childhood, lessons, reflections, texas

on telling my stories

According to my brother (who may or may not have accurate information, and I’m not ready to verify it, for reasons that should become clear), my father didn’t talk to me during my recent trip because he’s upset that the stories I told during my last trip “made him look like a redneck in front of his brothers and embarrassed him.”

Okay.

Let’s put aside that I’m not the sort of person (or at least I’m no longer the sort of person) who tells stories for the purpose of embarrassing someone.

This is a 65-year-old man we’re talking about. He couldn’t have said something to me at the time? Or during the dozens of phone calls we’ve had since?

[I say this to my therapist and to a close friend, and they both say, Yes, but you’re sober. He’s not. And even though I know they’re right, I’m still angry that after all these years it’s me who has to be think the grown-up thoughts, me who has the ability to voice my emotions as they happen and not hold on to them until they fester into a smoldering ball that leaves me mute and searing silence into my father’s ears for four days.]

Or maybe he could have taken a step back and thought about why those are the stories I tell.

***

To me, they aren’t bad stories or redneck stories. True, they aren’t stories of growing up in suburbia with a manicured lawn and a dad who comes home from work wearing a tie and carrying a briefcase. But we didn’t have that kind of dad, and we didn’t have that kind of life. And I can’t make up stories about a life I never had.

We had parents who probably never should have gotten married. My mother was (and probably still is, since these things don’t go away) mentally ill. My father had (and still does) have a drinking problem; I won’t call him an alcoholic because he’s the only one who can determine that, but I don’t remember a time when he didn’t have a beer in his hand. They fought a lot, and there was lots of abuse to go around: physical, emotional, and (after I moved in with my mother) sexual.

The stories I tell are the ones I consider funny, the good times. They are wacky and often strange (like the time my dad drove from Texas to Chicago with the three of us in the bed of a pickup truck with only a basic shell covering us), but they are better stories than the time I remember him drop-kicking my brother across the room or the times my brother would crawl into bed with me because my parents were arguing violently and he wanted me to tell him everything would be okay. The story about my dad not wanting to buy a taller ladder and instead propping the one we had up on the picnic table (and trouble ensuing when the first big wind came along) is better than the time I won a seat in the San Antonio Youth Symphony Orchestra…but he wouldn’t let me accept it because it would be too much driving.

I tell these stories because each of them highlights some characteristic of my dad I didn’t understand at the time but that I value now. So when my therapist tells me I’m tenacious or resourceful or able to find solutions to problems that other people would walk away from, it’s because of all those quirky stories. So if my any of my uncles dared to call my dad a redneck because if any of them, I’d first of all wish them good luck in the zombie apocalypse (because my dad would totally outlive them) and second of all tell them to shove it. Because those experiences made me who I am, allowed me to survive like a cockroach when none of them lifted a finger, and they just don’t know what out lives were like. Plus, I’d say shame on them for treating their brother like that.

***

I’m supposed to be packing right now. Instead I’m writing this and crying. And I’m hungry. I have instant oatmeal and canned beans, but guess who was a genius and packed up all of her pots and pans, can opener, and electric kettle in the stuff that went to storage yesterday?

I’ll go to the 99¢ pizza place around the corner if I can stop crying.

I’m just so sad that my dad can’t understand why I’d be telling those stories. Or maybe I’m sad because after all these years of trying to have a relationship with him, trying to get back a tiny bit of what was stolen from us, I’m realizing we won’t ever have that.

Or maybe I’m crying because everyone is right: I’m the one who’s sober and he’s not. So he probably sees these stories as an indictment of his character. But they happened. I’m sorry, but those are the things he did. I’m not making them up. And they are my stories too. I’m entitled to tell them. If they make him uncomfortable, that’s unfortunate, because (a) that’s not my intention in the least and (b) I actually don’t think his brothers think any less of him because I tell stories.

***

I don’t shut down or build up resentments (or, if I do, I let them go) when I see my dad treating my brother’s son way better than he ever treated mine. When my older son was born, he didn’t get handmade building blocks or a wooden toy box. My kids don’t get phone calls on their birthdays (I doubt my dad would know when my younger son’s birthday is every year if I didn’t call to tell him).

I don’t know what it’s like to be invited home (or anywhere, for that matter) for Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, at least not from his side of the family, and my mother’s side disowned me in 1999—which is a very long time not to have somewhere to go. I haven’t gotten a Christmas present in that long, either, more or less. The past few years my dad sends a gift card to somewhere and my kids may buy me a bag of candy. I get a few cards. I go see a movie on Christmas Day, bringing the boys (or, lately, just one) with me if they/he are/is around.

In past years I’ve given quite a bit. This is the first year I won’t be. Because when I’m sitting in my room crying, hoping I make enough money tomorrow for a Uhaul on Monday and running through contingency plans in my head if I don’t (I actually lost money today, paying $2.75 each way on the subway to sit for 8 hours and earn $0)… giving people stuff is the last thing on my mind.

***

I don’t know why I can’t stop crying.

I don’t know if it’s the thing with my dad (and, if so, which part?).

Or being generally overwhelmed by life.

Or being scared by what’s to come.

Or being tired of feeling alone.

Or feeling as though the entire period from 1973 through today has been one big crying spurt, only occasionally interrupted by good things.

***

Yesterday my therapist called me resourceful and resilient.

I told her I had no choice. She said she disagreed.

Maybe I do have a choice. But I can’t figure out what the other option would be. Going to bed and crying and waiting until the marshal gets here to evict me and letting them pack up all my stuff? (That actually sounds like a good idea…) Not looking for a solution? Who flounders like that?

See… what my dad thinks he should be ashamed of has created a daughter he would be proud of. If he ever paid attention to anything I was fumbling my way through, that is.

I’ll stop with the rambling now. The cheap pizza place closes soon.

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