Very excited that APM’s The Story is airing a piece about My Dead Parents today. Catch it “live” on your public local radio station, or just listen to the segment here. Many thanks to Dick Gordon, Lauren Spohrer, Eric Mennel, and Andrew Parsons.
Today, I, Anya Yurchyshyn, revealed that I’m author of this blog, which has been anonymous for over two years, in an essay on Buzzfeed.
Like I said in that essay, I kept this blog anonymous out of respect for my family, and because I don’t consider myself a non-fiction writer, and never really had the courage that I think needs to come with being one. I’m an open book if you know me, but this…this just seemed like a lot to share with the world, like maybe too much. But when I was asked to write about the project and was given the opportunity to publish it under my own name, it seemed silly to keep pretending that these thoughts and feelings, and this family, wasn’t mine. I felt like I was hiding, even lying, and I didn’t like that. I will admit though, this feels pretty strange. But the response has been incredible, and it makes me feel a lot less naked, or at least like I have a better body. Thanks so much for reading. More soon.
I came across this gem around a month ago—my very first psychoeducational evaluation! My school suggested I get one because I was, as usual, struggling academically, but also because I was suffering from severe headaches and acting out. I’d written “I hate me” on the bathroom wall, and my fourth grade teacher recognized my handwriting and tried to talk to me about it. I’m pretty sure all I did was cry.
I posted a similar evaluation from when I was 14 here. Discovering that one was slightly depressing, as I say in my post about it, but also kind of funny. This…this is pretty much just straight up depressing until I force myself to remember that, despite the fact much of what’s in this report seems to suggest that I wasn’t going to turn out very well at all, I am actually a pretty successful person, so go me, I guess, and go late-bloomers and the doggedness born out of low self-esteem.
Two things really stand out for me in this. Well, three. The least important is that I really am shit at “temporal-sequential organization,” like massively so, and it’s strangely awesome to learn it’s always been an issue for me. I am much more forgiving of myself knowing that particular part of my brain simply never worked.
But far more importantly, I was shocked to read that there was “…some concern on father’s part that mother might drink too much. It is reported that she drinks one to three hard drinks per night, but it is stated that this does not interfere with her overall functioning.”
Trying to figure out when my mother really took to drinking and when it officially became a problem has been a mystery my remaining family members have been trying to solve for years. I knew that my mother liked to drink even when I was little, but for my father to mention her drinking to the therapist meant he was aware, probably before anyone else, of the behavior that would eventually do her in, and I’ll never know if he ever tried to do anything about it, or if he had any sense of the person she was capable becoming, or was slowly becoming, and then emphatically became.
And, as someone who likes to have one to three drinks per night herself, it makes me question my behavior. I am wired deep for addiction, but I’ve managed to avoid being addicted to anything so far, except for maybe male attention when I was younger. Well, I briefly became addicted to smoking when I moved back to LA three months ago, but I’m already done with that because, though my “temporal-sequential organization” might be abysmal, I’m not actually stupid. I do have problems with impulse control occasionally, and I know that can lead to addiction issues, but that’s a “problem” that’s actually started to manifest itself in positive ways. At the moment, I can’t not communicate my feelings and say exactly what I think and want and need, and that’s a big accomplishment for me, as I spent most of my life minimizing my feelings, or putting other people’s feelings in front of my own. But anyway, I guess I should watch the drinking, but I’m so hyper-vigilant of my own substance use and of other people’s that I’m pretty sure I’d know when and if I developed a problem, and anyway, I’m a writer, so you know, bottoms up?
So it happened – someone from my family found this blog.
A friend of mine ran a portion of one of my entries on her online magazine a few months ago. It was published anonymously, just the like the blog, though it ran with a picture of me as a child.
Recently, the same friend published a short story of mine. It ran with my name and I posted the link on Facebook, having forgotten about the blog entry that linked here.
One of my younger cousins, Larissa, is my friend on Facebook, and she was nice enough to read the story. She looked through the rest of the magazine and found the picture of me, and then she found everything else. When she emailed me to say she found the blog, I thought I might throw up all over my keyboard.
