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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Making Believe

I've been thinking a lot about my folks.  I studied them very closely when I was young.  I thought the way they treated each other was normal.  It made me sad and confused.  I pretended things were different, but pretending only works in short bursts.  Reality interrupts the dream.  It makes sense that drinking became my grown-up version of make believe.

I always find it's much easier to understand Big Mare's feelings than figure out my dad's.  Mom and I spent a lot more time together.  Humanness gushed from her like an uncapped fire hydrant.  Gene Dall, on the other hand… Well, he may be a cyborg.  Of course, we won't know if this is the case until the time of his death when scientists can actually study his molecular structure and report their findings.

I'm pleased that I can put together some reasonable explanations that make sense of the way Mom and Dad behaved.  If I can figure out my own shit as much as I have, I can certainly take a crack at decoding those two.  Putting myself in their shoes changes everything about the way I see situations.  It has brought compassion into my angry heart.  It guides my adult decisions with wisdom and grace.  It helps me dignify my elderly parent.  Still, whenever I exercise this opportunity, I realize I wouldn't have wanted to be married to either of them.

I wonder if my sons are watching the way David and I carry ourselves.  I would guess so, but they probably don't scrutinize us in the same way.  Dave and I are open and communicative.  It is clear that we value and respect one another.  There is very little upsetment in our relationship.  Desmond and Brother are not preoccupied with the condition of our marriage.  They're able to concentrate on the things they enjoy.  They can just be kids, and I'm glad.

*******

At some point early on, I'm sure my mother thought Gene Dall was a really good idea. He was gentle and quiet, a decent man with a solid work ethic.  His drinking definitely threw everything off-balance.  Alcoholic behavior may begin with one person, but it impacts each member of the family.  Booze fused my parents together and reshaped them into a throbbing ball of co-dependence.  Big Mare constantly reminded my father of this ugliness they shared, the secrets she kept.  Her anxiety swelled every time he stepped out of line.  She wanted to control and protect him from himself, but she made it worse every time she opened her mouth.  He hated being nagged.

"Mom, why did you marry Daddy?"  I begged my mother for her rendition of how she and my father came to be.  Theirs was not a conventional love story.  It was more like a running joke with a dark punchline.
"Because I felt sorry for the bastard."  Big Mare stuck to this version whenever she shared the vague details of their unholy union.  It came across as funny, and the audience laughed.
"C'mon, Mom.  Be real."  I longed for specifics.
"What?  We went to a dance, and the stupid son-of-a bitch wouldn't leave me alone.  So I married him."
"Didn't you go on any dates?" I asked.
"No.  That's it in a nutshell, kid," she insisted.  "Now, look at me.  I'm living the dream."

This story couldn't have been the whole truth, but it's how Big Mare comforted herself. Clearly, she felt like she'd been given the shaft.  She longed for the upper hand, but it wasn't hers to have.  Instead, she sucked up all of her husband's chaos and choked it down with her own resentment.

I know my mother loved my dad.  But as hard as I try, I cannot remember any instances where my parents were truly affectionate toward one another.  Surely, they must have experienced some kind of mutual fondness that made them want to become a couple and stay that way for so many years.  Maybe.  I like to think so, but it's really hard to say.

When I was a little girl, I wanted proof that some kind of love existed in their lives.  I sat between them at mass on Sundays and tried to get them to hold hands.  My mother would pull away like a bratty child.  When Dad fell asleep in the pew and began to quietly snore, she spewed directives my way.
"Rap him," she'd blast angrily.
"I'm not gonna rap him.  You rap him," I refused.
She'd reach over me and give him a shove.
He would smile, never opening his eyes.
It made me wonder if he was awake the whole time.

After we left the church, Mom would stop and talk with neighbors she knew along Zerega Avenue.  She could turn her animosity on and off like a faucet.  That's one of the ways she protected her fragile heart.  But this kind of behavior made it difficult to gage her emotional direction.  I never knew which side of the proverbial street I was on.  In a way, Dad was much smarter.  He always just kept walking.

Gene Dall would shuffle along, occasionally stopping to investigate something on the pavement - coins, a button or a piece of a broken toy.  Eyes always down, searching for something.

"He's looking for money," my mother would say.  "King Shit's gonna take over the world, one nickel at a time."
When he got home, my father transferred every little discovery into a bowl on the kitchen counter.  I sifted through these treasures, desperate for clues about the man who gathered them.  I wanted to know who he was, but all this evidence seemed like worthless junk.

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