Friday, June 7, 2013

A Broken Crutch

When I was in first grade, my parents divorced. It wasn't pretty. By the time they broke up, their fights had grown momentous, vicious, and insane. There was cocaine and booze involved. My mom stabbed my dad in the chest with a steak knife. He gave her a black eye. She broke her fist on the wall trying to punch him holding a roll of quarters. It was bloody and loud and my brother, sister, and I were only 6, 3, and 7 years-old, respectively. I was upset that they divorced, but not because I wanted them to be together. I knew they would only continue to fight. They were like demented magnets that flew at each other with such force that it was inevitable that they would destroy each other.

What made me upset was that my father simply left.

I love my dad. I still do. He's weird and completely bonkers and if I were a normal young woman, I'd be mortified to be seen with him in public because he looks like a southern redneck Jesus hobo from hell (I'm not even kidding). But of all my parents and stepparents, I have felt the most connected to and loved by my dad. When I was sick as a kid, he skipped work and monitored my temperature and put cold rags on my face. He took my seizures and migraines seriously and not just when I was having them. He was honest with me about shit he did as a kid, like stealing cars and running them off ravines, doing drugs, robbing a pharmacy, taking care of mentally handicapped adults in a home he worked at, and shooting surplus cats at a neighbor's farm and helping his best friend skin them. (By the way, my Uncle Dale is a freak--and he still has the cat furs! His pet cats just walk all over them! Sleep on them!) My father was more of a mother to me than my mother ever was--hilariously, he was the one to give me the "you're a woman now and this is what is happening to your body" speech when I had my first period--and he will always be my only father.

But when I was in first grade, just before my parents officially divorced, my dad fell off a ladder at work in Dallas painting a house and, crouched over his throbbing knee, he realized that he was done. He had just enough money in his pocket to take his white Toyota back to his mom's house in Oklahoma. No more dealing with his crazy, knife-wielding, red-headed wife and her incestuous coke-addled siblings (again, I'm totally not kidding). He could just go.

So he did.

As much as I'd like to give him some credit and say, "Well, he didn't run away for long. He tried to come back for us. Mom just wouldn't let him," which is partly true... the fact is Dad never showed up at the court hearing for the divorce. Didn't even try to defend himself or try to fight for us kids. Nothing. He came to get us once, got turned away by Mom and her custody papers, and simply stopped trying.

What got us back to him, three years later, was his own mother. My grandma drove down to Dallas herself, knowning my mother wouldn't be able to say no (there's a whole back story with my mom and my dad's mom that involves a graveyard and homelessness but that's a different story) and my grandmother saw how terrible it was for us living in Texas with my mom and her new, super-drunk, racist as hell, confederate-flag waving nutso abusive boyfriend and his own three daughters. We were living in filth, surrounded by violence, by drugs and alcohol, by cockroaches and forever-overbreeding, forever-dying cats, and we were starving to death. So it was my grandmother who ended up taking us back to our father. Not my dad.

Those years in Texas without my dad were a short part of my life, only three years, but for me those scars run the deepest. My brother and I still use "Texas" as a marker to judge events by. Nothing was ever as bad as "Texas."

The thing is, I was more than willing to forgive my father for not coming back for us, for leaving us in the first place. I always thought he was remorseful. He'd tell me over and over again, throughout the years, about how he tried to come back, how he had to leave because of my mother, and how everyone was against him. I wanted to side with him because I knew what my mother was like, I would have left her psycho ass too.

But then, just a few years ago, when my stepsister Meagan got knocked up and nearly thrown in jail for forged prescription forms along with her stupid gangster boyfriend, my dad called me and, with full seriousness, said, "I wish I could leave right now like I did in Texas."

When this call took place, my father was unemployed and living with my also unemployed stepmother and my six younger siblings, three of which have autism ranging from high functioning to severe non-verbal communication. My father was the only means of "support" since my stepmother could hardly function, she was so deadened by painkillers and anti-depressants. Everything depended on my dad.

