“Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” and family

When the last season of “Breaking Bad” aired in 2013, my kids and I waited for every episode and watched together. Like all shows I ended up loving after 2008 or so, my kids introduced me to it. “Dexter,” “Breaking Bad,” Game of Thrones,” “It’s Always Sunny…”; they all were made known to me by my kids.

In those days, we were watching every week. I remember my feeling of satisfaction at the end of “Felina,” the final “Breaking Bad” episode, as Walt killed the neo-Nazis who were holding Jesse hostage, and then, even though he had gone to their home to kill them and Jesse both, seeing Jesse having been reduced to a slave, dirty and pathetic and forlorn, having a renewed love for his character and saving him, not killing him. And watching as what I hope would happen did: Jesse killing his dead-eyed captor Todd with the very chains that Todd and his family used to restrain Jesse. What I wanted to happen, happened. And I was happy.

The next show my kids kind of introduced me to was “Game of Thrones.” My daughter started watching it in 2011 when it debuted. She enthusiastically told me about this queen and her brother being caught having sex by a little boy, so the brother threw the little boy out the window and now he was crippled. I was horrified. “I do not think a 14-year-old should be watching a show about incest and child abuse,” I told her. I assured her I would never watch it and told her I didn’t want her to watch it, either. Fortunately for both my kids, there was on-demand television that could be accessed while I was at work, and my daughter continued to watch.

When she went to college and I was an empty nester for about 2 weeks before my son moved back in and ended my isolation, he started to watch “Game of Thrones,” now in Season 5. I was futzing around the house one day as he started the series, vacuuming, doing dishes, whatever, as he watched the first few episodes. By about the fourth, my hearing what was going on in the background while I went about my business convinced me that I should go back to the first episode and watch for real. I wanted to find out what was going to happen to Ned and Arya and Bran. So he and I sat down, and we binge watched this show through the current episode. We watched the end of Season 5 in real time, and we continued to watch the show in real time until the end of the series.

A lot of people hated the end of GOT, and I admit that I did, too. I thought it was rushed and illogical. It made no sense that Jamie loved Brienne and all she stood for, but then went back and died with Cersei after all she’d done. Jon should have been king, not Bran, who was pretty much deranged at that point. I always thought Daenerys was bonkers, so her derangement at the end was no surprise to me, but Jon putting up with it as long as he did when his moral code was so high, that made no sense. And why was the battle of the undead and the living done so quickly? That should have gone on at least 2 episodes. Yes, Arya is talented, but that was just too tidy.

What about the family?
So there was a lot to be aggravated about, but what bothered me the most about the ending of “Game of Thrones” was not what bothered most. It was this: after losing their father, mother, and 2 brothers, after scratching and scrambling for years to reunite, after being together in a joyous few months at Winterfell, why did the Stark children separate? Why did the show runners have each not only go their separate ways, but do so without question or hesitation? I could not wrap my head around Arya, despite her adventurous nature, leaving her beloved Jon and the sister and brother she’d waited years to see again. I could not stand Bran as king, but away from his sisters and brother after fighting wights and evil and monsters to get back home? And Sansa, who hugged her brother Jon so tightly and wept when she first sees a member of her family after losing so many, and then apologizing to him for being such a bad sister, how does she just leave him? He loved her, he protected her, they were never close as children, but now they were.

How do you do that to a family that has done everything to reunite? And that pained me, it stuck in my craw. I was hurt. I wanted them to be together. In my head, I imagined Jon would go back and see Sansa from time to time, that Sansa would visit Bran and Tyrion and Brienne in King’s Landing to check on them, that Arya would not be gone forever and would one day come home to her sister. I had to do that in order to be at peace with a show that I had loved for years.

Family ties
My yearning for a complete family makes a lot of sense. I come from what most would deem a dysfunctional one. This past February, my dad died from advanced cancer nobody knew he had, and it crushed me seeing him suffer so much at the end of his life. I was with him in the room when he died. I talked to him for a while after she stopped breathing before I got the nurse to let her know he was gone.

