Your teenage years were a joy to watch. You really grew into yourself, darling. I won’t go much into it (it just happened, of course—you know all about it), but I do want to give you my opinions on it. My view. Because I am well aware that, if I ever failed as mother during your raising, it was while you were a teen.
After my maturation into adulthood, and my realization that I could rely on my family for my happiness, I took a turn. As you know, I became more devoted to my art. I reclaimed my place with my publisher, and committed to becoming a best-selling author.
Jane: “Carefully, she stepped into the long-abandoned house…”
The more I committed, the happier I became. So, in my own self-discovery, I decided that I had come to a conclusion: if I could not rely on my family for my happiness, my family should therefore not rely on me for their happiness. It only made sense.
It wasn’t my place to decide what should make you happy. And as much as you looked grown, you were still only a child.
Janie: “Do you hear, Mom? I think I’ve gotten better!”
Jane: “That’s nice, dear.”
The premise holds true—you shouldn’t rely on others for your own happiness. However, that doesn’t mean that I should have withheld affection in attempt to force you to find happiness elsewhere.
Regardless, I can’t change the past. I threw myself into my writing.
Jane: “A quick bit between books!”
When Jalen came home from work, or left the company of his buddies:
Jalen: “By the creator, how is it possible that you’ve gotten fatter?”
Jane: “You’ve inspired me! The villain in my book should say that!”
When your newfound love of music became a burgeoning talent for violin (well, “talent” might be generous…):
Jane: “You know, darling, I’m really quite busy. About to hit a deadline, you know? Can you play your concert piece for me later?”
And when everyone had gone elsewhere—when your father had gone off to a nightclub and you had gone to be with your friends, and I was alone in the house, alone with my thoughts, alone with my words, alone with my commitment to writing (that, in those moments, seemed just a bit hollow).
Jane: “Just one more slice of cake, and then I’ll head off to finish that chapter! My characters will keep me company.”
It can’t be any surprise that, as much as I was writing, I quickly met and surpassed my goal: with three best-selling novels in publication, I could officially call myself a best-selling author.
Jane: “So, I’ve done it! I’m officially a best-selling author! On Newcrest Times’ best-seller’s list and everything!”
Janie: “Does that mean that you’re… done with writing?”
Did it mean that?
I had been striving after the title of best-selling author for so long. That had been my dream, ever since I was a teenager. My only dream, other than the dream of the coffee shop.
Huh! The coffee shop! Maybe, now that I could relax a bit from writing…
Jalen: “Can you believe she asked to start a coffee shop again, Samuel?? The coffee shop?? I thought she would finally stop being so SELFISH, now that she’s gotten what she wants! I’ll leave her fat, lazy bum, I swear it!”
But I hadn’t gotten what I wanted. Not really. The more I thought about it, the more I delved into this existential investigation of what happiness meant to me, the more I realized that it wasn’t about becoming a best-selling author at all! It was about the challenge of becoming one, the process. The end result had nothing to do with my happiness. In fact, now that it was achieved, it was actually impeding my happiness. Where could I go from here?
Jane: “I think I am done with writing, Janie. At least for a while. But, you know… I’ve been considering trying my hand at art…”
Jalen: “Can you believe it, Samuel?? Art! I thought writing was her dream?? …at least she won’t get far with it.”
You seemed happy for me. Well… actually, I couldn’t really tell. You seemed invested in your own passion—the violin—so I’m not sure how much of your emotion was happiness for me, and how much was ignorance of the tension in the house.
Janie: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star!”
As ignorant as you seemed to be of the tension between your father and I, you certainly weren’t ignorant of other things. Namely, your father’s childishness.
Janie: “So… you know you’re late for work, right Dad? It started like an hour ago…”
Jalen: “Eh. It’s fine. They probably won’t demote me. And if they do, who cares?”
I had a serious conversation with your father after that day.
Jane: “Jalen! You have to go to work! What kind of example are you setting for our daughter??”
It didn’t work on him. Or on you, either.
Jane: “Janie, dear, school starts in an hour. Are you ready?”
Jane: “Janie, darling, the bus will be here in thirty minutes. Did you get your homework done?”
Jane: “Janie, dearest, the bus will be here any second! You might want to stop playing and grab your backpack.”
