Iím probably a fool for posting this at night when half of Hatrack is gone...itíll probably be off the front page by morning, crushing my delicate ego... *sniff* Ah, well. I suppose I canít put it off any longer...
Iíve been debating for the last two months or so whether or not I even wanted to do a 1,000 post thread when the time came. I felt at first that it was too soon, since notable threads have been created by people like Papa Moose and Bob_Scopatz, and how do you follow either of them? I had pretty much made up my mind to wait until either my one-year anniversary or my 2,000th post...but then I thought it was kind of pointless if the only people who shared themselves were people who had been around a long time...wasnít the purpose here to get to know each other better? In Chaeronís thread, Papa Moose said,
I like the fact that most of the stories are shared by people who have come to feel as though they are members of an online family here. For some people that happens at post #3, for some it may not happen by #5,000. Tough to tell why and how, I guess. Anyone have an opinion on that?
I agree. I think the fascination with the number 1,000 is that 1,000 posts (in many cases ) seems like a milestone that indicates you are committed enough and regular enough to really be considered a part of the community, but one that you donít have to wait several years to hit. Kind of like a Hatrack Bar Mitzvah! No reason it canít be a different number, especially if one leans very far in either direction on the quality/quantity spectrum. *grin*
Anyway, here goes nothing...
In this post, I talk quite a bit about my childhood and my parents. I feel guilty about this, because, of course, they arenít here to defend themselves, and yet, it seems apropos here, because knowing where I came from connects with knowing who I am. Iím talking about my experiences, and other people are part of my experiences; I donít have the time to send waivers out. I hope Iím not doing wrong. If I am, I apologize. I guess this thread is self-indulgent, but then, how could it not be?
Itís also ugly at times.
If any of that, or the fact that itís bound to be grotesquely long--since I am a verbose poster under the best of circumstances--scares you off, you may flee now (or skip around).....
My parents were both born in Cuba. My fatherís motherís family had been a very influential family centuries ago in Spain. There is noble blood on that side of the family (hence, my auntís deafness, and the high incidence of other hereditary disorders in my family), and my grandmother used to have in her possession a deed given to her family by a former King of Spain granting them much of the land that Cienfuegos (I believe) in Cuba and Santiago in the Dominican Republic currently sit on. As soon as I can kick those darn squatters off of my land....! My fatherís father and grandfather were university people. I believe my grandfather, who died before I was born, was a professor of agronomy originally. Eventually, he became a politician, and ended up heading one of the parties that was opposed to Batista. Unfortunately, his was not the one that won. For a family opposed to the dictatorship of their land, my fatherís family had a remarkable amount of, um, leeway? As the son of a politician, for instance, he did not have to stop at customs when he reentered the country after his many trips to the United States. Seems strange and naÔve now.
My father had one sister. As I mentioned, she was deaf. In Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s, there were not a lot of educational resources for deaf people, so my grandmother moved with her to the United States, while my father and his father stayed behind. Since his father traveled a lot by this point, my father actually was cared for by a relative of his...Iím thinking it was his uncle, but Iím not positive. It may have been his grandfather. While my father is generally the stoic kind and will not talk about it, it is clear that he harbored a resentment of his sister and perhaps his mother for abandoning him. I have also heard that when they did live together, she was always given the benefit of the doubt in disputes, because she was the poor little deaf girl, and she played this to the hilt.
Back in Cuba, however, he was allowed to become a wild teenager; a motorcycle riding hoodlum with lots of freedom. When Castro took over, with some help from the United States, my grandfather came to the quick conclusion from some of the speeches he was giving that, despite his claims to the contrary, he was leaning toward communism (or at least toward playing off the balance of power between the US and USSR, much as England did with its more powerful European neighbors centuries before), and moved with his son to the United States, reuniting the family again.
My motherís family was much more blue-collar. Her father worked as a bag boy, a bus boy, a bartender, a waiter, etc. He had a fierce work ethic and a legendary tightfistedness. He was the type to work 80 hours a week, and spend absolutely nothing on himself (or his family). As a bartender, he saved up enough money to start buying property, and became reasonably wealthy as a landlord and as an investor in property.
