Until I wrote Part 2 (which ended up running a lot longer than I meant it to!) I don’t think I really realized how much of this I had bottled up. I’m not sure that this is of any interest to anyone other than myself, but writing it out has helped me put it into perspective, identify my own feelings more clearly, and understand why I am reacting so badly to this situation.
I am breaking this into two more parts; the final part is still playing out right now, and I’m not sure how it will end up – besides me barely staving off a meltdown all week. It may be a few days before that gets posted, but in the meantime here’s Part 3.
When I left off my last post, my father had suddenly appeared back in my life when I was about eleven years old, and then removed himself in an equally abrupt manner about a year or so later for no apparent reason. I was confused by this, and I guess hurt, but I don’t remember crying over it or anything like that. I wasn’t that kind of kid. I just walled it off and moved on. In retrospect, I don’t think I really understood emotions – mine or anyone else’s – very well to begin with.
My mother never said much directly to me about it, other than telling me it was wrong to treat me that way, but that was the kind of person he was and she was sorry I’d had to see that for myself.
I did overhear her on the phone talking with friends about it and she thought that he had been trying to get back together with her through me, and when that looked like it wasn’t going to happen, he lost interest.
She may have been right about that, because he’d been bringing her gifts and offering to do things for her all through this time, and the very last time he visited before he dropped out of my life, her latest boyfriend had moved in, I think, or was at least spending the weekend.
It’s a pretty crappy thing for a kid to go through to have an absentee parent suddently reappear, initiate a relationship and then abruptly abandon the relationship… even more so for the kid to think that spending time with them was never really the objective to begin with, just a means to an end. I say this looking back at it from an adult perspective; honestly, I really don’t remember what I thought about it at the time.
Fast forward seventeen years; I grew up, I made lots of dumb mistakes, one of the biggest of which involved fleeing some of my previous fuck-ups to end up being in a controlling, basically cult-like environment, and I was at the time in the process of extracting myself from that one.
This was back in the early days of the Internet, and I found my path back from the mess I had made of my life through a modem line. Being able to interact with the world through the anonymity and safety of my computer let me see how warped my reality had become, and also let me work through the self-discovery that I was gay. I have a lot of regrets over that part of my life; maybe someday I will write more about it here, but not any time soon. It’s still raw, even after all these years, and there are issues of personal safety.
As an aside, I wonder: if there had been the autistic self-advocacy momement back then that there is now, might I have clued in to that part of what made me ‘me’ as well?
Anyway, I’m digressing a bit, as I am prone to do… let me steer things back on track. I hit the Internet running. Suddenly there was this whole world of knowledge available to me! I could get on an AltaVista search (no Google yet, not for several more years) and learn almost anything I wanted to. I looked up random facts, pictures of spiders (of course) and I searched on my own name and names of family and friends to see what might come up. And then one day when I was especially bored, I searched on my father’s name.
And found him.
The site was a professional motorcycle racing page, and there was his name under a picture from some race results. The part of the country was about right, and while I couldn’t see a face inside the helmet, it seemed logical that he’d be racing bikes.
Did I have any intention of contacting him? Hell no! But I did show my mom what I found, and for whatever reason (out of curiosity? for old time’s sake?) she did.
They met up, along with my aunt, at a bar they all used to frequent in the old days and reminisced about old times. I guess as she’d gotten older, my mother was more willing to let bygones be bygones and rekindle past friendships? I don’t know, I have no idea what was going through her mind at the time, but I do know that she’s since regretted this decision.
He acted very interested in me: where was I, how could he contact me, and she said she’d relay that he was asking. Even back then, I was reclusive, and she knew better than to just give out my phone number or address.
At first I declined any contact whatsoever. I had no interest in letting him into my life after he’d left me behind like a discarded toy when I was a kid. She encouraged me to reconsider; he’d had a traumatic brain injury in a race a few years previous and was very different, she said, and he really regretted not being in my life and wanted to talk to me.
I don’t remember whether I finally acquiesced to letting him have my contact info, or whether she just gave it to him at some point because she thought I was being unfair… It was a very rocky point in my life, so the details are hazy and probably not important to the story. The end result is, I started getting letters. Phone calls too, but mostly letters, as talking to me on the phone is an awkward experience full of uncomfortable silences, unless I am really, really comfortable with you, and needless to say, I wasn’t comfortable.
Once the letters started, there was a near-daily barrage of them at first, and some of them were really crazy sounding. I didn’t know if he was trying to use poetic, flowery prose or really was a bit ‘off’ but I remember references to things like ‘DNA calling to reconnect over time and space’ and other bizarre concepts. He was pushing for us to meet up and visit, an idea I was not at all crazy about. Again, my mother assured me he was harmless.
Did I mention I was in the middle of a divorce? A fairly amicable one, granted; we were still sharing the house while we untangled our shared finances and assets, and on mostly friendly terms, but it was still a touchy situation and I had explained this to my father. I requested that we put off any in-person meetings until I was out of that situation and settled into my own place the following spring.
