I just read a wonderful blog entry by Roger Ebert. Actually, all of his blog entries are wonderful, he happens to be one of the best writers in the country, but this one resonated. It was about loneliness.
His previous entry had inspired some 400 replies, many from people who had no friends or never spoke to their family or were just recluses. Some were victims of abuse. Some not. Some had never had sex or even dated. Some not. Some relished the solitude. Some not. All found solace on the internet.
It made me think about my own writing; the characters I create. To one degree or another nearly all are lonely. There is a reason for that, I suppose, and I’ve been thinking about it all morning. Looking back, my parents were horribly lonely people. For the better part of my acquaintance with them, they could not, for the life of them, get together for any length of time. They were two people under the same roof, but they didn’t like each other. They loved each other, but neither knew how to express it. How they managed to produce my brother remains a mystery. One night they must have independently decided any port in a storm, and turned to each other for some comfort.
My mother told me after a couple of glasses of wine, that she decided the moment she laid eyes on my father that she would marry him. Looked back with regret that he didn’t have a chance. My father wanted a Southern Belle for a wife you see, and my mother played the role brilliantly, bringing up the curtain on the real Janell only after the wedding. It didn’t come up at once, though. They had me a month after their first anniversary. I have pictures of them from back then. They were in love. Their eyes shouted it through the black and white image into the real world.
My sister came along four years and two days after me.
The love was still there. Then my father had what he called a “nervous breakdown.” Totally lost control of his emotions. He wasn’t violent, though he possessed a temper he struggled to control with every ounce of strength he could muster. He couldn’t stop crying, you see.
He checked himself into a mental hospital and went through something they called “shock therapy.” Quite literally, they attached electrodes and shocked him when his behavior deviated from the desired. He claimed until he died that it helped. I don’t believe a word of it. Like a prefrontal lobotomy, it changed him. Made him distant, even cold. And didn’t even come close to addressing the cause, which we discovered in 1979 was a hereditary brain tumor.
From here things went south for my parents. We moved from Memphis Tennessee to Dallas Texas (my mom wanted to move to Phoenix, which may have contributed to their issues). My father’s father came with us. Once there, my mom immediately found work, but my father didn’t. Mom took on a second job, and a third. My grandfather rode my father hard for not having a job, particularly when Mom was supporting the family. The old man was born in 1890. His values wouldn’t permit the “little woman” supporting the family.
So he left on bad terms. My father found a job not long after, but the loving part of him became a shadow. Only once since then did I see real tenderness from him, and that was when I caught him in a bout of insomnia petting our dog Trina, talking to her.
By the mid to late seventies, no one in our family knew who the others were. We existed. That was all.
I’ve written about spending entire summers alone with my own imagination from sun up until my parents got home, traveling the area on my bicycle, or, occasionally on foot through the sewers (how I never got lost is as much a mystery as my brother’s conception).
I’m sure that whatever I write loneliness will be a theme. Write what you know, they say. I’ve known loneliness since childhood.
I should say here, before I’m accused of another round of self-pity, that I’m blessed with wonderful friends, even friends who consider me part of their family. I certainly didn’t follow the path of many of those Roger Ebert wrote of, the ones his friend the late Studs Turkel would have beautifully profiled in his many studies of people. Too, loneliness is universal. People read and watch stories about it because all of us understand it like Trina understood my father.
I’m a happy person overall.
In the grand scheme of things, that’s what matters.
Stay tuned. On one of the Sundays past Thanksgiving, I will post my favorite piece of Journalism. It is, to my mind, brilliant old-fashioned though it may be.
I weighed in at 266 last Sunday, nineteen pounds down from my high. See y’all next week.