Saturday, June 02, 2007

We're So Alone And Life Is Brief

I debated not writing this. Some memories are bitter enough that we hope they disappear with someone else's death, but they don't. We reenact them in unnecessary present tenses. Even so, I might not have written this if Mr. DBK had not mentioned Carl's father died yesterday. Carl and I can't have a conversation that doesn't include unprintable terms of little endearment, but that doesn't mean I enjoy watching him suffer. I don't. If things were different, we might have a lot to talk about - starting with the crippling polite fiction that we either have simple, loving relationships with our fathers or we are irredeemably fucked-up losers.

Father's Day approaches. See if you can find a Hallmark Card for your particular dysfunction like, "Hey, glad you quit drinking" or "Thanks, Dad, for spending my college fund at AC" or "Because you're a liar, I'll never really trust a man." Our parents are human, with their own flaws and failures. We smile nervously though backyard barbecues every year and hope nobody tells a true story. Sure, some people have great fathers who read right from the Ward Cleaver script, but to deny our pasts and what we are is to guarantee ourselves more painful futures.

I don't know what a normal father-daughter relationship is, but I didn't have one with Dad. Daria didn't either; that's a story only she can tell. I can tell you that as little girls in the sixties and early seventies, we were not raised with Barbies, dreaming about our weddings, and our brother Todd was not treated differently because he was a boy. We were simply kids, which is by default loosely male. It was very unusual for the time, and it all came to a crushing halt when Dad left for Europe and didn't come back. It is not much of a leap from that moment to the one wherein I married the only man who would never have deserted me and I had to leave, because that's what people do. It was just a little, unconscious hop - just history repeating, that's all.

Before we arrived in Virginia last March, piles of things had been set out for Dad's family members on the sun porch. One day, I went out to look at mine and found this. Shit, I was hoping we could just forget all about this crap after the first teary night, when Dad and I said, "It's all over, and none of that stuff is important anymore." I don't remember specifics, except that I sobbed, "I am strong because you made me strong." What I did not say was that his neglect, his rage, his routine violation of my boundaries and his pencil-thin patience formed me into a person who desperately needed his love and approval but couldn't be near enough to have it. He loved me. He admired me - so he often said, and I do not doubt it. That night, he said, "You give me too much credit." No. No, I don't. I saw this card on the porch and put it away, where no one else would find it. Well, except you.

Because it's pink, Siobhan will wonder what the hell was wrong with me. The postmark says 24 January, 1991. Just six months later, my marriage would be over, Dara would be born and my grandmother would die. This is a trifold card, and the flower alone should tell you it delivers poison. Leading up to my writing it: some prolonged period of unbearable conflict with Dad over my writing - or something. His temper was too much for me, again. I couldn't stand it, again. From the time I was 19, he told me, "One day, you will have to tell me to go shit in my hat." I couldn't confront him and be crushed again, so I wrote. When one opens this card, one first sees this:
all the male poets write of orpheus
as if they look back & expect
to find me walking patiently
behind them. they claim I fell into hell.
Damn them, I say.
i stand in my own pain
& sing my own song.

- Alta
To assume the voice of Eurydice, I must have been in agony. Opening the other flap, one sees two distinct pages.
"A certain re-writing of another's writing can be dangerous and go beyond criticism."

- Anais Nin
Finally, the killer:
I am not a son.

I will not compete with you.

I have my own work to do.

You will have to understand.

Ah, you can't go wrong with the classics, because of course, I was raised to be a good son. He wrote, I write. He did radio, I have done a lot of radio. He traveled, I've traveled and will again. He smoked and drank and lived secret lives; don't even get me started. I've often said that he and I were a fascinating matched set, but that I was the dull one. Shortly after I sent this card, Dad told me he didn't need me anymore - he had baby Dara. While he meant that his turbulent relationship with his mother had left him with a need for uncritical female devotion I failed to provide, I was devastated by his words, so surgically precise and calculated to wound. No one in his lifetime cheered his successes louder and longer than I did, despite every brutal thing we said and did to one another. As I look at this card now, I think I should give it to Miss Sasha. I could offer her a shortcut to peace and quiet; say: "My darling, one day you will have to tell me to go shit in my hat."



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