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Sunday, March 29, 2015

More is Less

She never mentioned him being gone.  I eavesdropped on phone conversations she shared with her sister, Joan and pieced together her side of the story.  Her version of his problem.  All tough talk and badass bullshit.  If my mother was scared or worried, she didn't let on.

She had no contingency plans in place for the times when things went south. Instead, she was swept up in the maelstrom of each catastrophe, riding the waves of chaos back to the shore.  Until everything went crashing against the dock.  The poor thing just picked up all the rubble, closed the blinds and stayed in the house for a couple of days.

She dumped whatever heartache my father caused her deep into the bottom of her well of unmet needs, where it echoed and called out to whoever would listen. That's how I knew something was down there.  I could hear it, and the sorrow drove me crazy.

He was hardly ever home to begin with, so it wasn't even like he was missing.  Nor was it clear where he actually went.  All I knew was that he'd gotten into trouble with the cops.  That's about it.

He wrote her two letters the whole time he was away, penned carefully in large print on PBA* stationery.  A handful of sentences.  Not a word about the drinking, the party - what exactly happened.  He didn't say he loved or missed us.  Just what they had him doing.  Exercises.  They barbecued.  He went fishing with some of the other men.  He sent a photograph of himself, standing in front of a lake.  He had no shirt on, and he was smiling.  He looked heavier and healthier than usual.

I wanted more.  More than what was in those letters.  More than what I was getting.  But there was nothing extra to have.  I started eating as an activity.  A distraction.  I could put food inside my body and change the way I felt.  I liked feeling full and safe.

I gained weight steadily.  My school uniform got snug, and I knew it wasn't gonna fit when the summer ended and I started sixth grade.  But I didn't say anything.  I thought about going on a diet, but I didn't know how.  I began every morning instructing myself not to eat so much.  And by lunchtime, I was starving.

I snuck things from the kitchen that I thought wouldn't be missed.  A can of Chef Boyardee ravioli, four slices of bread, a jar of brown gravy.  I squirreled these items away and ate them when no one was looking.  Without utensils or a dish.  Like an animal.

Sometimes, I got caught.  My mom found candy wrappers in my pants pockets. Empty bags of cookies and chips wedged behind the radiator.  A soggy cardboard container of ice cream under some clothes in my bedroom.

I flushed aluminum foil down the toilet and denied it.  Even when I sat on the edge of the bathtub and watched Uncle Mike pry the Reynolds' Wrap ball from the pipes, I acted surprised. He asked me if I did it.

"Your mother doesn't need to know," he suggested.

But I couldn't tell the truth.  I was too ashamed.

"It wasn't me."  I started crying.

He kneeled in front of the commode and looked at me over the top of his glasses, pushing them back up onto the bridge of his nose.  He wiped his sopping wet hands onto his shirt.

"Clean your face," he said.  "Then run downstairs and get me a beer."

I wished Uncle Mike was my father.  He always came when my mother needed him.  He drank, but he didn't fall apart.  And at least, he could fix stuff.

*Patrolman's Benevolent Association

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