I read in the syllabus that you enjoy creative writing. So — The instructions for this assignment ask me to include my family’s demographic information, an analysis of family dynamics, structure, communication type, parenting style, birth order considerations, and family-life-cycle considerations. That is a lot of stuff to discuss. I do not think it can be done well in a single assignment. Nonetheless, I will attempt to discuss it.
I am tired of writing academic papers. So — This discussion is an experiment. I will try to communicate and address the topics above by telling a story, a creatively true story about my father, mother, and the rest. If I do it right, I will also talk about most or some of the above stated topics, in some manner or another, to a greater or lesser degree.
I was born in 1969 at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. I was born into a predominantly black and indigent-care teaching hospital, Grady, because my father worked there as an anesthesiology resident. He was a physician in training. He is the guy that puts you or your mother to sleep for surgery. He later told me, more than once, that he chose anesthesiology because he really did not like people all that much. He had no care to establish long-term relationships with his patients. However, I do know, and can attest to, his genuine and creative and comforting manner when he was with his patients. I watched him once or twice or more, and he told happy stories about the sick. He was good with his patients. But, in the end, he had no patience to see patients more than once or twice. These facts are congruent with his predominantly tyrannical style of parenting me. When he was done, when his patience was gone, he would issue a command, at once, and just like his job, at once, put the matter to sleep — quickly and without any privilege of rational appeal. Reason cannot defeat impatience. It was horrible and I hated it.
I have one memory from Atlanta. I was standing on the couch backwards looking backwards, looking out the window, and I see my father’s back as he is walking to his car. That is all I can remember from Atlanta
In 1973, we three moved to Columbus, Georgia. We lived in a house on a corner in a neighborhood, Kingston, a neighborhood near Airport Thruway. This is the first time I remember other children. I remember feeling uncomfortable when around these other kids. I remember older kids too. They were scary. One of them, or someone, smashed me in the face with a soapy rag he was using to wash a car, and he laughed because he thought it was funny. He thought it was funny that I was screaming and crying as my eyes burned and blinded me. I remember thinking there something is wrong with these people, these other kids. That is what I remember thinking. I remember thinking something is not right. I remember thinking something is terribly wrong here.
At age five (while still living in Kingston) I remember walking hand in hand with my mother into a building. She left me there. I was now in kindergarten. Other kids were everywhere. One in particular, Scott Dillon, for some reason, decided to pick on me. He was shorter and stronger than me. He enjoyed putting me into wrestling holds he learned from his older brother. He thought doing that to me was funny. Other kids laughed at me as well, and eventually joined in. I remember thinking there is something wrong with these people.
In this same time period, I also remember my father coming home one day, from work. I was standing on the chair looking backwards over my mother’s left shoulder. He told us he went to the Mall and told Santa Clause not to come to our house that year. He thought that was funny. I was stupefied. I remember thinking there is something wrong here. That day was hard.
I remember in the 4th grade, at Reese Road Elementary School, black children arrived in busses and mixed in with the white children. This was a culture shock for me. They were so different. Some were aggressive. Some were bizarre in their manners. Some were friendly. However, I did not like them. In fact, I did not like anybody. I was always happy to get home at the end of the day, and to have a few hours before my father got home from work. I remember thinking there is something wrong here. Something is not right. I don’t feel so good.
In the seventh grade I began at Brookstone. Brookstone is private school with grades of K-12. When I began in the 7th grade, I was placed into a group of kids who had been together since kindergarten, or 1st or 2nd grade. That was tough. My classmates were children of wealthy parents. I could have been a member of that family. I had the same parents. However, I found all, or almost all, of my fellow classmates unattractive. I felt no intimacy toward them. None. Everyday day for six years I held my breath until I could go home again, for a few hours before my father came home from work. I remember thinking something is still wrong here. Something is not right. I don’t feel so good.
At age 17 I travelled to Emory to go to college. I lived in a co-ed dormitory. It was great. We all stayed up late. We laughed and told stories. It felt good being together. I finally had some friends — some family — if you will. However, second semester arrived and we all rushed fraternities. I was the only one not to get into a fraternity. That was hard. It was also hard not to see my dorm-mates very frequently – they were always at their fraternity houses. It was hard, at first. But then, it was not all that bad. I often had the entire dormitory hall to myself. It would be quiet. I would eat by myself in my room and watch television. After that, everything would be quiet and nobody was coming home. It was not all that bad at all. I could study physics and math in peace. And quiet. Thank you.
