I don’t often speak of my childhood, especially if it concerns my father.
Most of you know that I am estranged from him, and for good reason. I had to make a conscious decision to end our relationship long ago until he could own up to certain responsibilities. I was tired of carrying his guilt.
Sad as it is, I’ve been a happier person because of it; but I’d also be lying if I said a part of me didn’t miss him.
Well-maybe not him-but I miss those few times when he acted like a parent and I was actually a happy child around him.
Consequently, I’ve also lost touch with much of his side of the family. I do keep in touch with one cousin and I occasionally get Christmas cards from an aunt and uncle.
In August, my cousin and I had a long conversation, and many revelations came out. It was therapeutic and traumatic at the same time.
Truth is? My life hasn’t been the same in the months since. In addition to my autumn blues, I’ve carried these revelations around with me. They haunt my dreams and my thoughts all take a back burner to them. It’s downright distracting, and I’m not at all comfortable with it. I’ve had a barrage of negative emotions wanting to spew out, but I keep it together.
Today, on my lunch break, I went to check my mailbox and found a thick envelope addressed to me with the return address of my aunt and uncle on my father’s side. An aunt and uncle who, when I was a child, protected and rescued me and my sister from some bad situations in our house. An aunt and uncle who, though they haven’t seen or spoken to me in over ten years, always say how much they love me in a Christmas card.
I rushed home, held the envelope in my hands, prepared myself for “anything” and peeled open the package. Inside was a card telling me how much they missed me, wished me and my husband well, and how they hoped to see me the next time we were in North Carolina.
In addition, there was a small pink photo album. I expected to see pictures of all the cousins I’d never met, maybe even a recent picture of my father….
What I didn’t expect to see were pictures of me…and my sister…when we were small children.
There were photos of us with our father, with our mother, with my paternal grandparents, with the two of them (my aunt and uncle), and with my cousins.
We were so tiny…..me with my strawberry blond hair and my buster browns….my sister with her platinum blond locks and her buster browns, our facial expressions varied, our attire reflected the era of polyester.
Most of all, we looked like happy children.
Happy. Me. As a child.
It’s funny how my own perception of my childhood varies greatly from what an outsider might have seen.
A little girl beaming beside her kneeling father in his military uniform, her arm around him, her younger sister (me) standing in front of them, clutching a teddy bear, also smiling.
A little girl (me) curled up in her paternal grandfather’s lap, a huge grin splitting her face.
Two little girls smiling, sitting beside their mother, who looks distracted and annoyed, showing no affection whatsoever but the girls look un-bothered by it. (my mother was a very unhappy woman in those days)
Mainly, I see two little girls who actually knew happiness for a few moments even if it was just for a photograph.
I cried thumbing through it, studying the photos, looking at them over and over again, running my finger over the one of me and my grandfather (he died shortly after the photo was taken). I especially cried over the one of my father with me and my sister. I do believe it is the only photo with just the three of us. He and my mother were each single parents, having divorced by the time I was 3 years old and my sister was nearly 7.
At one time, it seemed they were handling the burdens of single parenthood with relative ease.
Those pictures were before my sister and I were betrayed and abandoned. Before our innocence was shaken loose and tossed to sea.
My tears were bittersweet. Bitter because I knew that not long after those photos were taken, our hell would really begin and would not end for a long time. Not long after those photos, our father would all but forget about me and my sister, and would only return to wreak havoc in our already shaky, unstable world, whenever he chose.
But they were also sweet. Because dammit, my father was a good father at one time. My sister and I clearly were proud to be his daughters. We loved him and believed in him. Put all of our trust in him as our protector.
I told myself I had to hold on to that. Because it really is all I have now. That photo album helped a wound begin to scab over for me. It helped me begin to walk away from the thoughts that have haunted me since that day in August. Have really haunted me all my life.
Because I saw happiness and joy somewhere in those eyes.