I have been fighting writing this post for over a week. I’m fighting it right now. In all seriousness, I can not imagine any possible present, future, or past for myself that does not include this fight. And even now, I’m avoiding writing this by talking about not wanting to write it.
I would rather make out with Godzilla than talk about this. However, it is easier to talk about my dad than my mom, so I’ll start here.
As a small child, I was crazy close to my dad. He took me to Phillies games, Flyers games, taught me to fish, bought me a baseball glove and taught me to not “throw like a damn girl.” He pressured me into riding roller coasters and climbing trees. He taught me to set points, gap spark plugs, and the joy of big block 70’s engines.
He taught me the importance of lying to my mother as he turned the floor of the mouldering shed in our backyard into his own personal nightcrawler plantation. (Those, in this context, mean big fishing worms-not zombies)
He took me to the ballpark, and really he made an extra effort to get tickets if my personal hero “Super” Steve Carlton was pitching. We would meet his work friends at the Vet. He introduced me to them as ‘his first-born son.’ Many years later, one of his car pool buddies was astonished to find out that I was, and had always been a girl.
He would take me on camp-outs in the Great Pine barrens of New Jersey. We canoed in the cedar waters there, and at times, I would give anything to smell that strange cedar water smell.
He taught me the ‘right’ way to eat a hot dog: mustard, sauerkraut, onion, if you felt bold.
From him, I learned to shut up and walk it off, to shut up and eat, to shut up and leave the stupid doll at home-we were going camping for chrissake.
Maybe this doesn’t sound too bad. Reading it, it doesn’t sound that bad. But I wanted to try to look at the good stuff first. It was that bad.
On his best day, he was volatile. He would scream, hit, punch, and swear. He threw stuff. It remember him throwing a long-handled pipe wrench at my head when I was about 8. Because I was too weak to break a seal on an outdoor shower. I felt like that was fair of him to do. After all, he had to stop brazing pipe to break the seal, and that meant he had to start all over.
He would unpredictably throw food from the dinner table, refusing to eat things he said were ‘ugly.’
But I really believe that he tried his level best to make me into ‘something.’ But the something he was trying to make from the wet, unformed clay of my childhood had nothing to do with who I was or am.
I was supposed to be the ‘smart kid’ in our family. My mother, it was generally acknowledged, was fairly dumb, and my sister was an unpleasant enigma, to both me and my father. She stuck fast to my mother, and my mother favored her to the point that both sets of grandparents were critical. But my mother and sister both had the sense to hide from him.
Me? I ran to him. Every time. So mine were the black eyes, mine was the eternal role of disappointing him. And being told about it. It was I who unwittingly took him up on his countless questions, ‘Do you want something to cry about?’ ‘Why are you acting like a spoiled little girl?’ ‘Are you looking for something to be afraid of?’
Some smart kid, huh?
There is a lot more, of course. A lot more. But I’m going to stop here. This is more of a start than I thought possible, but hopefully less than will give me a week-long meltdown.