For some reason, my family likes to name people after the Peanuts cartoon characters. It’s not on purpose, in fact, the Lucy and Charlie naming scheme in the Bell/Hartwell family is generations old and started way before the creation of the cartoon. The coincidence, though, is something I have always found amusing. In my immediate family alone, I am Lucy, my brother and father are named Charlie and had he been a girl, my brother’s name would have been Sally. We might as well have named our cat Linus and our dog Snoopy just for kicks.
There is a shtick in the cartoons where Lucy holds out a football for Charlie Brown. He always goes eagerly and with full trust to the football in an attempt to kick it, but at the last minute, Lucy pulls it away. Charlie Brown subsequently falls on his face. Every. Single. Time. In another strange coincidence, that is how my mother operates. Like mother like daughter, I learned to torment Charlies (my dad and brother among others) just the same way. What a coincidence that my name is Lucy, eh? One morning, still sick and struggling in Bogotá, I woke up dreaming about Charlie Brown and the football.
There is something particularly cruel about asking someone for what they need and then not following through. As children, both Charlie and I went naïve and with full confidence to our mother and assumed that she would support us, follow through, and keep holding out the football. It was consistently pulled away and we consistently fell on our faces.
This was a pattern in our childhood that led to disappointments that I barely remember, however, one incident in particular is clear in my mind. Charlie and I hadn’t lived with our mom in about six months having left due to her refusal to set boundaries in her household. Despite not living with her, we still kept in regular contact. Charlie and my mom came out to visit me in Miami and during one dinner out on South Beach, she communicated to us that she was really committed to keeping our family, the three of us, together even if it meant keeping us apart from her husband and his children. “What do you both need?” she asked us in regards to the upcoming holidays. This was one of the first times we heard these words come out of her mouth. After years of putting the needs and comfort of her new husband’s family above the needs of her children maybe she was changing. We told her that we wanted some time at her house on Christmas morning without the Hunsicker kids. She said promised that she would make it work. We were thrilled. The football was very visibly in place and like innocent children blind and trusting towards their mother, we ran to it.
Over Thanksgiving break I made a quick stop at my mom’s house to say hi. We were sitting on the main staircase in the front hall when she told me that she couldn’t make the Christmas plans work. “Emily (John, her husband’s, ex-wife) won’t change the schedule and take the kids in the morning,” she explained. I was disappointed. After hearing this and informing my dad and Maureen, my dad made a rare call over to Emily. She said she had never received a request from John or my mom asking to change the schedule. Of course she would be willing to do it. My dad, who seldom intervened with affairs in my mother’s household, relayed this information over to my mother. She responded with a phone call to me and clarified. She misspoke (aka lied) during our first conversation, she and John had no intention of asking Emily for permission and they would not displace the Hunsicker kids or make them change schedules even for my or Charlie’s sake. My heart dropped. Charlie and I said what we needed to a mother who said she would do anything to get us, and our trust, back. We ran to the football and, like always, it was pulled away. We fell flat on our faces. I cried for hours that night next to the trust in my mother that lay shattered on the floor.
My mother wasn’t named Lucy but she sure acted like the girl in the cartoon. I learned about the football from her and became a master. Throughout my early childhood, I held the football and without knowing the impact of that terrible power, loved it. I was Lucy, the resident child bully, and my poor younger brother Charlie, like in the cartoon, was always on the receiving ends of my tricks.
This picture pretty much sums up our childhood…
As children, Charlie and I both loved to act. A common hobby of mine was to put on plays or create movies with my friends. Sometimes I would invite Charlie to join. Years later, I always thought that these were moments that we enjoyed together but this past summer after watching family videos with him, I realized how wrong I was. In the video we watched, we were up at our family cabin putting on a show. My parents were still married and both watching and filming. In one scene Charlie was in front of the stage, playing an air guitar and putting on an incredible show. I barged in front of the screen and pushed him aside. The force of my push led him to fall to the ground. Neither one of my parents said anything. Boundaries didn’t exist in the house and my inappropriate behavior was tolerated. Plus, I was just mimicking what I learned from my mom anyways. The show went on. I stayed in the spotlight and Charlie, having gone for the football and agreed to play with me, stayed on the ground.
