Once upon a Christmas Eve while visiting home for the holidays, my step-father, after having consumed his customary seven to eight gallons of cheap, rotgut whiskey, cornered me in the kitchen and apologized, ad nauseam, for being such a gigantic douchebag my whole life. He then elaborated on his sorrow by telling me a story I could have happily lived the rest of my life never having heard.
Before I relay the details of this glorious yuletide tale, (cause shiz about to get real……personal, that is) I want to pre-defend my mother’s honor. She was a very good mom, my mama: sweet, warm, loving, super fun and deeply devoted to her one and only child. As a human being, she is equally stellar: funny, intelligent, strong, reliable, incredibly talented and in possession of a heart as big as the mighty universe. But she came into this world with birth defects, back when ruthless bullying didn’t make the news or launch outraged media campaigns to abolish it, so she suffered. Greatly. Horribly. And, naturally it follows that, with low self esteem so instilled, perhaps she didn’t make the best choices in men. To this she always said, “I didn’t have that many options.” Given the right guidance in life, she may have felt differently. She may have empowered herself and she may have discovered many more desirable options, but that’s just not how our collective cookie crumbled.So….what happened was….
Back in that 2007 Christmas Eve kitchen, with my mother and my boyfriend serving as the audience, my step-father cornered me and muttered sloppy, random apologies about my upbringing over his ethanol-laden breath. Then, out of nowhere, he slurred the following cringe-inducing confession: “I feel bad sometimes…..like for that one time…..that one time me ‘n yer mom went to the bar……and you were sleepin’ in the backseat…..you musta been about three years old….and we left you asleep in the car….. while we had some drinks…..I don’t know how long it was….but then this one fucking asshole comes in…..he’s all pissed off….and he yells, at the top of his lungs, ‘WHO THE FUCK LEFT THEIR FUCKING KID ASLEEP OUT IN A FUCKING CAR???!!!’ ….and I kicked that guy’s ass. That guy was a fucking asshole!”
Isn’t that great?! Wonderful story, yes? One to snuggle up with loved ones and tell by fireside every Christmas, for generations to come. Warm family fuzzies for EVERYBODY! (Christ Almighty.)
As Step-Daddy-Dearest recounted his version of deplorable events, I remember turning to my then-boyfriend, now-husband, with wide dear-god-make-it-stop eyes. In that moment I felt an awful mixture of absurdity and embarrassment, and I sent the following message with my fully rounded, please-kill-me eyeballs: “Oh Scottie, I knew I was fucked up. I knew my childhood was fucked up, and that I am ultimately, psychologically, and possibly irreparably fucked up. But I didn’t know I was THIS fucked up! And I’m sorry. I would have warned you if I could’ve. I’m so sorry. If you leave me, I will completely understand. Matter of fact, you should probably leave me now. Save yourself. This ship isn’t sinking. It wrecked a long, long time ago.”
He didn’t leave me, though. He married me instead. Turns out he had a less than Norman Rockwell upbringing himself. Not Child Protective Services worthy, not even close, but his parents’ marriage couldn’t be categorized as a healthy one – and he picked up a good number of his own relationship-killing habits watching that mess go down. Even still, 2015 will mark our ten year anniversary. Ten years of working on taming our inner-insulant-children, and ten years of helping one another to do a lot of growing up. Progress. Improvement. Growth and expansion. My oh my, but it’s a marvelous thing.
I only wish my mom could revel in the same sense of accomplishment, having battled and won so much in her time. Because, while her husband sat spewing old, drunken, dirty family laundry that Christmas Eve,I looked over and found her with her head hung in shame – which simply broke my heart. I hate to see her in pain. I’ve seen much too much of my mom in pain. She’s dealt with more than her fair share of suffering this lifetime, and she really did do the best she could by me. Her parenting wins far outweigh her parenting fails. She taught me honesty and integrity. She taught me compassion and (though it took me something like 25 years to show it) responsibility. She taught me how to love with my whole heart. And, whenever anyone compliments me on what a good mother I am, I let them know I’m only emulating her example – and her overall example was LOVE.
Again, I could have died a happy woman never knowing that I was once a tiny, blonde, pigtailed three year old left alone in the back of a car (1979 Camaro? 1976 Nova? It’s anybody’s whitetrash guess), while her mother and her mother’s jerk of a boyfriend went to drink in a bar. In fact, after hearing the story, it took me months to absorb it. Sorta shook me up. In a logical sense, it shouldn’t have. There are much lousier childhood incidents I can recall easily and vividly, but I still tear up when I think about that little girl left alone.
It’s not the worst thing that ever happened to a child. As far as kids and atrocities go, I got off all sorts of lucky. But a wound is a wound. A scar is a scar. And a drunken stepdad on Christmas Eve is a pitifully old, selfishly unburdening-himself bastard. However uncomfortable inebriated step-dad’s over-sharing might have been, it afforded the opportunity to confront a bunch of my ancient mental bullshit, and it prompted me to work on getting the sam hell over it. I’m far from all the way over it (clearly), but I’m getting there.
What I find truly fascinating, even encouraging, is the idea that I might just be a better person for it. For ALL of it. All the sad, all the shame, all the massive heartache: the whole tumultuous lot of my youth. This notion that it didn’t just “all work out in the end”, or that I didn’t merely “turn out okay”, but rather than it all meant something and it was all intrinsically necessary in order for to me be ME…….well, I dig that. I get that. It makes sense. I lived it all, and now the trick appears to be learning to love it all.
If you pay attention, all existential roads seem to lead back to love.
And if you’re not getting there….maybe you (we, US) are doing it wrong.