It was just going into wintertime. A huge ice storm was barrelling across the country and was projected to hit my part of the state dead-on. I lived in a very remote area – on top of a wooded mountainside, actually – and was looking at being trapped on the mountain, with my ex, and possibly no electricity, for an unspecified amount of time. We were doing everything we could to make sure the generator would work and had enough fuel, that there would be enough food, the generator would run the well pump so there would be water, and details like that. Imagine my surprise (horror) when I got a phone call in the middle of this from my father, who informed me that he’d bought a round-trip bus ticket to come visit me for a week, and was expecting me to pick him up at the bus terminal in two days.
What the bloody f****! What kind of person pulls a stunt like that? I had no prior warning he was planning this. He did not ask permission, he just assumed I would want a houseguest for a week. Because sharing a house with your ex would be that much more fun if you added an uninvited stranger and an ice storm. Oh, and the bus terminal was on the other side of the state, at least four hours away; at the time, I was really agoraphobic and hadn’t driven more than a few miles down the mountain into town to the store, and he damn well knew that.
This caused me to go into what I’d now describe as a shutdown, though I managed to communicate enough to tell him there was no way I could do this, and I would not be picking him up. He got really pissy and told me he could not get a refund on the ticket and had spent most of his paycheck on it, and I said I was sorry but that was not my fault because he never asked me. I pretty much stopped talking at that point, I felt like I was under attack and I couldn’t even think. Every part of me was screaming to retreat and so I did.
I refused to take his calls after that and he left me a couple of nasty messages. He also contacted my mom and complained to her that I was being ‘selfish’ and wrote me a scathing letter. I may have replied defending my reaction, I am not sure, but that was the last time we spoke on the phone for at least a decade, though he kept writing… he apparently was not that easy to get rid of.
In the years since then, I’ve been inundated with letters on a roughly weekly basis. Sometimes they are very lucid and relatable, other times it is just sheer batshittery. One time, I received an audio cassette of him talking, along with a 15-page letter, both involving a diatribe against his mother, who he often refers to as a ‘pagan Celtic psychic vampire witch’ who put a curse on him. Another time, I got a huge and suspiciously light box that turned out to contain nothing but a hawk feather – I’m glad customs didn’t open that one, as possessing native bird feathers is illegal. It was accompanied by a letter that described a ‘sacred papyrus’ that he’d found in the trash that he’d also be sending, and I was supposed to put the feather with the scroll and something magical would happen.
Ironically, my mother had been added to the list of ‘psychic vampires’ that were cursing him, and the last time she’d stopped by to check in on him, he didn’t answer the door, then wrote me to tell her to stay away from him even though they’d been on perfectly pleasant terms beforehand.
I think he no longer had any use for her because he’d gotten my contact info? So basically, when I was a kid he used me to try to get to her, then years later, he used her to get to me.
I’ve tried to maintain a diplomatic relationship, as I do believe there’s some definite brain damage there from the injuries. Sometimes (even for months at a time) the letters will seem very normal, but eventually it will come back around to the same repeated themes of pagan psychic vampire witches and all the people who wronged him and how he’s so much more clever than everyone else. I used to call him out on the bullshit (defending my mother, or pointing out that actually I consider myself a pagan so talking shit about them to me isn’t exactly scoring points) when he went on one of those tangents, but realized it was probably pointless and now I just stop writing back for a while until the letters sound saner again.
He did come visit about eight or nine years back; that time he informed me in advance and proposed neutral meeting ground. It went surprisingly OK, at least the first visit did. In person he was quiet and soft-spoken, and there was no talk of psychic vampire witches – though maybe some rather racist comments about his muslim and east asian neighbors. He was making a round trip to Florida and back and planned to visit again on the way back, but that part never happened because he was in another bike wreck down in Florida and ended up being flown back home with a busted pelvis.
I’ve tried to find common ground. We’re related, and he has some congnitive issues (at least sometimes, anyway, though I’ve come to wonder if at least some of it is an act) and so I write back, and I send him things I think he might like – for instance he’s obsessed about the family name and the clan crest (I’m Scottish on that side of the family) so I did a woodburned plaque of the crest for him once, though personally I have no point of reference for that sort of pride. We exchange holiday cards and he sends me gifts, though sometimes they are a bit odd.
The letters continue to roll in, every week or so, and often it’s the same stuff over and over, the same stories over and over. Some of the stories that he finds very funny, (usually involving some clever way he has outwitted someone) I actually find quite cruel and calculating, which is why I say that I suspect there’s more of his ‘old self’ in there under the damaged facade than he lets on.
One thing I’ve noticed is that while I always try to actually reply to his letters (in the sense that I respond to specific things he’s written) he never replies to mine. He talks at me, not with me. There’s no conversation, no real communication, I am just the target for his ramblings. Anything I write back that doesn’t fit his world view (like my paganism, requests to stop attacking my mother in his letters, or my autism diagnosis) is ignored completely, and everything else is rarely commented upon except to say “thanks for the most excellent letter” or some similar condescending-sounding statement.
I had written to him about the autism diagnosis in a moment of letting down my guard and wanting to share something that was so life-changing for me, but it was as if I never sent that letter. I’m guessing this is because maybe he sees it as a flaw, which contradicts his bizarre notions of my being an extension of his superior intellect.
A few times when I have moved, I’ve been tempted to not give him my new address, but then I always feel like I’m being heartless, and after all, ‘what’s the harm, he lives almost two thousand miles away’…
Right now I am thinking I should listen to my instincts more.
Final part to follow.
Featured Image: Old abandoned hornets’ nest high up in tree branches.