Suburban Nightmare.

(1.)The Rorschach record is interpreted as describing a personality in process of deterioration with abundant signs of failing defenses and increasing inability of the ego to mediate the world of reality and to cope with normal stress … Emotionally patient has alienated herself almost entirely from the world of other human beings. ¶ The patient to whom this psychiatric record refers to is me. The tests mentioned — the Rorschach, the Thematic Apperception Test, the Sentence Completion Test and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Index — were administered privately in the outpatient psychiatric clinic at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, in the summer of 1968, shortly after I suffered the ‘attack of vertigo and nausea’ mentioned in the first sentence and shortly before I was named a Los Angeles Times ‘Woman of the Year.’ By way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.”

—Joan Didion, in “The White Album” essay, from the collection of the same name (1979)

(2.) When I was 15, I was offered an easy $30 to babysit my two cousins, who were 11 and 9. This went so well, they asked me back again, whereupon, being more familiar with the house, I discovered my uncle’s collection of Led Zeppelin albums — which astonished me, as a teenager in the ’80s, ’cause all these people I was related to were interested were satisfying their own animal/emotional needs and hanging ’round each other. No lie.

I played them for my cousins, and, when my uncle came home, he told me his favorite song was “Gallows Pole” (from Led Zeppelin III).

My aunt, I realized later, was tripped out by this “emotional outpouring” — or, alternately, must have been, since I was never asked back again.

Later in life, she tried to live in Florida — the “snow bird” state — but failed, and returned home.

By this point, my uncle had shot himself, having lost his job at age 58 with no pension and, apparently, nothing else to live for.

I had never talked to another adult about anything by the time I had graduated college at age 22 (save their school/work roles — in which case, I should fuckin’ hope so, right?).

I attempted suicide at age 22, after being accused of “not wanting to work” by my hypocritical mother, who moved the whole family to another school district using her spineless husband’s income to get another house for herself.

I had graduated from the University of Chicago. My sister tried to follow me there — becoming, after me, my friend Deirdre (who didn’t get financial aid), and this guy John Sprague (who went to Princeton) the fourth to even apply there. You need scores to get in, though; it’s a “top school,” ranked with the Ivies (“You’ll get a good education at the University of Chicago,” my Kenyon-educated college counselor Baxter Ball told me, after telling me, with a bit of a chuckle, that “at Harvard, they’re busy training world leaders,” which is somehow neither unfair nor inaccurate!). Still, my father insisted on getting himself out of the house for a weekend, and, since he hadn’t had any non-related-to-him friends since I was about 10 or 12, here’s a great opportunity to tour the Boston College campus (the only other school I ended up getting into). Great.

Some years later, my now-having-worked-her-way-past-a-job-with-her-husband’s-basketball-playing-buddy worldly “mother” told me, all excited, that the B-School at the Univ. of Chicago had pushed Wharton aside for first place. My first thought was: (1.) I didn’t go to the B-School; (2.) this is the least interesting alma-matery thing you could tell me; and (3.) fuck you and your “work” life, okay?

Somebody should have told her before then — maybe Baxter Ball, by dint of his calling me at home to let me know they told him they’d be sending a “fat envelope” (acceptance) in a few days, so I could rest easy.




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