When Castro took over, he did not have the foresight to leave while he could. Shortly after Castro closed the routes out of the country, however, Operaciůn Pedro Pan, an airlift of children-only organized by an American Catholic priest, took place. My grandparents had the opportunity to send one of their six children to the United States. They chose their youngest, my mother. Not having been there, and trying to see things in the best light, I interpret this as a decision on their part to send the one who had the fewest ties to her homeland, the one they thought would be most resilient and least traumatized by the whole thing. I know that her siblings in later years resented the fact that she got to escape the oppression while they didnít. My mother believed that they sent her because they were the least attached to her, they could bear to lose her more than their other children, and they didnít really love her.
My mother spent a few weeks in a processing facility for Cuban girls in South Miami, and then was placed with a foster family in New Jersey. She felt that they were very mean to her and made her feel inadequate and unloved. She went to a Catholic school, where she was taught by the legendary nuns of yore. She was always a devout Catholic, and wanted to be a nun when she grew up. Allegedly, however, a nun told her that she wasnít smart enough or good enough to become a nun, so she gave up on that dream. (As you will see, anything my mother says must be taken with a grain of salt. I say this not to dispute whether these things actually happened, but just to be fair and honest.)
After my mother had spent several years in New Jersey, as a foreigner living among strangers, my grandfather and her cousins managed to escape Cuba. I donít have the details of how it is that he left but his wife and five other children stayed behind. One of my motherís older sisters was married to a Communist and living quite well; it may be that my grandmother didnít want to leave her oldest child behind and her other kids didnít want to leave her, but thatís just speculation. There is quite a bit of dysfunction on that side of the family, so itís hard to know for sure. So my mother went to live with him until college.
Since he was penniless and in a new country, my grandfather went back to working three jobs as a bartender and a waiter. True to form, he eventually saved up enough money to buy a house in a poor neighborhood outright, to buy a stake in a famous restaurant, and to put heaps of money away in the bank. He almost never spent a dime on himself.
My parents met in college and were married. I was born while they were in graduate school; I was a broken thermometer, the prize in rhythm roulette. It seems clear in hindsight that my mother decided to marry and have a family because she believed she was inadequate for being a nun, and so this was what good Catholics did if they did not have a religious vocation. I think my father had a sense that you dated one kind of girl and married another. You dated the loose kind, and married the stable kind, the Catholic kind. She was the bearer and raiser of your children. My parentsí marriage seems to have been a compromise for the both of them.
I donít know why I was such a screwed up little kid. The easy answer would be to blame it on my parentsí dysfunctionsówhich were extremeóbut I seem to have been messed up before they hit their worst, and before I could really understand what was wrong with my family. As a little kid, I never fit in, and was prone to violent rages. I was always in trouble, and very nearly kicked out of my elementary school. I was always unhappy, and overly sensitive. I always felt like a target and an outcast.
Learning to read was definitely the best thing that ever happened to me. I donít want to reduce the value of reading to simple escapism, but when I was little reading allowed me to engage my mind and my creativity and get beyond the frustrations of my life. The best thing my parents ever did for me was encourage this habit. We were poor; my father was a teacher and my mother was often unemployed. Clothes came from Goodwill, clearance stores, and, finally K-Mart. But there was always enough money to buy books. No matter what. Whatever I wanted to read, not just stuff in the kiddie section. And new books. I eventually figured out that I could get even more if I got used books, but that was my own realization and my own decision. By the time I was in 6th grade, I was reading on a college level.
My parents werenít exactly nurturers. Having kids is what people did, but back then nobody taught parents what to do with kids once you got them. My parents tended to treat me like a little adult. For me, this had its ups and downs. As I mentioned, nothing was censored when it came to reading. Iíve also mentioned elsewhere that my parents took me to whatever movies they happened to feel like seeing, regardless of the rating. We had almost no family in the US, and they darn sure werenít going to pay for a baby-sitter. So I saw some pretty intense movies as a kid. Looking back, it almost seems like my parents preferred R-rated movies. I had no bedtime. Nobody made me eat my vegetables. Nobody made me do my homework. Nobody made me bathe or brush my teeth. If we went to a restaurant, which was common during the portion of my life when both of my parents were working and working nights, I ordered whatever I wanted. I was expected to ďclean my plate,Ē food being money, after all, but what went on my plate in the first place was really up to me. The only real rules were that I not waste money, and that I not interfere with their lives.