Last week, I returned to Shanghai after spending almost three weeks in Taiwan. Taiwan is gorgeous, delicious, friendly, and relaxing. China is also those things, but less often and rarely at once. It’s an exciting place to live, but a tough one as well. Still, I’m happy to be back, and to be teaching.
When I first arrived in Taiwan I spent a few days in Taipei, and one of the things I did— when I wasn’t stuffing my face, which I was doing constantly because the food is so good it’s stupid to ever stop eating—was visit Hsing Ting Kong temple with my friend of one day, Mike. Hsing Ting Kong is a Buddhist temple “guided by the divine character of En Chu Kong,” and Mike prays there regularly.
Mike and I had been talking about Taiwanese fortune telling over a lunch of dumplings and dumplings and beef soup and more soup. He told me his sister once visited a fortuneteller who told her to eat less beef, and when she did, her problems, which anyone else would have thought were completely unrelated to her beef consumption, improved. I told Mike I’d love to see a Taiwanese fortuneteller. After an annoying session with a psychic two years ago I swore I’d stop bothering with “that kind of stuff” (shamans don’t count) because I always obsess about whatever I’m told, but I decided visiting a fortune teller in Taiwan was okay because it was a relevant cultural experience, and also because hey, maybe this would be the person who could tell me how to fix my life. What if all of my problems were the result of not eating enough fried chicken and this was the only person who knew it? (Fried chicken from the night markets was one of my favorite things to eat in Taiwan and I’ve craved it every day since I got back to China.)
I guess I got a little gushy, but that’s because I really am grateful that she was the person on the receiving end of my initial email. She’s very generous. This whole thing could have sucked in more than a few ways.
The forced formality of my writing - my attempts to be noticeably normal and intelligent - crack me up.
I feel we approach the world very similarly. I could be wrong, of course, but you seem to be a super “processor” like I am, and like to turn information and situations over and over and over. I’m lucky that you turned out to be who you are – I can imagine that most other people would either ignore my original email and/or be wildly offended by it, or would just respond very superficially because they didn’t think deeply about the world. Your emails are so insightful and thoughtful. Thank you.
I’m not sure that I like China, but I am fascinated by it. It’s an interesting time to be here, and working with (rich, privileged) young people is very illuminating. They are totally entitled but also incredibly driven, a combination you don’t always find in America, and the population as a whole seems to think anything is possible. Considering what’s happened in the last decade, I think they’re probably right. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of China’s policies and actions, but I am still happy to be here as an observer.
The rumors about my father’s death made it to America, but I always thought it was an accident as well. I was in Ukraine a few years before he died, and it is not hard to imagine something terrible happening on those roads. I could see how someone might have had it out for my father, I guess, because that’s just the place it was (is?), but I know he tried to distance himself from all the corruption. He told me that’s why he left the bank, actually. He truly wanted to help Ukraine, and he knew establishing a central bank that was corrupt from the start wasn’t going to benefit anyone.
She wants to go on my journey with me. I hate the word journey and normally hate people who use it, but I love this woman. How could I not?
Thank you so much for getting back to me - and for being open to talking about your relationship with my father.
Yes, narratives… It’s impossible not to create them, at least for me. I’m not even sure if I do it because it’s easier to process or organize information. I think it’s just a habit, though I’m not sure it’s a good one. Narratives complicate things. I’m trying to approach learning more about my parents as openly as possible, but it’s hard.
I’m not sure why my sister thought you were involved with my father either—I haven’t discussed it with her recently and it doesn’t seem worth going over again, but it really is strange. I appreciate you handling the fact that I emailed you out of nowhere to ask you about something you didn’t actually do so gracefully.
Last week, I moved all of my belongings into storage and took off for China, where I’m teaching for the summer. Because I was leaving, and because my boyfriend and I are “taking a break,” we decided to give up our apartment, even though it was really, really nice, and surprisingly affordable. I toyed with the idea of subletting it, but there’s no way I could afford the rent on my own when I return, and it would be depressing to be in our old place and surrounded by reminders that we couldn’t make it work even though we loved each other and, again, had a prettygreat apartment. In New York City, that’s some sort of crime.
