It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve started this story but how to tell this story is never far from my mind. I think back to those years I spent in therapy and wonder if I should tell it as if I was telling a therapist, in random order as I think about it. You know, make it more of a conversation than a book. I’ve read books in which the reader is essentially in the person’s mind. I’ve spent far too much time trying to sort out if what I’m reading is the character’s memories or if what is going on is happening now. Stories like that are jumbled and make me feel as if I’m in the twilight zone. And trust me, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend an hour in my mind. I barely know what’s going on sometimes. Joke, your queue to laugh. Haha…..LAME.
Yet I think that having the conversation is the best way to go because memory is funny and all kinds of random things trigger it.
I had an experience in Autumn 2005 that triggered loads of memories. Please don’t ask me to recall what exactly triggered the memories, and in fact I don’t recall precisely what the memories were but they assaulted my mind causing me to stagger backwards. There is a reason memories like these are called flashbacks. It is literally like someone snapped one of those old-fashioned cameras in your face. You know, the one’s with the ‘light up an entire room’ lightbulb? They would leave you maddeningly blinking because you now had a large blind spot where there used to be, oh I don’t know, say, an entire room!! Well these memories left me gasping for breathe and they led to lots and lots of tears.
The memories were so disturbing and so vivid (again, don’t remember precisely what they were. My brain has filed them away again most likely because of the pain) that I was instantly furious with my father for leaving me in the care of that woman. I was so hurt that he would do this to me. I immediately picked up the phone to rake him over the coals and the questions started flying. Why had he left me with her? Why didn’t he fight for me? Did he know what my life was like living with her? He knew what she was like. That’s why he left her. How could he not know what being subjected to her anger and her abuse daily would do to me? Didn’t he care how that could affect my future? Jesus, didn’t he love me?
I look back at that conversation and I cry. The poor man. I mean, my God, I wasn’t screaming at him, but it hurt him nonetheless. I know it hurt him that I was accusing him of not loving me. This was the guy who I loved to spend weekends with. I looked forward with carefully hidden excitement to our weekends together. He wasn’t the Disney dad who bought my love. He truly loved me, unconditionally. I knew this down deep in my bones even as a small child. This man would have died for me. In fact, he did save me from drowning once, so yes, I know this man would have died for me. I have a picture of him standing in a pool in his corduroys with his hands on his hips and I’m jumping up and down out of the water next to him happy as can be. Apparently I forgot about the near death experience immediately, and my dad ruined a perfectly good pair of maroon corduroys. This was the 70’s after all.
Weekends with my dad were simple and the best weekends anyone ever had in the history of the world. On Saturday mornings we would visit the Donut Hole, the local donut shop, and eat what else? Donuts. My favorite, because I was a sugar freak, still am for that matter, were the one’s stuffed with frosting and covered in granulated sugar. I didn’t care either if it was stuffed with vanilla or chocolate frosting as long as it was stuffed with frosting. Oh yum, yum! (This is where you envision Cookie Monster eating a cookie.) They seemed larger than life, and were warm because they were fresh out of the oven. No processed production line donuts here. And I always ended up with frosting all over my face and sugar all over my clothes. Mostly because I was a kid and didn’t believe in napkins. We would sit at the counter while I would have my glass of milk and Dad would have his coffee. I don’t remember if he ever ate a donut because I was too invested in the thrill of eating mine but I remember we had fun. Everyone there knew my dad and so subsequently knew me. The friendly greetings were genuine, just as the conversations were, and we spent all morning there. Well, it seemed like all morning. I was just a kid. A day could feel like a decade.
And when I was done with my donut and milk, and being forced to wait for Dad to finish his coffee and conversation, I would lie down on my tummy across the stool, arms and legs splayed out, and spin, spin, spin. And not once did I spit up that donut or milk. Now, I think I’d vomit that and last night’s dinner. I did, however, get reprimanded once in a while for spinning too fast. Not because he was worried I’d fly off the stool into the wall, or maybe into outer space (one can only dream), but because of the clickity-clackity sound the stool made. So the faster I spun, the louder the clickity-clackity. But what were a few stern words compared to what life was like at home with my terrorist? The Donut Hole was one of my favorite places in the world. It was a dive, but it was like heaven on earth to me, and I loved it. I loved every sugar-induced high moment spent in that place.
