Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#282 Robin Black: Growing Up Unhappy and Becoming Happier in a Way that Makes Unhappy People Feel Like They Can Become Happier Too

Robin Black was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the youngest of three children. Her parents were legal scholars and she grew up in a great big house that was not a bit fancy. The house had lots of illness around it, which made growing up pretty odd. When Robin was 10, her grandmother who was a paraplegic from spinal tumors moved in with the family. Also, her father’s difficult moods dominated the household and his lack of balance kept everybody off-balance. Robin had ADD (still does) and other learning issues, which made her feel like a failure growing up. She was always the kid with unfinished homework and she missed lots of school because of illnesses, which had their basis in her fear of going to school. When Robin was 16, she asked her parents if she could go into therapy and that probably saved her life. She’s thankful for that instinct to get help when life felt so overwhelming. Robin’s memories of childhood are largely unhappy ones, but she always liked reading and writing, and she loved theater. She was in every school play and some community theater too. Playing a character was a great way to not deal with her own stuff. Robin studied voice too and can sing just about every song written between the two world wars. If she wasn’t going to be an actress, she was going to be a nightclub singer. But she didn’t pursue either, in part, because she was afraid of how sophisticated the other theater kids seemed when she got to college. That paralyzed her and she took German instead, which made no sense at all. During college, Robin took time off to return home and be her grandmother’s caregiver. After college, she became severely agoraphobic and couldn’t leave her house without having crippling anxiety attacks. During this time, Robin also had two difficult pregnancy losses, one late along, and those were shattering experiences. Robin met her wonderful husband Richard at a Public Service Fair when she was in law school, which she was doing so she could support herself and her kids. She was 30ish, had ended her first marriage, and was a mother of two children. Richard has been a full-fledged parent to her two older kids and to the daughter they have together. She’s amazed by how much he can give to other people. Around 40, Robin decided agoraphobia wouldn’t get in her way anymore. It took years of intensely difficult work, but she beat the disease. Most of the decisions Robin made the first 40 years of her life were motivated by fear. Robin’s kids are now 23, 19, 15 (girl, boy, girl) each amazing and amazingly kind. Her daughters are gamer girls and her son is a singer, which makes her super happy. Her youngest has significant learning disabilities and works so hard for things that come easily to most. The learning disabilities concern language processing, so Robin and her daughter are always trying to find the right words, though for very different reasons. Along with her family, Robin also loves her dog Watson, who is so loving back. It's important to have a relationship that doesn't involve words. For now, Robin wants to keep writing, to age well, and have friends who think she’s kind and funny, which she does. She wants to write a book about growing up unhappy and becoming happier that makes unhappy people feel like they can become happier. She also wants to sing more, but not in some corny, metaphorical way. She actually wants to sing more.
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One of the Things I Love

[Note: One of the things that I love about the postcard life story project is that I've met a bunch of fascinating people and that they keep in touch after I write their postcard life stories. We become friends and I like getting life updates from them. With that in mind, here is the first marriage of two people who were single when I wrote their postcard life stories. Now they are Katie and Patrick King.]

Kathryn Jachowski has lived her whole life in Maryland. When she was a little girl, she loved animals so much that she had to pet any animal that she saw. She would stick her head in holes in the ground and talk to the worms. When Kate was 10, her parents divorced and then she lost contact with her father. Her mother told her that her father was clinically depressed, but this wasn’t true. Her new step-dad was a pastor, which was fine since Kate was always religious. Later, she learned that her father had a drug problem and was in jail. During her teen years, Kate told her friends that her dad was dead so she didn’t have to explain it. Kate always got good grades, but never liked school. Kate never got into trouble, but she did things like drugs that other people didn’t know about. She never told anybody because she always wanted to be the good girl. Eventually, Kate wrote her father a letter in jail, explaining why she was angry with him and enclosing a Get Out of Jail Free card from her Monopoly game. After he got out, they talked on the phone and eventually decided to see each other in person (Kate hadn’t seen him since she was 11), but he died from a drug overdose before that happened. Kate always got along with her mother, but she had a hard time realizing that Kate was growing up. Kate started dating Pat, an atheist, which her mother had a problem with. Kate had a breakdown and told her mother that she hated God. Kate moved out of the house and her mother abandoned her. But, really, all Kate wants is to be happy. She says she’s about 75-80% happy now that she doesn’t live at home, so she’s almost there.

