by Bobbie Ann Mason
by Bobbie Ann Mason
"In the summer of 1984, the war in Vietnam came home to Sam Hughes, whose father died in Vietnam just before she was born. The first children born to American GIs who went to Vietnam were coming of age, and they were starting to ask what happened."
In 1989 I lost my grandfather to suicide. He suffered with manic depression, though I wasn't aware of it at that age, and well, sometimes bad things happen to good people. He was a churchgoing man, he and my grandmother had gone to South America in the mid-70's for missionary work. He built houses, she taught in a school. Suicide was the last thing I ever expected.
He died in February, not long after my 14th birthday. I was in the 8th grade and it was the first truly traumatic life experience I had. I don't think I really took time to mourn his death. I still had trouble coming to grips with the fact that he was gone when we would go over to visit my grandmother at their house. It felt like he was still there and for me, the very idea was too surreal. He would come in out of the garage at some point, he would be there and things would be fine. My 14 year-old mind just couldn't make sense of it. It happened so quickly that there was no goodbyes, there was just an emptiness I didn't know how to deal with.
That fall, I started my Freshman year of high school. The culmination of several events that year- my grandfather's death, humiliating myself over some boy(who I'd have to face daily on the bus) and then the general stress of high school did something to me. I don't know if my coping mechanism broke or what. Normally an A & B student, I was struggling to keep Bs & Cs, if I was lucky as the school year got underway. Only a couple of months in I grew depressed and started having problems with my stomach. Whether they were real pains or psychosomatic, I might never know for sure, but I thought I was broken.
I saw my regular doctor, who ran tests for stomach ulcers. Nothing. We saw another doctor, who thought it was just my nerves and prescribed pills. I saw a psychologist, but she simply made me meet her at the high school and forced me to walk up and down the hallways in front of my peers while I cried in embarrassment, still uncertain WHY I was having so much trouble. She thought putting me in the environment I was struggling with would make it more comfortable for me. Yeah...well, that didn't work.
Then came the psychiatrist who prescribed that icky pill that starts with an X. One of the pills I was taking gave me nightmares so my mom flushed them. I was getting sick and tired of all these people shrinking my brain, my family and friends thinking I was crazy and heaven only knows what my classmates thought about me. I heard the rumors—
I had stomach cancer and was going through treatment.
I'd gotten knocked up and moved away to Virginia to have the baby.
I think some even thought I'd died.
I don't blame anyone for thinking it. My situation was confusing to me for a very long time, as it was.
When it became clear that the psychiatrist deemed me capable of returning to school the weekend after my 15th birthday in February and I was still refusing to go to school out of irrational fears, my parents had to find an alternative. It had been almost a year since my grandfather's death, I'd seen more doctors than I ever cared to see in my entire life, I'd been publicly humiliated by the psychologist(who I thought was a crackpot anyway), and we had gone through every plausible reason for my emotional and physical turmoil. I ended up dropping out and took home school shortly thereafter and I stopped all visits and treatment with the headcases.
It took years for me to self-diagnose where it began and ironically, it seems that it was the one thing my shrinky-dinks didn't even mull over for very long. A traumatic sudden death in the family that was never truly dealt with at that age will definitely pack an emotional toll. At least, that's my take on it.
It was around the time I dropped out of school, that 15th birthday, that my dad gave me a belated Christmas gift. A signed copy of In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason-
See, the construction company that my dad works for was building her house in my hometown. He meant for it to be a Christmas present, but hadn't gotten the opportunity to get it signed by her until after the holidays were over, so it ended up becoming a belated gift/Birthday present that year.
It was my first foray into reading more grown-up realistic fiction. It was down to earth and honest. It felt real and it was a gift that I'll always treasure because my father knew I aspired to be a writer, even though he warned me and warned me about how hard it was to break into the business...that it was a tough industry and not everyone who wants to write CAN write, especially when you have to support yourself financially and the business can be so fickle. I guess in some ways it wasn't any different than the advice he would have given me if I'd wanted to be a rock star or an artist. Being a writer is a lofty dream.
And yet, every time I took up that book, and saw her signature inside it, knowing she was a writer and she was from Kentucky and she lived in my hometown- it inspired me to believe that I could be a writer. That my circumstances didn't have to define who I was, as a person, or as a writer. The trauma of that loss and change in my life didn't have to turn me into a thing that cowered in the corner, that feared living life. This book will always inspire me, not just for the story Bobbie Ann Mason told, but because of the way in which I came to know it.
If you want to know more, you can click the book cover or her name at the top of the blog to go to the In Country Amazon page or her website.
Thanks for stopping by.
Thanks for stopping by.