When I was slipping the keys to my storage unit on my key chain, I realized that although my key chain weighs, like, a pound and a half, the keys to that lock are the only keys I need. They, of course, weigh almost nothing. A lot of people move their stuff into storage and marvel at how their life and belongings, which once seemed so sprawling, fit so easily into a 5 x 10 unit. I certainly did, and knowing that key would be my only connection to all of my stuff when I was halfway around the world was both liberating and frightening.
So I heard back from “my father’s mistress” and…well, you’ll see. She seems very cool and thoughtful and open-minded. The email I sent her had no subject (because what the hell could I say?) but the subject of her reply was “Peoples’ lives and our narratives about them.” I was like, aaaaaaand I love you.
I’m still processing this, both because there’s a lot to process and I’m confused, and because I’m in Asia now and so jet-lagged I’m about two seconds away from passing out.
I welcome your initiative to contact me. It’s not a problem at all. I would like to have a conversation with you about your dad, who was a good friend and mentor.
When your dad died in the car accident in Ukraine I was 24 years old, just out of graduate school.
I met your dad at an art gallery. It turns out we both loved the visual arts and thus started a friendship that centered around exploring the turbulent cultural life that was unfolding in early post-communist Ukraine. He was an enthusiastic buyer contemporary art and was well connected. I was thrilled to come along and absorb the atmosphere. I was flattered that he would want to take me along.
As I mentioned here, my father was having an affair with a Swiss woman when he died, and I’ve been trying to track her down. I want to know about her relationship with my father and hear another perspective on him. My sister, who met her in Ukraine the summer he died, gave me her name, and I’ve been poking around the Internet trying to find her for the past few months but haven’t come up with anything or anyone.
The other day I was going over some articles about my father’s death that my mother saved, and I noticed his mistress actually contributed to one of them as a reporter. Turns out I had her name wrong by one letter. Though her name seems like it could be really common if you’re Swiss, when I typed in the correct spelling of her name, I found her, and her email address, immediately. Sometimes the internet is scary.
I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write anything, but in between my all consuming, last-minute-class-planning-and-student-paper-reading, and my related but useless empty-headed-wall-staring-or-drinking, I found a little time to think about this project. What I mean to say is, I thought about it without meaning to, while simultaneously staring at walls or strangers on the subway.
I didn’t want this project to be cathartic. I don’t think the need for catharsis is a reason to write, and I don’t like reading work that’s reaching for it. However, I seem to have achieved some anyway. Since starting this blog, I’m less attached to my original narrative about my parents—a little less “poor me.” I never thought about my parents much, but now I think about them even less. When I do, I don’t feel much friction. While I’m sure that sounds fucked up to some people, I think it’s a good thing. When I used to think about my parents, it was usually through subconscious connections or a need to “work something out.” The fact that they’re not bubbling up as often must mean I’m not struggling as much with what happened.
I was telling a friend about this project on Friday night, which was random because I’m not talking about it with anyone. We were talking about our own lives, our false starts and distractions. He’s recently married and finding it hard to stay faithful; I’m in a totally committed relationship but scared of actual marriage. I brought up this project because what happened to my parent’s seemed relevant to our conversation. I thought we could learn something from them, and I told him what I’m discovering.
In her memoir “The Long Goodbye,” Meghan O’Rourke suggests that grief can be isolating because our culture is “nervous around death.” We don’t have rituals that govern it, or a shared language to discuss it, so it’s hard to even know what it means to grieve. I know she’s right, but only because that’s what I’ve witnessed or been told. That hasn’t been my experience at all.
It is true that many people don’t have access to rituals other than the standard trifecta of wakes, funerals and burials. And for people such as myself, even these have little meaning because they are usually framed by a religion like Catholicism, which offers me nothing I want to take.
My boyfriend’s grandmother died last week, so I recently participated in all of these rituals. We spent Sunday at the wake, and Monday at the funeral and burial. An additional gloom hung over the events because the one-year anniversary of his father’s death was the following weekend. Not only were people remembering where they had been a year ago, but they knew they’d be back in church again shortly.
