My Family Story

30 May

The reality of seeing your Father having a stroke is less shocking than one would predict.  In fact, you don’t even know it at the time.  He goes silent, he gets angry and sits very still, as if some blinding light has hit him and he can’t stare into it or move.

It is very similar when he has a seizure.  In the past you thought that people shook with their tongues hanging out, but your Father goes silent.  He has Petit Mal seizures, deep glitches that occur in his brain.  The neurons don’t fire quite right, or misfire, or slam up against each other so his brain is reshaped and every time you speak to him you know this was not the Father that you were born to.

He asks questions and doesn’t remember the answers, he can’t say certain words and when he walks he uses a cane.  He is 62.

The man that you grew up with was lively and easy to access.  He had endless patience for your endless questions and would let you style his hair with big bows and hairspray.  Each night he would be the “bridge” to your bed, and would get down on all fours so you could climb across his back.  Sometimes the “bridge” would shake, or sway, or dip and you would gently tumble off, so that you could cross it again.

Now you rarely have conversations with your Father.  He’s easily agitated and at times you are frightened to upset him because when he goes past the point of no return there is no coming back.  This is how you get disowned for the first time.  On a frigid Thanksgiving night with him screaming, “fuck you,” repeatedly and your Mother threatening to burn your adoption papers.

The next morning she stands there small before you with grief pouring out of her every pore, and she says, “I’m sorry, please don’t leave,” but you do because that’s all you can.

You know that your Father takes 32 pills a day, you know that your Mother is ill in other ways, but this time for a long time you cannot forgive, and you ache for that small nuclear space that was once filled.

Days, weeks, years pass and you do not return.  They come to you.  You look at your Father leaning against a wall on Market Street, and you know that you can only hold onto anger so long because if there’s one thing you’re certain of its their imperfect love.

The next time you come home with a boy and you call him the buffer.  You can tell your parents are disappointed he’s there, but you’re too afraid to come back otherwise.  Each day they wake the two up you up with a sharp knock and a high-pitched, demanding voice saying, “we’re leaving in five minutes.”

They both look lesser to you and you feel bad that you’ve been away for so long.  The shower seems dirty and runs with rust.  The brown and tan striped couch is covered with dog hair, and when you go through their books you find one entitled, “Borderline Personality Disorder,” with your Mother’s name written in it.

This is how you discover that she’s trying, which is all you really wanted, so you decide to try too.  You sit across from a grey-haired man who you pay to listen to you.  After you pour your heart out he says, “be kind to yourself.”

You make him laugh.  Then make yourself cry and then spiral into a deep depression of your own making because you can’t bear to see all you’ve bared.

This is how you end up crying at work, to your boss, to your Associate Marketing Director, in the bathroom and at home.  You have this flood of tears that goes on.  It’s not the first time you cried this way, but you didn’t think you still had so much to grieve, “I’ve done this before,” you think, “I’m sorry,” you say again and again to yourself really because that’s the only person you still need to forgive.

So you visit again, and your Dad, who now uses a cane finally says sorry to you.

He says, ” your Mother and I pushed you away.  We scarred you, I’m glad you’re here,” and some deep thing shifts because you never thought a sorry would come your way.  You tell your Father he’s not alone, you teach him how to Skype.  The first time he does it’s from his hospital bed in tears because he feels like he failed you.

You hide yours, smile and say, “It’s not your fault,” which is a line you had used earlier to another person who left, and you wonder how you always end up alone in bed across men who are sorry.

But now, in this moment, your Father is across from you, on a screen with tubes up his nose, and you know each time this happens it’s worse because now it’s Lupus Anticollangant, Kidney Failure, Strokes and Congestive Heart Failure – before it was just epilepsy.

He says, “I just wanted to see your face for a moment,” so that’s when you truly forgive his failures, and life’s failure, and your own because that’s the only way you know how to go on.


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