I’m not ready

So, I’ve got something going on, the proverbial burr under my saddle. Somethingis bugging me, and I’m not entirely sure what it is. I have not left the apartment today, except for taking the dog out. We didn’t go far, just up to the front of the complex and back. It worked out well for her, though, because she got to see her apartment husband and he gave her lots o’ lovin’. She adores him, and he seems very taken with her. He’s our neighbor who had quadruple bypass surgery in December – he’s over 80, and sailed through surgery and is doing wonderfully. He and his wife are very nice people, from West Point NY, They both love this lunatic dog, and she literally howls when she sees them or smells them nearby. They are what one might call “salt of the Earth”; not pretentious, good solid people who seem to give a shit. Second marriage for both of them, they are the sterotypical Brady Bunch – both had three children of their own when they came together as a blended family. One of their sons is an anesthesiologist who lives in Texas, and another one lives nearby in Pfafftown. The rest of them are scattered out in other places, but everybody seems to come together like families do. I think they are mostly Irish heritage, because both have that snow white hair that seems to typify the Irish as they age. Nice, nice people.

So, I’m not sure exactly why I’m in such ill humor at the moment. The dog is making me a trifle nuts, licking everything in sight, and generally being kind of clingy and needy. She would not let me sleep this morning when I was in that half-awake state around 6am, and carried on like a lunatic whining and barking and cavorting on the bed. She has been doing that for a while now…and it really doesn’t seem as though she is prompting me to take her outside for a constitutional, but wants her morning treat. She usually gets one when I get up to get my first cup of coffee, and I am convinced she is addicted to them, the little shit head. They must put crack in those things, because she snatches them out of my hand when I’m reaching down to give one to her, and then races off to the bedroom to get into her special spot to start gnawing on it. Then she’s calm for a good while. I know addict behavior when I see it, and she’s a totally strung out treat junkie.

So, my writing prompt is about new beginnings. Have I ever had a conversation that or read a book or anything that changed my life? Yes. The conversation that comes to mi nd first is one that I had with my aunt a few years ago, when my mother was beginning to slide into dementia but was still convincing everyone, including herself, that all was well. I was in town for a holiday, I guess, and I had made arrangements with my mother and my aunt to have lunch at a favorite restaurant. I think we were all supposed to meet there, or I was going to pick up my aunt – can’t remember – but my mother was definitely coming on her own. I arrived at the designated time, and was seated. My mother was perpetually late, so I expected to wait a bit for her. At some point, my aunt and I were having conversation, always a pleasant experience for me. I’ve said before that I always liked my aunt, and she and I had great fun together. We were talking and sawing through the complimentary Italian bread and olive oil that was brought to the table, and the conversation turned to past events and my mother’s foibles. Somehow, we got onto the topic of my parents’ marriage, and their divorce. I was recounting how I understood how my father would need to get the hell out of that marriage, but I couldn’t understand the way he’d done it, and that he’d left me there to deal with HER. I was telling her that I didn’t understand why he’d stayed as long as he had, and why he just drug out the leaving, because it was so obvious that she had basically lost her mind. She was abusive, to him, and to me, and there was really nothing anybody was going to be able to do about it because she saw nothing wrong with her behavior. I told my aunt that I just couldn’t figure him out, and why he kept leaving and coming back at one point, until I had told him to just stay gone. My aunt got kind of quiet, and we talked about how my mother was convinced that my aunt’s husband – who had died a few years before – was convinced that my father had tried to put the moves on my aunt when my father had gone to Detroit to rescue her when they were much younger. My aunt said, very seriously, your father was NOTHING but a perfect gentleman. Not one inappropriate thing happened, and without his coming to rescue me from a disastrous situation I had gotten myself into, I didn’t know how else I could have come home. He was a big help to me, and did nothing wrong. I think I had always wondered if that was true, and so now I knew. I admit to being slightly and unexpectedly relieved about that, so maybe I had really doubted him. I think my mother may have also been a little suspicious about it as well, but she never admitted that, not to me at least.

So, my aunt and I continued, alternately laughing hysterically about goofy things from the past, and getting serious about other things, like my mother’s mental health issues and her insistence that she wasn’t going to rely on medication for it. Our meals arrived, but our mouths were busy with things other than food, and the conversation continued. My mother called at least three times in between our activity, with some confusing crisis about not being able to start the car after visiting the post office, and I needed to come and get her but AAA was coming and then they came and then the car got started but she had to use the bathroom and didn’t know where to go and … i don’t even know what else. We kept eating, thinking she was going to show up. I was totally enthralled with spending time with my aunt, and the trip down memory lane was giving me tons of information and perspective I hadn’t had before.

Somehow, between the entree’ and dessert, we got back to my father, and I iterated my resentment of the obnoxious woman he’d married. My aunt jokingly called her my step-mother, and I threatened to pull her undigested meal from her stomach in retaliation. We laughed hysterically, because that’s how we rolled together, she and I. That’s why I loved her so much – we were silly together. So, after I said again that I couldn’t figure out why in the hell my father had stayed fifteen years with my mother, after she’d tried to kill him at least once that I witnessed, and was so verbally and emotionally abusive to him. Why didn’t he just go, and end the drama? My aunt looked at me, directly, and she said, “I think that was because of you.”. The world stopped for a minute. My heart stopped for a minute. All the sound in the restaurant went away, and I wasn’t seeing anything. It would never occur to me that anything my father did was because of me. He was never physically, or really even verbally, abusive toward me, but I really did not think he gave a shit about me. He never said different while he was there, but like I have recalled before, none of us were accustomed to saying lovey dovey things to each other. I just really thought he merely tolerated me, didn’t really like me at all, thought I was just a pain in the ass. He was always saying that my mother had “warped the child’s mind against me”. I did side with her, followed her example to make fun of him and belittle him, but I was 12. He was largely absent, she was there, and he didn’t insert himself into anything concerning me. So, I thought I knew what I was doing, and nobody told me any different. What I didn’t realize was that I was the most responsible adult in the family, which is very sad.