I spent that summer at home in Columbus. I do not remember anything about that summer.
Sophomore year I lived in a dormitory. I was also voted into Chi Phi fraternity, per my request. It was great. I loved it. I had instant friends. I had the privilege and right to wear the colors and the letters. I finally – finally had a family. I lived in the fraternity house junior and senior years. That was fun. But nearing the end of senior year, I wanted to punch everybody in the nose. These people, this instant family of mine, were beginning to drive me nuts. Therefore, something was wrong here.
I spent that summer at home in Columbus. I spent that summer with my Grandfather. He owns a bunch of land on Biggers Rd. We call it the Country Place. It has been there forever. It has an aggravatingly long bumpy gravel road, a downhill road that finally dumps you out into this big open space surrounded by a pine-tree perimeter. There is a small house. There is a small tool shed. There are two lakes. It is beautiful.
That summer my Grandfather and I worked the land, repaired fences and cleared trees and tended the garden and, best of all –- I discovered my Grandfather took lazy lunches. It was great. We would watch his soap opera and eat our sandwiches and talk. I did not recognize my Grandfather here. I had always been with him when my Grandmother was around. I found that I really liked this man. In fact I loved him. And I understood why he was working at the Country Place – to get away from Grandmother for a while. Something was wrong there. Something was wrong there for a long time. Something.
Then my Grandfather dies. That was hard.
Then Grandmother died. That is not so hard. She actually dies a bit later in the story, but it really does not matter when you learn she dies, or died.
In 1991, I started medical school at Emory. I was there for four days when I saw this girl. She smiled at me. Wow. She was tall, slender, and beautiful. I deduced that she was also intelligent. I married this girl on November 27, 1993. Her name is Sue. I had never felt so close to somebody in my life. Which is not true. I had never felt so close to somebody who is not my mother, in my entire life. My mother has and had always been the only one, the only person that I truly trusted wholly and entirely and without any doubt whatsoever. That was true at that point. It is not true anymore.
Sue and I lived together. We never saw each other. We always had different schedules. We would be gone days and nights and days again and do nothing but sleep when we were home. That was hard. I missed her.
I graduated medical school. I put my degree away. I went to Athens. I went to the University of Georgia, to study philosophy. At first, I commuted to Athens from Atlanta and back again. That was hard. After that, I rented an apartment in Athens and stayed there during the week. That was hard, at first. Though, I soon learned to love it. It was quiet. It was quiet, there. In the same, nobody was coming home. I could read and think and write in peace. Yet, something was not right about that. Because, I was married to a woman I loved. Yet, I lived more comfortably in a different city. Something is not right. What is not right?
Sue moved to Athens with me. We lived in a house. We lived in the country, Watkinsville. We had twelve acres of land. Nobody was around. Sue and I still never saw each other. Sue had a long, long drive to work. I had the same to school. We were both very busy. We never saw each other, again. I loved it, most of it. Something was wrong now.
About this time we decided to have a baby. So, we had a baby. Sophie.
We moved back to Columbus in 2001 to have to have a baby. The baby was born. Sue took maternity leave. Now, we were both home together for more than a day or two. Neither of us liked it. She got restless and agitated. I felt irritable and impatient. So, she returned to work after two weeks of maternity leave. Everyone was amazed. I was delighted.
Thomas was born in 2002.
Now, for first time Sue and I had more than one thing we both cared about, i.e., Sophie and Thomas. We disagreed strongly on many principles and ideas and practices regarding the rearing of our children. Eventually, we could not agree on anything. Our marital care for each other began to dissolve, with quickness. Three years later, after much conflict and crap, I got sick and spent five weeks in the hospital. Sue came to the hospital and told me she is divorcing me. She told me that the children are happy and relaxed and playful because we are not together, fighting, all the time, silently. The tension between Sue and me was making the children ill. So, we stopped.
Looking back, I can now see that if Sue and I had actually ever discussed our relationship, we would have disagreed way back in the beginning. We would not have been married in the first place. I have learned from that thirteen-year experience. And, that learned knowledge is like a weapon for me now — It both tills the soil for the seed, and defends against the thief.
I left the hospital and walked off to live by myself. That was hard; it is a long and different story.
Things are hard. Isolation is hard. Family is hard.
The trick key then is this: Accept that things are hard. Return from the extremes. Return to the Middle. And stay there.