Monday, March 16, 2009

Snapback

I was so angry I could hardly see straight. My breathing had become shallow and I could hear a ringing in my ears. Tears were springing to my eyes and my arms and legs jangled, looking for something ... to kick? to punch? I stormed into the house, trying to hide my anger from Munchkin, a blameless bystander to this emotional storm. I hugged her, kissed her, took off her boots and patted her off by the bum in the direction of Daddy.

"Where's Auntie Soo-see?" he asked, innocently.

And that's when I had to leave. She was an hour and a half late, and I thought I was angry because I had made her a hair appointment with my own stylist and she was due in the chair in five minutes. I jumped in the car and went to have my own hair cut in her stead.

But that wasn't it.

In my heart, it was 30 years ago. My sister and I were dressed in matching outfits--maybe it was pink frilled Easter dresses, little white socks and shiny patent leather shoes; maybe it was rubber boots, jeans, and thick hooded sweatshirts; maybe we had suitcases or maybe we had just a picnic lunch packed. My sister had her blankie close by. I had my bunny. We were sitting on the couch in the living room, trying to stay neat, looking out the front window for the brown two-door Bronco. Then we were sitting in the window itself, peering up and down the street, down to the corners. Then we were in our coats sitting on the stone fence flipping our feet out over the sidwalk, looking further still. We ran further and further up and down the sidewalk, drawing away from home, from waiting.

For Dad. Who usually came, but never on time. Never close to on time. To bring us to his house. To drive us eight hours on a trip to the grandparents'. To bring us camping with his family, our family. Never less than an hour late.

We were full of beans, my sister and I. She naturally had ants in her pants, as my mom always said, but the wait was one fidget among all the others in her day. I, on the other hand, was made desperate by these situations. I was always so anxious to see him, my Dad--Dad!--who loved me best, who called me his Hoper, who saw in me something special. I could hardly wait for the appointed time, much less bear those way-longer minutes of his continued absence.

Tick-tock. Mom's frown deepens. Tick-tock. My sister is getting sillier and sillier. Tick-tock. My joy is turning to anxiety. Tick-tock. I don't feel special anymore, I feel, with every passing minute, abandoned. Abandoned again and again and again. A childhood of infrequent visits that meant so little to him that he never bothered to show up on time. A man so selfish he never considered what those minutes, those hours, meant to us, the daughters he saw maybe twice a year even though he lived quite literally at the end of our street.

Tick-tock. I need to love him and so I push it down, keep smiling, keep looking up and down the street. Because he will come, if my own desire can make it happen.

Tick-tock. Auntie Soo-see is coming, Munckin! When? After breakfast. Is she here now? Where is Auntie Soo-see, Mom? I want to see my cousin! Is it the weekend? Is she here now?

I get anxious and annoyed and after sitting on the couch, and after looking out the windows, and after getting dressed and walking up and down the sidewalk, we run into the backyard. Munchkin is happy to be playing with me, and quite honestly, she's sort of forgotten Auntie Soo-see at this point. But I haven't. I'm looking up and down the street, craning to see around the neighbouring houses. I lift my head quickly every time I hear an engine.

And this is why I burst into tears driving to the hairdresser.

I never let myself feel this pain, this disappointment, all those years ago, for all those years. He died 9 years ago this month. We didn't go to his funeral. In a hushed conversation over the telephone, two provinces separating us, my sister and I admitted to each other we were relieved to hear the waiting was finally over. You don't expect birthday cards from the dead, nor Christmas cards. You don't expect the dead to call you, to wonder what you're doing. It's okay if the dead don't love you. But I could never tell him how much he hurt me. I could never hurt him back, insulated as he was in his various addictions--alcohol, cocaine, women. He didn't care enough about anything to know anything of the feelings of those who did.

And so I'm irrationally angry with my sister, who was trapped behind a terrible accident on the highway, who came late, Munchkin already asleep, but stayed late too so we could all go to the park together, a happy, wonderful outing. It was a great day, and Munchkin, being a toddler and not literate, can't tell the difference between 'tomorrow' and 'five minutes from now' so I don't think she's been hurt.

But I have been hurt. And my sister has been hurt. We've talked it over, now, and I explained why I was so viciously angry when she finally dashed into the hairdresser, with one minute to spare. We talked it over, and she felt it, too, that abandonment all those years ago, that continuing sense of panic when a happily awaited visitor is more than five minutes late.

It's okay now. Pynchon knows the story and my sister lived the story and I understand my own feelings a little better now and we're working on harm-avoidance for the future. A little bit of reconciliation today from a wound inflicted 30 years ago. There's hope in that, I think.

14 comments:

Patti said...

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that story. You have truly remarkable insight, not to mention courage to face your own heartache.

I am sorry for the pain that surfaces at random moments like those.

Mimi said...

thanks for that story!

cinnamon gurl said...

Great insight. Gabor Maté says in The Realm of Hungry Ghosts that most of our emotional reactions are never about the current situation. We're always reliving a previous hurt.

Kyla said...

Wow. I think it is great that you recognize the underlying catalyst for the emotion and can work through it. That's huge.

naomicatgirl said...

I feel your emotion just reading your story. You are wise to be able to make the connections.

ML said...

I waited, too. And still wait. Thank you for sharing this - it comes amidst my most honest effort to heal myself. Miraculous.

kittenpie said...

It's amazing, isn't it, that no matter how grown and mature and accomplished, sometimes just the one wrong thing can reduce us to worried little children again.

the new girl said...

Oh, man, Mimi.

This made me cry. The way you processed it is amazing and healing but that is a lot to deal with. I just can picture it so well and how many times it's happened to so, so many people.

It makes my heart hurt.

Beck said...

That hurt to even read.
When you've had a bad childhood - we should start a club of People With Dads with Coke Problems in the 70s - you kind of carry it with you forever after. It's hard.

Assertagirl said...

Oh wow, what a story. I think it's great that you and your sister can talk over the things that bother you, to get beyond the shared hurt in your past. I hope my brother and I can get to that place, someday, too.

Bon said...

my dad too.

he only came in the summers - if he came at all - and he not only picked me up late, he invariably brought me home late. i didn't fully understand why that bugged my mom so much until i had a child of my own...even at 3 and 4, he'd keep me out til late, ignoring or belittling routine.

and the funny thing is, now, it's my mom who's late...never badly, never dismissively, just perpetually 20 minutes behind when she says she'll come, when Oscar's ready for her...and i didn't realize til i read this why it makes me so crazy.

Mad said...

Hey you,
This made me tear up b/c there's just so much baggage isn't there? I remember. I remember you coming to my office right after he died and all the distance of that moment too. I am sorry. For all of this.

Mandy said...

I think we all have had some kind of hurt in our past that affects us today... but this was so well written. I felt like I was right inside you living it.

I hope some of this helps you, the expression of your hurt.

Don Mills Diva said...

Beautifully written - my heart is breaking for that little girl...