I saw the shaman on Friday. I’m not ready to refer to him as my shaman. I don’t think I’ll ever be/kind of hope I never am. Is talking about your shaman better or worse than talking about your therapist?
It was a pretty low-key meeting. I told him I felt better after the last session, and it’s true. I feel lighter, more positive and confident. It could be psychosomatic, but I’m still confused about what happened and not totally ready to believe it, so you think that would work against me. I’ve also already done a lot of trippy, alternative things over the years, but nothing else had such an immediate, positive effect as this brother-spirit-removal. It wasn’t even the first time I’ve had evil entities removed from my aura. It wasn’t even the second! But it was the first time it “worked.” The German woman who performed those cleansings years ago seemed perfectly competent, but she must have been asleep at the wheel if she managed to miss my dead brother. The German wasn’t a total wash, though. She looked at a picture of my intensely possessive boyfriend and told me he was cursed, which was totally believable and illuminating.
The shaman and I spent most of our time talking about my creative projects and how I’m going to have the life that I want. In retrospect, this session was a little more life-coachy than shamanistic. (That’s just a guess—I’ve never seen a life coach. Even I draw the line somewhere.) I tried to pry some information out of him. I wasn’t sure what was next in terms of my brother’s spirit—was he gone forever? Did I have to worry about him coming back? The shaman didn’t answer my questions; he just nodded and looked at me. I didn’t pay enough attention when it happened, but now that I’m thinking about it I’m annoyed. I mean, I need to know this stuff, right?
Later on in the conversation he asked me if I ever had an imaginary friend. I can’t remember why—maybe we were talking about creativity and magic? I told him I did when I was four or five years old. And her name was … Ringabell.
When I started this project, I thought my main struggle would be with the availability of information. There are only so many letters, photographs and memories, after all. But this hasn’t been a problem. The real problem is what I’m doing with the information I’m getting. If I want to understand my parents, I have to be open to understanding them, and it turns out I’m not. I’m stubborn and attached to my narrative and my original impressions of them. I decided a long time ago that my parents had a bad marriage and they were unhappy. When I come across information that tells me otherwise, I experience intense physical and cognitive dissonance. My brain hardens. My screen goes blank. Every cell of my body says “Nope.”
I’ll try out phrases like, “My parents were really in love, at least for a while”—which is something their early letters seem to suggest—but it just sounds ridiculous, like I’m making it up. What if I made my version up? What if both options are correct? If I’m not willing to really learn something or change my ideas, I might as well just cry into the pages of a composition notebook in the privacy of my own bedroom, because this has all been for naught.
I’ve got two theories about why it’s so difficult to accept new information about my parents. One is that there’s just some serious rewiring that needs to occur for me to change my mind. It’s a big shift. The other idea is that finding information that contradicts my assumptions is actually more painful than finding information that supports them. Because you know what? If my parents were happy, in love, having fun and accomplishing what they dreamed, it’s sad that they fell out of love and life’s complications got the best of them. It is sad. It is so really fucking sad that when I think about it I am filled with grief, and a little bit of terror. I think that’s why I resist the shift in perspective—that would give me something to mourn. I’m still not mourning their disappearance from my life, but sometimes what happened to me doesn’t seem nearly as bad as what happened to them (and between them). I HATE that this happened to them, and I hate that it can happen to anyone. At times, falling out of love, or waking up in the middle of a life that you didn’t want, feels like the saddest thing I can think of.
I could be wrong. Maybe there were problems from the start. Maybe my mom saw marriage to my father as a solid way out of her regular life, and that’s actually what he ended up being. Maybe he was always a short-tempered dick and was just good at hiding it until kids came along. But those sad stories almost seem comforting compared to the ones I may be discovering, which are ones I already knew, but had never applied to my own parents. Life can change you, and you can’t always change yourself.
I’ve been focusing on my brother’s death a lot here recently. Of course, a shaman did just tell me my brother was…I’m still not sure how to say it. With me? Following me? Fucking with me?
