My parents separated for the first time when I was 6 years old. I didn’t understand what was happening. I was told we were moving and would be closer to Grandma and Grandpa. This excited me. I don’t recall feeling extraordinary loss at the time and it didn’t take long for my father to follow us into the one-bedroom house my mom and two sisters and I had moved into.
My father’s moving back in meant rearranging, physically and emotionally. I remember several nightmares from this time. Vividly. Once I even called my grandparents after one of them, convinced my parents were dead. I remember Gram and Gramps pulling up in their big orange Oldsmobile, Gram in her nightgown rapping on the screen window. “Lynn. Lynn!” she whisper-yelled into the bedroom.
It wasn’t long before all five of us moved into a bigger house in the same tiny, curbless town where my mother had grown up. She found refuge here when she found the courage to leave my father the first time. I remember my parents’ friends coming over once for a cookout and I remember him cutting the grass.
This same house found my little sister and I spread eagle on the kitchen floor, our feet pressed together making a perfect arena for the boxelder bugs we would capture and play with. The same house where I performed Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” in the living room as my older sister and mom tried their best to contain their laughter and possible horror as they watched their seven-year-old sister/daughter grinding on an old-fashioned school chair.
This house is also the house I remember him leaving. I remember knowing that when he left he wouldn’t be coming back. He wasn’t coming back to stay and he might not be coming back at all. Shortly after his departure, in a tiny house just up the road, I remember my father and my grandfather verbally duking it out over something. My grandfather was opinionated and stubborn, but this is the only time I remember him being actually angry and I didn’t know why. But I did recognize that things weren’t as peaceful in any home when my father was around.
The next year we moved again. My mom bought her first house and we moved just around the corner from the house we were sharing as a family when my parents first separated. She was my current age at the time. This house, though a symbol of freedom and independence for my mom, is where I have the most intense memories of the loss of my father.
He would show up on Sundays in a little gray station wagon and take us for a few hours. At first, my older sister, who was now in high school, came with us. Until she didn’t. Then he would come pick my little sister and me up. Until he didn’t. Never knowing whether he’d be there or not I’d sit in the big front window watching for traffic on our quiet street. In warmer months with the windows open I would get excited and jump up to look down the road when I heard the whirring of tires around the distant corner. After his own father died, my father seemed to have lost the guidance to BE a father.
My grief was profound. Where once I had thought of myself as “Daddy’s girl” I felt deeply UNspecial when he disappeared. I didn’t look much like my mom or my sisters and I felt like I didn’t belong most of the time. I was hurt and angry. I acted out at the expense of my sisters, to whom I am deeply sorry for adding to their pain. I’d shut myself in rooms and my mom and teenage sister would struggle to push back against my strength that was powered by confusion and grief.
As I grew up it got easier, though never easy. When my mom remarried we inherited a wonderful father who loved us as if we were his own but I still struggled with depression. Effervescent and upbeat in public, I’d often cry myself to sleep at night. In high school, when I found a love for being on stage, I would pray and hope that one day I would look out into the audience and see my father sitting in the audience. I was in over twenty productions in my home town, where he lived with his mother until he died, and never once did my wish come true.
His absence gave my mother the space she needed to find herself. It gave my sisters and me the possibility for peace we hadn’t known. The moments when he would come back into our lives wreaked havoc on any progress I’d made, more often than not he’d be drunk and embarrassing. These occasions opened old wounds and it became very clear to me that the best thing he could do was to stay away.
The main road through town was like an invisible barrier. The North side was mine. The South side was his. 5th Avenue South was neutral territory. There, anything could happen. The few times I saw him outside of family events were on this main drag and it’s still uncomfortable to drive it, even now that he’s gone. All the memories.
We are in the midst of a new court battle that is only one in what will be a war to end all wars. Though I don’t feel I can write about it yet, the goal is to remove XN from Liam’s life completely and definitely. Though I know that this is what is best for him in the long run, this absence is going to hurt my sweet boy, no matter what kind of relationship or attachment he has to XN.
When I found out I was pregnant, I made a promise then and there that Liam would never wonder why his father didn’t want to see him anymore, why he didn’t love him anymore. When we first separated and XN wanted nothing to do with Liam I pushed and fought for him to be there so that my son would never know the loss that I’d felt as a child, a loss that still haunts me. At the time I believed it was the best thing to do. I didn’t know where it was going to take us or how dangerous this man was going to be for all of us.
I am struggling to forgive myself for the role I play in all of this. Despite my best efforts to make sure Liam never know what it is to feel unloved by his father, he is going to have this grief and loss. I can’t protect him from everything, and I now know that I have to let him struggle with the lesser of two evils.
I will be there for him. I empathize with the trauma he will endure and I will support him in his struggles. He has an incredible dad at home to help him make the transition. Where his life was riddled with never-ending transition, instability, and emotional manipulation, he will have the opportunity for a stable life we never expected he would have.