Yet, I Loved Him; Shadows of a Father
Why do we love our abusers? We love them because that is all we know until we grow up and start to see who they are as people. My mother was not perfect, but one thing she did was to let me find out on my own who he was. She knew I would eventually however “Little Me” was quiet, cautious and never shared stories about father that might make her upset or intervene in my seeing him. She was practical, sensible, chatty and had begun to work in the music industry. She became so BIG in my eyes, so intense and I was truly both in awe and fear of her. Why am I speaking of her? I am certain she is to be credited for not saying then what I know now. “Every check your father sends us bounces.” Or, “He lied to your Aunt and grandmother and said he bought your Brownie uniform when I paid your dues!” The lies were always there. Before me, before her and would continue after us.
I was in second grade and I could walk across my baby sitters backyard, jump a brook and climb a grassy field to school. Mother and I still lived in the small brick house he left us in and BaD DaD had moved to Philadelphia. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Jones. She was very sick and we always had substitutes. I loved school but I hated the smell of my tin lunchbox, the gray horrid bathrooms, and was afraid of the playground where kids were rough and swinging clackers around until eventually they were banned. I was an extremely sensitive little human. Mother was beautiful and had our clothes sewn to match often. I received a lot of attention from the teachers in my school as I was always well dressed, had a mother in the music business and a larger than life, adventurous father who I talked about all the time. This memory is from the first day he had ever come to my school; it was autumn and soon Halloween.
My mother left my olive green suitcase just inside the classroom door and had a conversation with the teacher. Today, for the very first time my father would come to pick me up in school and we’d fly to Philadelphia for the only Halloween I remember with BaD DaD. I was beyond thrilled and again, he was my idol, my whole heart jumped and cheered for him. “Little Me” pushed all bad things into the dark stairwell and locked them away. This memory was the first time that I cried on Halloween and the last time. I would grow up and see him being a fake Good DaD to half-siblings and feel sad when he had no memory of “Little Me”. He never remembers because he was usually very, very drunk and lies can’t be remembered when sober. That’s why TRUTH pushed me down the steps, slammed the door and locked it. TRUTH would later become the reason I still remain the proverbial “Black Sheep” and am shunned by his younger than me wife from France. I was a ticking bomb ready to tell all and he knew I would do it. He often said as if I were his confidant, ” SHE” doesn’t know about this or that so don’t bring it up. And she would hate me and grow to barely tolerate me because he groomed her to adore him and believe him and convince her I was a horrible person. My idol whose shadow I lived in for 50 years would throw me away because I grew into an ethical, kind and genuine woman. This shadow of me, in this memory is so painful that I hate “Little Me” for remembering it all together.
I recall watching the clock pensively. When the big hand was on twelve and the little hand on two my idol would arrive for all my classmates to see. Mother had packed my halloween costume and all of my neccessaries neatly and I was wearing a winter white courderoy dress, warm tights and my floral embroidered knee high brown boots. Other kids did not dress like me. One thing my parents had in common was style. Alas, the time came and there in the doorway he stood; eyes full of happy tears I ran into his arms and he picked me up, swung me high and kept me there. I looked back and down at my classroom as if they were a theater audience and felt such pride. I thought, SEE, I DO have a father! The teacher was not Mrs. Jones; she was sick again so the substitute and two more who knew my mother came out into the hallway to meet him. He was dressed in the coolest brown leather coat and a beige turtleneck with wool tweed pants. He was so very tall and I could see they all were in awe of his handsome, mesmerizing ways. God only knows what he told them he was doing as far as his latest brilliant idea for quick money. I would later come home to mother very sad. Mother said I always was seemingly depressed when I came home to after a visit and she thought it was from my missing him. I didn’t talk. I was well groomed by BaD DaD.
I as always will help “Little Me” tell you what happened. She wasn’t missing him; she was disappointed.
ROCK is firm that she can only tell one bad story at a time or she will never get out of the cold stairwell. She is on a step that has wet fall leaves, huge ones; they are from a magnolia tree. Darkness envelopes her and an empty plastic pumpkin with a black plastic handle she stares at.
