Monday, July 4, 2011

It's Hard to Go Back Home

In my immediate family, I'm the only one who hasn't been arrested (yet! wink, wink), and who evaded the mine field that was growing up in a ghetto neighborhood where we lived with our mom below the poverty line (earning less than $12,000 annually for a family of four). We lived amongst perpetual cockroaches (due to parked garbage trucks near our home) and had aunts and uncles on drugs. We sometimes starved due to shortages on food stamps because my mom worked too many hours (she was stick skinny, and I recall times where she counted out the last of the food -crackers- so us 3 kids would get an equal number and not argue, while she went without), and where I was looked down upon in the neighborhood for being smart and also for not having had my own baby as a teenager, like every other girl in my area. I remember my mom forbidding me from hanging around one girl whom, at age 11, was having sex with an 18 year old on a mattress behind some trees near a bridge. My mom didn't know that fact, she just knew she was bad news. We were thankful to live next to the gov't housing projects rather than in them, and suffered through my father's rages (they were divorced when I was 4, but it didn't stop) where he would kick down the door to abuse my mother. Once I called the police (I was in third grade?) because he was strangling her by holding her against the wall by her neck, she was choking, face red, her feet dangling above the floor. He was irate because no one had picked my younger brothers and I up after school, and we had waited in the snow (my mom refused to let us go to the notorious neighborhood school and got a special permit for us to go farther away). My mom had some appointment or other that day and had pre-arranged with my dad's brother to pick us up. He obviously forgot.
My dad never got arrested because he knew the cops and judges. I was in the truck when he'd gotten pulled over once by an "unknown" cop who'd written him a ticket. My dad got on his cb/phone thing and called a judge, who made the ticket disappear. Child support was random because he was self-employed and couldn't be garnished. My other uncle had the largest auto theft ring in U.S. history. I remember staying at my grandma's and watching him go to work release in a blue denim uniform. He died in a mysterious auto accident. My dad and his Italian business partner were always getting sued for things like entrapment with his towing business. I recall going on repo calls (to repossess vehicles behind on their bank notes) with my dad, and once after we hooked up a green jaguar, a man came running out with a shotgun and shot at us, my dad shouting at us to get down on the floorboards of the truck. My mom eventually remarried someone with a touch less of a temper, so much like my father, that he was often mistaken for him. One day we were in a tuxedo shop with my dad and when I told him to explain what was going on, he blurted out that his girlfriend of the month (he was a charmer-when one girl moved out, the next day another one moved in) had a bun in the oven and they were getting married the next day. Ironically, she was built pretty solid (unlike my tiny mom) and although they moved out-of-state, I heard she hit him with a frying pan once.
My grandparents on both sides went to school through 8th grade, my parents graduated high school, and I won a dean's list scholarship to a very good private university two hours away. After my dad screamed at me about who did I think I was, going to some fancy college- I had asked him to go halves with me on buying my books- I had a revelation that he wasn't a good parent and I was done torturing myself with him in my life. We haven't spoken since. Upon graduating college (he showed up uninvited, but never found me), I got a job in California and never looked back. Away from my mom's husband drama (he'd get mad and push her out of the car or leave her at the grocery store, or I'd come home from college for xmas and he'd beat her and I'd call the cops-once my mom pushed her stepdaughter with her index finger and was arrested for battery, so I had to bail her out on xmas eve), and the rest of my family (my brother stole my car I'd saved for --painstakingly walking to work at a gas station one summer, and got a 16 yr old girl pregnant when he was 18) and my other brother was a pothead who couldn't walk through graduation...away from all that, I flourished, bloomed, reveled in the peace and harmony of life.
Although, sadly I can't get away from my father (he sobs and makes big scenes upon catching a glimpse of me when I fly back for weddings or baptisms), or his genes- his last "gift" to me is celiac disease- I've forgiven him, but I can't forget. I realize he wasn't able to be any more than what he was, but I have to distance myself from the craziness. I know he loves me, but he is the one who missed out on the wonderful opportunity to be involved in my brothers' and my life. (My brothers have made it through their strife. Not that I inspired them, but they say they didn't want to let me be the only college graduate, so they quit factory life and went to community college, then four-year degrees themselves!) Recently, a half-sibling tagged me in a photo- one of my name tattooed on my dad's arm. My brothers were too young to remember the worst, and that's their blessing, but they keep in touch with him, so I'll see him at a wedding on Saturday and hopefully I can avoid his center-of-attention drama-seeking. Last wedding, he grabbed my hand and started dancing with me, then got the DJ to coax me onstage to sing karaoke-with him. Although we've still never spoken. I was traumatized and avoided weddings for years. So hopefully I can avoid that crazy train this time.

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