Had I insisted on dragging my family into my ADHD fantasy life only to have it blow up in their faces?
by Frank South
“We are falling down, down to the bottom of a hole in the ground, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, I’m so scared I can hardly breathe, I may never see my sweetheart again.” -- John Prine, "The Bottomless Lake"
It’s Halloween in Villa Park, Illinois, 1959. I’m ten years old in my homemade Zorro costume. My shadow on the moonlit sidewalk looks just like Guy Williams’ shadow in the TV show. I am Zorro -- “a fox so cunning and free.” My friend David says it’s late; we have to get home with our treats before the teenagers came out to do their Halloween tricks. He’s worried that we’ve gone too far to get home in time with our sacks full of Milky Ways and popcorn balls.
But I’m not paying attention. I’m in my own world as I cross into Elmhurst, and gallop down an unfamiliar street. I am Zorro -- I am invincible...except when I’m faced with three Elmhurst teenagers in leather jackets. They surround me at a street lamp. I am suddenly very vincible. Two of them smoke cigarettes; the guy who picks me up by my cape chews a toothpick. They bounce me around, take my hat, mask, cape, and all my candy and send me scampering back to Villa Park. My shadow on the moonlit sidewalk looks like a scared 10 year-old running home.
But see, I’m always shocked by a change in the weather and by hard reality exploding apart my day-dreamed life.
Just this last September, it seemed to me that we were all doing pretty well, in our house. My 14 year-old ADHD daughter was transitioning out of special ed. Her reading and writing was above grade level and she wowed them with her project presentations in social studies. And at home, not only was her temper pretty much under control, her compassion and sense of humor were re-flowering.
My 21 year-old ADHD son passed his midterms and actually seemed to like his classmates and some of his teachers. My non-ADHD wife was working harder than ever at her education company, as well as with her private clients. She had a great response as a presenter and teacher at The Hawaii Writers Conference. It seemed like maybe she’d be able to pull off the first year of her company being in the black. And one of the teachers working for her sold us his car at a unbelievably great price.
And I, the ADHD dad, had finished a pretty successful tryout run of my solo show in L.A. in the summer, and was back in Honolulu in the middle of shooting and editing a local video job that would give us some extra cash. Despite a hiccup or two due to bouts between me and my ADHD, I was reasonably happy. Plus, the new therapist was working out for the whole family. And we found a way to gate the front door so that our huge dog didn’t bound out into the street terrorizing mail carriers, joggers, and the nice lady tending her papaya tree next door.
I had been the one that sold our family on the dream of living in Hawaii in the first place, and after ten years of struggling with the reality of making your way in paradise, it seemed the sun was shining for us, a light breeze blowing across the calm tropical sea.
But then in October, Margaret’s sister called from Georgia. Their mom was in the hospital. Even though she was out in a couple of days, it jolted us. We saw how far apart we were from family who needed us. My parents on the east coast were even older and my dad was going in for surgery, but we couldn’t afford to keep flying back and forth. But both our families needed us. Then, unrelated to these realities, the Hawaii school system discovered they were out of money, and the upheaval was not good for Margaret’s work or my daughter’s school. Then, the car we bought developed an unsolvable overheating problem. Then, worried that my progress on my video project was suffering, I buckled down on that and missed my therapist appointment twice. And the dog knocked over the gate.
Had things changed that much? Suddenly everything that seemed strong and solid about our life on an island in the middle of the Pacific seemed weak-kneed and wrong-headed. Had I insisted on dragging my family into my ADHD fantasy life only to have it blow up in their faces? Had the Elmhurst teenagers busted through my daydream to give all of us a candy-stealing dose of reality?
In the middle of this spin, Margaret and I sit down. “I think we should move to Georgia,” she says.