I’m glad my mom died - by Jennette McCurdy
I’m glad my mom died - by Jennette McCurdy
Like Jennette, I wish I dare to confront reality and carry on: “I’m trying every day to face myself. The results vary, but the attempts are consistent.”
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
Even though the facts of it are so sad, I can tell that the story itself gives Mom a deep sense of pride. Of purpose. Like she, Debra McCurdy, was put on this earth to be a cancer survivor and live to tell the tale to any and everyone… at least five to ten times.
“An hour and a half. Granted, freeways are involved. I’d have to learn how to drive freeways. But it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for you, Net. ’Cuz I’m not like my parents. I want what’s best for you. Always. You know that, right?”
I don’t like to be observed. I like to do the observing.
So I start singing along. And I throw on my best fake smile to go with it. Maybe I wasn’t able to bring the tears for Without a Trace, but I was able to bring the smile for Mom on our drive home. Either way, it’s performing.
“I just…” He steps closer to me. “I just think… you deserve to be a kid.”
I absolutely prefer writing to acting. Through writing, I feel power for maybe the first time in my life. I don’t have to say somebody else’s words. I can write my own. I can be myself for once. I like the privacy of it. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s judging. Nobody’s weighing in. No casting directors or agents or managers or directors or Mom. Just me and the page. Writing is the opposite of performing to me. Performing feels inherently fake. Writing feels inherently real.
That’s why I’ve learned with time that, as much as I want the compliments to mean something to me, I can’t let them, because tomorrow he might be screaming insults in my face that will hurt me just as much as the compliments raise me up. I feel that I always need to be on guard around him. Catering to him emotionally. I feel similarly around The Creator as I feel around Mom—on edge, desperate to please, terrified of stepping out of line. Put both of them together in the same room and I’m overwhelmed.
Whenever someone shouts at me about chicken or socks, I’ll laugh like it’s a good one even though it’s not a good one. I’ve heard this good one thousands of times, and it was a bad one from the get-go, but it only morphs into a worse one with each time I hear it. I’m shocked by how many people think they’re original and say the same thing. I’m so unimpressed by people. Even irritated by them. At times even disgusted by them. I don’t know exactly when this happened, but I know it’s a relatively recent switch and I know fame had something to do with it. I’m tired of people approaching me like they own me. Like I owe them something. I didn’t choose this life. Mom did. My anxiety causes me to be a people pleaser. My anxiety causes me to take the picture and sign my autograph and say it’s a good one. But underneath that anxiety is a deep, unearthed combination of feelings that I fear to face. I fear that I’m bitter. I’m too young to be bitter. Especially as a result of a life that people supposedly envy. And I fear that I resent my mother. The person I have lived for. My idol. My role model. My one true love.
Child stardom is a trap. A dead end. And I can see that even if Mommy can’t.
Fame has put a wedge between Mom and me that I didn’t think was possible. She wanted this. And I wanted her to have it. I wanted her to be happy. But now that I have it, I realize that she’s happy and I’m not. Her happiness came at the cost of mine. I feel robbed and exploited. Sometimes I look at her and I just hate her. And then I hate myself for feeling that. I tell myself I’m ungrateful. I’m worthless without her. She’s everything to me. Then I swallow the feeling I wish I hadn’t had, tell her “I love you so much, Nonny Mommy,” and I move on, pretending that it never happened. I’ve pretended for my job for so long, and for my mom for so long, and now I’m starting to think I’m pretending for myself too.
Maybe people go to church because they want things from God. And they keep going while they’re wishing and yearning and longing for those things. But then maybe once they get those things, they realize they don’t need church anymore. Who needs God when you’ve got clear mammograms and a series regular role on Nickelodeon?
this way of communicating—polite small talk with an undercurrent of pain and resentment—has been our new reality for several months, enough time that it’s not new anymore.
I throw the energy of my guilt into meeting Mom’s wish.
My tenseness isn’t coming from Wendy’s, it’s coming from Mom’s reasoning for suggesting Wendy’s. She knows I have money and could take her anywhere she’d like, and yet she chooses Wendy’s not because she likes it, but because she can go and tell her friends or fellow churchgoers how humble she is, how down-to-earth, that even on a day as special as her birthday, all she did was eat a side salad from a fast food restaurant. This thing in Mom drives me nuts. This thing where she yearns to be pitied. She’s got stage four cancer, she’s already plenty pitied. She doesn’t need to throw Wendy’s on top of it.
She had a seizure as a result of her brain tumor, which is apparently a “pretty regular occurrence,” the doctor tells us, as if the regularity makes it any less horrific.
She shits in a bag and breathes from a machine. This isn’t gonna turn around.
And I frequently make the mistake of comparing my career to Ariana’s. I can’t help it. I’m constantly in the same environment as her, and she doesn’t exactly try to hide her successes.
