So for Part One, I covered what has been going on in recent days, just to provide a framework for how my stress and energy levels are more negatively impacted than usual to begin with. To set the stage for Part 2, I need to go a lot further back in time…
I’m not sure how to describe my father. He has some sort of personality disorder, I believe, but I’m not sure exactly what. From everything my family has described, he was brilliantly smart, but in a conniving, manipulative way. He could be very charming, but also had a sadistic streak. He was a daredevil on a motorcycle and a risk-taker in general.
When my parents met, my dad already had a long criminal history, and even though he was a skinny little guy, he got away with blatantly ripping off bigger criminals, who let it go because he was a vindictive son of a bitch and retribution wasn’t worth having to look over their shoulders forever afterwards.
He was an amazing artist and could draw a motorcycle or a hotrod from memory, with the engine detail accurate down to the last bolt. He also drew quirky things, like an entire series of ‘Albert the Tapeworm’ floating around the interior of a stomach, with things like Alka-Selzer tablets and food fragments bobbing around him.
My parents split up when I was very young. This was a good thing. My earliest memory of my father, which I have written about previously, is not a good one. Later memories from about age five or so are few, I don’t think he visited me much, but I do remember him bringing me a model airplane once. It wasn’t really an appropriate gift for a five year old (though I loved planes) and got broken pretty fast. He disappeared for many years.
I grew up hearing stories of the crazy and sometimes mean things my father did, like offering someone a ride on his motorcycle and then deliberately crashing it, or assembling an entire motorcycle (from parts stolen over time) in my mother’s highrise apartment living room, and then telling her if she wanted it gone, she’d have to disassemble it herself.
Fast forward to age 11 and suddenly he re-appeared out of the blue, wanting to spend time with me. He had cleaned up his act and now worked a legitimate job at a bike shop. He lived in another town a few hours away, so at first he just started calling and writing. He would write me long letters, sometimes in character (one letter was entirely written in a fake Mexican accent and illustrated with cacti, tarantulas, and other desert creatures) and he sent me weird and interesting things in the mail. One time it was a venus flytrap plant, which was pretty damn cool.
As time went on, he started asking my mom about taking me out for the day. She was hesitant at first, because of his past history of doing irresponsible things, but she thought I should have the chance to get to know him, and started letting us visit with decreasing supervision over time, seeing as he had ‘grown up’ and was now more responsible.
Except he wasn’t. There were several really risky, messed up things he did when I was out with him that he’d make me promise not to tell afterwards, threatening that if I breathed a word of it, then my mother wouldn’t let him see me any more. Which was probably perfectly true. I was just a dirt-poor, oddball little kid who didn’t have any friends and having someone who brought me neat gifts and took me fun places meant a lot to me. So I didn’t tell. Even the time he almost crushed my ribs/broke my back.
It was wintertime and my dad came to take me tobogganing (for anyone reading this in the southern US, where I come from a toboggan is a type of wooden sled, not a winter hat) at a nearby park.
This park had an enormous hillside that was great for sledding in the winter and we’d gotten a fairly heavy snowfall recently. The hill was already crowded with kids and adults and their sleds when we got there and it was a beautiful sunny day. I remember having to squint against the blinding white snow.
The steepest part of the hill had a glittering strip of ice all the way down; some local teenagers had poured water down the hill until it froze rock hard (though the sun had melted it just enough to make it even more treacherously slippery) and they were sliding down it on their butts and on pieces of cardboard. My dad suggested we try going down the ice hill on the toboggan.
I may have been a kid, but I wasn’t an idiot. That was about the worst idea I had ever heard, and I flat out refused, no matter how he cajoled and claimed that it was perfectly safe and would be fun. Finally, he gave up and seemed to drop the matter.
We started going down the snowy part of the hill, maybe ten or fifteen feet to the right of the ice hill, but as the sled picked up speed he leaned hard to one side so that it steered left. I was in front and he was steering from behind, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do but watch us shoot straight for the icy strip. The waxed underside of the toboggan hit the slick ice like butter hitting a hot skillet and we immediately began to spin.
The sled careened and spun almost all of the way to the bottom of the hill; only almost, because at that point it hit a hump with a teeth-jarring impact – and then we were airborn.
I was flung off the sled and landed face-down in a snowbank, with the wind knocked out of me. A second later the sled, with my dad still on it, slammed down hard on top of my back. I literally could not breathe for several minutes, and I thought I was dying. He turned me over, giddy at what he thought was a great ride, then saw that I was gasping for breath and crying. He swore it was an accident, but I knew better. This stunt was just like all of the stories I’d ever heard about him.
I asked him to take me home and all the way back he worked at me, saying he was really sorry I got hurt and telling me not to tell my mom or she wouldn’t let him visit me any more. I never told her. Thinking back to that memory, I can’t believe I didn’t have any broken bones (the snowbank and my snowsuit cushioned my body, I guess) or worse, though I remember that I was bruised and sore for weeks afterward.
The following summer, my dad suddenly stopped visiting and writing. When my birthday had come and gone, without so much as a card, my mom looked up the phone number for the bike shop he worked at, worried something had happened to him. He was there, and said everything was fine. She put me on the phone to talk to him, and he was very nonchalant and kind of distant. There was no explanation as to why he stopped writing, no mention of any more visits. I was baffled and hurt when I got off the phone. I didn’t understand.
That was the last time I spoke to my father for seventeen years.
… To be continued…
Featured Image: Bare tree branches in winter with perched birds.