It's my Mom's birthday today.
I could write a million essays on this woman, but I'm gonna try and be succinct. A mother of passionate creativity and fierce temper, Debbie Chacamaty strove to make my childhood fundamentally unique and changed my life with her stories.
A former history teacher (and according to her, a pretty bad one, though I never believed it), she found ways of incorporating lessons into every conversation. These would often take the form of stories - over meals, long drives to Los Angeles to visit her parents, or just on the way to school. She would tell me the stories behind songs on the radio. She would explain to me the origins of WWII before I understood what a war really was. She helped me see the world as a place that could be affected and changed by a single word or action. She encouraged me think about God and culture and right and wrong and relativistic physics before I had any actual life experience.
This, obviously, raised me as a very strange kid - something for which I now feel immensely grateful but which can be a real burden when you're trying to make your first friends. I dressed kinda weird. Most of my cultural touchstones were outdated or based on Star Trek. I had a habit of making up elaborate lies about my past, for no other reason than I loved telling the story. These things can make you feel lonely or unpopular in fourth grade, and of course for me they did exactly that. One day, after a particularly gnarly bullying at the hands of a bunch of kids who - I shit you not - called themselves "The Kill Jackson Club", my Mom sat at my bedside and told me one more story. I remember it verbatim, even if not a single word can be sourced.
"I know it's hard being different. I was different too. You want to be a writer, you want to tell stories, make movies - and no one else here wants to do that. They're not wrong, you're not right, but you're different. But one day, you're gonna go to college. And there, you're gonna meet people who want to be exactly what you want to be. You're gonna find people who challenge you and change you and you're all gonna be together. And those people, those friends? They're gonna be awesome."
Once again, one of my mom's stories changed my life. I held onto it like a secret talisman. I found some of those people early - and in high school, my mom opened our small house to a small tribe of drama geeks. When I left for college, her story became prophesy. She may not know how much that story meant to me - how much it continues to mean to me.
I love you, Mom Bear. Happy birthday.