My father’s last few weeks were spent crying in pain and not knowing he was dying from bladder cancer, and my mother and I had to decide to put him on hospice care because his kidneys were failing, he was in pain, he was not going to get better and he had been saying, “No more.” My mother has memory loss (she has never been officially diagnosed because of shitty doctors, the same that let my dad’s symptoms go unaddressed, but most would refer to it as moderate dementia or Alzheimer’s), and she was unable to make the decision on her own. She did not fully comprehend what was going on. When he was awake he was crying in pain, but when he was mercifully asleep she would try to wake him because she thought it was boring to visit him if he wasn’t even going to talk. We’d stop her and then she would want to go to the cafeteria.

When we were talking to the nurses about setting him up on morphine, my mother said to me in front of everyone, “If I get sick, I hope you don’t kill me, too,” and the friends and nurses in the room winced along with me. It did not make that painful decision any easier, and I have guilt about the decision I made, anyway. It’s hard to decide to let a parent die, even one who is not going to get better and is in pain.

My sister was not involved in the hospice decision. At that time, I was the healthcare proxy along with my mother. My sister had been acting out at the hospital and had been confronted by security a few times. For 6 years at that point, she had intermittently been sending me very disturbing text messages. She has some undertreated issues, and when she gets angry or thinks she has been dissed, she lashes out. In 2014, I stopped talking to my entire family for about 3 years after she sent me texts and voicemails saying I was a bad actor, my family knew I was garbage, I care about no one but myself, my boyfriends know I am shit so they dump me, I’m ugly, and at the end of the last voicemail before I blocked her number, hoping that the police find me hanging by my shower curtain rod. When I asked my parents about why she was doing this, my father said, “Well, you have been a bad sister.” This had been after years of her throwing me out of her house in anger, her calling me a bad mother in front of my kids while hung over after a night of my babysitting her kids, her throwing me out of her community pool, her getting in a fist fight with her neighbor on her front lawn (the neighbor loosened several of her teeth), her over and over again telling me my kids hated me.

The scary texts began again in summer of 2019, but they no longer wished me dead. They said outright she was going to kill me. She accused me of conspiring with her former friends against her; these were women I had literally not spoken with in years. One text was so frightening, I left my home to make a police report and locked myself out. By the time the locksmith came and got me in, it was 4 hours later and I was calmer. I decided not to go to the police. It wasn’t the end of the weird and accusatory texts. On the first day of a new job, instead of going straight home afterward, I stopped at the train station near my son’s restaurant job and sat with him and his girlfriend and had a drink, and the day was stained by texts saying I was manipulative and evil because my parents had made me the executor of their will. They had done this because my sister had literally driven her car up on their lawn, burst into their house and smashed things and they were so scared they called 911 on her. But, facts never matter much to my sister.

So, as my dad lay dying in the hospital, my sister sent me a text saying she was going to slash my throat and spit on me. In the hospital, she started making scenes. She jumped me in his hospital room as he lay sedated because my mother had decided to change his doctor, and I had agreed. She felt we had done this behind her back, and she got in my face and started screaming and putting her finger in my face. I screamed for help, but the nurses already had called security. I went down to the lobby to get away from her, and when she got off the elevator, she did the same and the people at the front desk called security yet again. That night, I got a restraining order, which at the time my mother agreed was necessary, primarily because her friends supported me and told my motehr so. They have a daughter who had gotten scary texts from my sister and had held on to them for years because they were so frightening and she thought she might need to take them to the police someday.

After my dad passed away, I had a lot of guilt and sadness. My daughter reminded me of the many times he had screamed at all of us and called us names. She did not do this to make me feel bad, but to put things in perspective. People do not become angels just because they get sick and die. My mother had called me many times saying he was going to divorce her, and even though she had memory problems he would drive away from the house and leave her alone or call her names that were horrible. In his defense, my mother is a very difficult person at times, and the things she says are hateful, and she couldn’t remember anything and would accuse us all of lying about things that had happened because she could not remember them.

My father also took her to numerous doctor’s appointments and put her medicine together but put up with her inane conversation and accusations. My mother needs to be entertained constantly and does not like to be in the house, and he was 87 years old and driving her around each and every day, even though he was exhausted. I was at their house with him asleep on the couch and my mother waking him up to take her out for a cup of coffee, then telling us my father was falling asleep at the wheel at stoplights. It must have been hell for him. She wasn’t easy when she was all there; imagine when she was not.

