On a solo vacation to Hot Springs, North Carolina, one year, I stayed at a lovely B&B run by a pair of gay guys. The B&B is situated on a small farm a short walk from the centre of Hot Springs, a sweet little town that boasts natural hot springs and fabulous restaurants and is the only town through which the Appalachian Trail runs.
One day, the guys invited me on a short hike through the surrounding woodland. I started talking about my parents during this hike, and, at one point, one of the guys told me not to feel guilty for any monetary gain I had received from my parents, who, by the way, had long been making salaries I can only dream of. Monetary gain?
A current friend of mine, an American who is married to a British guy and lives in Edinburgh, is the only person I personally know who had a worse childhood than I did. Her mother is more of a bad friend than a loving parent, and her father is a violent man who has a host of mental illnesses. Mom and dad split when my friend was young, and mom sent kid to grandma so she could party and really live it up. Mom remarried some rich dude who didn't want kid around, so they shipped her off to boarding school for a number of years. Now, rich dude is dead, and mom is loaded. She's still a bad friend and not a mom, but she dishes out tons of cash to make up for her other deficiencies. As it should be, folks. As it should be.
I'm not saying that money can buy everything. I'm saying that it can buy me.
Just recently, friend's mom has paid for friend and friend's daughter to fly to the United States for a visit and hosted them for a month in her home. Friend's mom also has recently paid for friend to take a course in Malaysia studying primates and has offered to pay for flights for a Christmas visit. That's just the beginning...
No, her mother doesn't call her. No, her mother doesn't offer the loving words and gentle reassurances that only a mother can. But she tries to make up for it in the only way she is able. It's not right, but it's something.
I'd take it in a heartbeat if I could get it.
When I was a child, my dad was dirt poor. My mother left him on his own with two kids. He was just a kid himself. I honestly couldn't imagine the struggle. He had just finished his four years in the military and moved back to Florida with his two kids, one under the age of 1 and one who was 4. My dad was working as a butcher in a meat market and going to college at night to make a better life for himself. Even with help from his mother and my mom's family, he never did finish college but he somehow got a job in a bank and worked his way up with sheer hard work and dedication. That dedication paid off handsomely for him, monetarily, but cost him other things. It cost me everything.
Dad lived with us in a house owned by his mother for awhile. At other times, he was renting crappy apartments and burning through wives faster than I can fathom. After he married his fourth and current wife, we moved into an apartment complex in Clearwater and lived there until they had their own house built in Largo. I was 10 and my brother was 14 when we moved in. I finally had my own room, but it was all so isolating living in some suburban house on a suburban cul-de-sac road. I had no friends there, no kids in the neighbourhood to play with. I had to share a room with my brother in the last apartment, but at least there were plenty of kids in the same complex to hang out with. At least there was Tampa Bay nearby, fiddler crabs and mangroves and other sea life to marvel at at low tide. In the new house, I had nicer digs, but my quality of life started to suffer. And it only got worse from there.
It's interesting to think about it now, but it seems that the more money my dad made and the bigger the pot of money there was, the less I seemed to get. My parents picked out all my clothes until I was 15. In middle school and the first couple years of high school, I was a laughingstock because of my clothes. I know my parents dressed me to their taste, pleated shorts, white socks, and white Keds, but I don't really remember what they bought me to wear to school. I only know that I was mocked for my style until I turned 16, got a job and bought my own clothes, clothes that were considerably more pricey than the ones my parents were willing to pay for.
I know that my dad bought my brother a car - he pitched in $500 after my brother saved and put up the other $500. I was offered the same deal but rejected it in favour of better clothes for myself. My parents were only offering $50 per outfit for school clothes, and I was tired of being made fun of. After I started buying my own clothes, I never got mocked for them again.
But they certainly had really nice clothes for themselves and three cartons of cigarettes a week. They certainly had brand-new cars and a maid and someone to wash their cars and cut their grass.
I had crappy clothes, a baton, pom poms, a basketball, a TV, and a radio/cassette player. All the cassettes I had were blank ones that I used to record my favourite songs from the radio. When I was 15, my dad bought me Guns N'Roses "Appetite for Destruction" and the "Thriller" album a few years before that. That was all I had.
My dad had a subscription to Playboy. I had books from the library.
My parents only ever bought me two books in my entire life: Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and "A Light in the Attic." I have gotten rid of so many books through years of moving around, but I still have those books and am just starting to read them to my daughter.
The only two films my parents ever took me to see were Top Gun and ET. We seldom went out to dinner, but, when we did, it was always to dad's favourite restaurant. We never got a choice.
My parents bought a bag of apples every week. That was my snack every day after school. One apple. Every day. For my entire life. No deviation. After I left home, I couldn't bear to eat an apple. Only just recently have I started eating apples again.
When I moved out of the house, my parents changed the locks and had an in-ground swimming pool and hot tub installed. They paid for it in cash. I only ever went in it two or three times. After I moved out, they started going on all kinds of vacations. While we lived at home, we only ever went to Michigan a couple of times to visit stepmom's family and one time to North Carolina for a week. The only times we ever went to a theme park or to the beach, or, indeed, even to the park, were when my stepmother would have family from Michigan down for a visit.
Christmases and birthdays weren't much better. We each got about 7 gifts for Christmas and one gift each for birthday. Christmas didn't even exist anymore after the age of 15. I remember sitting alone in the dark in my living room when I was 16, crying and staring at the lit-up tree. There wasn't even a tree anymore after that year. Nothing. And birthday ceased to exist at the age of 17 (or was it 18) when my parents took back the single wrapped gift they had gotten me because I came home an hour late. I never did find out what the gift was. What was the point of asking? Only more pain, more pain.
Love as a weapon. Cash as a cloning incentive.