#62 I Can Always Make More Money

That’s what I wrote and believed at the end of #59 The New Venture Part II.

Licking my wounds and lying low after having to shut down a business and divorce my partners, took all my time. My vocation was sleeping late, watching late movies, eating macaroni and cheese and doing anything but solving what was next. Then I met the Russians traveling in America. #12 Russian Adventure.

I didn’t have much savings left but as the title of this essay screams, no big deal. I was healthy, with plenty of time to do something about that. Not only did I believe that “I could always make more money,” I also had a mantra when I left New York. “I can always work at Wendy’s.” Really, that’s what I’d say to myself. I could work hard. I always had. I always would.

Traveling to Russia took a chunk out of a year getting a visa. My Russian friends had me busy here. I wasn’t trying to go back to New York to work. Not yet.

When I returned from Russia a friend in Pennsylvania suggested that I stay with her and her daughter until I made a decision. I don’t think we were clear about how long. What a shock. Me with no plan. My furniture was in storage except for personal items. I was just beginning to work with some people in Ohio theatre. I was also writing a first clumsy screenplay about my Russian adventures. Though I had no income I was healthy and knew I could generate income again.

On a Monday I was a skier, tennis player and I jogged or walked 5 miles every morning.

On Tuesday, I woke up and couldn’t walk across the room. I couldn’t stand in the shower. I couldn’t raise my arm to comb my hair.

I went to a friend’s doctor who did interminable tests. This wasn’t a simple flu. He didn’t have an answer or if he did, he wasn’t sharing. He did more tests. He tried B12 shots. He tried a variety of drugs. My energy was about 10%. On a good day it was about 30. There was nothing I could do but continue to share a house, fortunately with good friends. Some days I’d have energy but it was never dependable or predictable. And the only time people saw me was on a good day.

If you ever consider taking in a houseguest for a while, remember this story.

More tests. It wasn’t Lime Disease. I didn’t have MS, although it seemed like it.  It wasn’t Lupus. Finally the doctor thought it was something he’d been reading about with many names, mostly Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. What? That’s just humorless.

It took time to adjust and here’s why. There was no cure. If he had said almost anything else, there might have been something to try. It was 1987 and 1988 and most physicians didn’t even believe that “it” existed; impossible to understand and out of the question to explain to friends.

I found a doctor who specialized in this mysterious disease. But all he ever did was talk about how wonderful he was and how many books he’d written. I found another doctor who preyed on people with this illness. He kicked me out of his office because I hadn’t gotten better. He was kicked out of medicine: something about drugs.

I grasped at any possibility. I was in a six month study at NIH. Unfortunately it was inconclusive.

I joined a support group. That seemed like an okay idea at first, but I didn’t want to sit around talking about it. I was by then dating the man I didn’t name in #56 It Takes Two. He went with me to one of the meetings for spouses, and dominated the conversation trying to find out if HE had the disease.

What was that mantra? “I can always work at Wendy’s.” I sent my furniture for auction, sold jewelry and furs to live.

This was a debilitating condition and still there were no answers. It didn’t kill people, at least not directly but they defined it as an immune dysfunction. I was in a second study at NIH. They thought they were on to something, an overactive immune system. Great! That sounds fixable. But it was not.

So get this. I decided to contact my mother. Not for help. That was NEVER an option. The last time I had seen her she had her husband whack me with his cane. I never knew what caused her cruelty and had little tolerance for her. But I had been carrying an emotional bowling ball around all my life. So I composed a letter to Alice. Here we go. A friend, who was both a college chaplain and a psychotherapist, checked the letter so that it was in no way negative or threatening.

I hoped that if I could get answers about choices she made with me, it would go a long way toward my beating the mystery disease. Yes, I was going to beat what no doctor could.

Basically my letter asked for the reason she had left me in a hospital alone for two weeks. That was it. I just wanted and had always wanted to know why. In 30 years, I never asked.

I could not know what monster it would awaken in her. I wasn’t asking her why she hated me. I just wanted to know about the one decision.

To go back, #4 Straddling the Bumper, I needed surgery. She had made up a fantastic story of my having had an injury as a little girl. But her lie isn’t important here. I only wanted to know why she didn’t even stay with me until I had the surgery. Back then she told me that her best friend, who was about to have a baby, needed her.

The typed venom that the mailman delivered, said that I was so “hateful” I deserved to be sick. And as to the question of why she left me in the hospital, she wrote, “I was a young mother, with a family to take care of.” She added, “And wasn’t it wonderful of me to bring you a birthday cake and on the hottest day of the year?”

I was trying to beat an illness that was destroying my life. That reply just wouldn’t do. So I found a man in Seattle who kept track of weather back to 1957. The average temperature that summer was 68 degrees, not hot. She was 40, not young. My father was away. My brother was 12 and could have stayed with friends. So I put that to her in another letter, something so stupendously stupid that someone should have taken my paper and any writing instruments from me right then.

I’ve saved her letter, and I’m including a brief passage because frankly you’d want to slit your wrist if you read the whole thing. Keep in mind that she learned that her only daughter had a debilitating illness. But, she replied that she “risked her life having a second child” (me). This wasn’t news. She told me that all my life. She often paraded around showing us the Cesarean scar.

She wrote, “I can only reiterate what I said in my last letter, you must cleanse yourself of all the unjustified hate within you – and only you can do that – you will never be a healthy, happy person unless you do. I feel this will go a long way in healing whatever problem you have. “

And she typed, “Love, Mom.”

It was the last I ever had to do with her. That is until 17 years later when my nephew wanted a family dinner. Do you think she asked how I was after 17 years?

Since my mother officially disowned me when my father died, I considered that my remaining a good daughter to her, worthy of my Stupendously Stupid List. That’s piffle.

I’ll tell other stories about her, but only trained people who specialize in specific personality disorders can effectively explain her.

I wondered for decades what her friends thought about her leaving her child in another city for surgery. If I had a nine-year-old daughter in a hospital, I’d sleep on the floor by her bed. But now we’ve guessed that she likely told everyone that I was away at camp. Since the surgery was never mentioned again, she got away with it.

And it turns out; you can’t always just make more money.


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