You know what’s weird? You could be my mother.
I mean, you’re not, obviously. My mom’s a ginger and Jewish, and her sixties childhood was really quite different from yours, what with her not having Don Draper as a dad or Betty as a mom, and her not seeing her step-grandmother go down on Roger Sterling in the back room at an American Cancer Society Benefit.
So yeah, sucks to be you.
But what if things had gone differently? What if my mom had stayed with that painter who looked like Charles Manson and once punched my grandfather in the face, and my dad had met you instead among the bohemians inhabiting seventies Jerusalem, drinking wine on Old City balconies, discussing poetry and politics, and inhaling the sweetly mingling odors of bellflower and frying falafel?
He would have impressed you with his British accent and vast knowledge of World War II trivia, and you would have seduced him in the Draper style—with few words and a whole lot of eye contact; with damaged intensity and sartorial chic; and most likely with the sexual abandon of an unloosed American, finally free from the watchful glare of her overly protective father.
Cut to 2012. You’re sixty now, the mother of me—or some half-Draper version of me: slightly less bald and with a slightly smaller schnoz, but way more fucked up—chilling in the suburbs and buying shit on Etsy. And even though I’m thirty, I still come home sometimes and sit on your lap and say, “Tell me about Grandma?” and you say, “She started wearing a fat suit and then one day disappeared,” and I say, “Tell me about grandpa?” and you say, “If the cigs hadn’t killed him, then the guilt eventually would have,” and I say, “Tell me you love me?” and you say, “Love is for fairy tales and pop songs. In the real world we just make do with whatever numbs the awful pain of being alive.”
It’s funny, we just celebrated the publication of The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin, a dude who wrote a lot of lovely stuff about death and window treatments but is mostly remembered for this one little rhyme about how your parents fuck you up even though they mean well. And Larkin was right about a lot of shit—man does hand down misery to man, the invention of the pill was paradise, death is no different whined at than withstood—but I think he was being a bit generous when he said that your parents aren’t intentionally trying to fuck you up.
Take Peggy’s mom, for example, basically insuring her daughter’s misery by meanly making her feel like unmarriable trash just because her dorky Jewish boyfriend is taking things a little slow. Or what about Megan’s father, pretending to be Jean-Paul Sartre in those glasses like he’s an honest to god Frenchman and not just a silly Canadian, and making inappropriate dinner comments for the sole purpose of making his daughter tense and miserable. And I won’t even start in on your own parents, Sally, what with all the cheating and yelling and not paying attention and leaving you alone with that cunty Mrs. Francis as babysitter.
But let me quote another of the great poets, Tupac Shakur, who blames his mother for turning his brother into a crack baby but urges all the fucked-up children o not let their traumas keep them down: “Even though you’re fed up–HUH!–You got to keep ya head up!”
I’m writing this on May 1, and summer is coming to New York. I’m writing to you, Sally, from my office at a large university where I teach kids slightly older than you how to express themselves creatively in the form of short fiction. In a couple hours my class will commence and we’ll celebrate the semester’s end with a bottle of Diet Coke and some Entemann’s. Pathetic, yes, but that’s how it’s done. Class hasn’t started yet, though, and right now I can see the students out my window, looking happy in the street below with their guiltless cigarettes and summer fashions, smiling and flirting, and it gives me hope. Because these kids come from shitty families, too, and a fucked-up America. These kids were born with cell phones strapped to their little wrists, born into a country under George Bush, raised by nannies and the Internet, left alone with access to all kinds of smut and snuff films before they’d even learned to read. And you know what? Despite it all, they seem pretty okay to me.
You’ll be okay too, Sally. Ten years of analysis and you’ll be good as new. Until, then keep Tupac in mind.
With mad love from the future,
Adam Wilson is the author of Flatscreen.