Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scars Are Souvenirs You Never Lose

I do my best to make things look easy.

I laugh a lot. I make jokes about everything, especially myself. I find solace in making people smile and breaking the ice by saying the most inappropriate comment at the worst moment possible. I don't yell or act stressed or angry. I let things fall off my shoulder and flick them aside. I walk slow, drive fast, and embrace silence and solitude as much as I adore being in the spotlight of a group of good friends. I don't cause drama, but I'll share my opinion if asked. I don't argue with people who know more on a subject than I do. I ask questions and listen patiently. I soak in time alone on my roof watching the sunset the same way I would immerse myself in the moment of laying in bed in the morning, with a woman in my arms, sound asleep. I appreciate the big picture in life just as much as I crave dissecting the details and variables everyone else tends looks over.

But what I have a hard time doing... is sharing all of this.

And it's taken almost three decades of living, but I think I'm starting to pinpoint the reason.

My father wasn't a kind man. He wasn't evil 100% of the time, but looking back, I can see now and realize that he wasn't ready to be a father. He came to the United States at a young age, married the first woman who tolerated him, and accidentally created me. They weren't in love, but being married was an easy choice and, to be frank, a tax break.

My father grew up in a strict Catholic household where rules were not meant to be broken, bent or questioned. His father was in the military half the time, forcing his mother to run an even tighter ship over her nine kids (7 daughters, 2 sons - of which my father was the youngest). So when you bring that eastern philosophy of parenting and raise a child in a more liberal western culture, things aren't going to add up when your children don't understand why you're not like their friends parents when it comes to rules.

My very earliest memory of my dad was at five years old being pulled off the top bunk by my throat and on to the carpet, and then held down while he waved a wooden meat tenderizer over my face, yelling and asking me if I wanted to get hit. My crime? After she wouldn't answer me, I called my mother by her first name, Cindy, instead of just "mom".

When I went to Hutchinson Elementary School, my daycare leaders starting up a system for certain kids where they would give their parents a piece of colored paper based on their behavior that day when the parents came to pick them up: Green paper - Good behavior. Yellow - Had a problem but resolved it. Red - Bad child. Needless to say, I always had at least a couple red papers once a week, and when that happened, my father would drive home extra fast, stand me in the living room, and beat me with a belt for 10 minutes.
I remember one time he told me to go to his room and choose a belt to use on me. I obviously avoided the one with the 5-pound metal "Don't Mess With Texas" buckle. So I brought back my little brother's powder blue cotton belt. Not finding this particularly funny, he took off the one he was wearing. And that was the day he began using the buckle end instead.

Of course I cried. My father would actually make fun of me and mock the way I couldn't breathe. On some cruel days he would keep hitting me and whipping me until, he said, I would stop crying. You can imagine how hard that is for a 50-pound eight year old boy.

One day, when a friend was pushing me on the swings before school, I cringed when he pushed on my back. He asked why I didn't want to be pushed anymore, and I lifted my shirt. I couldn't see what it looked like, I just knew it hurt. He nodded and walked away. But by 10am, I was in the principal's office with three police officers inspecting my back and legs, taking pictures and giving me ice packs. Social Services came by and took me home, staying there until my father arrived.

When Child Services came, my parents were ordered to attend some class every other week, which actually made things worse. Because now they had to spend more money because of me, and when they came home from the classes, they were just more pissed at me than ever before. The worst part is that the classes happened on paycheck day; the only time my parents weren't awful to each other and me and my brother. So it ended up doing more harm than good.

Sometimes he would keep me home from school just to corner me in the the bathroom tub and throw ceramic bowls and plates at me. When I was 11, he threw an entire glass of milk into my face at a dinner table at Sizzler in front of the entire restaurant. He's hit me with hammers. Branches. He's choked me in front of my friends. He's put fire to me.

Years later, while driving me to summer school between 8th and 9th grade, my dad was so mad at me that he grabbed and twisted my ear as I sat in the passenger seat and told me he was going to hold it there until we got to the school. The searing, burning pain eventually got to me, and I opened the car door while he was still driving and jumped out. As I rolled on the street at 6:50 in the morning, I looked up to see his car screeching and turning around. He yelled, "I'm going to fucking kill you!" and drove right at me. I grabbed my backpack and ran to the curb, hearing his car tire squeal against the pavement just behind my foot. Had I not jumped, he would have crushed me. As I heard his car slow down and make a U-turn for another pass, I ran up the driveway of a stranger's house, and dove underneath the motor home parked in the drive way. After I saw my dad's car drive past with him looking for me, I crawled out behind the motor home, jumped the brick fence and hid in their backyard for a couple of hours in the mud. I was 13.

