Posts Tagged parents
One day after New Year’s, one of my little cousins contacted me out of the blue and asked what we were doing. I say “little,” but she’s in her twenties and quite tall. Her ADHD sister is just into drinking age and as their mom says, “works a million jobs.”
I also say “little” since most of my first cousins are around my age, middle age… the sag-starting era when then there’s almost nothing left that’s perky or buoyant and its all downhill from here. These were the last of the first cousins and they are closer in age to our children than to us.
I babysat the older one when I was still a teenager during the summer while their mom ran around and did her high profile corporate thing. Their dad is the one who is my blood relation and I probably would have traded him for their mom in a second if that were possible. He died a few years after my mom did.
He was a phenomenal cook and really a genius. We have a lot of high IQ’s (his was in the mid-160’s) in our genetic line, but the ability to apply this to something substantial or fulfilling seems to elude most of us. I include myself in that. He especially was mostly a financial drifter. Before he met their mom, I don’t remember him ever having a consistent address, job or phone number.
I do remember the “work camp” gran took us to every Saturday afternoon for a few months to bring him a picnic basket and have lunch with him. He wore a jumpsuit like everyone else, their “uniform,” but wasn’t allowed to leave the premises. I might have been about ten at the time but I do remember the razor-wire fence. I asked a lot of questions and didn’t get a lot of answers. It was the most permanent address I’d ever known him to have and I’m not sure when it finally dawned on me, years later, it was a prison.
He also lacked a lot of impulse control. He was never motivated by greed so much as curiosity. The type who would break into a school and steal shit, just to see if they could, or steal a car and go on a joy ride only to get bored and move on to something else, never remembering where he left it behind. He had a lot of run-ins with the law in his youth, and it ended up haunting him into adulthood.
His eldest kid, half-sister to the two little ones, is three months younger than I am and looks more like my mother than I ever have (I unfortunately got the Grand genes).
Her young mom was about seventeen when she was born, did the best she could, but smoking pot and teaching your kid how as a bonding experience isn’t exactly what I’d call an ideal environment for a child. Combine that with the impulse control of your father, and it was a recipe for disaster.
It’s weird, but I always felt like if I’d not been around, she might have had a better chance because maybe Grand could have taken her in instead. But then, I’m not exactly sure my childhood was better, so much as just different. I was raised by a crazy person, her mom was young and broke. It’s kind of a toss up. Personally, I would have given anything to have had my mom instead. So maybe I have this all wrong.
Her dad, my uncle, wasn’t much a part of the picture. Even when his eldest would come to visit, she stayed with gran and me. She might have lunch or dinner with him once or twice, or have an afternoon, maybe once overnight, but for the most part, he was a ghost.
When my cousin, who I will dub Knievel, was around, I knew we were both going to get in a lot of trouble. I just hoped to the keep out of the law side of trouble, though we brushed against that one too.
For some reason, I could never deny her wishes, I remember arguing logic with her many times, but I also remembering doing whatever it was I didn’t want to do anyway. I have never been prone to any kind of peer pressure, in school or otherwise, but my cousin could make me cave like a souffle during a stampede.
I smoked pot the first time at fourteen from the pressure of said cousin. I remember how terrifying some of the shit we pulled was and sometimes, the rush of it. I could never, ever be like that my entire life, I would have caused myself a heart attack before college, but it broke my safety shell in a ton of other more beneficial ways in my interactions with other people.
Maybe her and her dad were seeking the high of it. Maybe life is just too dull and muffled for some and they don’t know a better way to seek out any kind of sensation. I can’t imagine feeling like life on its own just wasn’t enough or I just wasn’t able to make contact with it as everyone else seemed to. She grew out of it eventually, well mostly, but not before paying a price that will stay with her forever.
I hate to put it this way as well, but she was a terrific liar. She could talk herself out of a speeding ticket in no time, and probably convince them to give her a siren led escort to her destination. She could wile her way into any place with a simple hair toss and a few words. She is the kind of person who could spin and weave a tale that would put you in the midst of an epic adventure. If she was the one recanting the Lord of the Rings, she’d make you believe it all happened in downtown New York ten years prior. Or yesterday.
To this day, I tell her she should write, and keep writing. She laughs, perhaps from lack of self-confidence or she really just finds the idea amusing, but I cannot imagine not being one of her biggest fans if she’d just try.
Her dad… Her dad met what would become the mom of my little cousins and became the dad Knievel always wanted, deserved and never, ever had. He was doting, carted them around, was proud and attending, showed up, bucked up, and grew the fuck up…but by then his eldest was long grown up. He wasn’t picture perfect, but he was a lot more than he had ever been before.
