On August 8, 1978, a warm and humid evening in Chicago, Rebecca Ann Bluemel was born at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The symbolism of this inner city debut would come to define much of her character.
Rebecca was the first realized, but fourth conceived child of Gregg and Gloria, 23 and not-quite 22 years-old respectively. She was number four. The first three fetuses had been aborted by the young and careless couple.
I know this because my father confessed it when I checked him into a hospital several years ago for another mental health episode. I was horrified, and hated him intensely at the time for speaking. But in a way, the truth did offer freedom. I’d never heard that my sociopathic mother insisted she couldn’t get pregnant, and that my troubled father failed to question repeated, terminated evidence of her falsehood. I guess the former Catholic alter boy who still skipped red meat on Fridays couldn’t stomach a fourth trip to the abortion clinic. So my parents got married and six months later, there I was.
When I was around eight years old and my family was sinking in the quagmire of too much responsibility and too little stability from its leaders, my parents had another horrible argument. This one ended with dad screaming the following words, forever seared in my formative mind – “YOU TRAPPED ME!” I wasn’t old enough to understand it all, but I absolutely felt the rage – and comprehended that the “trap” was me.
The impression this accusation left, deepened by natural inclinations of character and desire to be loved, unleashed a firestorm of achievement-oriented activity. I wanted to be the best at everything, to keep climbing new heights, make them proud. It was so painfully and openly needy. I owed it to my dysfunctional parents to help them care more, and I was persistent in effort. After all, wasn’t their unhappiness and disinclination to provide for our basic needs my fault? I trapped them. I was hungry in more ways than one to show them that engaging was worth it. That I was worth it. As a bonus, I enjoyed the luxury of disappearing into industry. A mind and body always in motion doesn’t have time to hurt and despair.
Years later, when my father told the whole truth – that three other babies could have been in this position – a whole new can of psychological fuckery opened. Why me? Why had I been born at all? What would the unborn have been like? How did I compare to the people they might have been?
I’ve been thinking about all of this ugliness a lot lately. I’m healthier and happier than ever. There’s been miserable years, necessary estrangement from both parents, lots of therapy and personal labor. But early in 2016, I live a contented, peaceful, fulfilled life for which my younger self dared not hope. Aspiration was just too painful, especially under the impression that in burdening my caretakers with an unwanted presence, it was necessary to work harder and repent more. So very Dostoyevsky without the religion.
I’ve had time to think about my father’s 5150 revelation. Of course I’ve understood in a real way for several years now that my parents had plenty of choices. Like birth control. It’s not anyone’s fault that their broken interpersonal gamesmanship ended up in a rotten marriage and a daughter for which they weren’t prepared to care. I also know that playing the “What if my unborn siblings would have turned out better than me?” game is a psychological fool’s errand. I’m here. That’s how it went down. And despite it all, I have a life of which I’m proud.
I’m ok with being number four. I carry the idea of the three that never were with me. They are not forgotten. Unhealthy people made decisions for all of us (or at least our collective cells). I’m finally living truth that once seemed impossibly buried under the heavy weight of sins not my own. Overachievement that always felt more exhausting than productive is leveraged today by passion, rather than a campaign for the acceptance and love of those who can’t give it. I like myself a lot more this way. It’s sustainable.
As I move through the novel experiences of 2016 and settle into some wonderfully comfortable routines, I’ve been thinking about the years I spent looking at Rebecca Bluemel (now Sarwate) as a booby trap. I’m nobody’s regrettable baggage. And the first embryos weren’t either. Numbers one, two and three travel with four in spiritual communion.