In my childhood homes, rudeness was not tolerated. My step-father was a drunk and therefore, we only had the space to tolerate his rudeness. He was also the tallest and brought home a paycheck; the grace to fail belonged only to him.
We answered the phone as follows: (Drunk step-dad’s last name) residence. May I ask who is calling?
We did not misbehave at restaurants.
We did not speak back…more than once.
We held doors and remained seated and spoke when spoken to; if spoken to.
It was very important to my step-father that we look presentable in public. Our hair was always brushed and we always wore lovely clothes when on family outings. Appearances mattered; more than anything. Because in a home like ours, the facade is the only thing that keeps the charade alive. “What a lovely family you have!” and we were so lovely and so incredibly sad.
We went on vacations and we even had the makings of what could have been an idyllic childhood – playing unsupervised for hours on end and into quiet nights in safe neighborhoods. A gang of children with scabby knees playing the most exciting game of Hide-and-Seek behind lamp posts and the neighbor’s garage doors.
But, my step-father was a drunk. And, when I think back on my childhood, that colors every photograph and every story and every pumpkin carving picture and every time we found him crying with my mother. The two of them moving somewhere new to make a happy life. And most of the time, we believed the move would change us. Until one day, we stopped believing.
I don’t begrudge my mother for doing the best that she could. I’m supposed to say that. It’s not true, I do. I have never felt so trapped in my life that I couldn’t leave. So, over the years, my hard edged anger toward my mother softened to pity. Pity feels far worse than anger. It sits uneasy on the soul.
And, I’ve spent so much time lately saying, “My step-dad was a drunk.” that I started to wonder why that mattered so much.
It’s because I’ve started to feel trapped in my own life. And, I’ve started to pity myself and pity is sitting uneasy on the soul.
I am not tethered to a bottle, but, I am tethered to this depression I can’t quite crawl out of. I’m tethered to self-doubt and self-restraint and self, self, self, selfish concentration on my current lack of happiness.
I do not want the kids to say, “My mother was always miserable.” which feels the same on my lips as does, “My step-dad was a drunk.”
So, this is what shame feels like and suddenly, my step-dad doesn’t seem like that villainous of a character; the dark-eyed dragon I always imagined him to be. I always thought he didn’t fight his demons hard enough. As if we had any sway over his unsavory passenger. I wonder if he felt as helpless as I often do about mine.
And how long do we have before the children stop believing that mom is doing the best she can?
Just please…don’t let it be today.