My father in particular didnít know what to do with me as a little kid. I wasnít old enough to relate to him in the only way he knew how to relate: peer-to-peer. He was very frustrated at the trouble I was always getting into--now that my own kids are constantly in trouble at preschool, Iím getting a taste of what he went through--and he tried his hardest to beat the devil out of me. He would slap me, hit me with his fists, and hit me with a belt. Sometimes I was naked for the beatings. I was frequently bruised up all over my body. Each day at school, I had to get a note from the teacher telling how I had behaved. If the note was not good or if I had ďlostĒ it, I got beaten. One day, when I had gotten into trouble at school, I became hysterical and begged the teacher not to write me a bad note. When I gave my father the sealed note, I was surprised when I didnít get the beating I expected. I assumed the teacher took pity on me and wrote a favorable report.
Oddly enough, I was never beaten again, even when I got into trouble. hmmm...
My parents did provide for my needs, including books. And they also pulled me out of public school and sent me to private school when I got mugged as a third-grader. The school where I went from 7th to 12th grade was pretty expensive, and they both worked day and night to send me there, until my mother became unemployed again during my senior year.
As I got older and more able to share interests with my father, we began to chum around a little more. He read the books I read and would talk to me about them. He would tell me stories of his youth. We went to football games together. I started to really enjoy his company most of the time. But he could be a jerk at times, if something made him furious.
I donít know whether to organize this chronologically or thematically, so I guess Iím just rambling at this point...
When I was seven I was molested by a teenager (18 or so) in the neighborhood where we lived. Over the course of 6 months or so, I was molested in the alley behind my house (hidden from view by a wooden fence), in a three-foot crawlspace under a bridge spanning a nearby canal, and in his bedroom when his parents werenít home. I wasnít physically forced; I went willingly. I enjoyed the attention from somebody older. It made me feel important. I also sensed that what we were doing was sinful, though, and he resisted my efforts to end the situation. So I ended it the most effective way I could think of. I stopped going outside to play. I had my books, why did I need to go outside? I guess this is when I really threw myself into reading.
[I have told almost nobody about this. I told my first Serious College Girlfriend, my wife (before we got married), two psychologists I saw back in college and grad school (when counseling was free), and the social worker who handled our adoption. Now Iíve told dozens (hundreds?), some of whom I know IRL. Before I started writing this thread, I decided that I would unload this here; I wasnít particularly nervous about it. Now my heart is beating like mad, like it was each other time I told somebody. Who would think that something you write could have such an effect on you? Who would think that twenty-five years later it would still be scary to share my deep, dark secret? Is this the first thing people will think of when they see my name attached to a post from now on?]
I was raised pretty devoutly Catholic. When I was old enough to understand some of the Churchís views on sexuality, but still young enough to be confused about my own role in what had happened to me, I learned to despise myself. I had had sex with a man. Willingly. I was a young fornicator, and evidently a homosexual to boot. As a Catholic and as a Cuban, I thought that there was little I could do that would make me more sinful. When I started having actual sexual impulses, I was pretty freaked out. I thought nobody else was having the same feelings as I was, and that they were proof once again that I was evil. I was certain I was bound for Hell.
When I was 14, I attempted suicide. It was a pretty lame attempt. I swallowed one of just about every pill I could find in the house (which was a lot, but thatís a different part of the story), many of which were expired. Nobody even noticed. I got sick as hell for three days, puking and having diarrhea at the same time. That was the best I could do. *sheepish grin* Iím a pretty intelligent person; we had a shotgun in the house. I figure if I had really wanted to kill myself, I could certainly have done a more effective job! I suppose one could call it a ďcry for help,Ē except that I never told anyone either. Maybe I was too embarrassed by my ineptness, or maybe when confronted with the reality of what such a cry would entail, I no longer wanted to go through with it. In any case, while I have indirectly criticized my Catholic upbringing elsewhere, at this point it saved my life, albeit in a perverse way. I was certain beyond any doubt that I was going to hell. This life, as bad as it was, was better than that. So I decided it was better to stick around. There would be time enough for perdition later. Nothing like fear as a motivator for living.
