Friday, February 26, 2010

grateful for what i have and where i am

a post from the archives, as i'm in a similar place of rewriting and reworking 7 Days:

february 29, 2008

i started reworking my book about my dad this month and the progress has been pretty good. it’s hard to know what’s the right thing to write, what i should leave in, what should be left out and sometimes even knowing what i’m comfortable writing.

i’m going back and forth between my dad’s childhood and the way he was raised and the effect it had on him as an adult and then as a parent. and then it forces me to talk about how all of that affected how i was raised, how i chose to receive the parenting i got from him and how i raised myself in his absence during the week.

my dad was a weekend dad from the time my parents got divorced until i was fourteen. that’s when my mom decided i was too hard to handle and that my dad needed to take the reigns as the non-fun parent with all the rules. it was quite a change from what i’d been used to from my dad as a parent.

i was excited to move in with my dad because i’d always had fun when escaping to his house for the weekend. only it wasn’t weekend dad's anymore. he noticed things like what time i got home from school and whether or not i’d done homework. it was like he was talking to my mom...learning tricks of the trade or something.

with my dad’s new-found interest in my life outside of tagging along with him to friday through sunday softball, i found it hard to like him as much as i had before i moved in. he wanted to know where i’d been, who i’d been with, what i’d been doing, and why i got back so late. the prying into my personal life was invasive, at best.

even though i was no longer living with my mom—and more importantly, her boyfriend—the issues that had been created while i did live there still lingered. since my dad didn’t get home from work until after 6pm on most nights, i had to go to my mom’s after school. only, my mom didn’t get home until after 5pm, which meant i shared empty space with steven from the time i got there until my mom came home.

after the hawaii incident, he didn’t touch me at all. he still looked at me like i belonged on in a section of playboy without words, and he still made inappropriate comments from time to time. but i could live with that, as long as he didn’t touch me anymore. only, my dad didn’t know about any of that yet.

at fourteen, i felt like an adult. i’d had my own key to the house out of necessity of letting myself in since i’d been in first grade. i’d been stealing my dad’s truck at least once a week and taught myself to drive a stick in doing so since i was thirteen. i’d had sex by then, and while i understand much more about it all now, i really thought i had a handle on the world and people and knew how things should work.

i’d had the example of an alcoholic single mom who divorced a man she loved but didn’t want to be married to; who divorced another man who decided that he wanted to be with another woman; and who refused to marry a man who probably cheated on her numerous times (and what of his thoughts and actions with me?) but she couldn’t bear the thought of another failed relationship. so she stayed, portraying misery as the foundation of any relationship worth having.

i’d been drunk on numerous occasions and smoked more pot between the ages of twelve and fourteen than i ever have after. i’d tried lsd, coke, and speed but only stuck to speed (due to the ease of acquiring it, even when i did have to pay for it). i’d been arrested five times before i turned fifteen.

i was sure i was all grown up.

and in all of this, i was still fourteen. i was still three years away from getting my driver’s license. i was still four years shy of being able to vote. seven years short of legally being able to drink. only two years away from losing my mom (as it turned out) and becoming more adult than i ever could have imagined. at fourteen, even with all my experience, i was still a child; still in need of parenting. only my dad just didn’t know how.

his father left his mother for another woman when my dad was a teenager. his step dad beat him with a stick that my dad had to go find himself in the yard. the navy showed my dad how to smoke pot (or at least, his fellow seamen did), so even though he earned a free education on the GI Bill, it almost went to waste because he smoked pot and played softball more than he went to class. luckily he was somewhat of a genius and ended up with a degree in history, which he never had the confidence to use.

as told by my dad, he muddled through his twenties, thirties, and even forties unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. he was a good man though, aside from all his faults and absentee parenting he received as a child. he found a way at some point to salvage something of fatherhood and began to take care of me. i didn’t realize he was doing it at the time--i thought he was just trying to piss me off. turns out he knew a little more than me.

turns out we’re not always the bad part of what our parents taught us. my dad never beat me. my dad only loved me. i was able to escape alcoholism because of my awareness of my mom and grandfather never fully getting a handle on it. my dad was extremely patient with me as i began to reveal the details of the (my) “relationship” with my mom’s boyfriend. in the end, i think he internalized too much of the blame and may have been part of what caused his death. i’m not saying guilt causes cancer, but the toxins that it does create certainly don’t maintain a pure environment for the body—guilt certainly doesn’t provide energy for the immune system to fight off even a cold, let alone the cancer that overtook his body for death in just fourteen months time.

