3. Living in a Distorted Reality
A close friend, who had the privilege of reading the first few chapters of this work prior to publication, commented that at first she had the impression that this was to be a book about "the adult son of a borderline mother," and that she was somewhat disappointed that I did not deal with that aspect of my life in greater depth. I conceded that there was much more to tell, but the present work is merely a condensed version, focusing on my creative and philosophical development, and depicting some of my pivotal experiences and relationships. Yet if I were brought up in a less "dysfunctional" family, with a less psychologically "disordered" mother, my emotional, mental, creative and philosophical development undoubtedly would have taken a much different direction.
What does not kill me, makes me stronger.
- Fredrich Nietzsche
It has only been with the passage of time, and thanks to advances in personality psychology, that my sisters and I have able to adequately understand the depth and nature of our mother's personality disorder, and its profound impact upon us. This, however, isn't the place to describe in-depth mother's bizarre behavior, the emotional and psychological abuse she inflicted, and her intensely narcissistic, grandiose and histrionic personality. A few words suffices to convey the sort of abuse and reality distortion she acted out on a regular basis.
For instance, at age five I was abandoned in a blizzard several miles from home. I couldn't understand why mother would do such a thing; neither could the kind old woman who rescued me. But I came to realize mother would often do unexplainable things . . .
At age nine I saw the preview of the movie "The Three Faces of Eve," which created a strong desire to see the film. Mother knew about the film, the actress, and more. Although she thought it was strange I would be interested in that sort of movie, she allowed me to see the dramatization of a woman afflicted with multiple personality disorder. When discussing mother fifty years later with M., I recalled the film and we agreed that it was indeed a strange film for a nine year-old boy to want to see. M. added that when she saw the film on television decades later, she was astonished by some of the similarities between Eve and our mother. Yet I do not believe mother was actually a true instance of multiple personality disorder, but her psyche was so deeply dissociated that she exhibited multiple personality "traits."
Joanne Woodward won the 1957 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Three Faces of Eve, making her the first actress to win an Oscar for portraying three different personalities.
We lived in a state of continuous stress, never knowing when mother would "turn." I developed TMJ syndrome and intense ear aches by age ten. About that time my younger sister and I started to sense mother might be dangerous. Mother possessed medical knowledge, and there is strong evidence that she conducted medical experiments on us, which sent M. and I to the hospital. There was also an incident in a State Park, during which M. believes mother attempted to push us off a cliff.
A significant and revealing incident, which my sister and I both clearly recall, occurred when M. was age seven. A strange young man had befriended our number two sister, J. He said he "liked children" and asked our mother if he could treat M. and I to a movie. J. cautioned mother not to allow it, that she couldn't understand why Bill was hanging around her, that he was "queer." At that time, M. and I didn't know what "queer" meant, but we didn't want to be around the guy because there was something creepy about him. Mother insisted, however, that we go on the date with Bill because it would be rude not to allow it. It turned out he was interested in my pretty little sister. He repeatedly tried to touch and kiss her, which she resisted. At some point I got annoyed and told him to leave my little sister alone. To our great surprise and disappointment, the next day we learned that the pedophile had the chutzpa to ask mother for another date with M. — this time alone, without me tagging along as chaperon! M., crying, flatly refused, while J. became upset, telling mother not to allow it, that the guy must be a "sex pervert," yet mother insisted that it would be rude to refuse.
For an unknown reason, M. never went on a second date with the pedophile, and we never saw him again. But a few days later we overheard the parents fighting. The incident was memorable because we almost never witnessed any real conflict between them, father always insisting, "not around the kids". Afterwards M. and I were called into the living room, where we were told mother would be going away and that M. and I would continue to live with our father. While the news was surprising, it was welcomed . . . Then something happened, mother decided she wanted to take M. with her. We were told to leave the room, and we never again heard about the separation.
The next few years brought more of the same, and a continued distancing of father; and, for me, a growing sense of alienation. Between the ages of nine and twelve I started taking a keen interest in science fiction, progressive ideas and music. We regularly watched "Your Hit Parade" on television and I followed the "Top Twenty" hits. J., who was seven years older than I, was into rock'n'roll music, and she became a significant enabler to my early addiction to rock music. She handed her old radio down to me when she bought a replacement, starting a lifelong cycle of listening to the radio until 2am. As a result, sleep deprived, I hated rising early and slept through much of school. Later, J. bought me a record player and gave me her record collection when she married. It wasn't long before I decided I wanted to be a songwriter. The record collection J. passed down to me included one of my favorite songs, "Fever" by Elvis Presley. One day mother sat me down and told me the song was inappropriate and that she was taking away the LP. I couldn't figure out what was her problem. I had and often played the same song by Peggy Lee. Was it the lyrics? Was it the way Elvis sang? Or was it about Elvis, his image and influence?
The "Beat Generation" and "Beatniks" were becoming visible on the street, in magazines, and on television. I immediately identified with them. I loved the beat language, and the beat look and attitude . . . and I especially loved beatniks chicks, with their leotards and long, long hair. I desperately wanted to be older, I desperately wanted to hang-out with my sister E. and her artistic friends, and with my sister J. and her rebel friends. I had crushes on my older sisters' friends, I even asked one or two to be my girlfriend. All of this, of course, caused a lot of frustration, and my sisters didn't appreciate me crashing their parties.
I was somehow able to triangulate things on occasion between my sister J. and mother when J. wanted to attend a rock'n'roll show, causing mother to give J. permission on the condition that she would take me along. Once inside, J. would order me to disappear, not know her, and to meet on the street afterwards. That worked well enough, and J. had the tendency to sympathize with me as "the other black sheep of the family." I was fortunate enough to see and hear some of the legends, such as Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and the Comets, and the early folk music group The Kingston Trio. In time, I learned how to con my own way into rock shows, how to get up next to the stage, how to get autographs, and how to get backstage.
Looks like Ace Records wanted two Queens of Rock.
It was the first rock'n'roll girls, little Brenda Lee and sexy Wanda Jackson ("Hard Headed Woman" and "Funnel of Love"), that really got me. They were both country-western crossovers, and while I appreciated some country-western lyrics, I never much cared for the sound. Wanda Jackson was much older than I. She possessed a powerful voice and sex appeal. Her band, however, looked like old-style CW musicians. Brenda Lee, on the other hand, was about age fifteen at the time and her back-up band consisted of cool looking young guys. While watching her in concert it came forcefully to mind that playing guitar in a rock'n'roll band, backing up a rock girl, would be a great job! Afterwards I was able to get next to Brenda and ask for her autograph. She smiled and asked my name . . . but she was more like the girl next door than the rock'n'roll girl of my dreams.
Read Chapter Four:
High School Alienation
Awaking from the American Dream • Father's Death
An Education of Lies • The Funny Farm Blues
The Doors of Perception