Okay, so I’ve been working on this on and off since May. Today’s posts, mercifully cut down from one giant 3000 word monster to a couple posts, is the beginning of my life story and will continue it when there’s nothing better to bore you with. The story of my father is told here as I remember it being told to me over the years, so if I get something wrong, I will let you know. As weird as this story sounds, it is the truth as best I know it.
How did I become this way, an obsessive-compulsive woman-child; a timid, anxious individual? Genetics? Brain damage at birth? Life experiences, both remembered and forgotten? Alien abduction? Almost all the above? Probably.
The years 1976-1977 were not good years for love or fashion. People walked around wearing puke green, brown, and orange; all the while love conquered all, including common sense. At least this was true in my mother’s case. What do I mean? I mean Mama sure knew how to pick a man. She decided to dive into a gene pool of green, stagnant water and I am the result. My father was an alcoholic, which in itself is nothing new or that different from other people. It’s all in how my mother met my father that is the difference. You see, my mother was a nurse who at the time worked as a counselor to alcoholics, which is where she MET her husband, a patient. Love Story. Just how my father beguiled Mama, I’m not sure. She was 34 then, her true love turned out to be a prick, and several years had gone by since their break-up. Perhaps she was super lonely and my father was a nice fellow. Likely also, and this is a trait I see in myself too, she had a similar urge to save or help people .
My grandmother, Zoulean, yes that was her name, always warned my mother against marrying a drunk or dating anyone she wouldn’t consider marrying. There is even a story showing how much Grandma hated intemperance. When she and Grandpa first got married they stayed at his parents’ home. The first night they stayed there, Grandpa and his two brothers decided to go out together, a boys night out. So my grandmother went to bed, only to be awakened later by the brothers’ wives.
Hazel and Margie were two prim sisters who had married my grandpa’s two brothers. “Come on, Zoulean, our husbands are in jail. We gotta get ’em out.”
“Y’all can go if you want, but I’m staying right here,” said Zoulean.
Which set the sisters clucking. “You can’t leave your husband in jail overnight!” exclaimed Hazel, and the two sisters clucked, clucked, clucked until they were gone. The whole house was roused from sleep, but Grandpa’s parents sided with Zoulean. He had left his new wife in a house with people she barely knew to go carousing with his brothers. Let him stay overnight in jail. Would serve him right was their verdict. Apparently, alcohol is no cure for claustrophobia, and Grandpa learned his lesson well spending the night in that jail cell.
Maybe it all made my father more appealing, forbidden fruit. Forbidden by parents and no doubt kind of frowned upon by Mental Health for upping and marrying the patients. But whatever. At least she didn’t meet my dad years before when she worked an internship at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. (Fun fact: John Hinckley resides there nowadays). So my mom married my dad in a charming civil court ceremony and they honeymooned in South Carolina after he asked her, “Do you want to get married?” Their married life together and apart and together again lasted a whole 6 months. Like I said, love conquers all, right?
But it wasn’t all bad. He was a binge drinker, so he wasn’t drunk all the time. He was a good guy when he wasn’t drinking, I’m told. Give the shirt off his back type of guy. But just before he went on a binge, he’d get agitated acting, like something was building up in him, and voila, a several day binge.
(Stop the presses a moment. Here is where I grow suspicious of Daddy Dearest and wonder if his contribution to my genetic make-up was that of Mental Midgetdom. Almost every man in his family was a drunk, which makes me wonder what the hell they were trying to dull down. Anxiety? Depression? Was it compulsive? Or were they just a bunch of assholes who could find no better diversion than getting plastered?)
My father was also supposed to be a smart man, though he only made it up to 8th grade before his family needed his labor. My father’s life consisted of living by his wits and hands. At one point in their six month marriage, my parents decided to move to Alabama where my father could find work in landscaping and carpentry-type work. While there, my parents started going to a Baptist church and Dad slowed down on the drinking for a time. For a time. But in the end the alcohol won. Their relationship went something along these lines: Things are ok. Things are not ok, so Johnny spends up the money drinking. Johnny sobers up and swears he’ll never drink again. Things are ok. Things are not ok….
Once when good and sauced,but before he got into angry drunk mode as was his custom, he told Mama that he was part Cherokee Indian. When they said in vino veritas, they probably didn’t mean imbibers of Wild Irish Rose Whiskey. Before my mother knew him, one of my father’s jobs was ‘orange picker’ in Florida. I suppose he got himself a good tan out there working with his co-workers, all Mexicans. So good in fact that when Immigration rounded up everyone, they picked up Johnny too. Before he was deported, however, he was able to negotiate his freedom. Perhaps it was my dad’s southern accent that tipped INS off, or maybe it was that he didn’t know one blessed word of espanol. My hair is dark too, but very curly, my cheek bones aren’t pronounced (even when I wasn’t chunky), and my eyes are a dull blue, so how do you like them apples, kenosabe? Just another mystery, though Grandma told me she knew that family forever, “and there weren’t no Indian in none of ’em.”
In another alcohol soaked scene of domestic tranquility, Dad called the police saying he had a gun and was going to kill himself. My mother was not amused.
Talking to the police outside of the house, my mom leveled it out with them, seething. “NO, he DOESN”T have a gun . NO, he is NOT suicidal (though at that point, Mama probably could have killed her husband with her own hands). The police worried about leaving her alone with her drunkard husband, but Mama swore she would be fine, and she was. The fact of the matter was my father on a drunk aspired to being wife beater, but never could reach his mark. Kicking or trying to lash out at the air all the while hurling bizarre combinations of curses and insults, my dad wasn’t fast enough or coardinated enough to actually catch my mother.
Sometime in all the breaking up and making up, Mama got pregnant and miscarried. She wanted that baby, ailing marriage or no, but for whatever reason my sibling ceased to be before it had a chance to become.
The final break up saw my father running out to the car in his underwear as my mother drove away. She circled around once to make sure the man she married got back into the house safely, and that was that. Little did she know when she made the long trek home to her parents that for about two weeks a memento of a marriage best forgotten grew inside her.
Wild Irish Rose photo used w/o permission from blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com