Patrick King was born in San Antonio, Texas, where his dad was getting military training, and the family kept moving for his dad’s Army job until Pat was 6--New Jersey, Germany, then Frederick, Maryland, where he spent kindergarten. On the first day of school, he remembers holding hands with Mandy Devis as they got on the school bus. After that, the family moved to Upstate NY, a small town outside of Ithaca while his dad finished his PhD in biology at Cornell, after which the family moved to Thailand for his research. Pat spent one semester of 4th grade in Bangkok, Thailand. Then his mom left his dad that summer and his dad sent Pat and his two brothers back to the states to be with her in Upstate NY. His parents divorced soon afterward, which, secretly, Pat liked. It was something that the other kids didn't have, but he did miss seeing his dad. After his 12th birthday, Pat turned inward, got shy and depressed, cut himself off from his friends. His only friend for 2 years was his brother Dave. It was a horrible time, but it was also when Pat started writing in notebooks. Just before his 15th birthday, Pat’s mother moved the family to Birmingham (where her family was) and he was insanely glad to be leaving Ithaca. He decided he would start over with a new life and make new friends. He threw away his notebooks and decided to make up stories about his past. Pat always hated the structure, and, in 7th grade, he almost flunked out. In high school, Pat’s grades always ranged from terrible to decent. He never got an A in anything until college, but, eventually, he dropped out. Pat has nightmares where he flunks out of college—though that isn’t what happened. He thought he had learned all he needed to learn and could do the rest on his own. In early 2006, Pat left his wife. Their lives were going in different directions—she wanted the bourgeois and he wanted the bohemian. So one night around 1am, he packed his stuff up in his brother Mike's car and they took off for Philadelphia. Pat left her with all the bills and the cats and an empty apartment. It was probably the cruelest thing he’s ever done. He didn't care then because he was going on a crazy adventure (and he wouldn’t be his dad's son if he wasn't an adventure-seeking, book-loving, half-mad artist), but he’s ashamed of it now. By 2007, Pat was divorced, living with his dad, and back in Maryland to start over again. He met Katie online and liked how smart she is and what a great artist she is. Also, she doesn't mind his vices. Right now, Pat works in a grocery store and is also working on a book of essays about his travels and the women in his life. Pat would like to marry Katie (there is something special about being legally bound to somebody else) and produce weird offspring and go on adventures together.
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#091 Kathryn Jachowski: Almost Completely Happy

Kathryn Jachowski has lived her whole life in Maryland. When she was a little girl, she loved animals so much that she had to pet any animal that she saw. She would stick her head in holes in the ground and talk to the worms. When Kate was 10, her parents divorced and then she lost contact with her father. Her mother told her that her father was clinically depressed, but this wasn’t true. Her new step-dad was a pastor, which was fine since Kate was always religious. Later, she learned that her father had a drug problem and was in jail. During her teen years, Kate told her friends that her dad was dead so she didn’t have to explain it. Kate always got good grades, but never liked school. Kate never got into trouble, but she did things like drugs that other people didn’t know about. She never told anybody because she always wanted to be the good girl. Eventually, Kate wrote her father a letter in jail, explaining why she was angry with him and enclosing a Get Out of Jail Free card from her Monopoly game. After he got out, they talked on the phone and eventually decided to see each other in person (Kate hadn’t seen him since she was 11), but he died from a drug overdose before that happened. Kate always got along with her mother, but she had a hard time realizing that Kate was growing up. Kate started dating Pat, an atheist, which her mother had a problem with. Kate had a breakdown and told her mother that she hated God. Kate moved out of the house and her mother abandoned her. But, really, all Kate wants is to be happy. She says she’s about 75-80% happy now that she doesn’t live at home, so she’s almost there.
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