Monday, July 25, 2005The Strangest 48 Hours Of My Life
Sometime over the weekend I got aboard some kind of crazy ride... it goes up and down and around and around, and I keep thinking it's finally winding up (surely that's the last twist in the track), but no -- it keeps throwing new stuff at me. I'm probably gonna talk about something in this post that normally I wouldn't talk about much publicly, but what the hell, it's my blog -- this kind of thing is a big part of why I originally started it, along with my obvious political frustration.
First, the best, most amazing thing, which I'll just talk about in abstract terms since the person who would most need to understand undoubtedly will. I've got this buddy -- known among long-time readers as Smithers -- whom I genuinely love like a brother, and have loved for a long time now. I would do absolutely anything for that guy, would stick by him through both hell and high water; he's been there for me in a way that almost nobody else in my life has. He's an incredibly beautiful, wonderful man; friends like him are a rare gift in life and I'm lucky to be able to call him mine. And I felt that way even before he did something that left me teary-eyed. He knows how I feel, but sometimes I have to say it again.
Second, the weirdest, most confusing thing, which I'll explain more concretely since even I can't make sense of it and could hardly expect anyone else to: tonight I got a call from the woman who married my estranged father; it's only the second time in my life I've heard from her, and the first time she's actually called. Last time, a few years back, I got an email telling me that my father had been taken to the hospital for heart surgery -- he'd had a heart attack sometime in the past and had subsequently been diagnosed with both massive, inoperable blockages in his arteries and heart rhythm problems that alone could kill him. They couldn't do anything about the blockages, but they were attempting to install a pacemaker to control the arrhythmia. They'd had some trouble with their first attempt -- that's why she finally got around to calling me, making it sound as though my father might not live through the night -- although eventually they operated successfully.
You have to understand, that was the first time in years that I'd heard anything about my father -- he and I were thoroughly and profoundly estranged after a difficult relationship lasting into my teens. He, I've come to assume, never really wanted a kid; and I, for my part, desperately wanted a dad, but not one as cruel as he could be. He was a brilliant, charismatic man, but he could play some evil fucking headgames; I am not the person I might originally have become because of him. And that's okay -- I'm a grownup now, and for the most part I've tried to supply myself with everything he failed to provide, with I think an admirable amount of success. But while my emotional baggage has been trimmed and pared down to the point that it amounts to no more than a small metaphorical backpack, poking at certain parts of my psyche will still produce a reaction.
And that first contact out of nowhere -- your dad might be dying -- was a hard, deep poke at my most carefully-guarded scars; it got an appropriately spectacular reaction. I went into full demon-wrestling mode, trying to figure out what I'd do if my dad died and all that pain and old anger suddenly found itself ripped from its moorings. How would I tell his increasingly-senile mother, his long-abandonded siblings? He'd cut them out of his life as thorougly as he did me; my grandmother ached for him, and I could sympathize, even while I found myself avoiding her as well. (She, to be fair, is as dysfunctional and fucked-up as he is.) Would I go to his funeral, meet the family that had so completely supplanted me; meet the new conservative, Christian, family-values wife with whom he had cheated on my mother (and her husband), the new wife who apparently loved every word that Dr. Laura ever spoke but somehow never thought to ask why my father's only child was so totally absent from his life? Would I be sad that he was gone, or relieved? As cold as it sounds, ever since I hit my 20s I've just been waiting for the man to die so that our fucked-up relationship would finally be over. No more major life events that went unnoticed by him, no more ignored birthdays, no more endless years of wondering what I'd done or been as a child that was so repellant to him that he couldn't even accept me as his daughter. Intellectually I'd come to understand our relationship and that his dysfunctions weren't about me, but parental rejection always leaves you damaged and wounded, and mature insight can heal that, but you'll always be a little crooked. Attempts to forgive him were pointless, since every day that passed was a tiny new insult that joined the rest and accrued over years until the bitterness was back full-force. Given that he was incapable of repairing the situation (if only I could have explained to all the people who urged me to go to him in search of some talk-show reconciliation that the man couldn't have given me what I needed from him any more than he could have flown to the moon), the only way out was for one of us -- preferrably him -- to leave this world to the other could finally start putting the whole tangled mess behind them.
Anyway, that's what I was thinking at the time. It took me several days to sort my thoughts out, and in the end I made one superhuman effort to extend some love and forgiveness to both him and his wife. He got through his ordeal, but it ended with the recognition that from that day on he was living on luck alone. Somehow -- maybe feeling further battered by the fact that I'd had to struggle through that emotional morass and didn't even get any closure, not even a word of thanks or acknowledgement from the old bastard in the hospital bed -- I left the experience feeling raw and used. I put every remaining ounce of sympathy and untainted love for my father into that last gesture of affection, and just like every time in the past, I got nothing for my effort but silence. So, fuck him.
My mother, when it was all over, said something that only a justly-bitter ex-wife could say: she (the new family-values wife) wanted him so badly, now she can bury him. Every ethical and moral belief I possess says that such a thought is unworthy of me as his child and as a compassionate human being, but I can't deny that I feel the same way -- although, I have to say, as only part of a much larger, more complex set of emotions. My relationship with my father was complicated and poisonous; the worst thing (and the best thing) he ever did was turn away and leave me behind. Trying to make sense of that paradox in my mind has so far been a life-long puzzle.
Anyway... tonight, like I said, I got message from the paternal void: "another heart attack," says the tear-choked voice on the answering machine. Dead? I don't know yet. Maybe. If he is, then tomorrow when I find out for sure I'll be going back into full demon-wrestling mode, blessedly for the last time. If he's not, I guess I just go back to my life and let him attempt to go back to his. Even sitting here knowing that my father's corpse might be cooling as I write this I only feel a kind of morose indifference -- after last time, as much as I would like to think that I'm noble enough of spirit to rekindle it, I just don't have any love or compassion left to give him. If he lives, fine, let him live -- if he dies, fine, let him die. I've been waiting for it for half my life.
Now, if I were you, reading words like those from a stranger, I'd wonder what kind of cold-spirited person could write them. It's hard to accept that they're coming out my own heart; I'm shocked at the bluntness of my dismissal of what would normally be a major event in my life. And if he does indeed die, I might surprise myself -- in fact, I'd be more surprised if I didn't surprise myself at least a little. Would I go to Texas and watch "his family" put him in a hole in the ground? I'm not sure -- it might be helpful, psychologically, to see the reality of his now-justifiable absence for myself. And I worry, after watching him fail to attend his own father's funeral exactly three years ago today, that that kind of bad karma can be passed down -- my biggest fear in life is replicating the despair of my relationship with my dad with my own, as-yet-nonexistent kids. Surely I can at least end that relationship by proving myself to have a more expansive, more graceful soul that he did. But I also have to recognize that all of those thoughts amount to little more than self-reassurance and signifying... I'm doing it for me, not for him.
But then, that's how it's always been between us. I am, after all, still my father's daughter.
I should call my father's wife back tonight and find out what's going on, but I'd honestly rather not let that catastrophe through the door into my life until tomorrow. Whether he's dead or alive, I guess he'll keep until the morning.
And the strangest thing of all is, that's not even everything that's happened in this bizarre couple of days, but only the things that have the most direct impact on my life. This summer has so far been frustrating and reassuring by turns; the year to date has been a process of old things slowly passing away and new things opening before me -- not always smoothly or easily, but the sense of release and expansion is undeniable. After a few days like these, I'm incredibly curious to see what happens next, but I'm also a little afraid; it's possible that by this time tomorrow my life will in several ways be not much different, but profoundly changed. Or not.
What next? |