my parents spent most of their lives trying to escape their respective childhoods (and maybe their adulthoods, as well). my mom and her abusive father. my dad and his abusive step-father. the drugs and bad relationships. the always trying to please everyone but themselves. they spent their whole lives trying to escape instead of trying to let go.

and still, here i am. in all this realization of lives and loss and regret and remorse and letting go of things i never knew i was holding onto, i still have so much more to learn, so much more to let go of. like the idea that my parents were perfect, just because they’re dead. they were parents and they were human. and if not for how they raised me, i would not be who i am today. and so, all i can do is be grateful. i wish it were as easy as it sounds.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Up the Stairs

I recently had a hard drive crash and lost a the last few months worth of work on the book. I'm not dwelling on it, and in fact it gives me a chance to start afresh with a new direction I'm taking. Up until recently, the focus of 7 Days has been mainly on my father and how his death and grieving for him impacted me. That's still a great focus, but I felt it important to introduce some of the details about my mom's death and its impact on me in order to give texture and context to my mind-frame as my father's illness unfolded.

This is an excerpt of a draft I'm working on right now, with those things in mind.

Up The Stairs.

I was the only one who knew whose things were whose. Before everything was cleaned up they had me go back to the townhouse so I could say yes, this was my mom’s, no this isn’t. Steven was in jail and my grandparents wanted to make sure they got everything of hers before Steven’s brother came to get his things. How would he know? His brother had never been to the house in my eight years of knowing Steven.

I remember walking into the house. Coldness overtook me and I trembled at the door. To the right at the entrance were the stairs to the second level. At the top on the left, a door to my mom’s bedroom. Straight ahead, the hallway to my old bedroom. A linen cabinet and closet on the left, just before my bedroom at the end of the hall. It had become Michael's room after I left. He was in that room when all the chaos took place, just two and a half years old.

My grandmother wanted me to get things of Michael’s, things of mine from the bedroom. In order to get there I’d have to walk past my mom’s bedroom. I summoned all my strength. I walked to the stairs and began to climb, one foot ahead of the other. As I ascended, the opening to the lower level became smaller and smaller. And when I reached the halfway point, where the railing met the wall of the bedroom, my legs gave out. I slipped. I fell just one step back and landed on my hands and knees. I was too weak to continue. I sat there and cried until my grandmother met me on the stairs to help me down and tell me it was okay. All I could tell her was, “I’m sorry.”

I felt weak. I felt like a failure. I had been asked to do something, and I had failed. I couldn’t complete a simple task to go up a single flight of stairs and pass a closed door to get to the belongings of my two-year-old brother. I feared they would always see me as weak little Dian, who couldn’t even get halfway up the stairs without falling to her knees.

At times I still regret not going up there. But I couldn’t pass that bedroom. I couldn’t even get half way up the stairs. My father had warned me that the bedroom hadn’t been cleaned up yet. The bedroom had been a crime scene. I told my father I could walk past the room if he closed the door, but in the end, I was too weak. I didn’t have to see anything to know what went on in that room, and I couldn’t bring myself to be on the same level as Steven or my mom when those four shots were fired.

There were no shots fired during the last seven days of my father’s life. But the constant beeping of the heart monitors was enough to drive me near mad.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

letter to mom: march 26, 2008

this is a repost from a couple of years ago. i'm writing a new letter later today and thought it appropriate to share this one again, for context and contrast.

dear mom,

my life is so much different from when you knew me. all i could do back then was try to please you. i know it was hard to tell with the running away, the arrests, the disrespect i showed you on a daily basis when you were still alive. but in all that, i wanted you to notice me. i wanted you to protect me. i wanted you to teach me. i wanted you to love me.

we watched baseball together and i learned your love of the game, win or lose. we laughed together and i learned your sense of humor, both filtered and raw. we talked like mother, like daughter, like friends, like enemies, and i learned that nowhere and everywhere was safe within those bonds.

i listened to how you searched for your father's love and never got it because you were a girl. i listened as you denied your alcohol consumption that night you passed out after i tasted your vodka flavored lemonade and watched you pour a bottle of smirnoff down the kitchen sink the next morning. i watched you teach me that appearances are more important than telling the truth. i watched you teach me that telling the truth does no good when the person i'm telling doesn't want to hear it. i watched you teach me that i don't need to tell the truth if people will believe a lie.

