I miss my son Will. No news there. I don’t talk about it very much, less than before, but I think about him all the time — and in a variety of ways, of course. Sometimes it’s with hurt, sometimes with anger, or sorrow, or loneliness, or betrayal, or bewilderment, or loss. Sometimes I realize it’s been a while since I thought of him. He has no idea that Ilan is now part of our family. He’s never seen or acknowledged Oliver either, for that matter. Our family is going forward without him, as it can only do, and because it’s our only option.
During my too-brief moment in Austin last week, I had another one of those jolting epiphany-type experiences. I was taking a shower and listening to music, and a song from the Broadway play Spring Awakening came up on my playlist. [From Wikipedia: Set in late-19th-century Germany, the musical tells the story of teenagers discovering the inner and outer tumult of teenage sexuality. In the musical, alternative rock is employed as part of the folk-infused rock score.] Will loved that play and saw it on Broadway. He told me about it with great excitement, played me some of the songs, said how much he loved it and that it felt like it was personal for him. I saw it shortly after he recommended it, and wow. Just, wow.
In the play, all aspects of teenage sexuality are present — from incest, to exploration by straight kids, to exploration or longing by gay kids — along with a variety of consequences of the exploration. Some of the songs are explosive and high energy, and some are dark and so filled with sadness I almost cannot bear it, like “Whispering” (“See the father bent in grief / The mother dressed in mourning / Sister crumbles, and the neighbors grumble / The preacher issues warnings // History / Little miss didn’t do right / Went and ruined all the true plans / Such a shame. Such a sin”). This link provides the list of songs and each title is linked to its lyrics and a Youtube video of the song.
One song is “Momma Who Bore Me,” and my suspect memory whispers that Will especially loved it. [knife in my heart, with this opening lyric:
Mama who bore me
Mama who gave me
No way to handle things
Who made me so sad
So for all the years since he first told me about his love for this play, I have taken very personally the weight of it, as if his love for it was just about me in a bad way — oh how great and perfectly it articulated his bad experience. And this is so me, to do this. So whenever I heard any of the music, I felt it like lashes on my naked skin, bad, bad, bad me, I’m the reason he won’t be part of our family. Lash, lash, lash, LASH.
But when I was in the shower, listening to the song “Bitch of Living,” I realized: it’s not about me! Will’s love of that music is not [just, if at all] about me, by any means. Will is gay, and this aspect of his life has brought a whole bunch of struggle and difficulty and rejection by his father and that pain, and figuring-out. Exploring. My own young sexual life was excruciating and as horrible as it could be, and I forget that it’s not that for everyone; it’s otherwise a complicated time, a confusing time, a thrilling time, a new time, a wondering time, and that’s what the music is about, that’s what the story is about. I’m sure the Momma song had some resonance for him, but that’s not why he loved the play. He loved it because it got at a huge thing, at the complexity and thrill and struggle of that time of life, a time that was intimately about him. Not about me. It’s not about me.
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That’s the fabulous song “Bitch of Living,” just to
give you a taste of the musical.
Anyway. I know I frequently mention AA sayings — my husband knows a bunch of them and so they’re part of my lingo if they’re especially good — but there’s a saying in the Al-Anon world for parents who have kids who are addicts: You are not your kid’s higher power.
You are not your kid’s higher power. I am not my kids’ higher power.
It’s so easy to forget that they have a huge interior life that you have no idea about. That they have secrets, and thoughts, and that where you are in their various constellations is very different than where they are in yours, and probably different from where you think you are. I thought about the fact that Will is a ‘character’ in my life — more than that, since he’s my son and I gave birth to him and loved him intensely from that moment on — and that I am a ‘character’ in his. I’m not the sun, I’m a comet.
Even in my daughters’ lives, in the context of our loving relationships and easy and regular participation in each others’ lives, I’m not the sun. I used to be, when they were tiny little girls, but as they grew I moved away from that central location, as I should.
This is an insight I keep having, in different forms, about Will. It’s always a comforting insight, a kind that makes his agonizing choice less about me which relieves me of one kind of pain, anyway. Knowing me I’ll never let myself entirely off the hook, but hanging myself on a fish hook instead of a meat hook is a huge relief. Perhaps I belong on a fish hook, though I’m not even certain about that. I think I need to save this to my ‘Lessons Learned’ tab so I can refresh myself without having to wait to relearn it.