Thursday, March 11, 2010
Years passed and my mother and I grew closer. She was focused on raising me as best she could despite the fact that my father was absent from the home. My father was coming to see us less often and often those visits would produce long periods of time that I would question what my father's role was in my life and why, if he loved me so much, was he gone. My mother always told me that they grew apart, that there were circumstances that happened and they could no longer live together. She told me that she still loved him and always would because he was my father and without him she would not have me. I knew that I was important to my mother. There was no denying that, it was evident in everything she was. But as I was heading into the meat of the teenage years, my 15 year old mind could not understand what was so bad, what was so difficult about working out your differences to raise a child with both parents. I was beginning to feel anger towards my father, not because of anything my mother said or did, but because I could not get a straight answer out of him as to why he was not in our home. He was vague when I talked to him, he never really had all that much to say. So I spent many hours with my mom asking questions, telling her how I felt about it all and often crying out of frustration that my heart was so confused and hurt. Chalk it up to hormones and the teen angst syndrome, but for whatever reason I began to take things out on the one that I loved the most, Pretty Sande. I began to rebel, I began to disrespect her, I was heading for trouble and I did not care. I wasn't a horrible teenager, but I was sneaky and dishonest about where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. I began on a little downward hill that would become a giant slalom with so many gates to maneuver through it is a wonder that I ever made it down in one piece.
I never really hung out with the wrong crowd. As a matter of fact I was the kind of person who could hang with any crowd be it jocks, geeks, beauties or stoners, I was able to associate with any and all people. I was overweight, not by a lot but I was not the girl that everyone wanted to date, so my humor went a long way when it came to socializing. I was always looking for acceptance among my peers because in high school a lot of who you are is based on looks and body image. I was cute by most standards, but having extra weight meant that I was a better friend than girlfriend. I was at the popular parties, at the football games, at the social dances and quite involved with drama. I kept active in sports playing both racquetball and softball for my school and I was a high B average in my studies. I give all the credit to my mother for those accomplishments because she was the one who was always there cheering me on no matter the event. Softball was as much a passion for her as it was for me, she could never understand how I moved so fast and accurately in racquetball, she told me that I was smarter than she ever was when it came to school and what joy she got from seeing me on a stage. She again, was always my champion and told me often that I could do anything that I put my mind to, that I could accomplish anything. I was so fortunate to have that, but like most teenagers I took it for granted and began to take out my anger, disappointment, and sadness on my mother.
As I said, I saw less and less of my father through these years, but my mom was fantastic about keeping in touch with family. At least every other month we would take about a two hour drive into Illinois to visit my paternal grandfather and various aunts, uncles and cousins. I liked my father's side of the family. There were great stories, great food and always lots of laughter. My favorite times were when my aunts would begin to tell about the wild side that my mother had, something I did not ever see. My mom was funny, outgoing, personable and well liked, but she was a homebody. In all my formative years I never saw my mother go on a date, have any parties at our house except the family during holidays, or go out with the girls (well maybe when I was really little and did not know it) because she was always with me. So to hear the tales of when she was dancing on a table, sneaking out at night to cruise the strip or drinking shots with the boys well past the the point of tipsy was always a treat for me, if for nothing else to see her squirm and try to silence her fans to evade questions from me on the long drive home. I enjoyed visiting with my extended family and I got along great with my long distance cousins. But it was at that familiar table in my aunt's kitchen that our world, meaning my mother and I, changed in one sentence.
I was 16 and on that particular day I was getting along with my mom very well. We were talking and enjoying the cold cut spread that was familiar and always welcomed. The talk was about family and all the funny and crazy people in it. Someone started talking about my father and there was some banter about how he was not keeping in touch with my mother and I as often as he used to. Then, out of one of their mouths came this sentence:
"Well, he has his hands full with A and T." Now, I had always heard names in conversations that I did not recognize because, like in any family, there were so many cousins, second cousins and so on that sometimes it is just hard to keep track of who everyone is. I did not notice the silence that fell on my other aunts and my mother, I was just curious as to whom they were talking about. My grandfather was there, sitting behind me and he was also very quiet. I looked at one of them and I asked, "Who is A and T? Some long lost cousins that I have never met?" At that moment I knew that I had asked a loaded question because now everyone in the room was silent, most were looking down at the table and only a couple were looking at me...and their mouths were dropped open. No one said anything. "What's going on? Why is everyone so quiet?" Still no answer. "Wow! A and T mush be some really crazy relatives if you all do not want to talk about them..." Still nothing. I looked at my mother and she was in a state of shock. Now I was worried. I had never seen such a look of desperation on her face, she looked like she wanted to talk but if she did she may just throw up if she opened her mouth. I glanced at my grandfather and he could not even look at me. Everyone else was just frozen, it was a stark change from the minutes before when everyone was laughing and reminiscing.
"What is going on?" I asked again, almost panicking at the thought of what was so horrible.
"A and T are your brother and sister from your dad's marriage to Judy."
"Judy who?" Some one told me that was my dad's wife. "He has other kids?" I asked to myself but it must have been loud enough for everyone to hear because my aunt replied, "Yes he does." "What?! My dad has another family?" No one wanted to answer that one. The mood had shifted from lighthearted to brokenhearted. I could feel all those eyes on me at that moment. Even my cousin, who's parents had been trough a bitter divorce battle that very year, was looking at me with that 'Oh, I am so sorry look'.
"How long has he been married?" I asked with no emotion in my voice. No one could look at me, they all realized that I had no idea that he was living with his new family, his new wife, in his new life . "How long mom?" I asked her point blank. I felt sick, I almost did not want to know the answer. I could not believe my ears and my head was starting to hurt because I was screaming internally. "Mom, how long has dad been married?" She was strong and looked me in the eyes.