my life now does not mirror my life then. my life now only expresses my life then. i've learned so much from your life, from the things you did right, from the things i wish you'd done differently, from the things that impressed me so much that i’d have you do them the same, no matter the consequence.

let me tell you what i remember, so you can see through my eyes.

i love that you took care of me when i was sick, that you came home for lunch to check on me and feed me soup and take my temperature (and probably to make sure i was really there). i love that you took me to dodger games. i love that you got excited at the prospect of talking to steve yeager on kabc radio one morning while getting ready for work. i love that you baked my birthday cake more often than not. i love that you took me to brandi fernandez's funeral and told me that there was never a good enough reason for suicide.

i remember walking down the railroad tracks by our condo and we talked about school and how you were disappointed with the previous year's grades. i told you i would bring them up in the coming year, and you told me you didn't believe me. maybe that would've worked if i believed in myself. but i was relying on you to believe in me. without you, i couldn't believe in myself. the scar from that day is still visible, palpable in my soul, my actions, my heart. i wonder if it will ever fully heal.

i remember sitting on the couch the weekend before you died. pomeranian on one side of you, me on the other. we talked about nothing in particular, but i remember beaming inside...feeling like you finally looked at me like a real person. like i wasn't just your daughter, but someone whose thoughts and feelings you cared about because they were relevant, not because you felt obligated by family relation. you talked to me about your relationship with steven and i talked about life in placement. you didn't judge me, you didn't scold me, you just listened. i will always be grateful for the moments we shared on that couch. especially because they were the last.

i've gone through graduations and first loves, getting hired and fired, moving and moving and moving some more...i've gotten a driver's license, i've bought and sold cars, i've voted...i've loved, had my heart broken and broken hearts...i've lied, i've cheated, i've stolen...i've learned, been humbled, been forgiven...i've fallen behind, gotten ahead, and kept up with the crowd...i've been depressed, overwhelmed and felt like i would never recover...i've laughed, i've shared, i've given everything of myself and expected both nothing and everything in return...all in all, mom, i've lived. and you missed it.

for much of my twenties i resented you for missing my life. for not being here for the big things. you weren't here when i signed my first lease on an apartment. when i got my first raise. when i got into my first car accident. and i resented you for not being here for the little things. you weren't here when i came home from work exhausted after my first real night shift working the counter at mcdonald's when i needed encouragement and a soft ear to listen to all my complaints about why it was so hard. when i bought my first set of couches. when i dropped off my first set of clothes at the dry cleaners. it's the little things i missed that you never got to be a part of.

you used to send flowers to grandma just because. and you took that away from me. you would drop by grandma & grandpa's for dinner on a whim because you wanted to talk about what was going on in your life with them. you took that away from me. you would answer the phone when grandma called every other night just to chat about what little old ladies who play bridge and drink wine all day chat about with their daughters. you took that away from me.

so many nights i had dinner alone and wished i could've invited you over. so many nights i watched baseball alone and wished i could have called you after a great play. so many nights i missed you and your voice and the way you always knew the right thing to say, even if it was nothing at all, and i wished i could call you. you took that away from me. you took it all away by staying.

after you died i dreaded dreaming about you because i hated waking up from those dreams. i hated that the only time i could see you was when you weren't really there. i hated that you left me. i hated that you stayed with him. i hated that he killed you...that you killed yourself. i have no doubt that you didn't point the gun at yourself. but you stayed with him. you knew what kind of man he was: the kind of man to touch your daughter. and if that wasn't enough to leave him, then i guess nothing short of dying in a gun battle in your bedroom was going to do it.

i wouldn't let anyone talk bad about you because you weren't here to defend yourself. i wouldn't even allow myself to openly be angry with you, to openly resent you. but i was angry with you. i did resent you. you didn't protect me, and that made me angry. i expected you to react to steven the way you reacted to grandpa that night you told him off. remember?

i called you after grandpa yelled at me, had me backed into a corner crying, telling me i was good for nothing, that i would never amount to anything, that i would end up just like my mother. i didn't know what he meant; i was scared and confused. i called you and when you got to the house, you told me to go to the car. i sat in the car in the driveway and watched you. i couldn't hear a word that was said, but i saw your head, your hand, your finger swagger in front of him and in my mind i heard the greatest speech anyone's ever given about how wrong it was to treat me the way my grandfather had. i saw only the back of your head and could only imagine the words flying out of your mouth that night, but the one thing i was sure of was that you loved me. that you were protecting me. that you were saving me from everything bad he could ever do to me. from anything bad anyone could ever do to me. that was the only night of my life i ever felt like that about you.