Saturday afternoons were even better. They were spent visiting my aunts and uncles, my dad’s brothers and sisters. My Uncle Glenn lived in an apartment near my dad and worked most Saturdays delivering milk and so I didn’t see him except once in a while on Sundays. But I looked forward to visiting him. He would call my dad Daddy Rabbit, which made me laugh, and tell me stories of when they were all kids on the farm. Apparently my dad had an imaginary friend as a boy named Dagwood Leaf. (Interesting. Crazy must also run in families.) I can still see my uncle’s face when he would tell me the story of how Dagwood Leaf came into existence. Each story always started out with ‘When I was a little girl’ which sent me into fits of giggles no matter how many times he would say it because I knew he couldn’t possibly have been a little girl. See, I understood gender issues even then. (Joke)
So Saturdays were spent visiting my Uncle Carl and his wife Ruth, or my dad’s sister, Ruth. Yes I have two Aunt Ruth’s. Both owned houses in the country, and both houses were homes. I have such found memories of their homes. I learned to play pool (thanks to my cousin Carol) and eat fried bologna sandwiches at my Aunt Ruth’s house (my dad’s sister in case you’re confused). These were also yummy. (Again with the Cookie Monster sound effect.) Carol and I would sit in her room and listen to the Grease soundtrack on vinyl and just spend time together. She was a teenager so we talked pretty much about nothing because I was only about 7 or 8. It may have been baby-sitting to her but I got to pretend to be a teenager. I loved spending time with her. She was beautiful and special to me. I wanted to be just like her because I didn’t think I was beautiful or special. I was told that, or made to believe that frequently by my mother, my terrorist. I still love to spend time with Carol when I can get out that way. In fact, I love to spend time with all of my cousins and aunts and uncles on my dad’s side. There is a real sense of family. No judgement, no jealously. Just acceptance and an appreciation for each other and our differences. But I digress.
My Uncle Carl’s house had the most gynormous yard I’d ever seen. And I had seen a few yards in my time. I lived in the country until the age of 6 so I knew all about big yards. I was a connoisseur of yards. Most country kids were. But this was a yard a kid could get lost in. Uncle Carl had an amazing garden and would tell me all about the plants growing there. He even had corn. Who plants corn in a garden? Or has the space to plant corn? My Uncle Carl did, and does, that’s who. He had fruit trees, a couple varieties, and so I learned how to harvest apples, and how to shuck peas. Aunt Ruth and I would sit on the patio with baskets of peas and shuck the afternoon away. She and I would ‘sneak’ a few peas, and their pods, as a snack. The peas were warm and sweet, and the snap of the pod when you bit down would squirt juice onto your tongue. It was like a syrup but not thick and sticky. Just incredibly delicious. Aunt Ruth and I would try to quietly giggle when we would ‘sneak’ peas because it was our secret. We didn’t want Uncle Carl to know. Except he knew very well what we were up to and would pretend to catch us in the act. And that made us giggle more. To this day I love the sound of my Aunt Ruth’s giggle. It’s a sound I’ll never, ever forget. It’s unique and beautiful in it’s own special way. And it makes me smile to think about it.
So it was most likely these happy, simple times that made life bearable. Those weekends with my dad, even on Sundays when we couldn’t visit with my Uncle Glenn, but watched Family Classics while lying on the olive green carpet of my dad’s apartment, with my coloring books and crayons scattered about the floor around me, as I ate canned spaghetti for lunch (which turns my stomach now), were the best days of my childhood. I remember being upset when I had to return home to her. She always knew I didn’t want to return home. She could tell it in my demeanor. She said I was being surly like my father. Whatever that meant. I was 7, maybe 8. What the hell did that mean? I just new that surly was bad. And if we are to use the word correctly, which she didn’t, and now I know how to do, it means “inclined to anger or bad feelings with overtones of menace.” Really, menace? What, was I Damian’s child??? No. I wasn’t. I was scared shitless is what I was. I wanted desperately to live with my father who loved me unconditionally. I did not want to be berated for being his child every waking minute she and I spent together. Or better yet, told how useless I was, or beat because she had a bad day.
So yeah, when the memories came flooding back, I was pissed. I wanted to shake my dad because I always thought he loved me. Why didn’t he take me away from that? What the hell was wrong with him? My dad was stunned speechless by this barrage, but for only a few moments. And then he said, quietly, if you know my dad he is rarely quiet about anything but he said this quietly. ”I’m sorry”. And all I could do was cry.
So he proceeded to tell me why. How she made his life hell and continued to make his life hell after the divorce which I knew because she made my life hell every time she said anything about him. But what it comes down to is this. It was the 70’s. And being the 70’s men were not seen to be fit to raise children. The child was always better off with the mother. Boy, what a sad, sick fantasy that belief was. How many kids like me suffered at the hands of their mothers because the courts deemed their fathers to be unfit to raise them? And now we are adults and we, the abused children, are still dealing with all the repercussions the courts decision did to us. These men were fit to raise their children when they were married to their child’s mothers so how is it that overnight they were suddenly unfit to be fathers when they finally decided that they could no longer live with the crazy woman? The court in their infinite wisdom ruined my childhood and made my father’s life hell because of my terrorist. There are all these people who were abused by priests when they were kids that have sought and received compensation and some little bit of retribution. Where is my retribution? Do I get to blame society for forcing me and other kids like me to live with our terrorists? The judge that sat in that court who made the decision to force me to be mistreated and abused and kept me from having a normal, healthy and happy childhood because they let their medieval, myopic, little minds decide that the mother is the caring one, not once considered the possibility that the father had a heart so big he’d die before he ever raised a hand or said an unkind word to his child. I don’t consider myself to be petty. In fact, I generally try to take the high road and believe that there are always two sides to every story; that there are always reasons why people do and say what they do that I could never possibly understand or even want to know. But that deep dark part of my heart that my terrorist carefully cultivated, that teensy little bit of it that hates the world and everyone on it, wishes that the judge who made the decision to place a small, defenseless child in the hands of an abuser, a terrorist, reads my blog and weeps.