I have had quite a few people tell me over the years I need to write a book about my life. I honestly can not see a way to put that together that makes sense to me, or seem like something an audience of readers would be interested in... not quite yet anyway. I can tell you I am working on some other things that I hope will one day soon be published. So for now, I will share little memories or moments of clarity I have regarding my life here.
Ironically enough, I grew up in the age of D.A.R.E. and all the fancy school assemblies with the poor volunteer in the large animal costume, the token police car and policemen on campus for bonus effect. While I sat there singing the assembly songs at school; eagerly taking all the free goodies they handed out (which were all marked very vibrantly with D.A.R.E. branding), I listened attentively to the guest speakers and shook hands innocently with the police officers in attendance…. during ALL this, my parents were DEEP in the throws of their own addictions.
As a child I learned very quickly to not ask about my mother to anyone. We just didn’t talk about her. I knew she existed. I knew what she looked like, at least I remembered what she used to look like the last time I had seen her. There was no explanation why sometimes months, or years would pass between seeing her. It just wasn’t something I was allowed to question. My brother and I lived with our (paternal)grandparents and that was just what we knew, why was never explained to us. No one would talk about the truth. No one spoke to me about the effects of addiction, or drugs, or alcohol… or homelessness.
Eventually I put pieces together and figured out what was going on… embarrassingly it was long after most everyone else around me could see the reality I was living in. As I got older I stopped wondering why things were the way they were and began intentionally making choices in my life that would allow me to follow a different path. Despite this, my grandmother treated me like I was just as guilty as my parents for their poor life choices. She would begin and end her days harboring such resentment / anger towards me; never even giving me an honest chance to prove to her that I was NOT who she thought I was, nor would I ever be.
Its no wonder that as soon as I could get out of there (17) and begin to explore who I truly was without her judgement I did. Unfortunately her voice speaking those familiar cruel words and harsh criticism stuck with me subconsciously for many years after.
As a little girl who just wanted love and acceptance, I really couldn’t figure out what the root of that anger was. Simple things that were normal for me to do as a child, and as a little girl would cause her to rage with fire and my grandfather was the only one who could calm her down. One thing in particular involved my love and adoration for my father.
Although both my parents were struggling my father found himself in a much more convenient living situation than my mother. Again, keep in mind I still don’t have the whole truth and this is a very condensed version, but what I have surmised is this: My parents had a fierce ugly divorce when I was very very young. My father had the support of his parents, who also happened to have money and fancy lawyers. The judge handed down a ruling, gave ultimatums and set goals for how things needed to play out for the sake of the kids. My mother did not handle being in that situation very well and instead of fighting for her kids and a better life for herself… she basically fell off the face of the planet and struggled for a very long time.
Having allowed their son to move into their brand new home, with his children in tow, my father took advantage of his parents support. The situation was definitely not healthy for any of us. My grandparents were forced to kick my father out and they went back to court and took full guardianship of me and my brother. From then on we lived with them and it’s just how things were. My brother was about 6 or 7 and I was about 3 or 4 I believe… I’d look it up, but It doesn’t really matter, point was we were young.
After this, understandably my father floundered a bit. Enjoyed his ‘freedom’, explored life, learned how to balance being an adult and found a place to live. Occasionally he would come visit us… i.e. collect his mail that would often still get sent to my grandparents address. Let me tell you, again I am not sure how all this went down, but I do know that his visits conveniently corresponded with when mail would arrive for him and my grandfather would place it on the end of the credenza for him. Would they call him and tell him it was there? I don’t know. I do know that when I saw mail there, I knew he would be visiting soon.
Sometimes he would call and tell us that he would be coming by that Saturday. I’d think this was great news, but my grandmother would be angry. Eventually she told him to stop telling me because what would happen is if I knew he was coming I would spend the entire day waiting at the end of the driveway, watching for his car to arrive. If he said he would come, to me it was fact and I would ignore everything waiting for it to happen. And, as life so does, I would often be heartbroken because after spending hours waiting… he wouldn’t show up.
To be honest, it didn’t matter. The innocence of a child is so powerful. He could do no wrong. I loved him and believed every excuse, even if he didn’t give one I made one up in my mind for him. When he would finally show up we would have so much fun and he would goof around with me and I would forget the hurt and sadness I had gone through waiting for him all those times. It got to the point where if my grandmother caught me waiting for him, I would get in big trouble.
I didn’t fully understand that it wasn’t ME she was angry at until adulthood.
My grandmother idolized her father. Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear many stories about him, but she did tell me quite a few times how she never liked staying in the kitchen to cook and clean with her mother like her sister did. This was her excuse for only having a few staple recipes when cooking for our family growing up. She was apparently always outside with her father; fishing, working in the garden or with the animals. This is where her love for being outside and animals came from.
