Sunday, October 31, 2004

Autobiography, Part II

I have spent the last nine years of my life trying to unlearn two main lessons taught to me by my family throughout my childhood: Reality, if painful, can be mentally and emotionally rejected until it no longer exists. And, appearance is more important than truth.

My earliest recollection of situational denial is when my father abandoned my family for one year. My mother and I had just returned home from an afternoon of shopping, and I distinctly remember the puzzled tone of her voice as she sensed something was wrong. Frantically calling out my dad's name, mom searched the entire house. In my parent's bedroom, drawers and closet doors were slammed open and shut, and I ran back there to see what was causing the turmoil. Dad's closet was empty, the bathroom vanity was in disarray, and his wedding ring rested suspiciously by itself on the bedroom bureau. At the time, I didn't recognize the significance of the discarded wedding band; I was only eight years old.

After a telephone call some hours later, my mother confirmed that my father had moved out. However, to this day she has never fully confessed the real reason for my dad's departure. "Your father has been called away on business," mom explained. "Do not tell the neighbors and anyone in the family that he is gone. If asked, you are to simply reply that your father is in Northern California and you do no know when he'll be back."

The time that my father was gone was long and lonely. I missed our nightly games of Battleship and Canasta. Another favorite evening ritual of mine was to read the comics with dad as he relaxed in the den after work. Dad was very understanding of my isolation as a kid; I grew up with two sisters who are five and seven years older than myself, and it was very rare for me to be included in their activities. During his absence, I received several letters from dad describing his life on the road. He attempted to explain his lifelong dream of gold mining and his quest to follow that dream. Each letter I received revealed his unspoken agony over his decision to leave; tear drops had been carelessly wiped away, leaving a few smears and resin spots.

Neither my sisters or I was allowed to talk about dad's absence. The three of us were expected to continue with our lives as though nothing was amiss. Holidays and vacations were spent at home without any involvement of my uncles, aunts and cousins. The truth of the situation was never spoken. I was never allowed to express my emotion or talk to any of my friends about my confusion and feelings of guilt.

It's taken me years to understand my father's desperate decision to fulfill a dream*. However, I no longer feel any resentment. The most important lesson I have learned is that personal growth occurs through the acknowledgement of adversity as well as prosperity. I despised being forced to suppress my pain and frustration and to essentially live a lie. This lack of communication has put incredible limitations on our closeness as a family, and we have never shared the intimacy that comes from being vulnerable and pulling ourselves together.

(*Note: I learned in 1995 that my dad left because he suspected my mom of having an affair. He wasn't off chasing a dream to live in the hills and gold mine. Rather, he sat in a rented car that was parked on a side street and he spied on us and the house...hoping to catch my mom in an illicit tryst. It's hard to describe the anger I feel over this. It was as though a piece of my heart was ripped out of my body when he left without a word or even a goodbye....yet he was actually there, only a block away...spying on us.)