Sunday, May 19, 2013

Next to Normal, Close to Home

Have you ever seen the musical Next to Normal? There are a few laughs, but it's a tragedy. A tragedy about a grieving mother and a neglected daughter and a stoic, silent father. A very good friend played the role of the mother in a local production, so Mr. E and I got tickets. My own mother warned me about the themes in the play. I took tissues. The wiki page has a good scene by scene summary, but to summarize even that: the family is dealing with the abject grief of losing the son, the first-born, at age eight months.

As we were getting ready I told Mr. E that the play could be sad, but if it didn't trigger my own experience and my own grief, then maybe I wouldn't cry. So clearly I did not know what I was talking about. First, the son (who is represented at 18, the age he would have been) sings to his sister that she cannot compete with him because he is perfect. So that's true. The child who didn't live is everything the parent ever wanted him to be. And then the son invited the mother to join him in his spirit land. I am so far from feeling that way now, but I remember feeling that way. Like nothing else mattered. I just wanted to be with Blue. It didn't matter that I didn't believe in that stuff. And then, as much as anything that resonated with me, came the part where the father refused to tell the mother the son's name. She had electric shock therapy and lost her memories. As they came back she remembered the son, but not his name. And it was just like what happened between Chris and me. Our baby never had a name. He refused to call him anything that resembled a name. My baby, my baby, MY baby had a name.

In the characters you could identify the denial, the dysfunction. And you also started to wonder if the mother was really deranged, or just terribly, terribly sad. So her male doctor tells her she's sick? What does he know? That was another number--that the father did not know what the mother was feeling. Chris never knew what I was feeling. He was terrified of what I felt. He knew he wouldn't have changed places with me for even a moment.

The play was very sad of course, but very good too. My friend was very good. But I did keep wanting the son to free his mother to live with a loving memory and not a haunting memory. To realize that her living is not the same as her forgetting. In the end the father realizes that he needs to get help for his own repressed grief.

After it was over--no, while I was still watching--I felt glad again that Chris and I went our separate ways. Glad that we don't carry this grief together in our own joint dysfunctional and fucked up way. But I still wonder about Chris. I wonder, still, if the fact that his son died ever did bring him to his knees.

I am writing a song--finally, slowly--about this. It's mostly still in the idea phase, but there are these (two) lines:
For how long, did the burying take?
How strong was the flood when it came?

Like I said, it's in the idea phase. But the idea then is that the burying of his emotions parallels the burying of the baby's ashes, and the literal flood exhumes the grave and the physical and the emotional become the same thing. The words, the tune, they make me sad. I don't get anywhere with the writing because I just get so tired in the middle of it.

I don't want to think about Chris. But I have been thinking about what he's doing now, what his life is like. I wrote about that months ago. I still think it. And the ways in which Next to Normal hit close to home involve him, so I'm thinking about him more. I feel like I'm not getting anywhere. Do I need to speak to Chris to resolve this? Would I ever even try to speak to Chris again? The thought intrigues me. Not the speaking to him, but the thinking about speaking to him.

So I'm not crazy! Sad, maybe, but not crazy.

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