From what I remember she said they moved around a bit, I don’t remember if he just had different jobs or had trouble holding down a job. I feel like I remember her telling me he had some mental health issues as well… but I digress. From what little she talked about them, her parents were very important and special to her growing up. When she got married and had her children her parents came to live in California and spent a lot of time with my Uncles. They have memories of fishing with her father and spending time together.
One day early in March, when my dad was only a few months old, while my grandmother had left her youngest child with her mother and gone to the store for groceries. Her mother laid the baby down for a nap in the bedroom and shortly after she suffered a fatal brain aneurysm. My grandmother returned home to find the baby crying in the bedroom and her mother passed away on the couch in the living room. No one truly knows what or how things happened that day.
The sudden loss of her mother was very traumatic for my grandmother only to be fueled by the sudden announcement, just a few short months later that her father would be remarrying a woman who at one time had been her mothers friend. My grandmother grew angry and cut him, and his new wife, out of her life. She dramatically claimed to everyone that he was dead, including my father who as a young boy was constantly told that both his grandparents had passed away. Truth is he didn’t actually pass away until over a decade later and lived just a few short hours from where my grandparents settled and raised their sons.
Learning this about her as an adult shed some very interesting light on who she was as a person. I began to understand where a lot of her anger and resentment came from. She saw this little girl idolizing her father, who as we very well know was not perfect and making many many hurtful choices at the time. She would have to deal with the aftermath of my uncontrolled emotions when I was distraught that he didn’t show up again. She really didn’t know how to be kind or consoling with me, she would send me to my room and tell me to not come out until I was done crying…. I can only imagine how ‘triggered’ she must have felt watching that unfold.
The problem wasn’t that she thought I was doing anything wrong loving my father unconditionally and waiting endlessly for him to follow through. The problem was that she knew very well the pain and hurt that a father could cause and every time she watched me cry or sit there and wait for him to, maybe this once finally do the right thing… she was reminded of the father she felt utterly betrayed by when she needed him most.
There are so many more reasons she was the way that she was… I wish I could have had more time with her as an adult being able to have honest and open conversations with her about life. Unfortunately those ‘conversations’ were mere simplified statements during the weeks she was dying and I cared for her. One time, ONE TIME she even said she was proud of who I’d become and thought I was a great mother. I am pretty sure the proper quote is recorded somewhere on Facebook memories… and I am certain it was followed by some backhanded insult too. During those weeks though she contemplated a lot about her life. She discussed more about her family and growing up than I had ever heard her speak about my entire life living with her. Sometimes it was in the form of hallucinations and sometimes she was legitimately sharing memories with me. I wish I had asked more questions, or wrote more things down now looking back on it all.
The point of sharing this story though, is really just understanding that we all have baggage. As an individual I know what mine is. I believe I can pick and choose what I pack and carry, what travels with me and what doesn’t and I hope that those around me will be compassionate and understanding when dealing with the extra space needed to accommodate my baggage. Get the metaphor here?
Our parents/adults in our lives are no different. My grandmother was horrendous to me. There’s no nice way of putting it. She beat me mentally, emotionally, and often times physically. I truly and honestly believe she did her best that she could give at the time. My grandfather did his best trying to balance between supporting the love of his life and his grandchild, who were both hurting immensely.
My father made his choices and lived his life as best he could at the time, it just didn’t involve being able to raise my brother and I. He did come around and see us. We did eventually begin spending more time with him here and there. Sometimes we would go spend the weekend with him and those times were filled with wonderful memories. Sugary cereal we never got to eat at home, hours and hours spent at the beach catching sand crabs or out on the boat with him, fishing for crabs at the harbor or actual fishing out in the ocean then cooking what we caught back at the beach that night… He tried his best to come to graduations, concerts and special events but sometimes things got in the way. I used to wonder why we never got the chance to live with him after he pulled it together, but the reality is he still had baggage he was dealing with. It may have looked to me as a child that he was a solid adult living one heck of a fun life… but I didn’t know the truth. As an adult I can see that he was trying his best and doing what he could at the time, it’s a shame that it wasn’t enough to be around more while I was growing up but It is so beautiful to me seeing his life now and everything he’s been able to do differently for my sisters.
My mother had her own choices, some of which lead to her being in that horribly unfortunate situation of facing their divorce and losing her children alone. We all sometimes find it easy to say things like, “if that were me I would have done this instead” or “if that were me I would have never let that happen” …but the reality is we didn’t live that, she did. Her baggage from life unfortunately had her lost and struggling for most of my childhood. I am glad she eventually made the choices that lead her to where she is today. I am glad that she is alive found a way to balance what life handed her as best she could.
I learned over the years the importance of knowing who I am. Not who my parents were. Not who my grandparents were, but ME. Who am I now and who do I want to become. I still make mistakes daily. But I take responsibility for who I am and the things I do. I pray that one day I am able to unpack enough crap that my life’s baggage can be so minimal that It no longer affects those around me, who I care about deeply. Balance. Growth. Peace. It starts with me.