Every time something exciting happens to her, I feel like she robbed me of having that experience myself. And every time someone calls me a good sport, all I feel is how much I don’t want to be one. Fuck being a good sport, I’d rather be playing charades with Tom Hanks.
I haven’t had sex yet, but it’s starting to feel like an appropriate time. I’m not scared of it anymore. I’m not scared of anything anymore, because I don’t really care about anything anymore since Mom died. Liam seems like a solid person to lose my virginity to.
People seem to assign thin with “good,” heavy with “bad,” and too thin also with “bad.” There’s such a small window of “good.” It’s a window that I currently fall into, even though my habits are so far from good. I’m abusing my body every day. I’m miserable. I’m depleted. And yet the compliments keep pouring in.
But getting to direct an episode of television is a chance to make the industry finally see me as something more than just a kids’ TV actor. It’s a way of showing that I have value outside the box I’ve been put in. I really want this.
I lock eyes with one of them, the one I trust most out of these people I don’t trust.
“I want you to know that I vouched for you. I wanted you to direct. And there’s somebody else here who doesn’t want you to direct. Very badly, they don’t want you to direct. So badly that they said they would quit the show if you did. And we can’t afford that. So we had to remove you from the slate. I just want you to know that it’s not your fault.”
I’m filled with so much shame and anxiety every time after I eat, I literally don’t know what to do to make myself feel better except throw up. And after I’m done, I half do. Half of me feels depleted, exhausted, like there’s nothing left, which is helpful. The other half of me now has a splitting headache, a sore throat, vomit sliding down my arm and tangled in my hair, and even more shame on top of the initial shame since now I’ve not only eaten but thrown up, too. Bulimia is not the answer. Anorexia is. Anorexia is regal, in control, all-powerful. Bulimia is out of control, chaotic, pathetic. Poor man’s anorexia.
“Grandma,” I say evenly, trying to calm her down. She’s hysterical. She blubbers through some speech about me hanging up on her. I pull out of the parking lot and take a right, heading down the main street that leads to my home. “Grandma,” I say again, as evenly as I can even though my face is growing hot with anger.
“Grandma, like I’ve said before, if you keep calling me names and guilting me every time we get on the phone, I’m gonna block you.”
If she knows something hits me in a deep way, if she knows it hurts, she shoves the knife in deeper and twists it around.
“No it’s not. This isn’t free money. This feels to me like hush money.”
What the fuck? Nickelodeon is offering me three hundred thousand dollars in hush money to not talk publicly about my experience on the show? My personal experience of The Creator’s abuse? This is a network with shows made for children. Shouldn’t they have some sort of moral compass? Shouldn’t they at least try to report to some sort of ethical standard?
I’ve made a decent amount on this Sam & Cat spin-off, but definitely not enough that three hundred thousand dollars doesn’t make a difference. Shit. Maybe I should’ve taken it.
But not for me. I’m cemented in people’s minds as the person I was when I was a kid. A person I feel like I’ve far outgrown. But the world won’t let me outgrow it. The world won’t let me be anyone else. The world only wants me to be Sam Puckett.
This is why I didn’t want a cake and candles in the first place. I didn’t want to have to deal with my birthday wish. At twenty-two, this is the first birthday wish I’ll be making where I won’t know what to wish for because the thing I’ve been wishing for all my life is done. Over. Case closed. The thing that I secretly hoped through all these years I had some control over, I now know that I don’t, and never did. My entire life’s purpose, keeping Mom alive and happy, was for nothing. All those years I spent focusing on her, all the time I spent orienting my every thought and action toward what I thought would please her most, were pointless. Because now she’s gone.
I want to do good work. I want to do work I’m proud of. This matters to me on a deep, inherent level. I want to make a difference, or at least feel like I’m making a difference through my work. Without that feeling, that connection, the work feels pointless and vapid. I feel pointless and vapid.
Laura makes an “excuse you” face until she realizes that the mother is Angelina Jolie. “Excuse you” face turns into “oh, you go right on ahead you glorious angel” face.
I throw on my best fake smile. Laura’s sharp. I’m sure she can see right through most of her clients. But not me. I didn’t star on shitty sitcoms for a decade and not learn how to sell a line I don’t believe in.
Laura holds a look at me. An unreadable look. She says nothing. The silence is deafening.
“Because watching my calories meant I could delay adulthood.”
“Jennette, what you’re describing is… really unhealthy. Your mother essentially condoned your anorexia, encouraged it. She… taught it to you. That’s abuse.”
Regardless of why she didn’t tell us, she didn’t. That hurts me in and of itself. This is the person who meant more to me than anyone or anything in the world. This is the person who was the center of my existence. Her dreams were my dreams, her happiness was my happiness. How could the person who I lived and breathed for have kept such a fundamental piece of my identity hidden from me?
