James Frey?

Sometimes when I write about my family, I wonder if I’ll be perceived as another James Frey. After all, it is a bit much to believe all this could happen in one family. While not an exhaustive list, here are the highlights:

  1. Abusive (both verbally and physically) alcoholic father
  2. Who now suffers from dementia (after surviving testicular cancer in his 30s and colon cancer in his late 70s)
  3. Two severely alcoholic brothers (one of whom just died), and a moderately alcoholic sister
  4. A brother-in-law who molested his daughter (who also is my sister’s daughter, and my niece)
  5. A sister who stayed with her husband after she found out he molested her daughter (and me, her younger sister)
  6. A brother-in-law who sexually abused me (but far from the extreme he molested his daughter)
  7. An alcoholic brother going through his second round of mouth (now throat) cancer treatment, including chemo and radiation
  8. In the midst of which, in a drunken, self-medicated stupor, he falls, hits his head, loses a massive amount of blood (requiring a transfusion), and nearly dies
  9. And as he’s recovering from his head injury, and the painful alcohol detox, and the chemo treatments
  10. The other brother (the oldest of the four children), who can’t recover from the fact that his fiance fell while intoxicated (at my other niece’s wedding, which I didn’t attend because I didn’t want to watch her pedophile father give her away), hit her head, fell into a coma for three months, and died,
  11. Starts drinking again after a seven-year hiatus, because he couldn’t get over the loss of his love
  12. And as a result, he dies three years later (shortly after the younger of the two got out of the hospital for the transfusion/detox)
  13. And, of course, the heroine’s (that’s tongue-in-cheek) abusive boyfriends, who seem to pale in comparison with the above list (Do you see, Mack, why saying you fit in with my family was not a selling point?)

Lest I paint an inaccurate picture, despite my father’s rages, all four of us grew up living a pretty privileged life. There were happy times. Tropical family vacations to Hawaii, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Cozumel. Summers at the lake house. Sailing lessons at the yacht club. Weekends on the boat with my dad and mom. Planting vegetable gardens in the back yard with my mom. Road trips in the station wagon. Stops at McDonald’s. Music lessons. (My sister and I both played the clarinet. The younger of the boys, the coronet.) Ballet lessons. (I had to quit because all those spins made me too dizzy. Luckily, I’m not blonde.) Fishing in Canada with the family. Snowmen. Cards. Ice cream cones. Dogs and cats and rabbits and turtles. (My dad always let us keep stray kitties.)

There were happy times.

Maybe, being the youngest, I was shielded from my the worst of my dad’s tirades. Maybe I didn’t get the alcoholic gene. For some reason, I seem to have made it out less scathed (certainly not unscathed). I’m successful at my career. I’m the only one of four children who isn’t alcoholic. The only one of four children who escaped the dysfunctional family system. Okay, I’m still working on escaping it, but I’m not still swirling around in it. Rather, I’m sort of orbiting it. Sometimes my trajectory takes me a bit too close to the family sun, but generally, I’m able to keep myself at a distance. Perhaps because I’m the only one of the four of us who spent nearly seventeen years (off and on) in therapy. I could have been the entire subject of the HBO Series, In Treatment. Although it likely would have been a snoozer.

I’m not sure why I made it out less damaged. But for that I am grateful. (Coupled with a tinge of guilt.)

No, I am no James Frey. But this really is the kind of crap that Oprah laps up with a spoon. Maybe I should get back to work on my memoir.


  • Wow.. I say wow as in it is a testament to your inner strength you are here to write about this.. I’m thinking if I ever sat down and wrote about the oddity’s in my family we would have a neck-to-neck race. No incest but enough other things to make a bestseller to where we both could retire to Fiji!

    (feels sorta good to write it all out though )


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