Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Next to Normal

I have been a little quiet around here, not because there is anything exciting going on.  Honestly, the weather has been nice so I've actually been spending a lot of time outside and school/work has been busy.  The end of the semester is rapidly approaching so lots of grading, planning, etc.

I've been reading other people's blogs but not commenting because I just feel so inarticulate.  I am spinning my wheels, I guess.  Nothing new to say about being sad.  I'm just sort of sitting in the same place.  But when I read about other people's grief (especially if I've been away from the computer a few days and my reader is full) then the sadness can overwhelm me and instead of being helpful or sympathetic, I start to feel numb and silent. 

Last night David and I went to a play at the Fox theater.  It's one of our favorite things to do--get dressed up and go see a show at the Fox.  We saw Phantom of the Opera there the first Valentine's day we were together and since then we've seen about fifteen other shows.  David had never been to a real play or musical before we got together so I really take credit for his interest in theater.

So we dressed up (I wore a cute new Rachel Roy dress that my mom bought me) and we went to dinner at an Italian place near our house and then went to the Fox.  The theater itself is beautiful--all huge ceilings and floral carpets and intricate woodwork and dramatic chandeliers.  The show we saw is called Next to Normal.

I knew nothing about it except it had a song in it about anti-depressants.  I didn't do any research about it because I wanted to avoid plot spoilers and I had heard good things about it and also I forgot about our tickets for a while since I was, you know, rather preoccupied.  I thought my friend Monica had seen it, but now I think she said that her family had gone to see it and really liked it.  For some reason, I also thought it was a comedy. 

It wasn't.

In fact, folks, David and I sat through the one and only Broadway musical I know of that is about a DEAD BABY.

And we were both completely shocked.

Warning:  Plot spoilers abound, so click away if you wish.

So by the second song we'd figured out that the attractive teenage boy on stage is actually dead and only the depressed, suicidal, singing mother can see him.  Meanwhile, the dad is trying to hold the family together and the sixteen-year-old daughter (born after the son died) is a perfectionist trying to get her parents' attention by playing classical piano and abusing her mom's various prescription meds.

Let's just say it wasn't our best date night ever.

So, yeah, I cried during part of the show.  I was really creeped out by the way they made the ghost of the dead baby into a gyrating eighteen-year-old boy who essentially argued for being kept alive in his mother's mind even though it was making her wackadoodle and also talked her into to attempting suicide.  WTF.

David kept complaining that he was hot, but it wasn't that hot in the theater.  It's just that we were both so freaking uncomfortable.

I don't know why we didn't leave at intermission, except I wanted to know what happened next.  How were they going to resolve this? 

Well, they weren't. 

We finally learned in the end (after unsuccessful therapy, medication, and electroshock therapy) that the boy died when he was eight months old from an intestinal obstruction and the mom could never hold the baby born after he died and the mother and daughter sing this touching song about how things will never be normal but maybe they can just be "next to normal" and that would be okay.  But then in the next song, the mom packs up and leaves and the dad cries and the daughter cries and that's basically the end of the musical.

I repeat:  Not a comedy.

David said afterward that the hospital scenes (where the mom is getting electroshock therapy) made him think about our night in the hospital with Eliza--stuff he hadn't let himself think about for a long time.  I'm more haunted by those memories anyway, but I did sort of feel like I got blindsided in the theater.  Not by my own grief, but by a creepy, exaggerated, outsider's perspective on how this could eat someone up from the inside out.

I couldn't help but wonder what the lesson was.  That if you have to betray one of your children, you should betray the dead one rather than the living one?  That therapy and drugs can't fix this kind of loss?  That dead babies will come back as sexy teenagers with six pack abs and convince you to slit your wrists? 

And I couldn't help but think they got it all wrong, even though I realize that everyone's experience is different.  Why would she leave the husband who is the only one who understands everything that has been lost?  Why would she punish her daughter for her own guilt or sadness?  Why would the dead baby be the villain? 

The music was lovely.  The staging was remarkable.  The actors were good.

But I wish we'd never gone to see this show.


  1. Wow! That sounds... well... awfull! I can't begin to imagine how truly uncomfortable you must have felt! Sorry that you had to endure it... and I would have been like you, I would have wanted to sit through all of it, just to see how the story ends!

  2. ACK!

    Yeah, talk about discomfort. I'm speechless. Hah. For once. :)

  3. Oh my.

    I actually really dislike how grieving mothers are mostly portrayed in dramas (tv & movies, mostly). They are usually a) batshit crazy or b) a variation on the above. They steal other people's children, commit suicide or murder!