there are so many things i've missed out on in my life because you weren't here. and for the longest time that seemed to be all i could focus on. and at some point it dawned on me that you were human. that you had faults. that just because you were my mother didn't mean that you were supposed to get everything right. that's a fallacy that all kids have about their parents. and it sucks to grow up and realize that your parents are human and make mistakes, too. i know you did everything in your power to save me. i know that if you could've done anything more you would have. and i know that you just didn't have the capacity to love yourself enough to leave him. and i know that because that's the way it was, i've learned from it.

i rarely think about those things anymore, but you need to know that sometimes they come up. that sometimes these things affect me and my life. and that these things do not consume me.

i live near the beach now, me and my two cats. i’m head over heels for my girlfriend. yeah, girlfriend. i guess if you were here, you'd know that by now. i quit my job over a year ago to write and haven't really done what i expected to with that, but i'm still working towards everything i've ever dreamed about. i wish you were here to see it all for yourself, but i accept that you're not.

i guess the whole point in writing this letter at all wasn't to tell you about what's going on in my life, but to tell you how you've impacted it. it's easy to tell you that you made me laugh and that i love you. but it's hard to tell you that i was ever angry with you, that i ever judged you and thought you were a bad parent. and even harder still to tell you that i've forgiven you for your mistakes, as if i have the right to do anything other than that. there were parts of my life that were hell when you were here as well as when you left. and none of it was your fault. it's just the way it was. my life is mine and if i blame you for everything that happened to me, i'd never get to living my life. so at this point, the letter becomes about letting you go.

there's no such thing as jayme ann newkirk anymore. no such thing as jayme ann reid. or jayme ann boland. she's gone and has been for years. the only thing that's left is the memory i hold of you. and that some of that memory serves me no purpose anymore. i've learned from the anger, the frustration, the humiliation, the exhaustion, the depression, and the relief. i've learned from holding on, moving on, and letting go piece by piece. first there were your clothes, then your make up (like i was allowed to ever wear make up), then your knick knacks, and your dishes, your phone (which still had blood on it from the night you died that i never cleaned off or told anyone about)...and the rest are the memories. there are some memories i'll let go of (i won't hash those out again here), and there are some i'll hold on to (hill cows and moo cows, the pout bird, and the look on your face when we saw brian boitano in the red onion all those years ago). but it's all my decision because this life is finally mine. yours is over and that's all you get.

i love you with all my heart. say hi to dad for me.

your beloved daughter

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dead Yet?

I wrote this part of a chapter yesterday:

Rick, Johnny and Ian walked into Forest Lawn's mortuary and funeral services office to finalize the purchase of my father's plot. They'd been there before. They'd met with a tiny European man with an accent, who showed them the grassy knoll where my father would be buried. The same man greeted them when they walked in the door. Rick expected a hello, or a courtesy smile and head tilt. He received neither. Instead, the accented European man said to the three of them, "Dead yet?"

I told a friend of mine about this experience the other day, which I only recently learned about from my uncle, and she shared a similar, jarring experience. Her family member died suddenly of a heart attack. She was still in shock several days later when she was at the funeral home making the arrangements. As the sales guy went over the options, he began to make jokes. About the type of casket—"oh you don't want that one, that's a girly casket, I bet this guy'd want a manly casket, I mean, not that he gets a say now, guffaw, guffaw..." People can be so insensitive.

Is it really insensitivity? Are people just trying to make light of a tough situation? Do I expect too much from people who provide services for the dead and still need to functionally communicate with the living? Am I wrong to expect sensitivity or genuine caring from these people?

I am grateful that I wasn't with my uncles and cousin that day at Forest Lawn. And I am grateful I wasn't there with my friend at that funeral home. Had I been in either of those places, I just might have lost my composure.

Or I would have sat in the chair like my friend did, dumbfounded that the words were coming out of this man's face at all. She actually had the courage to ask him to tone the humor down a bit. He apologized and then went right back to doing business as usual, poor humor, and all.

Or I would have laughed heartily as my cousin impersonated the European accent all the way back to the hospital. We Reids enjoy a good bit of dry humor.

While hindsight might offer a lot of options, in the moment, it's hard to know what you'll say or do. I can only hope that the next time I walk into a funeral home because someone I love has died, that I'm treated with respect and humility, not sales and bad judgment.