Meanwhile, my parents were going through troubles of their own. Maybe it was chemical, maybe it was genetic, maybe because of her insecurities from her own childhood, maybe because of stress over unpleasant job situations and a child who was falling apart, but my mother started showing signs of mental illness. It began with paranoia, and the belief than anything that happened was about her. My father was too weak to confront her about it and try to get her help, and I was too young to know better. So as a child, I believed we had listening bugs implanted in our house, because my mother told me so. When a friend of theirs got mugged, she was sure it was agents of her enemies. When I was a teenager and my grades started going to hell, she was sure it was because my teachers were friends of her enemies. They thought that by giving me bad grades, they could discredit her. I was happy enough to accept the offered excuse. [We need some sort of shrugging, bittersweet smiley. I have often wished for just such an emoticon.] When she could no longer keep her job and she could not find a new one, she felt she was being blackballed by her enemies. In a sense this was true; Iím sure her references cannot have been good by this point.
Thatís the thing about paranoia. Eventually your fears become true in a way. You make them true. She often raged at my father because she felt he was trying to turn me against her. She constantly saw signs that I didnít love her, and attacked me for it. She was right. Eventually I stopped trying to love her.
She also obsessed with things that she thought could bring happiness to her life. At one point, when they were both working overtime, it was shopping. By the time I began high school, my parents had worked their way up to middle class. They were working 80 hour weeks to do it, but they were pulling down some decent money. When they werenít working, we were shopping. To my motherís credit, she developed an awe inspiring ability to root out good values. She bought and bought and bought. It didnít matter if we needed something or not; if it was a good deal, she bought it. The rooms in our house piled up and up with crap that we owned that did not fit anywhere. We had Mikasa service for 40. We had virtually never in my life had anybody over for dinner. We had tons of storage devices to help her get organized. They were all in a pile in the spare bedroom. We had pre-recorded beta videotapes of movies I had never even heard of, but hey, they were cheaper than blank tapes when she bought íem. And the clothes...oh, the clothes...
Where was my father when this was happening? Once in a while, he would put up a fight, but it was always a weak one. Even when she lost her job and took out credit cards, he would rather back down and live in relative peace than say, ďNo. We donít need this and we have no money.Ē He worked himself harder and harder, and still fell further and further behind on the bills.
Mercifully, she eventually cooled off on the spending. Then she turned to religion. My mother had always been devout, but now she moved from devotion to unhealthy obsession. Can a religious obsession be unhealthy? She had stopped buying things for the house, but now she spent thousands on every religious book she could find, on every cross or postcard or other little thing that might bring blessings into her life. She took trips to Conyers, Georgia and had visions. Her faith was so animistic and talismanic (Wear this scapular; if you happen to die while youíre wearing it, youíll go to heaven. Lucky I never believed that one! Say this prayer nine mornings in a row and youíll get whatever youíre asking for. Keep this card in your wallet. It will bring you good luck. The reason everything is going to badly in your life right now is that you are too sinful. That must be why everything was peachy keen in hers.) that she was starting to scare the old cronies in her womenís guild. They thought she was involved in some kind of brujerŪa or santerŪa. So eventually they kicked her out.
This so enraged her that she stopped being Christian. Since my fatherís mother went to the same church that she had gone to, she became convinced that she had been instrumental in what had happened. She told anyone that would listen that my grandmother had been poisoning her water, and that was why my mother never bore any other children. She accused my grandmother and my father both of ďstealing her children from her.Ē And then she moved on to her next obsession: homeopathy. Again, it was this talismanic belief that a potion or a pill could solve all your problems. Take more shark cartilage. Take cod liver oil. She became the best customer that GNC and Vitamin World ever had. Have you noticed that they have a whole lot more locations lately? That was due to my mother. (Actually, she creeped them out, too, to the extent that she was banned from some stores and had to travel miles out of her way to other stores.) Itís hard to give a sense of perspective here. She easily spent over a thousand dollars a month on pills. Who knew what these things were doing to her in the combinations and dosages she was taking. I have some disgusting stories, but this ainít her thread. Itís mine, so Iím going to close this door and move on for now.
