.
It was Georgia. She’d been depressed on and off the past eighteen months. Cutting herself a few times, once bad enough to go to the ER. Michael knew his family suffered broadly from clinical depression. And alcoholism. (But as far as he knew his niece didn’t drink.) Georgia had all the issues he’d dealt with in his own youth: Wealth; the perfect outward-facing upper middleclass family; picket white fence, 2.5 kids, Leave it to Beaver; privilege of every kind; an alcoholic, controlling, narcissistic mother; a warm, well-intentioned yet totally emotionally vacant, detached father; a familial culture of not talking about feelings. It was a recipe for chaos. It’d led Michael in his time to drinking, fighting, girls, anarchy. Expulsion from high school. Domestic violence. Rage. Firings from jobs. Constant geographics. Anger.
In the middle of the night, the night before, his niece had silently stolen her dad’s car, driven it a few miles away from their house in Westlake, had called a close friend, said she was going to kill herself, and drove her car 90 MPH into a palm tree along the road. A car passing by minutes later called 911. They found her unconscious on the road, having crawled out of the vehicle herself. They thought she was dead at first. The sheriff knocked loudly on his sister and brother-in-law’s door at 3am. By then she was already being helicoptered to Children’s in nearby Los Angeles.
When Mom called they did not know if she’d survive or not.
Just over two weeks later Michael had flown to LAX out of JFK. Early June. He’d stayed with his half-estranged older sister and his brother-in-law. He visited Georgia in Children’s Hospital in West Hollywood. She was doing much better by then, healing. They’d had to completely rebuild her pelvis. She had jagged scars all over her body. Broken arm and broken leg. Cracked ribs. Black and blue bruises everywhere. Yet her angelic, cherubic face was untouched. She looked happy. She smiled widely. A nurse sat on suicide watch 24/7 in her little room. Her room had a window which overlooked the city. Several times Michael peered out of that glass. He picked up his cousin Casey and they drove to the hospital together several times. Doing this the two young men grew close.
The fight between Mom and Michael stemmed from The Suicide Attempt. It all started when Michael lightly suggested they both try therapy for grief and mapping their emotional tunnels through the high intensity of his father’s terminal cancer and all that entailed. His mom, though, got defensive at even the hint, the small suggestion that she might try therapy.
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