I never really understood the role that his death played in my family, and going over my mother’s letters and notes—even talking to my aunt— taught me it was much bigger than I understood or imagined. I’ve also realized I’m bizarrely steeled against grief, so I’m not great at understanding other people’s experience with it. A few years ago, when I heard the news that my best friend’s schizophrenic sister committed suicide, the first thing I thought was that it was probably for the best. Her sister’s illness had put her entire family (and particularly her) through so much. But when I actually said that out loud to someone, they looked at me like I was crazy. My friend and her family probably weren’t taking such a practical approach to their loss, but the fact that I couldn’t understand why they weren’t a little relieved said a lot about me.
I recently assigned bell hooks’ essay “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” from her 1995 collection Art on my Mind: Visual Politics, to my academic writing class. The essay is about “the place of the visual in black life—the importance of photography,” particularly the family portraits and snapshots that adorned the walls of African-American homes before racial integration. hooks believes these images offered a way for black people to see themselves differently “than the dominant culture” and that they were “a critical intervention, a disruption of white control over black images.”
It’s a really interesting essay. My students weren’t crazy about it, but it prompted a good discussion. hooks frames her essays with stories of her personal relationship to photography, which enriches and complicates her argument. It’s her personal story that I want to talk about. She begins by describing finding a powerful snapshot of her father that her sister “possessed”—a picture hooks had never even seen until she found it displayed in her sister’s house.
“In this snapshot,” she writes, “he is standing by a pool table. The look on his face is confident, seductive cool—a look we rarely saw growing up…There is such boldness, such fierce openness in the way he faces the camera. This snapshot was taken before marriage, before us, his seven children, before our presence in his life forced him to leave behind the carefree masculine identity this pose conveys.”
hooks was fascinated by the photo, and, in a sense, seduced by the intimacy it seemed to offer. She says, “Standing before this snapshot, I come closer to the cold, distant, dark man who is my father, closer than I can ever come in real life. Not always able to love him there, I am sure I can love this version of him…” Later she adds, “I want to rescue and preserve this image of our father, not let it be forgotten. It allows me to understand him, provides a way for me to know him that makes it possible to love him again, despite all the other images, the ones that stand in the way of love.”
Finding old photographs of your parents, especially ones that are B.Y—before you—can be exhilarating. It’s probably some sort of rite of passage, and probably one that gets a lot of page time in memoirs. I haven’t read enough memoirs to know, though I’m trying to change that. (I just read Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss. Amazing and brutal. I can’t remember if there’s a “picture scene” in it.)
I assume most people who are close to their parents have more delightful experiences when looking at old photos. Look how awesome/terrible mom dressed! Look at dad’s beard! Etc., etc. But when you’re not close to your parents, it’s easy to become confused when you see a side of them in a photo that seems impossible given your experience. And while I admire hooks for being open to what is essentially a new relationship with her father, I’m struggling to do the same.
When I first started this project I wanted to get to know my parents, maybe even find a way to miss them. I’ve definitely lost sight of that goal at times, but it’s supposed to remain a sort of North Star. And I am getting to know my parents, learning things about them I knew nothing about. Their correspondences, to each other and to friends, have affected me far more than the photographs I’ve found. My father’s eloquent, loving letters to my mother reveal a side of him that I never could have imagined. I’m so happy to have these letters, but really, they’re also kind of a mind fuck.
The problem is, knowing my parents in this new way requires a tectonic mental shift—and it’s one I’ve been resisting. hooks makes it sound easy and tidy, but I’m sure it wasn’t, and I find myself intimidated by her grace. It’s one thing to appreciate a new “version” of a parent, and it’s another to be able to love it. Love is…such a strong word.
What is the correct or “true” version of a parent? Is it the one you experienced for years, one that you can substantiate with personal experience (which could be considered evidence) or is it the photograph or the letter that upends it all? The fact hooks would allow these versions to exist together, or have one to replace the other, shows that she invites another version, right? If you’re not inviting, does that mean you’re denying the truth?
It’s hard for me to let go of my original ideas about my parents. The letters my father wrote my mom are amazing, but also creepy and overdramatic—and not just because it’s gross to think of my parents in certain ways. I read dominance and insecurity into his longing for my mother. I wonder if I am seeing shades of his controlling nature. I wonder if my mother was in Europe not to learn German, but to get away from him.
