Are you, as a person with a mental illness, the Family Embarrassment? The person never invited to family events? The person who isn’t included? The person who always “embarrasses them in front of their friends”? The one they don’t talk about? The one who doesn’t show up in the family photos? The one tucked under the rug? Covered up? Lied about? Washed over? Forgotten about every birthday?
Do you spend holidays alone, without your family, because they don’t want to include you? Or, instead, are you the “tagalong,” the one included “just to be nice,” the “extra”? The one they always ask at the last minute so as not to hurt your feelings, but they’d rather not have to (and of course you know this)? Are you that “spinster aunt,” or “spinster daughter,” the “add-on,” the one kept in the attic?
Oh wow, do I ever know how it feels, when you call and they say their phone is just at the end of its battery and they have no time to talk. They have used that line too many times now and it’s getting old, just as old as the rest of their excuses. Why don’t they just come out with it: They are embarrassed to be seen with you, embarrassed to be associated with you, embarrassed that they have a relative such as you. It’s a messy deal they’d rather not face. So why not keep that door shut tight and hope there are no leaks. Hide it in a place where the kids can’t get at it. God forbid they ever find out they have a crazy aunt, or all hell will break loose. It might be contagious, you know. This has to be contained and kept very, very quiet. Hands washed clean of it all, contained and buried, keep her in her place, with her kind, for godsakes medicated, tied up, and neatly packaged, on time we hope so we can get on with our affairs.
So I’m supposed to turn 55 in January. I imagine this is not a “landmark birthday” because it gets overshadowed by 60, the big deal. But that’s another five years off, and if 60 sucks as badly as 50 did, where does that leave me? For people with families that have forgotten them, these “landmark birthdays” are about as lousy as you can imagine. The Big Lonely Day Just Like Any Other. Dang.
Yeah, smell the fucking roses. Go ahead. It’s a beautiful day and all that. Tell me about it.
I phoned my bro the other day to wish him a happy birthday and he barely thanked me. He got off the phone real fast. Wow, honestly, that blew me away. Broke my heart.
I got a photo of my niece in the mail the other day, and it occurred to me that I’ve never really conversed with her, like, ever. She could be on a bus and I’d walk on and have no clue. I looked at the photo and said to myself, “Huh?” Just didn’t even know who the kid was. Now, if she ever called me up and asked me in any sincere way for help, I’d welcome her into my heart with open arms. I’d love to get to know her and would do anything to help a kid. You readers know this. But it isn’t happening. My brother doesn’t want his daughter knowing she’s got a crazy aunt hidden in Massachusetts. I embarrass him, see. I suppose that’s the story.
Then again, it could be true, it could be that for 20 years or so they actually could have had no time for me, that ski trips have taken precedence, that the cell phone batteries really were running out every time I called, or dinner was burning, or another call was coming in, or every bullshit line was true.
As our church accompanist said to me once (I really love this line), “That’s show biz.” I asked him if I could quote him, and he said it wasn’t his original line, and of course it isn’t, but I love that he’s said it more than once, so I’ll attribute it to him. He meant that gigs don’t always work out, audiences don’t always love you, the pay ain’t always the greatest, and you sometimes screw up, but that’s the way it is, like it or not. The music will always be there and there will be another gig, more audiences, another day, another sheet of music, another empty or not-so-empty hall to play for, another night when you close the door and walk out of there alone. I remember my music days and music nights and I remember seeing the janitor sweeping the dust off the floor when the audience had left and gone home. I remember sitting in practice rooms alone with a piano and music paper and a pencil and eraser, late into the night, plunking out tunes, writing down what I thought sounded decent, note after blessed note. They said I went crazy one day, and no one knew why. Maybe it was all that creativity, they said, it got to my head, you know, too much too fast. Naw, no one really knew, and no one cares now.