Ever have times when you feel guilty for something that has nothing to do with you?
I felt guilty for being his blood family.
I felt guilty for being born.
I felt guilty even though I had a mom just like him. Absent.
I felt guilty because she didn’t have what she should have had from either of her parents.
My aunt was the exact opposite of what fairy tales lead you to believe. She wanted her new stepdaughter around, often. She tried her best to glue back all the broken bits of what gran had destroyed. If there was a center of gravity by which my familial remnants orbited, my aunt would have been it.
I watched as Knievel tried so hard to both rail against this new element, and simultaneously try to embrace it. She was getting real face time with her dad for the first time in her life, but only by the influence of someone that wasn’t her. My aunt was just impossible to hate, my cousin was truly loved and for the first time in her life, spoiled by her. This didn’t change when my little cousins came along, perhaps the demands for her presence were even more. It’s got to be a turmoil of mixed emotions. That feeling of being an outsider, of feeling like you’re intruding, even if you’re being emphatically welcomed.
You weren’t wanted by the ones you wanted before, why is it different now? Why wasn’t she enough to at least be around some?
Now that he has passed, my aunt has still not changed, still tries so hard to stay connected to her stepdaughter, sometimes she’s successful, sometimes not.
I wonder how much things might have been different had my uncle said he was sorry about anything, even once.
I will likely revisit this but my last entry and the timing got me thinking about my mom. She was largely absent from my life, as I’ve said before, but she was this… buzz in the background, but blinding whenever she was in sight. She flitted in and out of my life throughout most of my childhood like a pixie just in the peripheral.
When I was little, my mother ran around barefoot, her soles blackened and flat from the years she refused shoes, in short shorts and a strawberry blonde ponytail. She spent more time under the hood of her ugly brown car than she ever spent behind the wheel of it. She loved animals, all animals, and she was equally allergic to most of them. She could get a wild squirrel and other random animals to eat out of her hand in little time. I used to refer to her as the tomboy version of Snow White.
She was an especially good cook but her trademark was spaghetti, which I had many times, and the most elaborate lasagnas (twelve cheese minimum) which I had only twice. She was a smartass, she turned into a big child when the holidays came around and adored each and every one of them. She got into them to a level I have never been able to compete with, even at my youngest and most caffeine-induced. Even me hammering all the bells flat that she would pin to her clothes and shoes during Christmas did not daunt her in the slightest, she would simply pull out a bag of them she kept hidden and replace every single one.
She taught me how to play pool, ride a mechanical bull, play backgammon, fish, play poker and spite & malice all before the age of ten. She worked at bars, in construction, laying asphalt at the highway department, did taxes and software testing. She taught me how to drive and shoot when I was fourteen. I don’t think she ever once checked a movie rating before letting me watch something on tape. Our bonding moments, especially from age ten on, were over coffee and Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings. We would do the same when Star Trek and X-Files came on. We played deathmatch Quake together on more than one occasion, first person shooters were definitely her preferred genre.
She could always brush out tangles without ever hurting, splinters too. She was very pretty and always smelled nice. She had cool hands and long fingers she cracked often, roughened from all the stuff she did in a day. The way she ran her fingers through the hair on my head at bedtime always put me at such ease. She enjoyed playing the piano, her favorite piece being Moonlight Sonata. I could listen to her play for hours. I still have trouble listening to that song these days.
I used to wish I looked anything like her and often doubted my parentage. In my mind, she was more wisp and I was more troll in appearance. It was the seventies, so my only advantage was the ability to tan while my highly fair-skinned mother could not. The one time she ever successfully got to a color she was proud of, they tried to admit her to the hospital for jaundice.
I spent much of my early childhood standing at a screen door for hours waiting for her to come like she promised, disappointed more often then not. I spent most of my preteen and teen years hating and avoiding her. It wasn’t until sometime in high school that I realized the only one that hate hurts is the hater (me), it was a tough lesson to embrace, but I felt so much better once I did it. I let the hate go, learned to forgive and we managed to build a pseudo parent/sibling/friend relationship.
She was always in motion and moved often, never seeming able to settle in any one place or any one job. When I got married and moved out west, she followed two weeks later. I only secretly admitted how happy that made my heart.
After a few years, my marriage fell apart just as my mother was finding her roots in this new terrain so full of wildlife and outdoor joys. I was glad she was there to lean on while I put my life back together. We ended up living less than fourteen blocks apart. She bought her first house, of which she was so proud. I got to watch her nest for the very first time and helped her do whatever I could. I found I had a knack for removing wallpaper and creatively altering beat up furniture to be presentable.