By the time I was a teenager, my father and I had grown to be really good friends. Our relationship is nothing like any father and son relationship Iíve ever seen. I donít call him ďDad,Ē and we donít say ďI love you.Ē We never had anything like that to build on. Instead, we started from scratch, and arrived at friendship. I go out with my father as often and as happily as I go out with friends my own age. We go to jai-alai or to the movies, or we go have a drink, and we have a good time together. You may think itís sad that we donít have a more traditional parent-child relationship, but I think itís a happy ending. Think of how much worse it could have been.
As soon as I could, I moved away. I know this made life at home harder for him, but I needed to get out. Actually, I moved away three times, and was sucked back in twice. I left junior year of college, and went to work in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, but I returned to finish my bachelorís degree and moved back in for a year. Then I moved to South Carolina for graduate school. I really intended to stay there and build a life there, but the economy got tough and teaching jobs of the kind I wanted for an inexperienced teacher were few and far between. I knew that in Miami I would be much more able to find a job with the contacts I had, from going to school and from a couple of part-time teaching gigs. I moved back to Miami in late August, after all the jobs were gone, and was able to land a pretty decent job in October. I stayed at home for a few more months trying to lower my outstanding debts, and finally moved out for the last time around March.
It was at this job that I met my future wife. She was an English teacher and a science-fiction fan like me. I had a legendary collection of signed Star Trek photos in my classroom, but she stayed away from me in any romantic sense due to a misunderstanding. Iíve always had a lot of female friends. I stupidly referred to one of them in conversation, and she assumed I was dating her. We MET met at a mutual friendís birthday gathering. We went to celebrate her birthday, and were inexplicably drawn to each other. We spent the entire afternoon pretty much ignoring everyone else, including the birthday gal, and getting to know each other. That night, we went out on our first date. Sort of. I had already had plans for that night with my best friend. I didnít want to cancel those plans, yet I wanted to spend more time with her. So I did both, and we went out as a threesome. :snicker: I had a chaperone!
About a month before she met me, my future wife went to a fortune teller in a Renaissance festival with some friends. Among them was a guy she was somewhat interested in. The fortune teller took her aside and told her to forget those guys, nothing was going to happen with any of them. She told her that, instead, she would meet a teacher within a month, a math teacher with a background in computers. She would be engaged in three months and married within a year. She scoffed at this absurd prediction.
We first dated in February. We were engaged in April. We were married the next January.
My wife and I share so much, itís bizarre. Weíre both writers, and specifically writers of science fiction, weíre both readers, and particularly readers of science fiction. Weíre both fans of Star Wars and Star Trek. We both have some drama background (some college, high school, and grad school productions for me, tons of professional opera experience for her). Weíre both major Disney fanatics.
And her father told her she would never find anyone who shared her silly interests!
Our wedding was the most amazing and special event of my life. We now have kids, and my kids mean the world to me. Having kids was the most life-changing event. But thatís as an ongoing thing. As far as single events go, nothing beats our wedding night.
Our wedding was about a month after my mother threw my father out of the house he paid for. He stayed with us for a week or so, and then moved in with my aunt and uncle for several months.
Although she was invited, my mother chose not to attend our wedding. She did, however, send a gift: a video tape on finding the G-Spot and a funny-looking unpackaged massager.
My father stayed with my aunt and uncle for a rather long time. I was starting to wonder if he had plans to get an apartment. He was stuck in neutral, thinking that sooner or later, things would blow over. Eventually, I helped convince him to move on and leave the abusive marriage heíd been living in behind. Divorce was not something that Catholics or Cubans were supposed to do, but it was really for the best here.
He felt so guilty that he gave her the house and all that was inside, an RV, and the contents of his 401K. Probably a good $60,000 in money and assets. He paid off his credit cards before giving her the rest of his money, but he kept nothing else for himself.
