If I'm going to start delving into my relationships with my parents, it should begin with my mom. She is the one from whom I have always been able to gather strength; she is my confidante and friend, my trusted adviser, my counselor, and one person with whom I can always be myself. To this day, if I am conflicted about anything, my hand reaches for the phone and my fingers dial her number.
But I'm not going to tell you about her, at least not right now. I've had some of you ask me about my father, as I've mentioned him once or twice here and on other blogs. I'll start answering your questions now...
When I was in first and second grade I lived in rural Pennsylvania; we had a couple of acres and my life was as perfect as any child could imagine. I could run and play all day with my little brother...down to the stream, into the fields, on the trails in the woods. My father had built a beautiful playhouse that was in our backyard; it was complete with windows and doors and green trim moulding. We had cats and dogs, my bedroom had a beautiful golden bedspread with matching pillowcases and a glass (or was it a diamond?) doorknob...and once, after I was supposed to be asleep, I heard my parents say that maybe we can get that horse Chrissie wants.
Then, suddenly, we were moving; my father had gotten a promotion, and we were relocating to the suburbs of Detroit. That put into motion a cascade of events that would change our family in countless ways.
Soon after the announcement that we were moving, my father went to Detroit ahead of us to get acclimated and find us a house. During that trip he was mugged by eight guys - including being beaten about the head with baseball bats. He spent a while in a coma, and when he woke up he surprised everybody by being able to talk, to remember snippets of the past; he eventually returned to work.
But he wasn't the same. He didn't really remember us; he had to learn who we were. We were strangers to him; he looked like 'Dad'...but he was different.
As the years went on his personality became more and more volatile. He was prone to fits of rage. And violence. It was unpredictable; we were never certain day-to-day who he was going to be, how he was going to react.
Ultimately we realized that all the therapy and medication in the world wasn't going to help him, he wasn't going to get any better...in fact, he was spiraling downward and we couldn't let him take us with him. The day he moved out we celebrated with pizza in the family room and great sighs of relief. I still saw him frequently and did my best to play the loving daughter, but I was afraid of him.
Sadly, he did continue to decompensate over the next several years...he lost his career (he had once had a corner office in Manhattan overlooking Central Park), then embarked on a series of increasingly less prestigious jobs until he couldn't hold one down at all. He would go months without letting us know where he was. He met my husband for the first time at our wedding ceremony. The last contact I had with him was a phone conversation where I regaled him with stories of my son, who was 8 weeks old at the time. I told him I'd just finished compiling some videos of the baby for him, and that I was sending it out to him that week.
When he died he was homeless, and was literally found in the gutter next to his car.
The tape I'd sent him months earlier was in that car, along with photos, letters, and other memorabilia. When I think of my dad, I try to remember the real him, the him before his closed head injury and resultant brain damage. My mom always told us, "He doesn't want to be this way."
When I see a homeless person, I remember they were once a baby cradled in their mother's arms. I think how they were probably once a teenager flushed with those first thrilling blooms of love. I wonder if they might have once been a parent, cradling their own infant in the middle of the night. I wonder who loves them and is worried about them.
I wonder about their life before.