May 5, 2015

Chapter 7: Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

Freshman year of high school was the year my mother was diagnosed with MS; a disease that would take her life 20 years later. This shocking news was the first time I saw my father cry and it put our entire house into a syrupy haze of uncertainty that NEVER went away. Overnight I became plagued with ulcer like stomach issues and my life long battle with panic attacks made its ugly debut. I stopped playing all sports and moved even farther away from being a well adjusted, social kid. All I wanted to do is hide in my bedroom, read, write poetry, and let music offer me a much needed escape because I wasn't old enough yet to drive anywhere for an actual escape. 

My parents tried their best to shield me from the harsh realities of this disease but their lack of communication only made matters worse. The mania and depression on top of all the psychical manifestations of MS turned my mother into someone who required nearly constant care. I went from being her little girl to the wildly undereducated caregiver of an emotional cyclone. My sensitive nature quickly steamrolled into chronic worrying. You think you felt helpless as a child? I was trying to comfort a terminal parent, mend a broken home, and offer the outside world the facade that I was a normal teenager with a bright future.

In short, I felt hopeless and overwhelmed.

The flames of this hell were further fueled by my parent's lack of health of insurance. By the mid ‘80s both of my parents were in the process of starting their own separate home businesses. My father had just opened a management consultant firm and my mother, an early Apple adapter, was a desk top publisher. When my father struck out on his own, the family health insurance from his previous job evaporated. Once my mother was diagnosed with MS, it was impossible for them to get affordable and decent coverage on their own. My parents were already struggling to make ends meet but then the medical expenses associated with the MS diagnosis were astronomical and placed them in near financial ruin. They went from living comfortably for decades to a family barely scraping by. 

My soundtrack (original tape image above) during this stretch of time gives me comfort wrapped in heartache to this day.

My father, who once traveled for months at a time while employed by a large  management consulting firm, was suddenly anchored down to the house. My mother, brother, and I went from barely seeing him to having  him at home all the time. Dad was not used to being around the family and we definitely we were not used to him. We looked at each other with equal dread. We all were all trapped under one roof and fighting for survival in our own separate ways. My father drank a little more. My mother wept often and stopped sleeping. My brother and his wife moved into a spare bedroom and tried their best to become substitute parents. 

I starting seriously collecting records, dwelled on death (Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath became my best friends), and I dreamed of New York City daily because it reminded me that there was a thriving life outside of my troubled bubble and suffocating high school halls. 

Some kids fit neatly into a school clique or group of friends but I did not. I was no longer a jock. I wasn't smart enough to hang out with the brainiacs. I wasn't popular or unpopular. I didn't skateboard very well. I didn't smoke or do drugs. I wouldn't be voted "most ____" for anything. Until I discovered Mudhoney my junior year (hello grunge!), I floated between an awkward mix of every possible outsider sub genre. I was a walking patchwork quilt of Freaks and Geeks who loved art and music. My best friend moved to California out of the blue when her mom left her dad the summer after freshman year. I eventually found new friends but it took what felt forever. 

  This brought me to my peak of loneliness as a teenager.

A life transformation was in the works but it was the opposite of caterpillar to butterfly. I didn't feel like I was blossoming into something beautiful with wings. R.E.M. was right. The world was a monster and it had swallowed me whole.   While much of the punk world was angry about politics (Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher), it was the world directly outside my bedroom door that oppressed and outraged me. 

There was however one small sparkling sequin of hope. At age 16 my parents gave me their blessing to explore NYC without them on Saturday afternoons, using commuter trains and the Hoboken Path to get there. I wondered the streets of Greenwich Village monthly until I had perfected the ultimate walking tour of record stores, vintage clothing boutiques, and flea markets. I didn’t know where or how I fit into this world yet but this would be one hell of a starting place.

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