He didn’t trust me for a while. Why should he? Why should anyone? Like my mother, my words said one thing but my actions said another. I was Lucy. I was a bully.
This past year, Charlie was a director for University of Wisconsin’s Humorology. He helped write, choreograph, cast and act in a twenty minute musical production to raise money for local non-profits. He put countless hours and immeasurable effort into this production. Conveniently, around the weekend of the performance, I was in the process of leaving my job preparing to visit my parents before transitioning down to South America. Maureen threw out the idea of me stopping by Wisconsin to meet up with my dad at Humorology’s Parent’s Night. The timing aligned perfectly. It sounded like a great idea, my dad would be there and I would be able to watch all of Charlie’s long hidden creativity come to life in an environment in which he was thriving. What an incredible opportunity. However, I checked the flight prices and they were expensive, the routes were obscure and the flights were long. Getting there wouldn’t be easy. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to go and purchased a ticket to visit Maureen, and later my dad, in Florida instead.
Days after making the decision, Charlie and I talked on the phone for the first time in months. As we talked, my crazy mind kicked in. I haven’t asked him if it is important to him that I go. If I ask him if it’s important then that will be including him and that would be caring. He might say no then I wouldn’t have to go. I have a flight, even if he says it is important I can just use that as an excuse to not go. But overall, it will seem like I care. Honestly, right now as I am trying to write this I am struggling. I can’t even fully remember what I was thinking at the time nor does the thought process make any type of sense. I hope that means I’ve moved past it, that I cleared that pattern, that throughout these past two months my brain has slowed down its spinning just a little bit. I hope I will never play anyone the way I tried to play him, and had played him the majority of my life, again.
Charlie called me back a couple of days later, after thinking about it, it was important for him to have me at the show. Of course, he knew that I already had a flight and understood if I couldn’t change it but, if I could, it was important for me to be there. Perfect! I thought, There is my out. I checked online just in case but, of course, the flights hadn’t gotten any cheaper or any less complicated since the first time I looked. I had a message drafted to him with a bunch of useless rationalizations for a promise that I never intended to keep. I wanted to keep it, I really did want to see and support him, but a part of me, the part that is attached to my old patterns and clouded by a scarcity model, was holding me back.
However it happened, my parents became tuned into the mind fuck that I was currently executing with Charlie, and thank God they did. A conversation with them, where they completely kicked my ass, made me realize the cruel game that, despite thinking I had forfeited, I was still playing.
What message was I sending him? Though he said he had forgiven me for my behavior as a child, he still didn’t trust me. Not fully. Little by little I was showing up for him more but I was still on thin ice, dangerously close to messing up again and irrevocably jeopardizing our relationship. Here I was holding the football in front of him saying that, this time, I’ve really changed, and with the awareness and desire to actually keep it there and support him, but instead, I was getting ready to pull it away and let him fall on his face for the millionth time. Lucy, the generations old bully, still lived inside me.
Crying, but knowing without a doubt what I needed to do, I called Delta and changed my flight. I was going to Madison. I called Charlie to let him know and heard the shock in his voice when he realized I was coming. I don’t really know if he ever believed that I would go.
When did you learn how to dance like that…?
A week later, I was in Madison watching him perform. This time, nobody pushed him away from the stage. Instead, with his cowboy hat, incredible stage presence and exceptional dance moves that certainly did not come from anyone in our family, he owned it. I got to sit in the audience and watch him absolutely thrive. He put up with so much bullying, from me in his childhood, from the Hunsickers in adolescence, and from our mother his entire life. He hid for so long, afraid to take risks, put himself out there or do anything remotely creative. Here he was, though, starring in a show that he helped create, completely vulnerable and completely shining. I could not have been more grateful to be there for him. This moment was priceless, I could have spent hundreds of dollars more or countless more hours in the airport and it would still have been worth it. The football, while it wavered, stayed in place for the first time in my life and Charlie, though he ran to it cautiously, kicked it and stayed standing.
Next to the most talented cowboy I know!
My name is Lucy and it will always be Lucy but I will no longer follow in the footsteps of my mother or the girl in Charlie Brown. Like Lucy in the cartoon, I will strive to be sassy, to be bold, to speak my mind, but no longer do I choose to be a bully, nor will I allow myself to be bullied.