As I grew up, straight-up fist fights occurred, usually ending with my father being thrown to the floor, out the backyard door, or into a room. I never enjoyed fighting him. I hated it. Truth be told, even though I was taller, bigger, faster and stronger, I was scared as hell every single time. But my anger boiled to the surface and pushed every other emotion out of the way. The world would turn red, I wouldn't feel any pain, and I just wanted to kill.

The new low happened in my 20's.

My parents were having a fight (surprise) and my dad came downstairs and started throwing random things out the backyard door. My mom came in, yelling at him, physically trying to restrain him. He eventually had enough and slapped her, grabbed her, and tackled her on the floor in front of my computer. Not content, he started hitting her with his forearm. I had enough at this point, and I got up, grabbed him by his Samoan-like shoulders, and threw him across the room and into the desk on the other side of the wall. I reached down to help my mom up only to turn around and see my dad wielding my aluminum baseball bat. I calmly walked up to him and softly asked to hand over the bat. He reared back and swung, hitting the side of my thigh, breaking the femur bone. As he reached back to swing again, I leaped forward and grabbed the bat in mid swing, threw it to the ground, and pushed him out the door, closing it and throwing the lock.

There's a lot more - things I'll never speak of - but you get the point.

I haven't seen him in almost five years now. I don't miss him in the least. I sincerely don't really care if he dies. Sure, I might regret it later, decades from now, probably whining about lack of closure or something. But as of this moment, I couldn't care less.
[You're probably wondering where my mother was in all of this. Well, to satiate your curiosity, she stood idly by. Half the time she was being yelled at, screamed at, and hit by my father as well. And the other half the time she would hit me as well. After the age of 15, when she hit my in the face so many times that I had to swing and hit her back - and thereby breaking her nose - her physical attacks stopped. But her verbal, mental, and psychological abuse simply ramped up. In fact, even after everything I can remember about my father (whatever left I haven't pushed out), I'd still say my mother has the edge in which of the two fucked me up more and ruined my childhood. Yeah.]
I've been in a lot of fights. Never started any of them, but let's just say I've done a lot of ending. I've never hit a woman, and I never, ever will. I'll get in my car and drive off for a few hours before I even feel the urge to. Women, to me, are like treasures; fragile and delicate, to be cherished, and hold the key to my soul's eventual completion. Like I tell my guy friends, we may still be buddies years from now, but when I'm too sick to even get out of bed and go to work, they're not the ones who are going to take care of me. The woman I love is the one who will be there. And I for her. Always.

But I don't know how long it will take for me to feel it's okay for me to have children of my own. I don't want to have a kid only to be a fucked up father (either like my own or one who tries so hard not to be like his father that I'm distant and emotionally vacant). There's enough fucked up kids around today caused by having a fucked up dad. I refuse to add to that. I don't know what it's going to take to convince myself that I don't have my father's evil habits still in me. Or, at the very least, not enough to corrupt my ability to be a father. I still feel violent sometimes. More than money, fame, materials, art or anything, when I die, I at least want it to be said that I was a good father. One who overcame so much just to raise his kids and shield them from the horrors he went through.

The song, "Father of Mine" by Everclear speaks to me on very obvious levels, but one verse in particular has always struck a very poignant nerve in me:

"I will never be sane,
I will never be the same.
I will always be weird inside,
I will always be a lame.

Now when I'm a grown man
With a child of my own,
I swear I'm not gonna let her know
All the pain I have known."

It's a song that's kept me going for fourteen years now and counting. But until I can find the strength to know for sure his demons are gone, I don't think I'm strong enough yet.

Not sure when I'll ever be.

So it'll always be hard for me to share who I am.



Stevie said...

that broke my heart.
having,myself, to leave people & things behind or love others from a distance, moving on (or working your best to) ends up being the only control you have to rebuild things broken down.... letting unchecked anger morph into bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Despite what you feel inside, sometimes or all the time, you're stronger than what you may realize. reading your story told me where your heart is. most parents want and work towards having a heart so transparent it teaches their kids love, compassion, honesty & all the things you'll bend over backwards and jump out of your skin for when it comes to your own kids.) Thank you for sharing who you are. you inspire me to be better for my kids.

HKR said...

Thank you. =*)