It was not our intention to abandon her in her illness, but to limit whom she could bring down with her. We tried to get her to accept help, but I wanted my father to be able to move on with his own life.
My mother had gotten to the point where she could not go anywhere without creating a raving scene. She was verbally abusive to virtually everyone, and accused people of all kinds of horrible things. With my father gone, she also had nobody left to enable her. Nobody to pay off her bills, nobody to drive her places, nobody to make or buy her food. She had long since reached the point where she could not drive, could not put gas in a car, could not cook, could not clean or pick up. With my father out of the house, she started losing weight very quickly. It was clear she was not eating or bathing. We tried to convince her to get help, but she didnít think she needed any. It was the rest of us who were evil and insane; she believed there was nothing wrong with her but the problems we had inflicted on her. She wasnít going to let us trick her into getting put in an institution where she would be lobotomized.
What do you do when someone who needs help wonít accept it? We tried to have her Baker Acted. Iíll never forget standing in her house while the police tried to reason with her, and finally gave up and dragged her away, kicking, screaming, and handcuffed. And knowing that I gave the order to have it done. After three days, the psych ward released her. They released her to my custody when I came to visit, without warning me that this was their intention, and despite having told me that they planned to commit her. They released her because they did not consider her to be a danger to herself or anyone else. She was filling her body with grotesque amounts of homeopathic supplements (she was easily taking 30 pills a day), she was not eating or bathing, she was living in literal filth, but she was not a danger to herself, and could not be forced to accept help. When things got a little worse, we tried again, and the same thing happened again.
Then she got Baker Acted by the police when she passed out on the street, because she had messed up her electrolyte levels with all the crap she was taking. Bingo. She had demonstrated that she was a danger to herself. The psych ward tried to commit. I testified at the commitment hearing. That was another experience I will carry with me forever. The DA was not given the photographs of her living conditions I had provided to the psych unit. In fact, the DA knew nothing about the case except what was in the file before her, which she had seen for the first time that day. Her court-appointed lawyer said that she wanted a second opinion from a psychiatrist of her choosing, and the judge agreed. My mother asked to be evaluated by a homeopathic psychiatrist, and the court adjourned for two weeks so that one could be found. Two weeks later, she had been unable to find a homeopathic psychiatrist--no surprise--so another two week adjournment was called to give her more time. At this point, the psych unit decided that this case was costing more money and effort than it was worth, so they dropped the motion.
What the hell is a homeopathic psychiatrist?
Although my father had left her lots of money, my mother would not pay her bills. Within 6 months, her house, which had been about 2/3 paid off, was foreclosed upon. She then lived in her RV in a KOA, until she was kicked out for not paying. Most of her possessions were lost with the house. The rest were lost with the RV. Many things that were of sentimental value to me or my father, artifacts of my childhood, were lost when the house was lost. After being kicked out of the KOA, she roamed the streets for a while.
Eventually, she found herself in a halfway house, and we had reason to hope. For several months, things were looking up. They were paying for her to share an apartment with some other women, and giving her classes so that she could again function in the world. They even offered to file disability papers for her so that she could draw disability money. This was a big sticking point because she did not want to admit to having any sort of problem. Eventually, she decided that these people who had paid for an apartment for her and given her an allowance, and who had given her classes and everything else, were just using her to try to steal her money (what money?), so she just walked out.
I never saw my mother again.
My father eventually got his own apartment (Iím jumping back and forth in the chronology, but I canít seem to tell this story in a straight line). He started dating again. I just about never saw him happy in the time he lived with my mother. It was neat to see him be able to enjoy life again.
At the same time as all this with my mother was going on, my wife and I were trying to adopt. We had to take parenting classes to be certified to do this. Nobody in the class knew my story, but one of the two teachers was my social worker, and she did. I got pretty hot under the collar one night when a student suggested that men who had been abused as boys should not be allowed to adopt, because studies most often showed that abusers had themselves been abused. (Thatís bad math, but I wonít get into it here.)