“Little Me” is in Media, Pennsylvania. “Daddy, this is gong to be the best Halloween ever; I am going to be a roaring lion!” Up we go onto a trolley car. “Hold on to the pole and I will lift your suitcase up and down and all around when people get on and off”. “Little Me” remembers the excitement of her first trolley car ride through Philly, the colors of all kinds of people, the big, brown brick buildings and watching the doors open and shut repeatedly. So many colors greeting her with a perfect autumn bright sun setting as she neared BaD DaD’s building. She doesn’t remember with whom but she remembers they were in a small car, and a woman with short dark hair drove, (his type). BaD DaD’s building was not brown, it was white stone and had a big yard full of the biggest leaves I’d ever seen. We had to climb up, up, up to the very tippy top to get to his apartment. There were no curtains and the light was everywhere. Along one wall was a small table, some hard chairs and the rest was beautiful long windows, the kind that are in old films. BaD DaD had a mattress on the floor in another room on brown hardwood floors and the bathroom had teeny tiny tiles, not linolium like at home. It felt empty and I only had brought my doll I slept with, a clown actually named BoBo. In fact, I would name lots of pets and dolls the same name with a slight variation for years to come. BaD DaD sat my suitcase on the floor and took me down to an apartment to meet a woman. She is a school teacher (he said) and very pale with black hair. She gives me old dolls made of porceline to play with and comes up to us for dinner every night. Who was she? BaD DaD spent a lot of time on the telephone or in her apartment and I watched black and white television on the mattres on the very hard floor. FOCUS! ROCK wants “Little Me” to not be so detailed, to get on with it to heal. It’s not that easy; never tell someone who has lived through much trauma to get on with it. So, bored and lonely I wander around the nearly empty big room. The sun was shining even though it was cold outside and I opened one of the long windows to look down. I held two dolls and they take turns walking across the window sill, looking over and I speak for them. Their heads are wobbly and like eggshells. I hear BaD DaD open the door to the apartment and I am relieved as I was a bit scared in another new place and he often left me for a long period of time. I was startled and as I turned to run to him one of the pale egg head dolls fell out the window. BaD DaD stopped smiling and didn’t hug me. He yelled at me then hit me hard. He had never hit me that I could recall, and it was in and of itself not so tragic. It was not on purpose the doll fell so I cried. He made me tell the woman I was sorry and give her the doll that wasn’t broken back and go pick up the pieces of the cracked egg head doll ithat was scattered amongst the thick, damp magnolia tree leaves. Each day was long, lonely and boring with BoBo now ,the television, the mattress on the floor and boxes of saltines, or chips, cracker jacks, and root beer. He would leave me for what seemed whole days. At last it was Halloween and I was beyond excited. I had imagined for weeks how he would hold my tiny hand, see my costume and it was to be more special than any other day in my entire seven year old life. This night would make up for all the time I was sad, missing mother and alone. That night the woman from downstairs came up for dinner again. I remember eating french fries and studying a green glass bottle with wax built up in different shades along the side; a candle was lit and I gazed at the blue and yellow flame. It was cosy, but BaD DaD would change into his new hard face again. I was dipping my fries into ketchup with my fingers and he said in an ugly voice, ” Don’t you know how to use a fork?” I was embarrassed and the woman whose pale egg doll I broke by accident stared at me. I pleaded to be excused and to get ready for trick or treating as it was becoming very dark. They sat at the table and NOW I know they were drunk. Bottles were full of red, smelly liqued that looked like the same one the candle was burning in. I went into the room with the mattress and opened my suitcase and put on my costume; I was a paper lion. ROAR! Grrrrrr! I had a hard time sitting and waiting and the television rolled and rolled and the screen was fuzzy. I laid flat on my back holding my plastic pumpkin with BoBo and fell asleep. I woke with a jolt to really loud music and a weird smell. I went out to BaD DaD and the woman; they are laughing and smoking white cigarettes, playing records and dancing by drippy wax candlelight. I begged again and finally he said ina new voice, a kind of silly messy voice, “Okay!” At last! Down the steps we went, BaD DaD jumping them two at a time and being really funny then he put his hand around mine just as I had imagined it would feel. When he opened the door it was pitch black outside. We walked on a sidewalk to houses that had heavy metal knockers but I did not see any trick or treaters anywhere. I did not see pumpkins lit up or hear laughter. BaD Dad insists I go up to a scary dark door alone but has to help me when I can’t reach the knocker. A porch light comes on and a woman opens the big door and looks at my father towering over me from behind. I say “trick or treat” and growl. I will never ever, ever forget this moment. The lady is grumpy and is scolding my father. ” t’s eleven o’clock! Why are you out so late?” She had no candy left and told him I should be asleep. We leave and walk some more and finally see a house with lights on. BaD DaD stands on the street and sends me up and I can see it is a party with lots of big people; they laugh and give me extra candy and wave at my father and slam the door. We walked back home, BaD DaD was smelly like the bottles he and the woman drank with the red stink. When we climb the stairs he makes me knock on the pale egg doll woman’s door and show her my candy. She gives me some cookies and follows us up to BaD DaD’s apartment. He is laughing and they are drinking more from the red stink candle bottles and he tells me to go to bed. I have trouble getting out of my costume and rip it. I was a terrible lion; no one noticed at all. I looked in my olive green suitcase and found a little bag. It was a note from my mother that said, “Boo!” and it had bubblegum, the hard pink kind that takes hours to chew and a Hershey’s bar. I ate the Hershey bar and hid the wrapper and so missed my beautiful mother. She always made me take a bath, brush my teeth and helped me into my soft pajamas; she always read me stories and tucked me in. I fell asleep with BoBo, the gray light from the television and BaD DaD and the woman laughing and dancing with a Jim Croce album on.
Yet, I loved Him.