I Wish My Parents Had Gotten Divorced
Finding ‘Sorority Sisters’ in the Psychiatric Unit
By the time I was 12, I often fantasized about how much happier my family would be if my father wasn't around. I used to lie in bed cringing to the stop-and-start screeching of car brakes approaching our street. I knew it was my dad, drunk again, inching his way home. I was sure that everyone else on our block knew it too. He was an embarrassment. And sometimes, he was frightening.
I hated the way alcohol fueled the rage he unleashed on my mother. I pretended to be asleep during his tirades — huddling under my covers and praying he wouldn't open my bedroom door. He didn't — his anger was always aimed at Mom. But that scarred me just the same.
A Label She Loves
I sat with three other moms on ugly green wedges of modular seating in the lobby of the hospital’s psychiatric services building. It was a Tuesday evening and we were waiting for our daughters to finish their first session of group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for kids with bipolar disorder. At first, we wrapped ourselves in cocoons of awkward silence. Our eyes bounced from our phones to the clock on the wall or – whenever it dinged, rolled back its heavy doors with a groan and deposited someone into the shadowy room — the elevator.
I glanced at the pretty Asian woman sitting next to me. I remembered her kind smile when we’d all dropped off our girls – who ranged in age from 11 (Sadie, my daughter) to 15 – in the stuffy, windowless conference room on the third floor.
Something to Sing About
By the time my daughter, Sadie, was in fifth grade, I’d stopped asking the usual mom questions—What did you learn today? How’d you do on your spelling test?—when I picked her up after school. I had more important things on my mind. Like how people responded to whatever ensemble she’d painstakingly put together that morning.
“Did you get compliments on your outfit, honey?” I asked one spring afternoon as she slid into the back seat of my Subaru.
“Yeah,” she chirped, her dark eyes dancing in the rearview mirror. “A lot of people really liked it!”
I Fear My Daughter Will Become the Alcoholic That I Am
We arrive at my 9-year-old’s school talent show a little late. I made sure we didn’t get there too early. Sadie doesn’t go on until after intermission and I worried that sitting through all those other acts would only increase her jitters. And mine.
The auditorium is warm and humid as a hothouse, the air thick with the smell of popcorn and pizza. Hoards of parents, grandparents, siblings and friends cram into rows of folding metal chairs or stand along the walls. The size of the crowd overwhelms me. We are so doomed, I think.
I was the same age my daughter Sadie is now — 13 — the first time I got drunk. It was at a sleepover with my friends, Anne and Susan. While Anne's parents were out, we raided their fancy Chinese liquor cabinet and started swigging brandy and sickly-sweet liqueurs straight from the bottles. We stumbled around the neighborhood, laughing and shrieking at everything and nothing. Me, always shy and riddled with anxiety, the loudest of all. I'd escaped the prison of being me. And it felt wonderful. I was bold. Witty. Reckless. All the things I'd yearned to be but wasn't — until that night.