There’s not one moment of the flight where I’m not eating or throwing up or—in the time between the eating and the throwing up
“Hey, how’s it going?” the upbeat Uber driver asks. I look straight ahead, not answering the driver. How’s it going? It’s going fucking terribly. Mom lied my entire life about who my biological father was, I’m caught in the undertow of bulimia, I’m gonna have to do an entire press junket while missing a lower left molar, and my boyfriend’s schizophrenic. It could not be going any worse. “Ooh, I love this song. You mind if I turn it up?” The Uber driver cranks up the volume knob before waiting for my answer. It’s Ariana Grande’s hit single “Focus on Me.”
“And I’ll warn you, Jennette, normalizing your eating patterns and mentally neutralizing food is not gonna be easy. At all. It’s gonna be hard emotional work. For so long, your eating has been so… fucked up.”
“The problem with this is that if we beat ourselves up after a mistake, we add shame onto the guilt and frustration that we already feel about our mistake. That guilt and frustration can be helpful in moving us forward, but shame… shame keeps us stuck. It’s a paralyzing emotion. When we get caught in a shame spiral, we tend to make more of the same kinds of mistakes that caused us shame in the first place.” I nod, catching on. “So it makes slips become slides.”
I very much understand the need to numb out everything in your life. But I’m not numbing out anymore. And maybe that’s the problem here, for us at least. I’m making strides in my bulimia recovery. I’m no longer abusing my body to nearly the extent that I used to. I’m trying every day to face myself. The results vary, but the attempts are consistent.
I always forget that trying to reason with the unreasonable is… unreasonable.
I have so many questions, and the range of possibilities of answers is unsettling to me.
A few awkward goodbyes are exchanged and then the call’s over. It’s as simple as that. An eighteen-year career ended in a two-minute phone call.
As an actor, you can’t control which agents want to represent you, what roles your agent submits you for, which auditions you get, what callbacks you get, what roles you get, what the lines are for your role, how you look for your role, how the director directs your performance, how the editor edits your performance, whether the show gets picked up or the movie does well, whether critics like your performance, whether you get famous, how the media portrays you, and so on. God bless the souls who can tolerate that much up-in-the-airness in their lives, but I can’t anymore. So much of my life has felt so out of my control for so long. And I’m done with that being my reality. I want my life to be in my hands. Not an eating disorder’s or a casting director’s or an agent’s or my mom’s. Mine.
Food—the lack of it, the want of it, the lust for it, the fear of it—still takes up so much of my energy. Any mention of a meal, any reminder of one, still causes a rush of anxiety throughout my entire body.
It’s so annoying, eating-disorder brain. Anytime I’m having a conversation with someone over a meal, there’s another conversation happening internally—judgments and criticisms and self-loathing that press on me with such severity. They’re a brutal distraction. I can never be present with whoever I’m with. My focus is always more on the food than the person. I’m told that this narrative, this way of thinking, this “eating-disorder brain,” will lessen with time. I guess we’ll see.
But life happens. Love happens. Loss happens. Change and growth happen at different paces for different people, and sometimes the paces just don’t line up. It’s devastating if I think too much about it, so I usually don’t.
I know both the executive and Miranda mean well in saying these things. But I disagree. I don’t think a reboot could realistically lead to other opportunities because, if the performer in the reboot hasn’t done significant work in between, the reboot just serves as a reminder of that. It further entrenches the performer in the role that they initially got known for at least a decade prior, a role which likely keeps their career stuck—not flourishing. This business is tough. And this business doesn’t view a role in a reboot as a career revival—it’s viewed as a career ender.
“I know,” I say to Miranda. “But there are things more important than money. And my mental health and happiness fall under that category.” There’s a moment of silence. It’s one of those rare moments where I feel like I didn’t say too much, or too little. I feel like I represented myself accurately and there’s nothing I would change about the way I said it. I feel proud.
My mom didn’t deserve her pedestal. She was a narcissist. She refused to admit she had any problems, despite how destructive those problems were to our entire family. My mom emotionally, mentally, and physically abused me in ways that will forever impact me. She gave me breast and vaginal exams until I was seventeen years old. These “exams” made my body stiff with discomfort. I felt violated, yet I had no voice, no ability to express that. I was conditioned to believe any boundary I wanted was a betrayal of her, so I stayed silent. Cooperative.
Mom made it very clear she had no interest in changing. If she were still alive, she’d still be trying her best to manipulate me into being who she wants me to be. I’d still be purging or restricting or binging or some combination of the three and she’d still be endorsing it. I’d still be forcing myself to act, miserably going through the motions of performing on shiny sitcoms. How many times can you pratfall over a carpet or sell a line you don’t believe in before your soul dies?