Being the oldest child of an alcoholic father and a suicidal, wheelchair-bound mother left me feeling responsible for things that were well beyond my years. Most of all, I felt that I was responsible for protecting all of us from my father. No one else was going to step in, and somebody needed to, so I did what I could. I failed more than I succeeded, and I struggled for years with the guilt. The guilt is gone, but I still go batshit crazy when someone I love is being wronged. If the wrong is being done to an animal or a child, I don't have to know them to stick my nose in. Maybe I should mind my own business more: but the times that people stuck up for me are etched indelibly in my heart.
I remember the first time I swung at my dad. I know it was evening because my brother Charlie was in his pajamas. Charlie was 3 then, so I was probably 10. I don't remember exactly what Charlie said, something silly that made me laugh: it wasn't obscene or disrespectful or anything like that, but my father misheard it and it pissed him right the fuck off. Dad came out of his chair and went for Charlie as though he was a full-grown man. I sat rooted to my seat, so choked with terror that it felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, as my father drew his fist back, my brother screamed my name. MY name. In a split second my fear had vanished, to be replaced by a cold hard rage. My father punched Charlie as I grabbed a lamp off the table. I hit him with it as hard as I could, which must have been hard enough because the lamp broke. THAT got his attention. Time slowed down as my father turned towards me, and the fear returned, but it didn't paralyze me. I yelled at my brother to go to bed, and then I faced off with the old man. I can't quote what I said but among other things I told him to grow up in a hard-driven avalanche of words. When I stopped he halfheartedly growled something at me and he left. I followed him into the hall, to make sure he wasn't going to my brother's room, but to my amazement he went to bed. I stood quivering in the hall until I could catch my breath, and then I cleaned up the shards of broken lamp. I knew that I would pay for my actions soon enough, but in that moment I wasn't afraid. Lack of fear was a profound thing: in his presence I was always afraid. But not then.
I remember the last time my dad swung at me. I was 14, and quite drunk: I had discovered liquor at 13, and I used that fabulous anesthetic as often as I possibly could. I was tanked that night, I remember that much. I don't remember what started it, but he said, you may be too old to be spanked, but you aren't to old to be hit. I stood up and challenged him with drunken bravado. We went out into the attached garage. He swung. He connected. He was stronger than I realized: I hit the concrete floor and tried to remember how to get back up. I was pretty dazed. While I was struggling to stand, he walked back into the house and shut the door: and he turned off the light. I laid back down on the concrete and stared at the ceiling. No one was going to check on me. No one was going to save me. There was no mercy for me. It was after that night that I began to write the number of days I had left before I could legally leave at the age of 17, wrote that number on my hand every day for years. I will never forgot how alone I felt that night: but I survived long enough to get the hell out. I was 16 when I moved out, but in some ways I am still there, locked in sorrow and regret that I struggle to get free of daily. It is all still with me, and I wish I knew how to let go.
I remember the last time I laid hands on my father. He was in a bed in a hospice facility, dying of cancer, and he had entered the terminal agitation phase. He kept trying to get out of bed, not realizing he would collapse: his brain was telling him that he needed to go somewhere, but the journey in front of him was not physical. He was just trying to find his way out. I kept having to gently push him back down into bed. He grew more and more determined: I had to push harder and harder. I finally called the nurses, because I could not stand to push against his shrunken chest and tell him "no" when he could not understand what I was doing. He was so small in that bed, but still strong and most of all hard-headed: I could not fight this sad dying old man anymore. I called the nurses over and over to help me, and they were so kind. When he was rational, I talked to him, and I rode out the rest of it: I wanted to finally be a good daughter to him. And in the end, I was. I helped to care for him for the last month and a half of his life, and I was there sitting next to him when he died. I had never dreamed that forgiveness was possible: but the hate started to destroy me, and I wanted to get free. I no longer hate, but I'm still so sad, so sad for all of us. My life now has much love in it, and for all my mistakes, my son has never had to wonder if he was loved. The fact that I can walk in love at all, is the greatest triumph of my life. I have a long way to go, but I am on the good red road. And I thank you for sharing my journey.