James Taylor was a big part of my life when it was falling to pieces. 1970. 9 years old, going on 10, and sure that I knew everything crazy in my world would straighten itself out. The Hollies. America. The Beatles. Bread. Simon and Garfunkle. The Carpenters. Dianna Ross. Three Dog Night. Neil Diamond. The Monkees. Bobby Sherman. Santana. Creedence Clearwater Revival. So many answers to my unanswerable questions, and they were all musically-based. So, it was with them in mind that I watched this lovely film earlier this week, while thinking back to a similar time in my own youth.
1970-ish. I’d recovered from the chest surgery of the prior Summer (pectus excavatum repair, AGAIN, as they tried to fix the keloid complications as my skin battled itself into knots, trying to strangle the life out of me), and we prepared to go on a road trip to Kentucky to see my Father’s mother, Nana, and her latest husband, Jim.
In the front of my brain, I didn’t know that my parent’s marriage was in the process of crumbling. Being a child, I just knew that Mom loved me, Dad loved and hated me, was trying to get his high school diploma in an effort to solidify his ability to earn a good paycheck, and they were both struggling to be the best parents and people they could be, as Society’s expectations were imploding around them, and the world was reshaping itself it ways that nobody living through it could easily understand.
I didn’t know my favorite song, “Fire and Rain”, was about addiction, love and suicide. I didn’t know my Dad’s taste in music was highlighting his own crisis of conscience and yet another moment or more of marital infidelity. I just knew that words set to music calmed me and made me feel like nothing was impossible or irreparable.
Reality eventually set in. I got through it. And, I can say I’m the better for it. But, like all truths, some part of your hope or faith or whatever you want to label it, comes crashing down as you learn to accept that sometimes life really sucks, and your only focus is to not make life sucky for someone else as you fight to endure and get through the tough times.
The years between my 8th birthday and my 15th birthday were wonderful and horrible. I really can’t say I have many memories of anything except the extremes. While I have my own emotional baggage, I have no idea of the bags my baby sister packed, living through the same period surrounded by emotional warfare in our home. I know the baggage exists, as I’m part of her nightmares, and I accept it even when I reject her accusations that I am a waste of space as a person.
Don’t get me wrong. There were lots of great times. I remember Baby Sis on the beach in Prince Edward Island, Canada, as we vacationed with family friends. That trip, living and working next door to a farm, is one of the highlights of my life. It’s also the point where I was drowning and almost killed my Big Brother in my desperation to survive (as he was the only one who noticed I was struggling and jumped into a rip tide current to save me). Luckily, the adults finally noticed our struggle and jumped up to save us both. But, that moment of desperate fear lives on in my brain as a moment of depravity where I mindlessly fought to save myself regardless of the danger my fear posed to anyone else.
Now, as an adult looking back, I know that I was too young to be put in charge of a 4 year old, and that’s before one understands that the child didn’t care for me, and I was clearly not nurturing material. I’m still not. That knowledge of my impatience and shortcomings helps me accept and acknowledge my failings, and motivated me to apologize and do my best to atone for my abuses, but my acknowledgement of her complaints only widened the gap between us, as there will never be acceptance on Baby Sis’s part that we were both screwed up and doing the best we could with what we had.
I get it.
I was older.
I was supposed to be able to put up with her crap. I could not. I did not.
Our family situation was not something either of us could fix, so after the divorce and our moving to a new home, having shared a bedroom for about 2 years, Mom slept on the couch in the living room and my sister and I no longer shared a bedroom to eliminate her coming home to open warfare every night over whatever piddly-@ss thing was bothering either one of us.
As an adult, I think that’s appalling to have to admit, but it’s the truth. Baby Sis could not tolerate listening to me breathe at night, worried that every breath on a bad breathing day would be my last. I could not tolerate her being into my stuff, my space, my clothes, and know that every time I tried to be nice to her or do something with her it always ended in failure. I sucked as a Big Sister.
I accept that I cannot control the narrative. I accept that Baby Sis has a right to recall things any way she chooses, with me being unable to “correct” the recollections as my memories are not hers, and my recall of the reality of the situation is not hers. But, that being said, I still wonder why I want her in my life. Is it entitlement?
Knowing that we have many happy memories doesn’t negate the bad ones. Knowing that I’ve sometimes been successful in reaching her and enjoying her company doesn’t negate the fact that she has chosen to have nothing to do with me for the last 3 years. On the surface, it’s not that big a deal as we live 3,000 miles away from each other. However, underneath, it’s heartbreaking and I have no one to blame but myself.
In reality, I told our father to take a hike way back in 1980, as the stress and drama was too much, and I just wanted peace and quiet. Can I then resent my Baby Sis for taking the same road and making the same choice from 2015 onward? Nope.
So, it was with all this crap in my history that I sat down and watched, “I can only imagine” earlier this week.
Lovely. Heartbreaking. Incredibly sad. But, ultimately, untrue. Hollywood changed reality and I find it sad that they needed to alter facts to suit their own narrative. Don’t get me wrong – it was a good story.
I can see shades of myself in his evil, abusive father. But. But, but, but…
I cannot accept that this story is anything but a cleaned up Hollywood fantasy. While I am pleased that this young man was able to use his Faith in a loving heavenly Father as a way to combat his personal demons, I still don’t accept that some mythical being exists elsewhere watching everything we do, and doing nothing to change our trajectory.
While I can read and enjoy all the, “those were the times I carried you” allegories from people of faith, at the end of the day they are prettying up what occurred in the hope that somehow, somewhere, they will find redemption and reward for all they have suffered. I can’t monetize suffering that way. There is no reward for enduring and resilience except to not torment yourself over things you cannot change. Acceptance of sucky, unchangeable situations has always been my reality.
Me? I don’t think we get a free pass in life. When we look at the animals struggling to survive in a violent, prey-or-predator world, or children and innocents suffering in a war zone, I realize that my life is blessed because of proximity. I am blessed because I was born in this place, time and geographical location – there is no other reason.
Because I’ve worked hard to not expect to be taken care of in my old age, while also planning for my end of life reality, I realize that I am just one of the fortunate ones. In every bell curve, so many suffer, so many succeed, and a whole bunch in the middle muddle through. I’m blessed to be one of the muddlers.
Could my life be better? Yes.
Do I wish my Baby Sis would get over herself and accept me warts and all? Yes.
Am I going to twist myself into misery because my life isn’t all that I could hope it could be? No.
Life is what it is, and not the fairytales that Hollywood wants to feed us, believing that the truth isn’t good enough. If there is a God or a next chapter after we leave this earthly plane, that will be soon enough for me to come up to speed. For now, I just keep on concentrating on not messing up anyone else’s life due to my own unreasonable demands.
Want to learn the true story behind the film? Check out this People magazine profile of the singer at the heart of the story.
(Disclaimer – the years 1969 through 1979 blend together in a crazy kaleidoscope, so any errors in my tales are the fault of my patchy memory as the brain works to protect the heart by wiping out consistency and just leaves one with echoes of what was a tumultuous time).