Friday, May 29, 2009

Panzer-man, Panzer-man, Oh You

I was reading an essay yesterday that said when you are a writer, even in times of great, personal tragedy there is an awareness that whatever the event is will work its way into your writing someday. This particular article centered around the death of the author's father and how he explored the unknown portions of his father's life after his death, learning much about him, but ulitmately coming up with more questions than answers.
This reminded me of the David Sedaris story "Repeat After Me" in which his sister swears him to secrecy about a particularly embarassing personal story only to have him include it in a story later on. Whenever I am faced with difficulty, I try to remind myself that one day, this will only be a story I tell. To me, this is very encouraging. The stories I tell tell a lot about me and it is very therapeutic to put things in that context. I often try to console friends in that way, telling them that this too shall pass and be spoken of later, probably with laughter.
The more I write - some things to publish here and some things not - the more I find myself compelled to write about things that are uncomfortable. Not so much painful, but just strange. Somehow, I find the oddities of my life fascinating. I look back sometimes and think, "Wow. How the hell did I end up here?"
I did not come from a very together family. My grandparents (my father's parents when I was a child and my mother's parents as a young adult) positively informed much more of my life than either of my parents, especially my father. I have had no contact with my father for the past 18 years, at least. Before then, what interaction there was was spotty and weird. I'm pretty certain he didn't want to be a father. And that's okay. He was young - 16 -, most likely gay, and viewed me as more a rival than someone to love and take care of. I've often said that my life is much better not having had a father if he was the father I was going to get. I truly believe this to be true and it is something I realized at a very young age.
Needless to say, I don't give my father a great deal of thought. He lived in New York City. I knew that. My grandmother - his mother - loved him very much, but she was very honest about him. She used to tell me, "Jennifer, my father was a son-of-a-bitch and your father is a son-of-a-bitch, but he's my son and I love him." Her way of loving people without making excuses for them taught me how to love people unconditionally and honestly.
By and large, it is a remarkably good thing that I had very little to do with my father; that he wanted very little to do with me. Sometimes, when I watch my husband with our children, I am glad that they have a father that is so loving and devoted to them, but I rarely regret that I lacked that. Going along in my grown-up life, trying to take care of my family and myself, my house and garden, I don't spend too much time thinking about anyone in particular, certainly not my father. So, you can imagine my surprise when trying to find a cousin on Facebook, I came upon my father instead. Top of the page.
"Huh?" was my reaction, coupled with this very strange teetering feeling, like swinging back and forth in the seat perched highest on Ferris Wheel. I had very quick thoughts about a potential life with him in it, not as a father, but as an aquaintance and a friend. In his profile picture, I saw my own face. My freckles. My eyes.
I think it must have been something like finding one's birth parents after a lifetime of being adopted. I know who my family is. This man is not it, but still that spark of recognition is a powerful one.
Like, being a piece of the Golden Gate Bridge misplaced in a puzzle of some botanical gardens somewhere. It's not that that is a bad place to be, it's just that you don't fit. And even if by some random dye-cut miracle you find a spot that feels right, the architectural nature of your image is counter to the rest of the verdant landscape.I think your father makes your place in the world. I didn't have that. I made my own place, shoved myself in wherever I could manage to fit.
You see, I never really loved my father. I never really felt anything for him at all. He was just there or not there. Maybe like a fellow traveler on the bus you see every day, then you don't see them. You notice the absence, but don't really wonder why they aren't there. My parents divorced when I was two and I had a series of step-fathers that didn't really want to be my father either.
My grandfathers have always been more father to me than anyone else. My grandmothers more mother. My father's father always sought to protect me from his son. The last time I saw my father, I didn't know he was visiting. I came through the door into my grandparents' kitchen with David behind me and saw someone I didn't recognize. It
was my father, oddly enough as he never came home. My grandfather got up from his chair and inserted himself between my father and me. My father turned and went down the hallway out of sight, but my grandfather stayed there, between me and the empty spot where my father had been. Normally, we would have stayed for hours, but we left that day. It's the only time I ever left my grandparents' house without one of them saying, "Don't go." It was strange, but I can't say that I felt anything.
The next time I saw my father was not at either of my grandparent's funerals, though he did visit Virginia one other time before either of their deaths. No, the next time I saw his face, his picture fell from my grandmother's Bible, just last summer.
It was a school picture. He looked to be 8 or 9. Because he really didn't have anything to do with me, no one had ever taken me on a tour of who he was. I had never really seen pictures of him and still, I can't tell you the difference, most of the time, between a photograph oh him or my uncle as children. But this picture, it was
definitely my father. He looked exactly like my son. And in that moment, I loved him. I loved the bits in him that became bits in me and later, bits in my very own children. I loved him because my grandmother had fiercely guarded her love for him, although he tried his hardest to kill the roots of it in her heart. She loved him how
I love my children, I think. And I loved that I learned that from her through how horrible he was. It was a small price.
When I found his Facebook page, it was like standing at a doorway at the edge of an abyss. I could jump and fall and hope I landed somewhere better or I could step back, close the door and walk away. Even though I knew I should close the door, I couldn't help but linger. I got brave and did an Internet search for his name. I saw his address and telephone number, his MySpace page and even read an autobiography of himself posted somewhere. It didn't include me and painted a very different picture of his parents than the people I'd seen. That hurt my heart. And after listening to a few of his songs on MySpace, I closed the door and walked away. What could have been wasn't and never will be. The sooner I remind myself of that, the better.
It's just that every now and again I get nostalgic. And nostalgia is always made up of things that are nice. I want to walk a familiar landscape, know people that knew people I miss, be in a group that when we laugh, it all runs together because we all learned to smile from the same sets of lips. I was abandoned by my father and abandoned my mother. I am adrift. Or sometimes I feel like it.
Until I remember my husband, my two sons and my daughter and think to the future and my vision of my happiest moments to be, standing at the front door with cars filling my driveway, rubbing the flour from my hands, opening my arms to surrender more of the love that made life worth living, without thinking about everything I went without, only about all the abundance I have.


Jennifer said...

I often feel like I don't know what to say after I read your posts. You have a much better feel for how to maneuver through these difficult things than I do, and I'm reading as much to learn about myself as I am to learn about you.

I didn't really know you in school, but I did know David, and I can see that he found exactly the right person to love him and to love back - that the sweetness you both have is surely enough most days to help you close that door and walk away.

Thank you for including me in your writing. I'm really grateful.

Jill said...

awesome... just awesome.

Bobbie said...

A mutual friend, Derrick, pointed my way to your blog, and I'm glad he did. I love the "uncomfortable" aspects of your writing. I was close to my own father for most of my life, yet never believed he was perfect. I see his flaws as clearly now, five years after his death, as I did while he was living. I never learned to paint him with prettier colors after he was gone. I think we are as much a product of our families' worm-eaten pages as we are of its staying-in-the-lines loveliness. And as close as I feel to my family at times, at others, when I'm baffled by how screwed up we are, I'm grateful to have my own husband and children to "get it right" with. It's always felt like betrayal for me to admit that--still does, I suppose. But if I can admit to the story that makes up my past, how can I hope to create any kind of story for my future. Thanks for a beautiful essay.

nokindofperson said...

thanks to y'all! and to derrick.
i love comments. i love mining other blogs for good reads as well.
i admit it's a bit odd being very self-revelatory without any feedback - even when feedback is not my raison d'etre.
thanks for taking the time.

David said...

Being a Father myself- yours was a selfish prick.