Next to Normal
Last night I attended a benefit for our local professional theater. I smiled and laughed at dinner with my sister, her husband and friends. I rocked back and forth, even danced a little in my chair to the INCREDIBLE live music coming from the talented Cabin 3 at the front of the bar. (Okay…a shameless plug for a talented friend.) But if truth be told in the very center of my solar plexus there was an all too common sphere of sadness, dread, rage, anxiety–perhaps it’s a psychotic being–as it seems to be living and breathing. You see, life with the teens, with the hubby, heck—life with the family has not been a picnic lately and the weight of all that disappointment, frustration…resignation pulled upon my limbs as I crossed the street to the theatre making my legs feel like they were wading through thigh-deep mud.
I continued wading through the wine and cheese and small talk of the local elite. I pressed on with my persona of the dutiful mother and happy wife. I rallied hard to ignore the sadness that engulfed me, and refused to listen to the continuous worry reel that was rolling through my mind. Like a Chinese acrobat, I kept spinning those plates high above me and hoped that they wouldn’t come crashing down on some unsuspecting head—forging forward in my familial fog feeling utterly and completely alone with my thoughts.
A writing acquaintance of mine, Katrina Anne Willis (okay okay another shameless plug) recently wrote a blog post in which she stated,
“My marriage, my children — those are the relationships I’ve vowed to hold onto forever. Those are the people, no matter how much they change, to whom I’ll always hold fiercely, always fight for. Those core family relationships are different — at least to me.”
I adore this woman and her incredible writing, but I gotta tell you that sometimes lines like the ones above make me feel utterly inadequate as a mom and as a wife because if I was being truthful, there are days that the changes and challenges brought upon by my marriage and my children seem to me to be a continuous barrage. And that barrage has exhausted me to the point where “holding fiercely” and “fighting for” are the last things I want to do. Maybe it is because I am tired of fighting; fighting to keep those sometimes wayward boys of mine on the straight and narrow, fighting against my selfish nature, fighting to be a better mother, fighting for honesty, fighting against disappointment, fighting to be heard, seen, appreciated just a little and of course the never ending battle for good old fashioned respect and understanding. And while I am at it, I am tired of fighting the incredulous feeling that all of those sacrifices, all of that thinking, all of that effort…was for what—for what? Where I am—where my family is—is exactly where I didn’t ever want it to be, and it’s there despite all the fighting, despite all the thinking and despite all the effort.
Don’t get me wrong; I admire Katrina for doing whatever she does in order to not have to fight those familial fights…or for having the fortitude to still feel like “holding fiercely” and “fighting for” her family even though those fights may be present. But at the same time, what she does to escape those battles, or where she gets the strength to still feel fiercely about her family even if she HAS those battles, makes me feel envious and inept…and alone. Was I a horrible human for having periodic fantasies of wanting to escape with the dog and a suitcase to a flat in Soho where I’d become a recluse, write by day and wander the cobblestoned streets by night? Was I alone in that?
As the evening went on, we all went into the theater for the entertainment part of the evening provided by one extremely gifted singer, Howie Michael Smith, a Broadway Singer best known for his gig in Avenue Q. I was looking forward to this part of the night for several reasons. One, because the lights would be dimmed and I’d be able to shrug off the persona of the contented 42 year old and tuck it behind me as I did my heavy winter coat. Two, my feet were KILLING me and I truly couldn’t wait to sit down. (I really ought to consider switching to flatter shoes…Okay I considered it and that would be a….NO.) But most of all because for some reason, the way my brain is wired, music–well played, lyrical and well sung music–soothes my savage beast. It always has, and I knew that by listening to Howie’s pristine voice power through those famous Broadway ballads and anthems that I’d have a reprieve from the doom and gloom that covered me like an itchy wool blanket.
And for the most part I was right. His rendition of “Ladies Who Lunch” was spot on. Howie’s surprising attempt at Heart’s “Alone” was witty and breathy and screamy just as an 80’s anthem should be. Most music he sang were the old stand bys, and as I listened, I looked forward to his ballads the most, always drawn in by the crescendos and poignant pauses. For a while I was carried away floating like a cartoon character in Fantasia along the top of a staff of music notes sliding and bouncing along with the different rhythms and fluctuations in tempo and intensity, mesmerized by the sheer beautiful sound that emanated from Howie’s instrument. But then he began to sing a song that I didn’t know from a show entitled, “Next to Normal”. Now I knew of this show, knew that it had won a Pulitzer. Anything labeled with that particular “P” word is a necessary read or listen-to in this case, but I hadn’t gotten around to it and so I looked forward to hearing what Howie was planning on singing.
The piano started–a ballad–and I sat up a bit straighter, leaning in, in order to hear the lyrics clearly. “So Anyway” was the title. It was a song written for the lead, a mother…an unbalanced mother…I leaned in even closer identifying immediately with the sentiment of the song, with the sadness and regret, and it happened…Howie sang the words that sometimes were whispered in a place deep down that the mother in me rarely lets me admit I have:
“And anyway I’m leaving. I guess that you can see
I’ll try this on my own. A life I’ve never known
I’ll face the dread alone but I’ll be free”
I gasped…an audible gasp. Not because a mother was longing for a break, not because she saw leaving as freedom, but because someone understood. Someone understood and the floodgates opened. Listening to the rest of song silent tears rolled down my cheeks and I was thankful for my faithful pashmina to wipe them away. The familiar words rolled towards me. They described the enduring love that she had for her family but the conflicting feeling of sometimes not loving who they chose to be, how they chose to act, and how they treated the people who loved them. Incredibly I had found a friend in this song. The lyrics wrapped their arms around me and the piano keys stroked my back as I wept silently. But the tears didn’t come from the sadness that had been engulfing me for what seemed to be eons. No. They came from a place of recognition. They came from a place of sisterhood. They came from a place of gratefulness. Howie was singing my song. He was singing my secret. He was singing my shame. I was no longer utterly and completely alone with my thoughts, and the company came in the form of a Pulitzer piece of writing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Hugo Corona ]