Janie: “I’m busy, Mom!”
As the bus came and went on that particular day, I created a mantra for myself. You cannot control others. You can only control your reactions to others.
You cannot control others. You can only control your reactions to others.
It was a ridiculous mantra. A way to talk myself out of responsibility for your actions.
You didn’t go to school that day.
Janie: “I think I’m just going to practice, skip school. It’s not like it matters-I won’t need school for anything. You didn’t.”
You cannot control others. You can only control your reactions to others.
My default reaction to others? Retreat.
Jane: “If I can’t see her, does that mean I can pretend she went to school?”
Maybe Jalen would handle it.
Jane: “Did Janie tell you that she skipped school today?”
Jalen: “That’s my girl! Elementary school is important, but high school? What’s the point of it, anyway! Never did me any good!”
What had I been thinking? I retreated farther this time.
Jane: “I’m in an entirely different town. That definitely means I can pretend that Janie went to school, and Jalen handled the situation like an adult.”
Was it the best way to handle things? No. Was I parenting? No. But, we were surviving. I far preferred this existence—this passive aggressive, minced words, filtered thoughts existence, that kept us all distant, but at least still living in the same place. It gave us the opportunity for happy moments, while all the negativity built up behind the firm walls of my determination.
Jane: “Did you have a good day, darling?”
Jalen: “I can’t hear you!”
Jane: “Did you go to school today, Janie dear?”
Janie: “Let’s take a selfie!”
So I painted. I drew. I distanced.
Man in Yellow
I did great things, Janie. I won’t lie about that. I accomplished so much in the art world. Go to any museum, and there are at least five pieces with my name on them. I was a step away, a single masterpiece, from being a painter extraordinaire. I was successful, and it brought in an inheritance for you. It was a challenge, and it brought happiness for me. But at the cost of your happiness… was it worth it? And at the cost of missing out on watching the last of your childhood…
You were a musician—a brilliant violinist, by the end of the day. You finished with a D in school.
There’s one other thing that I know about you. One last thing, that I wasn’t sure was there.
I remember, on the last day before you turned 18. You were playing video games, kind of idly, getting over a rough last day at school. The counselor had told you that, were you to continue in high school, you would need counseling three times a week.
Janie: “Counseling?? What for??”
You had ranted furiously, before retreating to the computer screen (I wonder who taught you that kind of coping mechanism…)
I was half working on a piece of art, half watching you out the corner of my eye. Seemingly out of nowhere, your eyes narrowed, and you focused all your attention on the computer screen. The anger fled from your face and, with a determined calm like I had hardly ever seen from you, you strategically maneuvered yourself to victory over the level.
When the victory music had finished playing, you shut off the computer. You pushed away from the desk, stood, and walked down the stairs—slowly, calmly, with deliberation.
Curious, but not wanting to alter your actions, I waited a few moments, then crept down the stairs after you.
I peeked around the kitchen door.
There, without prompting, without encouragement, after the final day of classes—it wouldn’t count at all—there you were, sitting at the dining room table, doing your homework for the first time in all your teenage years.
Janie: 5x / 26 = 9. Multiple by 26, divide by 5…”
Janie: “The captial of Ecuador is…”
Janie: “Me llamo Janie. A mi me encanta el musica.”
That’s when I discovered something, Janie. The most important thing about you. Despite the fact that I had been such a horrible mother for nearly all of your life. Despite the fact that your father was childish and preferred to “troll teh forums” over going to work. Despite the fact that you had refused to go to school, do your homework, help with group projects…
You were a smart kid. And, more importantly, you were a determined kid. You had a good head on your shoulders. And even though your father and I could have completely messed you up—we didn’t. You turned out alright. And that had nothing to do with us. It had everything to do with you.
The next day—today, of course—I woke up early to make you your favorite cake.
Jane: “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!”
Then, I sat down at the computer, and wrote this. My life. Your life. Or rather, your beginning. Do what you will with it. But as you take over the Newman name—the household, the finances, the reputation (such as it is)—with all of this new knowledge of your shoulders, I only want you to know one thing.
I wasn’t a great mother. But you’re a great kid. And you’re going to be a great adult. You can do this.
Your Mother, Jane
Jane: “Happy birthday dear Janie! Happy birthday to you!”
Jane: “And many more!”