Anyway, after a year or so of trying, we finally were matched up. The adoption process through the state is a process of getting your hopes up and having them dashed over and over and over again, until you give up or you get the placement you want. Itís also nothing nothing nothing nothing BANG, youíre a parent. They had said that there was going to be a period of getting to know the children before they were placed, but then they were in a hurry to get them placed and finalized, so as soon as they got the go ahead from us, they placed the children with us in less than a week. I remember the day we went to pick up our new daughters. I remember wondering what the hell I had been thinking when I started this process!
It must have been hard on our relatives as well. They knew we were trying to adopt, but when someone is trying to get pregnant, you have nine months of anticipation and accommodation after they finally succeed. Instead, overnight, my father and her parents were grandparents. That night, my father came to our house and met the girls. He seemed uncomfortable around them, and he seemed to struggle to think of them as his ďrealĒ grandchildren. He had had a bad cough for several weeks, so he didnít get real close to them. He just stood around and watched us try to deal with two one-year-olds who wanted to know where there foster parents were.
That night he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He had to have a quadruple bypass, and didnít leave the hospital for at least a couple of weeks. So here I was taking care of new children, whose special needs were turning out to be rather more than I had been told, while my fatherís life was in the balance in the hospital. He entered surgery having only seen his grandchildren once, from a distance, for about a half hour. The surgery went fine, but the immediate recuperation in ICU was touch and go. As I recall, some patients can relax as they come out of it, and some fight it and send their hearts into a frenzy. This was his case.
I left the ICU and went for a walk on the hospital grounds. I called my wife. With the help of Nighthawk, she had taken the girls to a scheduled doctorís appointment. On the phone, she told me that the doctor had been very concerned with how developmentally delayed the girls were, and thought they might well be retarded. I have described the tactics that the social workers used when placing the girls with us elsewhere on this site, so I wonít go into it here. But they had specifically reassured us that the girls were not retarded, and now it seemed that they were. I looked into my future and saw myself dealing with their needs for the rest of their lives. No recitals, no little league sports, no family game night, no boyfriends, no growing up, no graduation, no getting married, no grandkids. [I hope you donít think me terribly selfish for despairing. I was prepared to love them through all of that. But nobody who has a child the natural way wants this for their child, why should I feel differently about an adopted child?]
I also saw my father dead. [One of my coworkers, on hearing of my fatherís surgery, ďreassuredĒ me thus: ďDonít worry! My father had a quadruple bypass and he lived another 8 years!Ē Can you think of a stupider reassurance than that?!?! I donít want him for 8 more years! I want him for 30! At least!] My life looked to be a shambles, and I broke down and wept right there all alone in the hospital. My father and I were never demonstrative. We never knew how to relate to each other in that way. But I knew right there that I loved him, and that losing him would be devastating.
He pulled through, and came to live with us while he was recovering, because living alone in his second floor apartment was out of the question. I now had my house full all of a sudden. My children and my father, and both needed taking care of. My original plan had been to take a week off from work and then return to work, but it soon became obvious that that was impossible. So I took family leave to take care of my family.
This was good for the girls because, young as they were, they knew they had been uprooted, and I was able to bond with them. This also allowed me to drive them to speech and physical therapy, to try and overcome some of their delays. Finally, it allowed them to bond with my father, and vice-versa. It goes without saying that they love him; children are so generous with their love. But I saw him come to love them too. At first, he resisted being called ďgrandpa,Ē but he came to accept and even love it. Heís learned to be so sweet with them. Theyíve brought out a side of him I never got to see as a child. I think his life is finally getting rounded out in his old age.
Eventually, he was able to return to his old life. He met a wonderful lady, fell in love--I think for the first time--and got married. And they lived happily ever after. My wife finally has a real mother-in-law. My girls have an abuela.
About a year ago, it was discovered that some of his arteries were clogging back up again. He had a partial angioplasty--they eventually stopped because they were too afraid to continue--and his doctor strongly urged him to retire. He did, and they moved up to Kissimmee to live near us. He owns nothing; they live hand to mouth. But we see each other all the time, the girls have him in their lives, and he and his wife are pretty happy. They have that cute geezer love thing going on. I only hope he lives long enough to enjoy his life, now that he finally has something in it to take joy from.
