Yesterday I was contacted via FaceBook by a friend from junior high. Nearly 30 years – yes 30! – have passed since we knew each other. For all intents and purposes, we really do not know each other at this point. Life has shaped us since those young days in North Long Beach into women neither one of us would recognize as the young girls we once were. During a brief chat online and I learned that she had no idea the conditions in which I was living at that time. My father – a 24 hours a day alcoholic, violent, and ultimately a suicide. My mother, working too hard to support a family by herself, stressed beyond comprehension by my father’s alcohol abuse and a prepubescent daughter – she neither had the time nor the energy to supervise the way one would want a mother to.
Diana innocently asked if I remembered so and so, and so and so, from our childhood. After a few names, I finally had to cut her off and let her know that I suffer extreme amnesia and PTSD from those days. My father’s alcoholism, violence, and ultimate suicide caused a total shutdown of all emotional mechanisms. She was suprised to hear this news. I was surprised that she was surprised! But, we were kids…. our young selves couldn’t take it all in. Without a parent there to “see” what was really happening, Diana saw only me and our friendship. Another of my friends, Shelly Anderson, came over one time. I really, really liked her and wanted so much to be friends with her. Her parents picked her up at dinner time that day, and she never came back. They clearly got what was happening at my house and didn’t want their daughter exposed…. I was sad, and embarrassed. I went to her house once. She had an elevator in her house. Her family ate dinner together. She was happy. She was in a life I hoped to raise myself to one day…..
Anyway, later yesterday, I was telling someone very close to me this story. She was not a bit surprised that Diana didn’t know anything of what was really happening…. “how could she know?” she said with conviction. But his alcoholism was so prevalent, it is mysterious to me that others were not able to see it. My father, bless his heart, would occasionally remember to pick me up from school and in an alcoholic haze would DRIVE from the bar to my elementary school to get me. One day, in 4th grade, the bell rang and we all ran out to the front of the school to go home – by this time I often walked home. I hoped to walk home. But, on this day, I was horrified to see our Gremlin pulled right up to the front curb of the the school and my father “waiting” for me with his face planted in the pavement and his legs and hips in the car – laying half in and half out of the car. All the teachers and students and parents witnessing this scene….. it was absolutely insane. He was unconscious pretty much, except for some mumbling and twitching…… I don’t really remember how that scene resolved itself…. As I said, I have a certain amount of amnesia. My memories are clips. Which is why I can’t write a book. It’s all so disjointed.
These kinds of public displays were not terribly unusual, so it’s hard for me to imagine that there was anyone who didn’t know the insanity of our lives. But, I don’t remember knowing much about her parents either and I certainly had no idea whether she was in a good home…. I just knew that she was my friend and really liked being with her. I guess that’s how it was for her, too.
The story has a happy ending though… The life I saw in my friend Shelly…. the life I wanted, I now have (minus the elevator). .. and against some pretty great odds.