So my daughter tried to make me feel better by reminding me of how I had called the police to check on them to ensure my mother’s safety when he was screaming or how I had to drive an hour to her house when he left her alone. And how I would feel bad for my mother being yelled at or left at home, even though this was the person repeatedly told me what a bad person I was or defended my sister against the horrible things she had done to me or who told me that, yes, my kids were beautiful but my sister’s kids, they were really something special. A lifetime of this from both of them.

So everything is grey, really. You can grieve your father and be sick that he is lying there in pain and terrified and crying, but you can still realize that being called names and being yelled at much of your life has had a terrible impact and that maybe some of your sister’s shit comes from this kind of background. And that it’s sad that your mother can’t remember a damn thing and accuses you of all kinds of evils, but she called you names and accused you of things when she was lucid and you were 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years old. And that when you were a single mom and raising your kids alone, and when your ex lied about his income even when you were struggling to pay rent and it affected your kids, and married a woman whose son physically hit your kids and your ex did not protect them, and the woman he married verbally abused them and made them feel small, that your mother in anger would say to you, “Those kids would be better off with their father.”

And that you went to a psychic once who said to you, “Wow, your mother says things to you a mother should not say,” and you knew that psychic was not full of shit.

And that in order to not become like your violence-threatening sister or your angry parents, you have been in therapy for literal decades.

What does this have to do with a television series or two?
I just finished binge-watching “Breaking Bad” again after 7 full years. I had not seen every episode; the episodes of Gale in the lab and Jesse with Andrea were fully new to me. I have not had a weekly show to love since GOT, and I don’t watch much television but I sure do love having that one thing a week I watch that I look forward to. And I wanted to rewatch something that I loved so much the first time. So I watched again, but instead of weekly, I was watching several hours of episodes a day. Twice I stayed up until 4 a.m. watching, once when I had work the next morning. I was really into it.

And watching this time stirred up a lot of feelings for me again. Not dissimilar to GOT. I watched the last episode last night, and while the first time the thing that meant the most to me was Jesse’s liberation and the demise of Todd, the thing that struck me this time was the few moments Walt spent in the kitchen with Skyler, his ex-wife. Walt had started his grand drug-cooking enterprise because he had cancer and was going to die, and he could not leave his family with nothing. He wanted them to have money to live on once he was gone. And he became entrenched in it, he became more the drug lord than the loving father of a baby and teenage son. He spent more time away from them than he did with them.

What Walt loved, he destroyed. They lost their home, they hated him, he was the cause of the death of his brother-in-law and the rift between his wife and her sister, who used to be close. And in the end, he gets to spend a few moments with his shattered ex-wife in a kitchen of a small rental apartment and a minute with his sleeping baby daughter. He has to view his son from a distance because his son wants nothing to do with him. What mattered to him most was lost to him because of what he did. And watching him in the few minutes in the kitchen with Skylar made me cry. She probably had no idea he wore his wedding ring around his neck because his returned cancer made him too thin to keep it on his finger. Despite being a shitty person, he loved his family.

I did not have the same joy watching “Felina” as I did the first time. I felt horribly sad. A family torn apart, the members hurt and sad and broken. It crushed me, like Arya and Sansa and Jon and Bran winding up far flung and away from one another, even though they loved one another. Like my dead father who called us all names and had temper tantrums and threw things, and a mother who called me “El Stupido” when I could not do my math homework, and a sister who sends texts that say she is going to slash my throat and that my beautiful children are fucking ugly. I cried over it. Because familial love is thick and ugly and painful and complicated sometimes. And ends up hurting a lot of people.

So I tried texting my kids after I watched. Both live within an hour of me. I wanted to hold them close. I have family members who have hurt one another and who have hurt me and vice versa. I have a sister who is going to jail for breaking a restraining order against me and a mother with a memory problem who blames me for all of it and who has told me she is rewriting her will. I cannot change any of that. I don’t even want to; I want to remain away from it because it keeps me saner.

But there is still a tiny family that is mine, and watching “Felina” reminded me that they are everything. And in the end, those 2 kids are all that matters despite whatever pain and difficulty we may endure. I want us to stay together, not physically because they are grown, but tied in love and trust. That means more to me than anything.

Now I need to find a happy show to watch.

Love and peace to all. Stay well.

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