My parents marriage had dissolved by the time I was 2 years old. While, my sister (my senior by 16 months) remembers the split, I have no conscious recollection of ever seeing my parents together as a couple. In fact, I never really knew by Dad until I was 13. However, I was on intimate terms with the fallout he'd left behind. My mom, having lost both her parents by age 20, suffered from major depression when he left. She was in love with him and he had dropped her like a heavy stone; with two baby girls to raise. Her pain was a deep, deep well and the water was murky. Her pain permeated the walls and the squeaky clean surfaces of our kitchens and bathrooms (we moved around alot and the buildings often had roach infestations. Hence, relentless hygiene). Her pain seeped into her voice when she sang and when she sobbed. Her stomach suffered, her heart suffered. Her pain was monumental; the repercussions rolled on and on. There were whispers wrapped around suicide attempts and extended time with babysitters. My sister, in her pain and confusion, blamed me for daddy being gone. My birth may have very well been the catalyst for his departure. I wasn't even that sure who daddy was but I felt bad for making him leave.
Even then, I was sensitive and sympathetic and I often found myself on the receiving end of my mother's bottomless grieving. I loved her more than anything, so I made it my little girl's life's work to try to make her feel better; my first counseling gig. I would wake in the night to the sound of her sobs. Finding her in the kitchen, I'd hug her while she cried. "I don't know what I did wrong," she would say, "I don't what I did to make him leave..." Her pain sinking into my heart. Eventually she would say something to make us both laugh. We'd have a sugary snack and go back to bed. Crisis averted: for now.
As the years passed, my father would occasionally visit or take us to his home where there was inevitably a girlfriend to be nice to us. These visits were few and far between and eventually petered out after, from her pain, my mother married a brutal alcoholic/drug addict who furthered her pain and humiliation through beatings and other indignities.
From that union came my little brother; a different story that is not mine to tell.
When I was 13, I decided it was time to see my father again. I didn't have an agenda other than to satisfy my curiosity. I was learning to play the guitar and I had a budding suspicion that I might be a musician. I wanted to play rock and roll. I knew that he was experienced in the genre and I figured he could give me some pointers. I mean, shit. It was the least he could do, right? Besides, I needed a break from the toxic stress of my home life. By this time, he had also remarried and was living in a farmhouse on hundreds of acres in rural western NY. I called and told him I wanted to visit. He said yes. It was a visit that changed everything; for both of us.
At my arrival, he seemed relaxed and happy. He had inherited some money when my grandmother passed and so bought the house and property. His new wife came from a wealthy family. He was the leader of a gigging band. Life was good. I did my best to be happy for him, for the both of them, and I did pretty well despite the nagging guilt of my mother's pain.
His keyboard player was hosting a party the day before I was to leave and my dad invited me to go with him. I was thrilled! His wife took me shopping and bought me a new blouse. I felt like a real person. Just a person. Not a confidante, not a punching bag, not a caregiver... a person. And it was incredible.
I mingled with the musicians who all made a fuss over the daughter of their brilliant leader. I held my own in the adult conversations and made witty remarks; evoking delighted laughter and interest. Everybody commented on my maturity and how much my father and I look alike. I felt my father's eyes; seeing me for the first time. We connected like soulmates.
The band was all set up and ready to play. He picked up his Fender Stratocaster and took his place at the microphone; we were beaming like lighthouses at one another. He played Chuck Berry's ' Memphis, Tennessee'; a song about a father trying to reach his daughter on the phone. I felt my heart begin to unravel from the tight, protective knot that had taken my short lifetime to bind. It was kind of like falling in love. Our conversation and laughter continued on during the ride home and late into the night.
I've only seen tears in my father's eyes twice in my life. The first time was when I was 13 and waving goodbye from the window of the eastbound greyhound the day after that party; a sobering trip back to her pain. The second time was 38 years later; when I saw him last week. My first time seeing him since he was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.
To Be Continued...