Anyway, when my heart started beating again in that restaurant, nothing much had changed. My aunt was taking another sip from her coffee cup, and the wait staff was clearing the dessert plates, and other diners were talking and laughing and nobody had any clue that the world had changed. To hear that my father didn’t hate me, that he hadn’t left me as well as my mother, that he had tried to honor what he felt was a commitment to his child…that. changed. everything. When I was in college, I drank him. I didn’t drink alcohol…I drank HIM. I tried desperately to erase him, to hate him, to overcome the very conscious identity of a reject. Rejected by the very person who gave me life. I would say that all the time, when people asked me why I drank so much. You don’t understand, I would say. You just don’t understand. I didn’t understand – how could anyone else understand that pain in the bottom of my soul, that I wasn’t good enough for even the person who created me to stay. When my aunt opened the door to a new way to see him, and a new way to see how he felt about me, that hatred and rejection just crumpled into the flames of the inferno that was my burning heart.

How could this be? How could I have been so wrong about my father? Could it be this easy to feel less…wrong? It wasn’t instantaneous, but I felt as though the rock wasn’t rolling down the hill and over me so much anymore. It just didn’t feel as though every day was such a steep incline. I felt a little bit lighter, a little bit less incorrect, a bit less damaged. And I did feel so damaged, and unrepairable. A total loss. That conversation with my aunt softened the edges of what I felt were permanently jagged edges in me. It was a totally unexpected bit of resolution for me, and I had not been looking for it. He stayed, and took all that crap from my mother, because of me. Because of me. For a time, I was very angry with my mother, because I saw for the first time how he must have felt, and I understood why he kept saying that she had “warped the child’s mind” against him. I regret that. I grudgingly give myself a break on that because I was only a kid, and he didn’t do anything to bring me closer, but still…I feel a little guilty about it. He and I more or less reconciled before he died, and I had “the talk” with him before that happened. I tell people all the time I have a much better relationship in death than I ever had with him in life. That’s very true, but it sucks. I have a lot of him in me…the avoidance part, and the inability to say no to stuff that’s probably not good for me, or even morally sound. I have a lot of my mother in me, too…and that’s another story, and that’s problematic.

My father was not a mean person. Neither am I. My mother…well…she had her kind moments, but she could be VERY mean. She was mean to him, and she was mean to me. She was mean to my aunt. She was mean to herself. That was her. My father was like me – he never came out of the gate with his dukes up. He’d rather avoid the fight, let you have whatever you wanted, and he’d just let it die down. He had his kind moments, too…but he was morally/ethically a little fleshy. I’m like that. I have done more than a couple of things I knew were unsound, I should have said no, but I did them anyway. I knew they were wrong choices, and sometimes they hurt other people. In at least a few of those cases, I did them because I thought it proved to people that I loved them, and proved to me that I was receiving love. That was all false, and I regret those choices. I wonder if my father regretted his choice to leave and marry this woman, who was so much like my mother, just a little flashier and a little more sure of herself. I experienced her directly, and she was every bit as nuts as my mother, but sexier. She probably flattered my father, who was actually pretty handsome, and I think he was a sucker for that. I can’t say he didn’t love her, but I definitely think he could have done a hell of a lot better. But, she messed with me on a very personal level when I was 17, and…that thing she did for me, I will not forget. Never will I forget. If she made him happy, I’m glad. If she didn’t, she’ll get hers. I think she’ll be getting hers regardless, and that’s not my gig.

So, that conversation with my aunt changed a lot for me. I don’t know if I’d forgotten it until I started writing this or not, but I think it was a fundamental change in my vibration, in my root. I hope that I smile a bit more than I used to, I hope that I know who I am more than I used to. I hope that I’m not as mean as I used to be before I gave up the notion that my father had purposely thrown me away. I hope. I think before I had that conversation, I may have stopped hoping, at least in that innocent way that I did when I thought I wanted to be a roller derby star. Hope had become a desperate endeavor, a constant entreaty to the stars that I be somehow inserted into the stock photo that was captioned “happy couple”. The only flights of fancy I embarked upon were desperate flailing in the rapids, in deep and choppy waters, and I can’t swim. Never learned. I was always drowning and always sure that I was destined to struggle, that life was struggle, that I was destined to struggle and never get any closer to shore no matter what I did. Sometimes I still fell that way, but intellectually I understand that’s a false construct. I understand that when one is drowning in the ocean, and the Coast Guard comes to rescue you, the rescuer will tell you to not struggle and let them handle everything. If you struggle, you’re imperil them and yourself, and they’ll drop you. I keep struggling, because I’m not aware there is any rescuer, or any lifeline, or any helicopter waiting to hoist me to safety. I honestly don’t know if that is a question of faith (or lack thereof), or if I am just not seeing the obvious. I do wish I had learned how to swim, though.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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