When I was eight years old I used to talk to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. At the time my family — mother, father and us kids — lived in a modest two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I shared the second bedroom with my younger brother and sister, so the bathroom was the one place where I had the privacy I desperately sought as the oldest child.
I had turned to the mirror for companionship because that year I discovered there was something not quite normal or typical of my family’s lifestyle. I noticed my mother rarely smiled, only touched us by accident or to punish, and tended to instigate occasional arguments between herself and my father. Most of those fights revolved around another woman competing against us for my father’s free time. But in fits of drunken rage, my father frequently ended these arguments by slapping my mother around, and reducing her to tears and whimpering apologies.
At age eight, I wondered about the reach of a grownup’s power. From my perspective, we were kids with no authority or worldly knowledge, therefore we were stuck, living with these combative and unhappy parents. But my mother, on the other hand, even though she was not as strong as her husband, she was still an adult, she worked part-time outside of our home, she seemed able to come and go as she pleased. Had she ever considered making a change? It was the 1970s, television was loaded with shows about happier grownups and their kids, there had to be some truthful basis for shows like these. I wondered if my mother had any desire for a happier life. I know I did. One day I asked her the question which would create a gulf between us and turn me to friendship with a mirror.
My mother was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, and my father hadn’t arrived home from work yet. I saw, not only an opportunity for female bonding, but also a private moment to help my mother hatch a plan for improving life for herself and her family. At the time it seemed logical in my eight year old mind, especially given the fact that maybe my mother herself hadn’t thought of this. After rehearsing the question in my mind a few times, I approached the sink. I looked up at my mother with earnest, hoped that I was radiating enough love to be understood and then I asked, “Why don’t you just leave him?” As her eyes widened in response, my mother looked down at me with questions of her own: “Are you crazy?! Where would we go?! How would we eat?” Thus began a friendship with some little girl trapped in a mirror, a girl who knew as little as I did about the machinations of the confusing world at large.
More than four decades later I am still figuring life out through the eyes of that little girl. Adulthood did not turn out to be the magical wonderland of freedom I thought it would be. I crashed and nearly burned into that realization more than a few times, the most recent occasion being sobriety. Of all the times to wake up, sober living was the worst.
Most of what I accepted as part and parcel of life, I did so because alcohol cushioned the fall into daily reality, making the unsavory more pallatable. Without alcohol, in an effort to understand and accept some of life’s inevitable difficulties, I have returned to writing. Long before I started having conversations with a bathroom mirror, I was writing stories to escape the realities of a dysfunctional childhood home. I am not advocating alcohol addiction, I’m just telling the truth here.
I am a writer whose brain is still drying out — after seven sober years! — as she comes out from under the fog of alcohol, and even though the world appears less fuzzy, full-time functional living is still new to me. The majority of my life is beautiful and I wouldn’t trade any of broken roads which got me here. And yet, dark days will occasionally loom, igniting every insecurity I live with, triggering old, wrong-minded thoughts. I’m learning how to live with that without allowing temptations to wreck me. Like ghosts from the past, they’re only as real as the power I give them.
The sweet discovery I’ve made through writing is, I can time-travel, step into scenes of the past, and circle around a little girl who had more power than she knew. I can watch her hoping and dreaming, and I can draw on her strength anytime I am feeling less than. I’ve learned that I dwell in a club of creatives, who are blessed with abilities to harness our greatest disappointments and spin them into gold. This is the magical life I get as a writer.
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