Carry You

Carry You is a memoir about growing up in a narcissistic family and the emotional and physical fallout, including a few near deaths. 

Here are excerpts from the forthcoming book:


The Argument

My stepmother repeatedly told me that Pop was an exceptional father because he was willing to talk with his daughter about “real” things. Those things did not include personal details of my life, such as relationships, friendships, interests, worries, successes, or failures, but indeed my father was a discusser, and to get his attention I discussed away, always under the pretense that we were having an intellectual conversation. We were both natural talkers with an analytical bent and a strong desire to converse about life, and my father invited my thoughts, albeit within measured parameters. It was great to earn his approval, but our discussions, like everything else, were dangerous territory that could take sudden sharp disastrous turns.

During one of our talks he got on the subject of men and women. Coolly, as if stating a fact, my father said, “Males have deeper friendships than females do.”

His eyes glanced off mine for a microsecond. He started his hand-twisting tick, flicking his wrists and grasping for something out of reach.

“The feelings I share with my male friends are extremely powerful. . . Cal and Bert, and Nate, for example,” he bragged, inflating like a peacock. “I don’t see females with those types of friendships. Females are competitive with one another. They have shallower relationships.”

We were in the living room, him in his swivel reading chair and me on the couch with my knees up. I extended my legs and leaned forward. I was used to my father making similar pronouncements, and at 16 I knew better than to let my hackles show, but I had to challenge him.

“I don’t see how you can make that generalization, Pop. Many people would say that women communicate and connect with each other more. Men tend to be more competitive. . . .”

Many people, Julia?” he erupted. “Who are these many people you’re referring to?”

The phone rang and interrupted him. Kathryn answered it in the next room while I got up to pee and take a breath. She had heard us.

I took my seat on the couch again, trapped.

My father continued, raising the stakes.

“You’ll probably argue that there is sexism.” He lunged like a fencer: “But females are sexist toward males as much or more so.”

“Females are controlling and judgmental,” he added, enunciating females with contempt.

“But there is a power imbalance. For one thing men are usually physically stronger and more violent. Women can be critical of men, or controlling, but you can’t say it’s the same as sexism,” I countered, struggling not to sound like I was arguing.

“Can’t say?!” he spat. “I just did say it!”

Teeth bared, he added, “Women are just as violent as men.”

I felt my face redden. I struggled to breathe and clung to reason, wishing I had statistics. “Pop, the majority of people in prison for violent crimes are men. . . .”

Cutting me off and staring me down, he pounced, venting fire: “Julia, who is the angry one now?! Who is being violent right now?”

The room flattened into black.

It was true that I was feeling angry—very angry, which I vaguely knew was actually fear. And that was confusing. Did that make me violent? I was ashamed and couldn’t think of what to say.


The Sky Is Falling

The day was perfectly warm, not too hot or cool, not humid, with no clouds, just a hint of breeze playing the trees and mason bees busy in my neighbors’ small apple orchard. It was July, arguably the best month of the year in the Pacific Northwest. Blossoms were robust from June rains, and lawns were only just beginning to hint at the browning that would come with the dryness of August.

I had set out on a walk after lunch down the short gravel road off my driveway, flanked by soaring Douglas fir trees, red cedars, and big-leaf maples. From behind, my chickens cried from their coop. If they were calling to me it was too late, because my sky was already falling.

Pain knifed through my left shoulder rushing into my arm and fingers and spreading across the left side of my chest. I turned and walked briskly home. Sarah drove me to the emergency clinic, calling from the car to say we believed I was having a heart attack.

At the clinic I told the doctors, again, that I was having a heart attack. I was crying, something I had never done in front of a doctor or in front of my parents for decades. At 46 I was too young and fit, the doctors said, to be having a heart attack. And my symptoms were atypical. They asked me what I had had for lunch (my usual beans and rice) and told me I was probably having heartburn. I’d never had heartburn and knew I wasn’t having it then. I said I thought I should go to the hospital.

Paramedics put me on a gurney and drove me the 35 minutes from the clinic to the hospital, in normal traffic without the siren on.