I went to Florida with five other old bats with whom I have been friends for decades. We went para-sailing. We smoked pot and drank vodka. We went sailing. We told off-color jokes and secret stories.
I was on the boat standing up high, high, on the wood part. My clothes were whipping in the wind. I was blissful for that minute. I can be alive, I can be happy. Then this thing is not going to ruin my life (the fact that my son has schizophrenia) the fallacy, the horrible part of it, hit me in the gut. Hard. Wow, isn’t that great?I can be happy in spite of this, I can enjoy my life, I can feel the wind whip through my hair…I can. But I am not the one who is stricken. I am not the one who’s life is broken, ruined, mitigated. I bend inward with this sudden, obvious, realization: my resolution to get the most out of life and not let it wreck me is absurd. Obscene. How fucking brave of me. I can stand on a boat flying through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and actually enjoy myself, what a hero. Suddenly I hate myself like dirt, like an inky black stain traveling over my belly, over the surface and sinking in. I gasp, I swallow air. I can’t breathe. I howl soundlessly, helplessly. What am I doing?
Thank God for the friends. Thank God for the women. What would I do? One of the friends is right there next to me on that boat. I can’t even talk for a minute. I am stunned. Then I confess.
“But don’t you see?” she says. “Don’t you see? That is survivor guilt. There is a whole pathology that already exists to explain this. And then, gently and liltingly, to the background symphony of wind and water, my friend explains survivor’s guilt to me. Something I know all about already. It sounds good. It fits. I stop crying. I open my eyes. The vista is spectacular.
At that very moment my son is in his apartment in Washington State. It is cold out, there is snow on the ground. He is lying on his bed, a mattress on the floor (because he wouldn’t let me get him a bedframe) in his clothes. He has a baseball cap on, his dirty hoody is up over his head. He is wearing his sunglasses. His hands are clasped across his chest. Three fans are on, in different rooms, at full blast. He is fast asleep.
There is not even a little wind blowing through his hair.