Closer Than You Think

I’ve been thinking about my father a lot lately.  Which I know is kind of a normal thing to do for most people – to think about their parents, whether they are living or deceased.  While it may be normal for most, I’ve never made a lot of space in my heart/brain for thoughts about my dad, minus the times when I absolutely had to – when he was sick; when he was dying; when and immediately after he died.  See, we didn’t have what you would call a close relationship.  He was a hard man, born in 1931 and somewhere in the middle of eight children in Red House, West Virginia.  He dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force at a very young age.  He was in the Korean War and Vietnam.  He retired from active duty when I was little and spent much of the rest of his working life travelling as a field engineer for an aerospace manufacturer, away from us, away from being able to really know him.  He was stoic, and not forthcoming with feelings – pretty much ever.  There were usually parts of fucked up F-16 gearboxes or fuel pumps or what-have-you in his company car trunk.  He would try to teach me what they were and what they did.  I was more interested in the magic of dance at age 13 – unsure of how to learn from a man who was kind of a stranger to me.  A mean stranger, sometimes.  As a child, my father was the brooding orange glow of a cigarette tip early in the dark of morning, or late in the night after the news was over and children should be in bed.  There was just an ethereal body behind that smoke, a man I couldn’t make out in either the dark or the light, really.  And as I grew up, he was just not really…there.

But when he was home, he was the disciplinarian.  Clearly exhausted from the effort it took to parent me (since my sister had long fled the depression and repression that was our happy family home), my mom was in give-up mode by the time my dad would come home from being away for 2 weeks at a time.  We were constantly moving for his job, and yet he still had to travel.  It sounds like I’m knocking my dad for trying to always go for the better position in order to provide for us.  I probably am.  It was fucking hard.  I had lived in 10 different houses and neighborhoods in 4 different states by the time I graduated high school.  It sucked.  I was forever starting a new school, forever not fitting in, forever not making friends.  I was a fucked up, lonely child.  I’m deeply grateful for many of the traits I now possess because of (and despite) my childhood – but there’s no denying that it was hard, hard, hard.  YES I AM AWARE it could have been harder, but I am not playing the comparison game that is ever so popular.  He was The Enforcer, not in a physically abusive way but in a disappointing-look/glare kind of way.  I mean, I was a pretty good kid and tried to stay out of trouble.  It didn’t mean I didn’t get punished, though.  My parents were old-school and strict.  No closed door to your bedroom EVER.  No boys in your bedroom, EVER.  Shit, I didn’t even have a TV in my bedroom until I had to move back in at 22 for a hot minute.  No going out past 10 on a school night as a teen, and they knew where you were as best they could without cell phones or GPS…if I would have been a different child, I would have tested those limits a whole lot more.  I am a rule-follower though, and never sneaked out.  Lied a bit about exact whereabouts, sure.  Never tried anything besides drink a little in high school.  I was a good student.  None of it was ever enough.  Or at least, enough to win his approval, to get his attention, to feel…loved.

Look, I know he loved me in whatever way he could.  But knowing it in your head is not the same as feeling it in your heart.  Here was a man who was never really taught what that meant, was never given a model for what that should look like – his own parents were close-mouthed people who didn’t emote.  Whenever we would travel to see my grandparents in California, the visit was full of kids and cousins and aunts and uncles, but Grandma and Grandpa barely spoke.  Maybe it was just me.  Shit.  I don’t know.  My Grandma was an expert baker, and I am pretty sure that is how I inherited the cakes-and-pies gene.  I digress.  I am saying that my father came from somewhat abusive, stoic people and he learned how to be from them.  It was not close.  It was not loving.  It was not enough either.

So, through generations of alcoholism on my mother’s side and too many kids and a restrained depression-era love on my father’s, I grew up resentful.  A demonstrative child trapped in a sad, frustrated house with zero authentic emotions.  I started working at 16 part time.  I worked full time, all the time, from 18 on.  It’s just what you did then.  I did what I could to survive – I built strong AF walls, I built a fantastic Mind Palace, and I got the fuck out as soon as humanly possible.  Many mistakes were made.  Oh, and I also started drinking righteously at about 18.  Like mother, like daughter.  Anything to feel more loved.  Anything to feel more accepted, to feel cooler, to feel like I belonged somewhere.  Eventually, I thought that moving away to college would be the answer, and the necessary step in order to make college a thing in which I did more than dabble after spending 3 years out of high school starting classes and just dropping out eventually.  I remember that my father was always the one from whom I would ask to borrow money, with the admonition of “don’t tell your mother” – which is clearly fucked up in its own right.  I worked all through school, but still spent way out of my means.  I graduated.  I moved even farther away from my parents.  I got married.  I got divorced.  I then spent the next 10-odd years living within driving distance of them and basically doing whatever they needed me to do, whenever they asked.  Which led to what Brené Brown would call a small breakdown.  Which really looked more like

BREAKDOWN.

