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.