Sunday, December 18, 2011

For R.

Recently the man who served as the first father figure I had passed away suddenly in his sleep. I didn't talk much about it at the time because it's such an odd situation.
See, he wasn't a very good father to me and most of the memories I have of him are marred by alienation, sadness and fear.

I try to put myself in his shoes. A divorced father of one child marrying a young widow with five children.
I really don't think R knew what he was getting into.

I was a baby when my dad died. I hold no memories of him, just a void. When my mom and R married I think he hoped I would be like his own child. I think in his mind we would all become HIS children. HIS family. But unlike me my siblings had memories of our father. They had grief and sadness over his loss and mile-high walls between them and this man trying to take his place. Although I lacked the memory of a father I was fiercely loyal to my siblings and if they wouldn't accept R then neither would I. In response to our resistance, R could have offered patient unconditional love. I often wonder how differently things might have been had this been his reaction. Instead he quickly grew resentful and angry. The smallest comment or perceived show of disrespect would set him off. In addition to the stress of walking on pins and needles around R, I was also dealing with the effects of another form of abuse at the hands of a family friend. As a result of the severe stress I was under I developed gastritis in the seventh grade. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's excruciating and feels like you have a stomach full of battery acid.
Long story short, I was one messed up girl.

My mom and R were married until I was in my early teens, though they slept in separate rooms for several years before their official divorce.
The last few years R seemed to resign himself to the fact that divorce was inevitable. He basically avoided us until the house finally sold and then moved into a small condo.
After almost 14 years in the same house we were virtual strangers.

So I was surprised at how emotional I was when my mom called to tell me that he was gone. We hadn't spoken in years and other than my half-sister I had no connection to him. But all the same I cried for him.
I cried because he was alone at his death. I cried because I think he must have had moments of clarity in which he was able to see that his life was not what he wanted it to be. I wonder why he didn't try to change or if he did and I just wasn't around to see. I cried because I hold a vivid memory that haunts me now.
He had threatened to leave (which he did a lot) but after he and my mom had it out he began to unpack and as always we were right back where we started. Nothing ever seemed to change. This uneasy peace would settle over our house, but never happiness or contentment, just temporary peace.
I was so sick of it all, so I did something totally out of character. I told him.
"No one wants you here. We would all be happier if you just left."
For a moment I couldn't breath. Then his whole body seemed to sag as he turned away from me and quietly said,
"I know, Mich."
No anger or rage, just defeat. I knew he wasn't a threat to me anymore. I didn't feel anger or fear, I just felt sadness. I realized that he might be even lonelier than me.

As I get older I think I understand him a little better. Maybe even empathize with him a little.
Did he make mistakes? No question.
But as an adult I realize the complexity of a marriage, of family.
I was a kid consumed by her own thoughts, feelings and experiences. Just as he channeled his frustration and anger at me, I blamed all of my hurt (regardless the actual source) on him. I realize now that what I remember of my childhood is probably vastly different from that of my siblings, my mom or R. I remember a God-awful road trip with nine people shoved in a van with no AC and Simon and Garfunkel blaring. R probably remembered a time when things looked hopeful and we were a family.

To R.
I am sorry for all the things I said or did to make your life harder or intentionally hurt you. I forgive you for lashing out at me and I forgive you for giving up. I am sorry for resenting you all those years. I hope you found peace.