The Watershed a documentary by Mary Trunk

Faced with extraordinary trauma of losing both parents to alcoholism and divorce, seven siblings form a unique family structure. “The Watershed” is a moving documentary of survival and forgiveness that shows how tragedy can have transforming effects on individual identity. Still lulled by Camelot fantasies, the Trunk family represented both the accomplishment and downfall of the American Dream. For more than four years the Trunk children were left to fend for themselves, often living without a phone, electricity, heat and very little food. Just when life seemed unbearable, all seven children were rescued and taken in by relatives who already had three children and limited resources of their own. It was there that they had a second chance at becoming a family again.

Director’s Words:
In 1972 our family moved from Long Island, New York to Santa Barbara, California so that my father could pursue a new job. I was eleven years old and the oldest of seven children. My father was a successful CPA, my mother stayed at home and life seemed perfect. We were the typical upper-middle class white family living in the suburbs. A year later my father announced that he no longer loved my mother and he left. Shortly thereafter he was fired from his job. My mother was devastated. Her Catholic upbringing did not prepare her for a life that would include betrayal or divorce. My father's lack of income and the ensuing poverty was foreign territory for all of us. To alleviate the devastation my mother began to drink. She took to her bed almost 24 hours a day. We were barely surviving on welfare and food stamps and my father rarely visited. We struggled to take care of ourselves and attempt to live like normal kids.

Throughout this period the relatives in New York had no knowledge of the disparity of our lives or of the extent to which our parents had "checked out." Appearances were everything and we were trained well.

Everything changed, one evening, when our mother went into convulsions, as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. She was hospitalized and the East Coast relatives were quickly notified and arrived immediately. They were shocked at how destitute our lives had become.

My mother survived her health crisis but her twin sister decided she was in no condition to take care of us. My father was difficult to track down and no one wanted to see us go into foster homes. My siblings and I lived with my mother's sister, her husband and their three children in Florida for one year, while my mother spent the year in Santa Barbara recovering from alcohol poisoning. We wanted her to join us in Florida where we had established a stable family-life but she refused and we were forced to return to her in California.

The most difficult task in this ordeal was to learn to love and respect one another again. To this day, 25 years later, it is not an easy thing. My siblings and I are still very close but the affects of my parents breakup, the poverty we were forced to live in and the abandonment of my parents has shaped who we are and how we live in the world. This documentary illustrates how we survived the trauma and downfall of our family's status and how we see ourselves now because of it.

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