One day, at the age of twelve or thirteen, as I was coming down the stairs into the kitchen I noticed the Hershey bar on top of the refrigerator and, being particularly desirous of something sweet at the time, decided to eat it, and did so. Technically there was a Hershey bar on top of the refrigerator so that if my diabetic mother’s blood sugar should ever fall precipitously low my father would have something with which to prevent her falling into a diabetic coma before she could be gotten to the hospital. I knew, however, that this was only a formality, since such a thing had never happened in my memory and my mother’s diabetes was well under control. The Hershey bar was delicious.
Then, about a month and a half later, my diabetic mother’s blood sugar fell precipitously low. I remember the ensuing scene only very, very vaguely; I know it involved my father’s roaring at me, my dissolving into wailing, tearful sobs, and the emergency delivery by some means or other of a Hershey bar to the house. My mother did not fall into a diabetic coma before she could be gotten to the hospital. She did end up having to stay there for a week or two, but when she came back she seemed more or less fine.
I grew up in a house where if you ate a candy bar somebody might die. Is it any wonder I’m fucked up?
Faustus, that’s not fucked up, that’s guilt!
Good old ecumenical guilt – effectively used by both Jewish and Catholic mothers from the beginning of time…
You know, somehow, that is the most revealing thing you have ever written.
awww bunny… you know your Dad was just scared. it wasn’t your fault, you were just a kid.
think about it like this… he was probably not too far from the age you are now. imagine if something threatened E.S.’s life, you might scream at the nearest child too, knowing you were wrong to do so and that it wasn’t the child’s fault, but not able to control your terror and fury that life is so fragile in all cases, not just in the case of diabetics and their comas. aren’t we all deeply and quite reasonably furious that life will take everything we love from us, or vice versa, in the end?
let it go, cupcake. let it go… it wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t his fault, it was nobody’s fault – it’s all part of the sad truth that ‘death life doth end,’ which makes anyone who loves anyone angry and sad.
Correction to the poem i misquoted in the previous comment: “all life death does end and each day dies with sleep.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
It’s kind of funny that this post would show up the same time as The Chocolate Show is winding down.
Wow. Hersheys? You’d think that if you were going to risk your mother’s health, it’d be for Valrhona, or at least a Lindt bar.
I almost got out of bed in the middle of the night to respond to this because I couldn’t get it out of my head. But I didn’t know what to say in a couple of lines that would be enough. It warrants an entire email. But if this is all I have, then I need to remind you did not kill your mother, that your father has obviously long forgiven you and loves you very much, and it’s time to forgive yourself for giving in to the temptation of eating a candy bar that had been sitting on top of the fridge for months – whatever the reason it was there. Had you been a seasoned babysitter, you would have known to never eat the last of anything; always leave half of whatever you find that you absolutely must have right now. Please forgive yourself for just being a kid when you were just a kid.
As for fucked up – we’re all fucked up, don’t you think? My mom spent a month in the hospital in traction every year when I was growing up. Her back went out if she lifted my younger brother, if she reached into the closet for his sweater, you never knew when it would go out. I had to think ahead constantly and try to spare her back going out all the time. And I couldn’t always do the right thing because you didn’t know what would put it out. And because I was just a kid, though I don’t know if I ever felt like one. I was practically raising my younger brother from the time I was about 7. And I guess I was doing a shitty job, because he was incredibly bright, but confused and angry. One night (my dad worked nights) he came at my mom with a chair (he was 8), and she made me push him down the stairs and out the front door at midnight to wait for my dad outside all night. I was 10, and I was pushing my brother out of the house because I didn’t know what else to do, and he looked at me and asked, “Whose side are you on anyway?” That was 40 years ago, may as well have been yesterday. The story gets worse, but you don’t need to know.
Faustus, we’re all fucked up in some way. But you have to keep going. And know that people care about you. And keep it in perspective: you are not dying of a terminal illness, you can walk and talk, hear and see, you have a wonderful partner, family who love you, friends, a warm home, food, intelligence and thoughtfulness, many talents and gifts, two published books and many articles, musical compositions in the theater, a new play coming out, a new president who will take out country in a better direction – I know it’s hard when you feel badly to think of all these things and properly appreciate them, but they are all there for you. It’s not all bad. Truly it’s not. We’re all fucked up, but it’s also not so bad…
For all of us who have guilt over childhood mistakes:
What would you tell a child who made that mistake today? Think very carefully about it. Now, sit down and face the child that is in you and tell him/her the same thing. Help in your own recovery. And forgive the child’s innocence and foolishness, because it’s what we all need.
Wow, two entries relating to 1989 in two days! Do I feel the next book subject coming on?
It’s not your fault. Chocolate is compelling.
another thought, this one from the buddhist meditation i’ve kinda dabbled in … it’s not personal. your mother being sick, your father being upset about it… none of it is personal, it’s just life. the worst of life, but still, just life.
another thought… there were probably a lot of other things that your Dad could have used to resuscitate your Mom. There must have been sugar (if only cubes in the bowl for guests), or honey, or maybe some OJ, or SOMETHING carby. Presumably your father either thought of it and tried it to no avail (in which case it’s not really your fault, obviously she was going to have to go to the hospital anyway), or failed to think of it (which also means it isn’t really your fault).
And bottom line: your father and mother were the grownups in the house. They were responsible for keeping your mother safe and healthy. You, at the age of 12 or 13, were NOT responsible for that. Despite your father’s moment of panic and anger, he knew – or should have known – that he and your mom were responsible, not you. If anyone ever implied that you were responsible, then that is the fuckup. Not you.