Parents Can Ruin Their Children’s Lives
Monday, May 18th, 2009
Author Jane Alison’s Mail (parents split up when she was very young. The consequences of that split were dire for both Jane and her sister. For Jane Alison both competition and alcohol misuse became key in her life.
Inexcess will follow her journey and evaluate the consequences of other people’s behaviour and the impact on innocent childhoods.
An in depth detailed account is given by Alison. However, for our purposes a brief introduction will be pertinent. Her parents met another couple at a party. They were immediately fascinated by each other. ‘Both men were ambitious globe-trotting diplomats in their early 30s; both women were smart and good-looking. Each couple had two young daughters.’
Friendships for the want of a better expression blossomed and within a nine month period Alison argues that two new couples had formed, ‘my father Edward and their mother Helen; my mother Rosemary and their father Paul.’ Right in the middle were four very young little girls feeling very ’stunned’.
Jane’s mother took her girls to live in America, whilst her father moved to Asia then the Middle East. Seven years passed and neither family seen nor spoke to each other, there were several letters and photograph exchanges. Both couples also went on to have another child each.
Furthermore, the older sisters, ‘Maggie and Patricia, were seven when our parents traded partners - young, but maybe formed enough to have their own soft shapes already. Jenny and I were five and four - just starting - and over those eerie, detached years we grew up with an awareness of our parents’ split at our very core; the constant knowledge that we’d each been replaced.
She had my father, I had hers. But our stepfather Paul wasn’t really ours. He belonged to a pair of girls somewhere else. A pair of girls who already had our father.’
Alison argues, ‘for seven years we may have seemed like ordinary girls learning to write and skinning our shins. But inside was crystallising a mass of fantasy, jealousy and longing that would define us.’
Her mother and stepfather fought constantly making the air ‘unbearable’ for the girls. Finally after six years her mother and stepfather separated. Alison says for her this meant ‘ now I - had been left twice, first by my real father then by my stepfather.’
It was also the summer of 1973and the girls went back to live in Washington with their mother. As Alison describes, ‘Maggy was 14, I was eleven. My father and his family were living in New York, and we’d arranged to meet him for the first time in seven years.
The mismatched comparisons were endless, ‘they had a driver; we took the bus.’ By her own admittance the author, both she and her sister ‘grew up craving, in secret, the attention of a man very far away and evolving the exact same means to get him.
We were immersed in a bitter struggle to prove who was better, more clever, really worth something. We were smart, thin, fast and mortally competitive. Our tissues were made of pure jealousy. It was as if we could not both exist. I’m sure he embraced us when he met us at the station, I’m sure he beamed, I’m sure the rusty word ‘Daddy’ gurgled out of our throats, but I can’t remember.
It was as if the fantastic moment had finally come, but exploded at once into a black hole. Our stepsisters, Jenny and Patricia, went to a private school; we went to a comprehensive. They grew up craving, in secret, the attention of a man very far away and evolving the exact same means to get him.
We were immersed in a bitter struggle to prove who was better, more clever, really worth something.We were smart, thin, fast and mortally competitive. Our tissues were made of pure jealousy. It was as if we could not both exist.
She goes on, ‘when I visited my father and his new family for the first time, I reported in my diary that we unpacked, ate dinner, gave presents and looked around Fifth Avenue, which seemed big and nice in the night. Nothing else.
When I re-read those diaries years later, I could remember feeling at the time as if I had been stabbed in the ribs.But at the time I said nothing, not even to myself. It was all buried - a soft, black cavity deep at my core.
Over the years, Jenny and I fought on in our own self-destructive ways, trying to prove our worth. It drove us. I had to outdo her. She had to outdo me.
At first, we would compete over grades and sport. But by our mid-teens we discovered more destructive methods. We were drinking and getting into trouble with boys. Jenny dropped out of school.
At a party for her 18th birthday, my 17th, she slept with my boyfriend. When I was told this I shrugged. But later I went up to my room, stood before the mirror and hit myself in the face, one cheek and then the other, and did it again, and again, and again.
A short time after that, Jenny took a bottle of scotch from her father’s liquor cabinet then went into the bathroom and cut her wrists. I also cut my wrists, but I did it superficially. When Jenny left hospital she said she’d never do it again, but she was wrong.’
Life for Jenny got progressively worse, she continued to cut her wrists and throat, ’she drank prodigiously and did lots of cocaine. She borrowed money and started using heroin.’
Meanwhile, I drank. I wouldn’t stop drinking until I was transformed. I blacked out two or three times a week and slept with whoever I’d been talking to. Alison was fortunate enough to graduate from Princeton with honour. She moved to New Orleans, then Germany. I wrote a novel and got married.
The author did not see Jenny for a while even though letters were still exchanged between the two now women.
In 1998 she was living in Germany with her husband. She’d been out for groceries, dumped the bags on the floor and checked the answering machine. ‘Hi Jane, it’s Paul,’ the voice said.
‘Bad news. Jenny’s dead.’ ‘It turned out that Jenny had gone through rapid detox, but then apparently stopped taking the antidepressants she had needed to endure this and sank. By then, even the little heroin she injected was too much. It was a month before her 38th, my 37th, birthday.
Now it was too late. I’d quietly counted on Jenny and me seeing each other one day, or Jenny reading something I wrote.
I wanted to tell her that I knew what I’d done to her, what we’d done to each other, and that I was unutterably sorry. Now it was too late. A month later, on our birthday, my father’s local paper printed an article he wrote about the ‘war on drugs’ that had failed to save his child.
Paul has told me about ‘the big black guy’ who got Jenny hooked on drugs; Helen said Jenny’s problem began with amphetamines during exams in college. All trying to find the beginning of the ruin of their daughter.
I’ve thought about asking my four parents exactly what happened in 1965. But I can’t. And anyway they’ve had 40 years to speak up.’