But what it led to was a few years of therapy (which, you know, never end really), and tough introspective work, and getting rid of shit that just did not serve me any longer.  What THAT led to was realizing that it is not just okay but fucking necessary to have boundaries.  Maybe sometimes what you or I might think as extreme boundaries.  I don’t know.  I just know that I didn’t want to wake up and be 60 and wonder what the fuck I had done, spending 20+ years of my life taking care of my aging parents.  For some, I know that it is in the blood.  For some, I know that it is duty.  For me, it doesn’t work.  And I had already spent 10 of those 20+ years doing a thing I didn’t want to do.  He died after suffering 6 months with a growing brain tumor, and I cried at the ceremony at the National Cemetery – but mostly because a 21-gun salute was a symbolic event that produced a visceral reaction.  At least it did for me.  None of this means (I must keep telling myself) that I am devoid of compassion for my parents.  I am not.  I was not.  But I am also not a bottomless well from which to draw, leaving nothing left for myself.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up.  My feelings about my father – his life and his death and my intersection with those events – are complicated.  I loved him out of duty.  I am jealous when I talk to other friends who have lost their fathers.  They feel a gaping hole in their lives that they cannot fill, not with all the soil on this earth or all the other earths.  I don’t have this hole.  I have a weird, smoke-like vapor passing through.  But I will say that I think he watches me.  In Texas, he was a blue jay.  Here, he is jets.  Fucking loud, all-the-time Marine training jets up by where I work.  They rattle the windows and shake the ground, letting me know he’s here.  I look up to the deafening sky when they pass over and say out loud, “thanks Dad.”

I don’t know how I mean it when I say it.

I Should Write More

I have six unfinished drafts in my “Drafts” section, all with titles but like, one sentence.  So it has become clear to me that I should just start writing stuff, see what happens, NOTHING CAN GO WRONG, RIGHT?  I mean, I’m sure someone out there wants to read about my cats and my patio filled with mostly dead plants and “marine layer” grunge and the fact that I cannot seem to get a decent night’s sleep to save my life right now.  I have projects that I know need doing, like cleaning the aforementioned patio and maybe clean out a closet or dusting anything at all ever.  And yet, this past weekend, I watched all 18 episodes PLUS the live show of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season 4.  I don’t even LIKE musicals.  (Rachel Bloom is a goddamn genius though and I love her.)  Am I procrastinating?  Tired?  Afraid?

Probably all three.  While the Menopause Saga has gotten better thanks to modern medicine and taking naps on weekends, I’m still kind of being a weird recluse because things just take too much energy.  Shaving my fucking legs takes too much energy.  Clothes are annoying and I don’t want to wear them anymore.  None of these situations are options.  (I mean, they are options for someone, just not me.)  I have been moderately successful at cooking things and driving places and generally getting shit done, but not without resentment.  And then maybe gratitude a little later.  But the space in between those feelings is a little too big (read:  CAVERNOUS) for my liking.

So here we are, World.  I’ll just throw some words out here and see what happens.  What have I got to lose?  Thank you, 3 readers, for sticking with my inconsistent self.  I’ll keep trying because that is all any of us can do.

Sometimes All We Have is Music

Oh hey, are you reading this?  Then my guess is you, too, are no stranger to disappointment or depression.  Are you human?  Alright then.  We’ve all been there – you got some less-than-good news, you had a bit of a soul-crushing defeat, someone you love has left you in one way or another – your friends see that you’ve put on a fucking smile anyway and then you know, you still gotta pay the stupid car insurance and go to work and buy toilet paper.  How do we keep going?  There are many answers to this complex question, and while I am a big fan in recent years of really feeling all the feels and figuring out why I feel the way I do and what, if any, action I can take, there are days when you just have to slap a motherfucking band-aid on that shit and say to life “WHAT ELSE.”

While you may really need that band-aid, I propose the theory that there is one thing that is that, but maybe more:  Music.

Music can get you out of a mood, put you in a mood, cause you to explore that mood, or shut out everything in your life that is just not a thing you can deal with right the fuck now.  As I blasted The Cult’s “Love Removal Machine” on the way to work this morning, I followed it with Deftones, Marilyn Manson, and Pantera just to get some fucking anger out of the way.  We all have our own thing.  There will be a moment in the next 48 hours in which I will probably sit bawling in my car to OH YOU FUCKING NAME IT, because my Spotify is filled with shit that will make you cry.  (Of course, when the dance-able joy of New Order’s “1963” makes me get teary, it doesn’t take much. Lyrics can hit me in the breadbasket.)

What I am trying to say is that for me, music is a key that can unlock numerous doors, or lock them back up if need be.  Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you need until that perfect song hits you.  There are other times where you know that if you roll all the windows down and turn up the volume, you’ll be allowed, in that space, to feel exactly what you need to feel.

Turn up the volume.  Either way, that guy next to you at the light totally wins.