"He married Judy right after our divorce." I could not breath, my heart started to pound, I am sure I was looking shell shocked and I felt like someone had just hit me in the gut with a baseball bat.
"So, he's been married all this time? My whole life he has been married?" Those questions came out of my mouth like screeches from an owl. " How old are his kids?" Oh, the tension in that room was thick. No one moved. No one spoke. No one looked at me. Everyone was feeling like an ass and did not know what in the hell to say. My mother again was to only one to speak up.
"His son is 4 and his daughter is a year old."
'Oh really, he has a daughter? Another daughter?' is what I was thinking to myself. I sat there among his family, his kin and they were all realizing that he had never given me the respect that I deserved by telling me that he was married for 13 years!!!! 'What a Lie, what a coward, what a dick!' I was thinking to myself. So many thoughts ran through my head that I could not keep track of them all. Everything changed that day, all that I knew and thought was a big lie. And it was apparent that everyone in that room knew except me.
"When were you going to tell me? I am pretty sure I asked before if you and he would get married again. I know I have asked that before." She took a deep breath, looked around the room almost mentally wishing them all to leave so she could have this conversation in private.
"I told him a million times to tell you. I wanted him to tell you when you were little, but he thought it would be best to tell you later..." I did not let her finish.
"Later? Like now? Here? In front of a room of people who already knew and have been keeping quiet all this time? When do you think he would have told me if I did not hear it here?"
This was obviously a question that she would like to know the answer to as well as me, and she did not try to answer it for him.
" I don't know sweetheart." Her eyes were welling up with tears. "Have all of you known this?" The silence answered my question. "Well, I guess there are things that I do not know about my own life. I can't believe no one said anything to me", I said looking around the room. My grandfather was motionless. I could tell that he was hurt, that he was at that moment so disappointed in his son, so disappointed in himself.
We did not stay long after that. Usually our visits there would extend into the early evenings before we would say farewell. That day I think we were gone within an hour of the secret being released. It was a long drive home, filled with tears, yelling, disgust, confusion and most of all, disappointment. I was pissed that I had been lied to for so long. That my father came to visit us, slept in my mother's bed, told me he missed me and all the while knew that he had a wife to go home to. I was pissed that my mom didn't tell me, but I totally understood why she was wanting my father to tell me. He was the one who left, he was the one who got remarried, he was the one responsible for his actions so he should have the balls to tell me what his life was like. I remember when she would answer the phone at his house and when I asked who that was, he would tell me a friend. I felt like my whole identity had been ripped from me and everything that I knew about my parents and their life together had been a lie. And all those people in that room that knew, who understood the consequences of that moment when that sentence was uttered, they all knew that the afternoon was taking turn for the worse. I was so embarrassed, I was so shocked and I was so hurt by it all. By everyone that was there. I knew that they were trying to protect me from pain, but hiding it from me was worse than just telling me the truth. I was ashamed for being so naive, so stupid! The signs were there and I never saw them. I was gullible in my thoughts, gullible in what I saw in my father up to that point, I was gullible to never have asked the right questions that would lead to the truth. I was so livid that I really cannot remember what the conversation was driving back to St. Louis, it is all a blur.
What wasn't a blur was the next day when I sat down with my mother and started asking some questions. She held nothing back because these were the questions that she WANTED to answer about my father. In our discussion, it was revealed that he was having an affair with a gal from work. Oh, it gets better. My mother found out about the two of them from me! I was three and one day driving around I said very happily ... "There's Honey's house!" My mother said she thought I was talking something crazy about Whinny the Pooh and did not think anything of it, until she asked, "Who is Honey?" To which I replied, "You know, dad calls her Honey." And that was the moment that my mother found out that Phil had been unfaithful. Nice way to hear about it, from your three year old daughter. See, she realized that he had taken me to her house to spend time with her when she was sure he was supposed to be somewhere else. Then she realized that I was with her, in her house. My mother was a woman scorned in every sense of the word, I mean, her own child just told her that daddy was with another woman! But she handled it with grace and her head held high. She let him go so that she could keep life somewhat normal for me. She took her responsibility as a single mother in the world and she was doing a great job, just a wonderful mother.
But, even though she was remarkable and strong, she would have to see her daughter through a deep depression that lasted for years. It took me a long, long time to come to grips with my father and his behavior. I took it very personally and internalized so much of my anger, guilt and self loathing. Yes, I took the blame for it all because I did not know any better. IN my head I was thinking that I was not good enough for him to stay, not good enough for my own father to be honest with me, not good enough to want to know. I went into treatment for depression and this was when my mother got really scared that she was going to loose me. She was devastated that this had all come to the ugly head that it was and she too was feeling guilty for standing by her convictions that it was my father's responsibility to tell me of his other life, his other family. I was not mad at her, I was clearly f-ed up because of his lies and deceit. But she took it just as hard as I did in guilt. She felt so guilty that it happened the way it did, that I was embarrassed the way I was and that she could not find a way to tell me before that fateful day. She also could not find a way to help me deal with it all, and that was a first. She was always able to help me with anything, but this was beyond her. It was well beyond what she was ready for and beyond what she could have imagined. She watched as I self destructed into a very lonely, sad, depressed girl who was heartbroken by the only man she had ever loved in her life. Sande felt awful, and she had to send me to treatment to get the help that I needed.
Next time, the renewal of my soul, and the comfort of our relationship returns even better than it was before. Followed by the biggest challenge in either of our lives so far...adoption.