Similarly, when I see pictures of my parents where they seem in love, I wonder if either of them are faking it (particularly my mother). Are they smiling but thinking, “What the hell am I doing?”
I second-guess all of these documents because so much of my experience contradicts it. But what’s the point of examining all of these artifacts if I’m not willing to believe what I find in them? hooks talks about letting the newly discovered image of her father replace the images of him that stand in the way of love. I’m trying to let these new images of my parents replace the ones that stand in the way of my grief, because I consider a lack of grief to be a lack of love. I wonder if it was hard for hooks to love her father again. It’s certainly hard for me to grieve for my parents, even though I’m chasing a desire to do so. I don’t want to love or grieve a version of them that’s basically my own fabrication. Is it really possible, or wise, to let the things I didn’t know about them, or images I never had, overshadow the ones I did? That seems like a form of magical thinking to me, one that’s seductive, but also a little dangerous.
Although I started this blog to figure out who my parents were, I quickly found another goal. Once I realized that my parents might have been “different” once, I’ve wanted to figure out why they changed. Everything I’ve discovered seems to point to my brother dying when he was 10 months old, two years before I was born. Sorry if you want to shout “duh,” but I really didn’t understand how that could permanently throw their marriage off the rails if they already had one child and then successfully had another. (Shows what I know about relationships, children, life). Because I didn’t understand how that could happen, I assumed things had never been very good; that my parents were always the people I’d known. Even when they were alive there was plenty of information to contradict my verdict of their unhappiness: my friends’ affection for my mother, my father’s sense of humor, their travels and photographs, their interesting friends.
Maybe the biggest thing to take away from this is that you can never know your parents, alive or dead. I don’t think children have the capacity, or the distance. That doesn’t mean our version of our parents is wrong, but it’s certainly not complete. We can’t know our parents because when they’re fulfilling their duties as parents they are playing a role. They have to tell us what to do, worry about us, try to protect us—it’s hard for some of them to stop, even when we’re old enough to take over the responsibilities ourselves.
I love children, but I don’t want them. I don’t want them for the same reasons many women don’t want them: I don’t want to spend my time, energy, and money on other people, and I’m worried that I will resent my kids and be a horrible mother. Maybe I’ll regret this when I’m older, but I’ll just have to wait and see.
The only time I doubt my decision is when I see people—adults or teenagers—who have great relationships with their parents, and maybe when I see a particularly cute child fling themselves into their parent’s arms. It must be amazing and fulfilling to be a parent to children who actually love and/or like you. But how does that happen? How does one produce happy children who don’t turn into vicious devils who shoplift makeup and use their mother’s back massager as a vibrator and ruin their older sister’s clothing when they turn twelve? How does one avoid all that? (Yes, now that I am an adult I recognize that my mom might not have been using her massager as a massager either, and that makes me want to shower only in bleach forever. Hot damn though, that thing worked. But oh, gross.)
I’m thinking about my brother because I’m writing this, but I’m actually not thinking about him very much, considering a shaman just told me his spirit was pissed that I’m alive and he’s not. I don’t know how to process this news. I like the idea that it could be true, because it transfers the blame I usually save for myself because life isn’t how it should be to someone else, thereby absolving me of a little responsibility. It also confirms with freakish accuracy my suspicion that my “problems” are bigger than me, and maybe even located on another spiritual plane. What an explanation! I always thought the answer would be something more vague.
I went to see the shaman again. I didn’t have a particular agenda and I didn’t feel a profound change after I saw him the first time, but I liked talking to him. I don’t think his belief system is any less legitimate than the rest of them. In fact, I think it’s a good way to view things.
We talked for a long time, mostly about my feelings of “not being enough,” and things I’m uncertain about—all the topics that make me a broken record. I was annoyed to be discussing these things, but he told me not to worry about it, because what I was really talking about was myself. That’s the truth.