Deep down, my mother was always the girl who wanted the small dream. She wanted the husband, the white picket fence, the 2.4 kids, 2 dogs, and 2 cats. In her pursuit of this, she made every awful choice in dating partner a person could make: married, drunk, losers, cheaters and abusers. She was a great example in what not to do for me.
But here in the west, I also got to see her finally date someone worthy of her affections. He was nice, but I was always bothered by the fact I could hear the pitch in her voice increase whenever he was around and she seemed to behave more wifely and girly than usual. I couldn’t understand why she felt the need to put on a front when I knew her to be so awesome just as she was, he would surely see that too. I usually opted to stay away when he was around just because she would act weird.
I was working a double shift one Thursday night and my mom and I were instant messaging back and forth about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and what we would be doing. She said that he would be there for the holidays and was also due to arrive that weekend. I grimaced. She got tired, we said goodnight and agreed to meet up the following Tuesday when we watched our shows together. An hour or so later, I sent her a text politely bowing out of the holidays and telling her to have fun with boyfriend. I felt like an ass.
Saturday morning at work, with a hundred sets of eyes on me, I got a call from the coroner’s office that my mother had been found dead not an hour before. I was pissed. My mom would kick his ass for pulling this kind of prank on me. There was no way my mother, the invincible pixie, could be dead.
I held it together long enough to find a back office to go in and argued with the man on the phone. He had the wrong person. He didn’t know what he was talking about, we chatted barely two days ago and she was fine. Then one of my friends got there, one of my friends whose number my mom had for emergencies, with my mom’s boyfriend. The look on his face told me everything I needed to know but didn’t want to.
My next call was to tell my grandparent that their youngest was gone. I don’t remember much of the rest, but I only ended up able to sleep that night by heading over to her house and curling up on the couch where she’d been found. I spent a large number of days there not moving much and not taking calls. I checked her email. The email I sent bowing out of the holidays sat unread, I cried from the relief alone.
We had her cremated. I completely fucked up the whole final services thing, most of our family was on the other side of the states so barely anyone came. She should have had a street party, Weekend at Bernie’s style. She should have had more fucking people in massive pain just from the huge void she left behind. Everything happened in a whirlwind, and when I fulfilled all of my daily obligations, I went out to drink. A lot.
One of my uncles called, her eldest brother, barely able to contain the tears and just started apologizing. I told him there really wasn’t anything to apologize for, but he said there was. I was raised my entire life believing my mom had given birth to me and left me behind. He told me that when I was still a baby, I was still with my mom and it was my grandparent who had convinced him that his baby sister was unfit to take care of me and he simply didn’t have any reason to not believe it. So he did take me, and my grandparent promptly put a restraining order on my mother. My grandparent was a pillar of the community with a lot of high ranking friends, my mom just a powerless teen of nineteen.
I think the sum of my emotional output at that moment was… “huh.” I simply did not have enough with which to give the slightest shit. My uncle was going into his list of regrets about what he didn’t get to tell her. It wasn’t long before I interrupted him.
me: “Was she talking to you?”
me:”Were you on speaking terms when she died?”
uncle:”Well yeah, we chatted and emailed every so often”
me:”Then she already forgave you.”
uncle:”What do you mean?”
me:”If she hadn’t forgiven you, she would never have had anything to do with you again. You know that.”
me:”Then you have your answer, it went unsaid but she did forgive you and she probably knew how you felt about it. She was well aware of the mastermind behind it.”
uncle:”I…. true… but, can you forgive me?:
me:”There is nothing for me to forgive. I don’t regret the person I turned out to be and the fact that my mom never trashed her parent for this or told me about it just made her jump several levels in my book. I’m in awe of her. Had it been me instead of my mom, I would have cut up your body in tiny pieces and no one would have ever found any trace of the body or of me and my kid, but I’m not my mom and this wasn’t my fight.”
I hope he felt a little better about what I said, death threat aside, but it made me sit down and do math. In the almost thirty years I had been alive, my mom and I only had seven functional years together, much of it based on unfounded hate on my part. I think that hurt me more than anything else. I found out she was engaged but hadn’t told me yet. She was just about to touch that tiny dream with that tiny white fence, only to have it snatched away from her. Life, fate… whatever you want to call it, it was one fucking unfair piece of shit.
The anniversary of her death is in exactly one week. I’m not sure what my kid and I will do to honor her that day. My kid never met her grandmother, they came along later, but I always find it so… beautiful when I see the mark of my mom on my kid, from the shade of their eyes, the freckles that speckle their cheeks, the fair skin, the love of all animals and ability to bring even the shyest forth, the desire to run around like a mad person until breathless, the smartass comebacks….She is still there, even if just a little bit.