Reyna, if I haven't said it often enough or emphatically enough, you are an incredible person and I'm so lucky to have "met" you! Thank you again for checking in on me and letting me know that my absence of late has been noticed. You've helped me to see that I need to tell this story...
Some of you may have noticed that I've been missing a bit lately. I haven't posted much to my blog, haven't commented on others' blogs. I've been quiet. I fall into this funk around the end of January-beginning of February every year. I even know to anticipate the funk by now. This time of year brings a lot of important dates for me. January 22, 1987. I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. February 6, 1988. My family's home caught fire and we were left without any possessions. Those two are nothing compared to the next one though. February 3-4, 2003. My father died. The story behind that one is a huge, ugly, tangled mess that started before I was even born....
I was the fifth girl born to my mom and her first husband. The first was born in August. The second, a year later in November. The third and fourth, 13 months later, in December. And then a three-year break before I came along. I know from things relatives have said (my mom included) that my mom left my father several times before I came along. He had some tendencies to fly into rages over the littlest of things. I've heard stories of how he would drag my oldest sister to her bedroom by her hair. Stories about my mom leaving him when the twins were 6-months-old because he left bruises all over one of them. But she always went back to him. And then she got pregnant with me. I've had some suspicions that she might have thought that if I had been born a boy, my father might not have been so bad. But his rages just kept escalating. He abused her and my sisters. And then my mom met Tom. By the time my second birthday rolled around, my mother was remarried and had given birth to my half-brother. Her second husband was a much different kind of man. He was fun, he played around with us. He was DAD. I could never call my own father by that name. I avoided saying it to him, whenever possible. It stuck in my throat whenever I had to resort to saying it. To other people, I've always called him "my father" or by his first name.
My skin crawled whenever I was around him. He had weekend visitation rights. It wasn't easy to get something like that terminated back then. It was just standard protocol...moms got physical custody during the week, dads got visitation every other weekend. I HATED it. My sisters did too. We made up any excuse to get out of it. My mom would occasionally tell him that one of us was sick, but couldn't get away with it too often. Weekends with my father were torture. I have memories of being forced to nap with my father, with his leg thrown over me while my skin itched and crept. (Luckily it never went any further than that, but I have since found out that my father had been accused several times of molesting his nieces and nephews.) My father had a particular fondness for locking me in a broom closet. I'm not sure why or what he got out of it, but my oldest sister would wait until he fell asleep and come and let me out. He let us have cats for pets. He laughed at us when we cried as he swung our pets around the room by their tails. I remember one particular incident very clearly. During dinner, I spilled my cup of milk. He flew into a rage. Threw the kitchen table out the door (broke the legs off to do it). Dumped an entire bag of cat food on the living room carpet, yelled and screamed at all of us. Spanked me for spilling my milk (his version of spanking involved bare bottoms and leather belts). And then went off to take a nap while we cleaned up the mess.
When I was 6-years-old, it stopped. My sisters and I banded together and refused to set foot out the door when he came to pick us up. Eventually, we ended up in a court battle, but when it came down to it, there wasn't anything they could do to force us to go visit him. My father ended up moving away for a few years. He came back when I was 13. I made an attempt to have an relationship with him, visiting on Saturdays for a few hours. He came back with a new wife and a new baby. I was in the midst of the teenage-girl-hates-her-mother stage. It was around the same time that my mom was busy divorcing my dad and moving on to a new boyfriend. My mom and I got into a fight and I decided I'd live with my dad for a while. I lasted one night. Just after heading to bed, I overheard my father arguing with his new wife and the physical blows that he was dishing out. That was enough to convince me to keep him at a distance.
I don't mean to make it sound like it was all bad. My father did good things too. He taught us to fish, took us camping, took us to amusement parks. But all of those "good things" ended up tainted. While camping, he'd play tricks to scare us. Pretend to lose us in the woods and leave one of us standing there, completely alone. He'd try to make it sound like there was a bear outside our tent. He'd fly into a rage because a fish got away. Stupid little things that acted as a trigger and ruined what might have been good, happy, childhood memories. When I met my husband, he helped me learn to focus on those good things a bit more. He encouraged me to stop in for a few minutes before we left town. As much as I disliked those few minutes and the man they were spent with, I am grateful to my husband for them. They have helped me figure out that my father wasn't an entirely evil person, just a severely damaged one. And he loved me as much as he was able.
February 3, 2003....I was about two weeks into my semester of student teaching. That evening, I was working on lesson planning. Until I got a phone call from one of my sisters. My father had fallen through the ice while snowmobiling on the lake. He'd managed to get himself out and made it to one of the resorts on the lake and was being brought in to the hospital. I knew it wasn't good. My father was epileptic. He'd had several smaller heart attacks. The shock of the ice-cold water sent him into a series of heart attacks and seizures. They wanted to transport him to a bigger hospital by life-flight. But they couldn't stabilize him. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, agreed to try to help me get to the bigger hospital. I'm not quite sure why I wanted to go, to be honest with you. I'd tried several times to get answers from my father about what he'd done to us and why, but he'd always flat-out denied it. I think I might have been hoping for just a simple "sorry for hurting you" kind of thing. We drove through blizzard-like conditions for 3 hours, making it only as far as it would have taken us an hour to drive on a good day. Just after midnight the call came in to say that he hadn't made it. We stopped and checked into a hotel, where I cried myself to sleep over the realization that there would never be any apologies or answers for what had been done.
Losing a parent is supposed to be heart-wrenching and earth-shattering, right? It's not supposed to be an easy thing to go through. But from my experience, I think it's a whole lot harder to go through when you can't feel the normal things. I didn't feel sad. I wasn't shedding tears over losing my father. I was RELIEVED! I didn't have to make the effort to be around him anymore. I didn't have to feel my skin crawl and have the word "dad" stick in my throat. The day after he died, I was right back at the school, right back at student-teaching. Oh, what a mistake that was! I know now that I wasn't in the right frame of mind. I was irritated and uncomfortable every time someone told me how sorry they were for my loss. I just wanted to reply "what loss?" Or tell them I'm glad someone was sorry over it because I wasn't! Not feeling grief over the loss was so hard though. It made me question what kind of a person I was. It's hard to come to terms to that. You should feel sorry about the loss, you should cry over it, right? And there I was, relieved and going about my life like nothing major had changed. How horrible of a person I must be to not feel grief over a death!
There's my story. And the reason for my funk. Every year it comes around, that lingering thought...how horrible of a person I must be that I didn't grieve over the loss of my father! I know I'm not a bad person and I know that considering the circumstances and all that my family went through, it's no wonder I didn't grieve for him. A year and a half later, when my step-dad passed away, I cried. Even though I hadn't had any contact with him since my mom divorced him when I was 13. I cried because he'd been my dad for more than 11 years. But my own father? I never shed a tear over his loss. And I still can't bring myself to cry for him. The trick now is to find a way to be okay with that and still be okay with who I am. I need to find my way back to feeling like I'm a good person, in spite of the lack of grief. I want to be sure that I'm not a deeply damaged person, like my father was. I don't want to inflict the kind of damage that was done to me on my own children. As soon as I can be sure of that, I can crawl out from this funk and hopefully be free of it for good!