In the regrets thread, I said:
There are other things I almost put on the list, but I decided not to because, if this or that unfortunate thing hadn't happened, some other good thing in my life wouldn't have either. For instance, if I hadn't moved back to Miami, I would not have met my wife or had my kids. I guess that adds perspective, though. We should try to make the right decisions when we have the opportunity, but we shouldn't beat ourselves up too much over regrets. Even the mistakes we make or the bad things that happen to us make us who we are and lead us to the things we will value in our later lives.
I spent a lot of years during my late teenage/early twenties period filled with maudlin regret and angst and anger about my ďlostĒ childhood. So many experiences that others took for granted that I never had: birthday parties, friends over to my house, dinner at a friendís house, sleeping over at a friendís house, reassurances from my parents that I was at least a ďhappyĒ accident, some sense of comfort when dealing with the opposite sex... Until I realized I was quickly losing another whole period of my life! Whom was I going to blame for my lost twenties?
Thankfully, I finally got over this feeling. Maybe I got mature, or maybe time finally started to heal over those old wounds. I donít particularly refer to myself as a ďsurvivorĒ anymore, because I think there is so much more to me than what I have survived...I donít want to define myself by what other people did or did not do for me. I am a dad, a husband, a son, a friend, a teacher, a writer, a kid (at heart), a giver, a carer, and a thousand other things, and also a survivor. I have tried to make up for lost experiences when the opportunity presented itself, like the time in grad school I tried to fly a kite, or when my college girlfriend taught me how to ride a bike. But I have tried even harder to not miss any more.
I canít bring myself to regret some of the negative things I experienced, because I believed they played a part in making me who I am. Would I be as sensitive, empathetic, or artistic if my childhood had been different? I canít say that these are qualities I saw modeled in my family, or that were particularly well thought of, for that matter. Would my life have taken a different course, perhaps away from my wonderful relationship with my wife? Would I not be my daughtersí Daddy?
The girls are not retarded, just delayed. And the doctor was an idiot for telling new parents their children might be retarded without performing anything like an adequate amount of evaluation. She has been dropped. Next year the girls will start kindergarten. Then we will enter the world of IEPs etc. But they will be in a mainstream environment.
My father and I still arenít demonstrative. Thatís just how we are...or rather, how we are not. We developed a comfortable way to relate, why change it now? I think we each know how the other feels.
I prefer to think of my mother as deceased, instead of wondering where she is, or having to explain why I couldnít ride to the rescue. My father has a wife, my children have a grandmother. Nuff sed.
My wife and I will celebrate six years together in January.
The girls turn 5 in March.
My wife and I have each completed novels which we have not succeeded in selling. We have each begun our second novel.
I met Bob Scopatz at an OSC signing last year, and he suggested I check out the forums on Hatrack. Last time I had checked, all that there was was an RPG set in Hatrack River Township. That was not my thing, so while I frequented the website, I had not explored the forums again.
[Incidentally, Mr. and Mrs. Card were both very gracious to us at the signing. When we mentioned that we ďwanted to be writers,Ē he asked ďDo you write?Ē When we told him that we did, he said ďThen you are writers!Ē Didja hear that? OSC said Iím a writer! ]
So anyway, I lurked, and then I delurked, and then I addicted other people. The cycle continues!
More on What Hatrack Means to Me
I now do much less writing, much less reading, and much less schoolwork. Thanks, guys!
But I have also met a lot of great and interesting people, most of whom have also been very nice to me. I expected to get chased out right away when I started my ďI didnít like FOTRĒ thread, but I wasnít. Heck, people were even polite and not mocking when I wrote about my quirky little town!
I have come to feel like a part of the community, like I would be missed if I were not here. I hope itís not presumptuous of me to think so.
And now I would like to continue the tradition Feyd Baron started in his thread, where he started an ďAsk FeydĒ section.
If you have any questions, Feyd will answer them.
Anyway, thanks if you actually read all of this...itís pretty heady to actually have an audience for it.
Sheesh! This is about as long as a short story! I could have been writing something somebody might pay for instead!!
um, whatís the record for longest post?
Now, if I could only bring myself to hit "submit"...