He asked me a number of times if I’d been jealous of my older sister when we were growing up. He’d asked the same question during our previous sessions. I said no. My sister is five years older than me, and when I was little we were so different and far apart in age, it never occurred to me to be jealous of her. Maybe I was jealous of the fact she seemed to never be in trouble, at least not the way I was. I was always in trouble. I was often doing something spazzy or dumb (because I was so worried about being in trouble that I had to make my fear come true just to get it over with). The shaman seemed to accept this explanation. Mostly.
This is a great letter my mother wrote her best friend two months after my sister was born.
I can’t believe what a happy new mom my mother was. She’s self-aware enough to realize her joy might be a bit much for people, but I’m glad she was able to gush to her best friend. I’ve have a few friends with kids, and none of them were this effusive or energetic. They could barely answer emails for two months, let alone bang out a letter on a typewriter. I’ve always wondered if my mother was reluctant or unhappy to have kids; this letter puts that theory to rest. What gets me the most is her handwritten addition on page three, “I would gladly do it again.”
My California trip ended with two days in San Francisco with one of my college roommates. I always know that seeing her will be awesome, but this visit was particularly so. The time I spent with her had an acute feeling of rightness. We talked about real shit and laughed and walked down the street and kept pointing at each other and saying, “Yes.” That’s what the whole time was like. Yes. Yay. I felt like I was one of those wind-up chattering mouth toys. The two weeks I spent in CA before seeing her were a tightening of my dial, and when I got to SF I was put down on the floor so I could jump around yapping until I keeled over.
My friend and I drove to Marin and poked around Commonweal Retreat Center, where my friend had spent a week a few years ago as a part of a yoga philosophy conference (of course). It’s perched right on the coast, and is perfect and gorgeous in the way much of Northern California is. (Maybe you’re in Scotland. Maybe you’re in a Steinbeck novel. Maybe you want to move there, but could you actually handle how nice everyone is? Maybe not.)
In another post, I said I believed my father resented his kids for not being Ukrainian enough. I always wondered why he didn’t make more of an effort to expose us to the culture. I’m assuming his identity was important to him—after all, he was living in Ukraine at the end of his life—but maybe that was more about having an incredible opportunity to help his home country and needing a job. He’d only been intermittently employed for the few years prior, and my parents were worried about money. But if Ukrainianness was really that important, why did he marry someone (against his parents’ wishes) who wasn’t Ukrainian?
When I was talking to my aunt on the Ocean Beach pier, I asked her if she was aware of how my dad treated us. She wasn’t, but she did suggest he might have been angry with my mother for not taking us to Ukrainian school while he was away. This, this information, got me really excited.
I’ve recently realized that I’m really angry. I don’t always consciously feel angry, but my anger, stuffed in thick and deep, is always there. Even though I’m not always aware of it, I’m pretty certain I’m always communicating it.
In December, I went to see a shaman, and while he was looking into the flame of a white candle that I’d rolled all over my body (yup), he casually said something like, “You’re very angry,” or “There’s a lot of anger there.” I was surprised to hear it. I came to discuss and purge lots of things, but I wouldn’t have named any of them anger. Sadness, confusion, jealously, longing…all of those seemed like a better fit.
Later in the session, after we did a guided meditation and talked a bunch, he had me stand in the middle of the room clutching a black stone in each hand. He asked me to send my anger into those stone while he performed a ritual that involved, among other things, spitting alcohol into my face and hitting me with feathers.
m on my vacation in California, and I just returned to LA after visiting my aunt in San Diego. My aunt’s…a hoot. She’s not super into the beach, but otherwise she could probably be Miss Senior San Diego. She’s a tiny bottle-blond who loves water aerobics, acupuncture, bible study, and sex. Her husband, who was eighteen years older than her, passed away a few years ago, and now she spends her nights chatting online with a guy who’s working on an oilrig in Benin. She loves telling jokes and laughing, loudly. I adore her.
I was really excited to see my aunt, and I was excited to ask her some questions about my family. As I drove down highway 5 that afternoon I had worried I would ask too many questions, but when I was finally sitting on the Ocean Beach pier with her I realized they were all about the same thing—my father’s temper. I wanted to know if she was aware of how my father treated me, if he treated my mother badly, and whether or not my mother was aware of his temper before she married him.