Friday, January 21, 2011

Understudy Auditions

This comes from a previous blog post: Casting...  written after Mother's Day...

I thought I needed an understudy. I used the term ‘family of choice’ while holding auditions for mothers take 2.  I must have been out sick when they taught that nobody is perfect, that sometimes you have to ask for what you need, that mothers are simply you plus twenty years. I missed the gift I was born into through the years that I plucked new mothers to try on for size.

There was Susan, the therapist I saw when I was sixteen, whom I thought hung the moon.  She was young and naive enough to try to save her motley crew of patients, despite our insistence to stay sick.  She was free to empathize absent the background noise that my mother carried: an illness she couldn’t cure, the pains of watching her daughter suffer, and the sadness buried under piles of unfulfilled dreams.  Ignoring therapeutic boundaries, Susan dove in determined to pull me to the surface, dismissing my mom on the shoreline reaching for my hand.  At the time, I considered our unprofessional coffee dates and offers to adopt me proof that she really loved me and not just because ‘we pay her to be nice to you, Lauren.’  When mother’s day rolled around, her card was my hook, my plea to care about me most, to rescue me aside from my patient status.

Armed with my own therapy license, savior isn’t the word that comes to mind.  She was an inexperienced counselor, armed with good intentions, but leaving wreckage in her wake. She often was an hour or two late for sessions because clients continually were in crisis on her couch, knowing that meltdowns bought additional minutes with our beloved therapist.  I rode her horse and played with her puppy, boastful with my other therapy group friends until I heard that Sarah had done the same.  Not special enough.  Not sick enough obviously.  I amped up my efforts with a hollow suicide threat that won me a nighttime home visit and silences that conveyed absolute misery.  She was my life raft at 16.  The thing I looked forward to all week, the only couch where I could exhale and drop the act of ‘fine and dandy’. 

She was definitely creative, confiscating Lucy’s baggy overalls and extra large hoodies serving as emaciation disguise while replacing them with spandex aimed at a body image reality check. She wrote up contracts for our parents to sign, and advocated for our sanity while we set out proving her wrong.  Susan became my God, the road map for Woman, and my answer to ‘What do you want to be when you grow up.’  She was smart, funny, confident, and still knew how to play.  Yet, she was my therapist, so the fact that I knew this hints at trouble from the get goes.  I set her words on repeat as my personal soundtrack, and if Susan was going to jump off the Empire State Building, my question was merely ‘When are we taking the leap?’ Just as she got to play mommy without the mess of being a parent, I cast myself as Favorite Daughter, and through my rose-colored lenses, shaded her with perfection. 

It was 9:30 pm by the time I got home from Hebrew High School, 2 weekly hours spent meeting with friends at the campus and then heading over to the Coffee Plantation before the first bell rang.  As the 16 year old, who didn’t drink, do drugs, sleep around, or go to parties, I figured I was entitled to ditching as the bare minimum of required rebellion.  Wait a second….ok, what the hell happened while I was sipping my coffee??  My room was naked.  Over 20 bunches of dried roses were missing and my wall of framed photos gleamed white.  I saw orange.  Literally. I found a folded loose-leaf sheet of paper on my bed next to a small can of white paint and a watercolor brush.

“Lauren, You may come back to see me when your room is white again.  Until then, I suggest you take some time to consider what you are doing to your life.  Love, Susan.”

Furious that my parents had okayed this stunt or honored that Susan loved me enough to come over to my house and decorate?  I was torn.  (Notice that I never was angry with her for defacing my pretty room. Of course not.  Parents were definitely to blame.) Everywhere I looked, I saw orange.  Orange.  The one color I couldn’t stand.  Locating her lost painter, Susan had come armed with orange paint, and left truthful messages that I read as insults as they dripped down my walls.  “You’re throwing your life away down the toilet”  “All you care about is how you look.” “It’s shallow to only care about the number on the scale.” “Looks aren’t everything. You are more than the size of your jeans.” “Having an eating disorder doesn’t make you special.” “Any one can starve.  It doesn’t make you unique.” “You are wasting your life.”

I knew she was trying to shake me up, rattle my delusional thinking, and shock me into recovery.  She gets points for originality, but the beauty of her creativity was lost on me.  All I could see were my fears splashed up for any and all to read.  I cringed to think that I was perceived as vain.  It wasn’t about food or how I looked, and Susan knew that.  But she also knew the world’s perception of eating disorders, and while its not about the food or weight, it’s all about food and weight.  Plus, teenagers were the ones that only cared about looks and dieting.  I was not going to fall into that category, despite my chronological age.  Glancing at the tiny watercolor brush and her note, I realized it would be way too long before I could see her again if I played by her rules.  Having mastered the art of lying, I bought a rolling wall brush and caked my room white by the next day, showing up in her office for our scheduled appointment with innocent insistence that the watercolor brush worked amazingly well.  Guilt-free, I looked her straight in the eyes and vowed that I didn’t buy a bigger brush.  I cared only about seeing her, and making sure that she still loved me.  Morals could wait for another day.  The trouble with lying is that it masks the primer, and shadows future eyes, with orange paint peeking through the deceitful cracks on my walls decades later.

            We said goodbye over coffee before I left for college.  I avoided her eyes as I handed her my gift, keeping up appearances of being ‘fine’ while desperately hoping she knew I would drown without her. I had made her a journal hand-filled with quotes, my writings for her, and lyrics I knew she would cherish.  I needed her, needed her like oxygen, needed her not to forget me, and not to find a new favorite client to lovingly save.  With perfect synchronicity, she handed me her wrapped present; a blank journal with her card tucked inside next to a poem. I drove home blurry with tears, gasping for air, positive I’d miss her forever.  Despite my teenage taboo, I managed to conquer dramatic teenage angst just fine. I went to St. Louis and found new oxygen and new adoptive mothers, while still tripping over cracks of orange truths.  1.  The Mom role had been cast with the best woman from the start.  2.  It was time for me to let go and become my own savior.

Letting Go
Author unknown

To "let go" does not mean to stop caring,
It means I can't do it for someone else.

To "let go" is not to cut myself off,
It’s the realization I can't control another.

To "let go" is not to enable,
But to allow learning from natural consequences.

To "let go" is to admit powerlessness,
Which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To "let go" is not to try to change or blame another,
It’s to make the most of myself.

To "let go" is not to care for,
But to care about.

To "let go" is not to fix,
But to be supportive.

To "let go" is not to judge,
But to allow another to be a human being.

To "let go" is not to be in the middle arranging the outcomes,
But to allow others to affect their own destinies.

To "let go" is not to be protective,
It’s to permit another to face reality.

To "let go" is not to deny,
But to accept.

To "let go" it not to nag, scold or argue,
But instead to search out my own shortcomings, and correct them.

To "let go" is not to adjust everything to my desires
But to take each day as it comes,
And cherish myself in it.

To "let go" is not to criticize and regulate anybody
But to try to become what I dream I can be.

To "let go" is not to regret the past,
But to grow and live for the future.

To "let go" is to fear less,
And love more.

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