Had the roles been switched and it was my mother on the phone saying this to me, that she wanted to take off and leave this life and her kids behind, I would have exploded with the flames of a million dying suns. She would still feel the burn of my hate and fury like the radioactive shadows of a nuclear bomb.

But this was my dad. He was supposed to be my only parental crutch. A woobly, wacko crutch, but a crutch nonetheless.

So instead of laying into him, I ground my teeth and laughed weakly and just let him continue complaining, knowing that if he did leave this time, then that was it. He would be gone from me. I would never be able to reconcile with him.

After I hung up the phone, I was afraid that it was already too late.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seeing My Mother in Strangers

It happens more often than I'd like. I'll be on a bus or a train or even watching a movie and suddenly my mother appears. My immediate reaction, always, is fury. Teeth-gnashing, fist-clenching rage. In a matter of seconds everything comes back to me and I have leave the room, the bus, the theater, because I'm afraid of what I might do.

It happened today on my way home from work. I got off the bus with an older lady carrying a dog in a dog-carrier/duffel-bag. The dog was tiny, quiet, and crammed in the doggie bag with a few paperback novels and magazines. The lady was very obviously drunk, though she didn't smell like alcohol, and she alternated between talking incoherently and nonchalantly at the dog and at her cell phone. Everything from this woman's upper lip, her posture, her sloshed-enunciation, to the way she pretended to give half a shit about the obviously uncomfortable but uncomplaining little dog... it just... it was all my mother. The more I stared at this woman, the more I saw my mother's insolent smirk, her lowered eyelids, her fuck-all attitude. It didn't matter that this woman was black and my mother was a red-headed white woman. To me, they were identical.

Another time it happened, I was on the train and two stinking-drunk ladies came on, one of them dragging behind her a tear-streak and terrified little girl who looked no more than seven years old. It was seven in the morning and these ladies were beyond plastered. One of them held a see-through 7-11 Big Gulp blatantly filled with beer and she had a death-grip on the wide-eyed little girl. The way this girl stared at the woman, who I assumed was her mother, was with pure horror. Anyone looking at them would have thought that the girl had been kidnapped and was just too scared to say anything about it. But, again, all I saw was my mother.

I moved far away from my family on purpose. When I told my grandmother, before I went to Japan for a year, that even a thousand miles away from my parents is not far enough--I was not joking. To this day, I am determined to never live close enough to either of my parents that they can casually "drop by" for a visit. I can't "bump into" my mother or stepmother at the grocery store. I won't be asked, as I am too-often asked each time I visit, for money I don't have to pay their bills. But, most of all, I won't have to see my mother. I don't have to see who she is now, dying, slowly withering away with her failing liver and lungs, and not who she once was; the strong, frightening drunk who broke her own mother's jaw in a fist fight.

That was the plan, anyway. I didn't expect to find her in strangers. Didn't think she'd just show up on street corners in broad daylight.

But at least these strangers, unlike her, can't hurt me. They are ghosts of her.

For now, still, I am free.

It seems like cowardice in a way, moving out here. My mom can barely move across her apartment in Arizona, scooting her oxygen tank, may as well slug me in the face. My stepmother weighs less than I do; there's no chance of her dragging me across the floor by my hair like she once did. My parents can't punish me like they used to.

But wasn't fear that motivated me. I moved as far away as I could because I knew that, if I stayed, I would still have to talk to them and, just to get by, to be able to even function, I would have to pretend that nothing bad ever happened.

It's fine for me to come out here to Chicago, hundreds of miles away, and forget. To live my own life and do what I want and not be weighed down by memories. But to allow my parents the luxury of believing that I forgive them, that it's all okay now and we just laugh about it... No.

I know, it's a kind of revenge that's petty, stupid and selfish, but I get sick to my stomach every time I hear my parents tell us or our friends or family about how good they were at raising us. "Just look at how great Aimee and Bryan turned out! Obviously, we did something right!"

No. You didn't. And I'm still fucked up because of you.