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[what follows is what i wrote while waiting for my husband to come out of the recovery room after cancer surgery]

For many years I asserted myself—I was not like my mother. I have recently come to realize that another powerful motivation has been that I refuse to be like my father, either.

When I was six or seven, my mother’s paranoid schizophrenia emerged. She had a psychotic break, broke nearly everything in the house (including my innocent trust) and screamed and hallucinated and was convinced they were out to get her.

We moved to another house, my mother and father, my sister and I, leaving behind all ties of friendship, scenes of familiarity.

That summer, my sister, my heart, died of meningitis. I grieved for her in secret, at night, because publicly and during the day I had to cope with my mother’s increasingly bizarre and antisocial actions.

As summer segued into autumn, my beloved great-grandmother died. She was my other self, my best friend and confidant. Her death was the end of my childhood.

Two months later, my father left our wintry Connecticut home (snow settling on bare branches, pipes freezing solid) to live in sunny Florida with his redheaded girlfriend, leaving my mother and me abandoned. Now there was no other adult; I was the guide and protector for my own mother. During the long years before I was old enough to move out on my own, my mother made sure there I made no ties to friends or family; for as soon as they formed, we moved away.

I am not my father. Though I am sorely tempted, I will not abandon someone to whom I have promised loyalty, no matter how bad the personality disorder, no matter how severe the physical illness. I will learn the nursing and therapy skills he needs while continuing to be a recovering enabler, who is learning the difference between enabling behavior on the one hand and supporting and helping on the other.

I am not my father. I will not run away. I am not my mother. I will not succumb to fear and suspicion. I am myself.

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