    I'm not sure what to make of the play, it sounds very odd. I'm sorry it was understandably uncomfortable for you both.

    I understand Rabbit Hole is supposed to be quite good, although not as good as the stage version.

  4. Holy Crap! Talk about the idea of a romantic date being shattered.

    How in the world did you end up at the one brodaway play that talks about dead babies? I will have to remember to skip it if it ever makes it over to London's West End.


  5. I hate that people, looking from the outside in, often see us as that crazy lady in the play. I also hate that I am so desperately afraid of becoming that woman who is too entrenched in her grief over the death of one child to fully appreciate and love the subsequent one. Scary show. Sorry you had to see it, especially being surprised by the content.

  6. As you would say, oh em gee! It sounds awful.

    I have a secret confession: I like reading trashy romance novels. (Bad bad former English teacher!) The first 6 or so months after we lost Olivia, much like you, I kind of went into a reading frenzy to escape it. However, somehow, I kept ending up reading "dead baby" books. Like the back and beginning had no indication that there was anything of the sort in the book, it was supposed to be nice and smutty and a distraction. But wham! Somewhere towards the middle or end, now that I'm "invested" in the book, they throw in that the heroine had a baby who died, etc. etc. etc. It happened in like 5 books in a row. It kind of reminds me of that. It was like being taunted by the universe sort of. (I still read smut, but rarely come across anything like that these days.)

    Anyway, I'm so sorry you guys got smacked in the face with that. :(

  7. W.T.F???????? I really wonder if those who write these types of movies/TV shows/Plays ever consult anyone who has "actually" lost a child, or if they just guess at what happens?? Or worse, was it written by someone who lost a child and this is how it plays out for them?? Doesn't exactly give you that warm and fuzzy "hope for the future" that we are all searching for, does it? Nothing like a play about a psycho dead baby and a box of Goobers to make you glow at the thought of your future!! Blech...
    I'm sorry your date night wasn't as nice as you had hoped.

  8. My mouth is gaping open. I wouldn't know what to do with myself in that situation. I watch Grey's Anatomy like it's a train wreck, but at least I can cry in the comfort of my own home.

    Worst date ever... Poor you & hubb.

  9. That sounds horrendous. There are no other words.

    I'm quiet too. Not commenting much. I should put up a holding post on my blog so everyone knows I'm OK. Maybe later.....

  10. I can only imagine how hard it was to go out for some fun and distraction and end up in a mine field. Ugh.

    I think you owe yourselves a gentle day and a (real) comedy.

  11. Oh. Shit. That's not good. I too hate how "we" are portrayed in the media and on TV. They rarely get it right. I've heard Rabbit Hole came close, but I'm yet to go there.

  12. I was telling my mom about this debacle today over lunch and she said, "Oh yeah, I remember that play when it was here earlier this year - I was given free tickets, but decided it was nothing I ever, ever, ever needed to see." (A guilty confession: like me, my mom has been known to read last pages of books before starting them to see how they end, thus, thankfully in this case, she knew what the play was about before subjecting herself to it...)

    But seriously, what fuckwit wrote such a bad storyline? Like Monique (and others) said, I sometimes think the people who write this stuff never even think to consult with grieving mothers to find out if what they are writing is at all plausible. I love what you say about the woman leaving her husband, so true - the memory of seeing him hold Otis, and then hold me as we sobbed together, is one that has forever glued us to one another.

  13. (um, my editing makes that last sentence a little unclear... I mean to say I could never leave E, for many reasons, but most certainly because he is the only person I know that could possibly have loved Otis as much as I do.)

  14. oh brooke, what a horrible night! i mean, i have to change the tv station when those stupid "pregnant in heels" promo commercials come on... i can't imagine sitting thru this! you must have felt like you were run over by a truck.

    you totally need a unicorn chaser. were you closer, i'd treat you to this: by those silly south park fellas. xo

  15. I get so incensed whenever I hear about how some asshat has gone off and written a play/song/movie about a psychotic mother who lost her child. It just further precipitates society's desire to push us into corners where we are neither seen nor heard. The way they portrayed the baby in this is downright outrageous.. I am so sorry you actually had to sit through this one. I think I would have had to jump on stage and give the audience a lecture! ;o)

  16. Geez louise that sounds awful! I probably would have endured it out of shock. I guess we should be so lucky that they are putting the reality out there, but I'm sure there are a thousand other ways they could have done it better. I sincerely hope the next show you see is better! Love to you mama~