Friday, February 18, 2011

It's a God Thing

There are so many memories, but so few of my Dad. And one vivid one of my Father. My dad left when I was 4 and by then his diseases had taken him over. The bipolar disorder, alcoholism and his childhood had formed this man into someone who was almost never pleasant to be around. But there were those times when a father’s instinct came through.

In 1964 I was 3 years old and as Mad Men has shown us, most of the adults in America smoked. My mom and dad included. We were living in a rented house on York Street in Capital Hill. It was an old red brick two story home, bedrooms and bath upstairs; it had a brick front porch and a small wooden back one. If you go to look for it now you won’t find it. It was torn down years ago and like a lot of older homes in Capital Hill, was replaced by an apartment building. But for part of 1964 it was home to my mom, dad, brother, 2 of my sisters and me.

Dad smoked Pall Malls, no filter. A man’s cigarette if there ever was one. I don’t really remember what mom smoked then but later it was Kools, then Benson and Hedges menthol. That was the brand she stayed with until she was diagnosed with emphysema. In 1964 there must have been an ashtray in every room of every house in America because smoking was a continual thing then, and for someone like my dad, already an addictive type, he always had one. Sitting, standing, walking, driving, reading, watching TV. Always.

One winter night in 1964, at the house on York Street, my dad was in the upstairs hallway, leaning against the doorjamb of my brother’s bedroom. He was casually propped there, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a cigarette down by his side. I was upstairs too and for some reason, probably for no reason other than I was 3, running. I turned the corner of the hallway; in what I am sure to this day was the fastest any three year old took a corner, right into dad’s lit cigarette. Not only did I run into his lit cigarette, I collided into it with my open eye.

I don’t really remember much of what immediately followed, but my dad’s parental nature kicked in and he rushed to get “the baby” help. I do I remember being outside looking down as if floating above the back porch. I hear the screen door slam open and from above I see dad starting down the wooden steps heading to the car, carrying me wrapped in a blanket. I hear my mother’s voice calling out that I wasn’t wearing shoes. As he reached the car my dad calls back that it doesn’t matter he will be carrying me, my mother rushes out hurrying to catch up with us.

There is a vague memory of sitting in the Doctors office and of getting an eye patch. And a very clear memory of getting a candy cane. Not a little cane shaped one that hangs on a tree. No this was one of those big ones that is like a little club in my tiny hand. I forget about my eye patch and two thoughts go through my mind as the doctor gives it to me. One, it was already late, how would I finish it before having to go to bed? Two, my siblings would be jealous. My parents take me home, I never need my shoes.

Years later I learn that I have an unrelated eye condition which causes my eyes to fatigue and the weaker one to no longer focus correctly, when this happens I see double. I have been wearing prescription glasses as treatment for 20 years now. When visiting a neurologist three years ago, he asked how long I had this eye condition. I told him since childhood. He looked shocked and told me I was lucky I wasn’t blind. Apparently when you have this condition as a child your brain is not developed enough to understand the double vision and will try to correct it, but it can’t. Eventually the brain will stop allowing information from either eye and you are blind. He told me the treatment in childhood is to wear an eye patch over the weak eye to stop it from getting tired, and then confusing the brain.

I ran into that cigarette with my weaker eye.
And my father carried me.
I am not blind in that eye because the scar is over my iris.
And my Father carried me.
I wore an eye patch over my weaker eye.
And my father carried me.
I am not completely blind today because I ran into a lit cigarette when I was three.....and my Father carried me.

I believe that everything happens for a reason.
Sometimes you get to know why, and sometimes you don’t.
But why or not, here is the one thing I do know, a God Thing when I see it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Toys I had while growing up...

Silly Putty
Lincoln Logs
Hot Wheels
Paper Dolls
Mr Potato Head
Troll Dolls
Etch a Sketch
Squirt Gun
Matchbox Cars
Jump Rope

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's what I don't remember

Post-traumatic stress disorder: An anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma.

Dissociation: Partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s conscious or psychological functioning. Dissociation can be a response to trauma …[it] allows the mind to distance itself from experiences that are too much for the psyche to process at that time.

These are the words that define my childhood.
These are two of the obstacles that challenge me because of my childhood.
These are two definitions that explain so much and so little at the same time.

Memories. So subjective.
Multiple witnesses to the same event can remember entirely different things.

What I remember, what I know, is looking down a long hallway. It is night, I am in my nightgown, and I am alone in the dark hallway. On one side of the hall, a little behind me is my sisters’ bedroom, the door is open and the lights are out. On the other side of the hall a little ahead of me is my brother’s room, the door closed. I don’t see either room though; I am looking down the hall into the living room.

The light is on. I can see the side of the console TV, an end table with a lamp on it, part of the couch, and my father beating my mother. I don’t hear a thing. No sound at all. I am shaking; I don’t know what to do. Of course at 4 years old there is really nothing I can do. I realize I am crying, I don’t hear that either but that is because I am not making a sound, just quietly crying. He stops hitting her; and starts choking her. Her arm flails and knocks the lamp off the table. I hear the glass break.

The next thing I remember is being in bed with my sister 13 year old sister CAS, pressed up against her back, shaking from all the adrenaline pumping through my little body. That is all I remember of that night. I don’t remember the police coming; I don’t remember my father being arrested.

Years later I am talking to CAS about that night. Her memory is different than mine. I am surprised she has a memory at all; I thought she slept through it.

She is standing in the same dark hallway; she sees the same room I do, the same furniture, the same violence. The noise brought her from her bed, but she doesn’t remember me standing there though clearly she is behind me. She sees dad choking mom. She sees mom’s hand knock the lamp over. Then she screams. She realizes immediately that this was a mistake and runs and gets back in bed. Alone. Our mom comes in and tells her “Your father wants to see you.” CAS goes into the living room and my father tells her “You wanted to see this, now watch.” He then starts hitting mom again. CAS remembers the police coming, she remembers dad being arrested.

So what I remembered, what I had know, is not entirely complete, or correct. I was not against CAS’s back like I remember, but by 9 year old sister TJS’. This is a shock to me. For some reason more shocking than not remembering CAS being in the hall or screaming. It shocks me because I do remember being in her bed, underneath the covers, face against her back, trembling. But now I remember the wall behind my back as well. And I am on my right side. And this is not possible in CAS’ bed. If I am on my right side with a wall behind me than I am on the other side of the room; in the other bed, against TJS’s back. I remember it so clearly now. CAS' memory has triggered mine.

However to this day, I do not remember CAS being in the hallway or her scream. It must have been that scream that got me out of the hall. I do not remember mom coming in the bedroom even though I was there. No, I still don’t remember any of it, even after hearing about it. No triggering for them. Those memories must have never made it to my psyche.

Memory is funny, it can protect you; ironically by making you forget.