A Comforting Death and Betrayal

ImageEven though I am not expecting readers, and won’t be telling anyone about this blog, there are some things you should know. The story I will tell is true. And it is ugly. It is not the childhood that anyone should have to recount. But it is mine. I am not trying to write systematically, as if this were a narrative or a news article. This is me, dealing with my issues, as they arise. And they may not arise in a logical sequence.

But, when things are mentioned in an earlier post, I will not necessarily explain them again in a later one. So, if there is anyone really reading any of this you might wish to start with the oldest posts and move forward from there.

What I will cover here is how I came to be at the Glenwood School, which is where the real nightmare began for me.

I can’t say I had a normal childhood. I thought so at the time. Today I know better. My father was not an evil man but he was a drunk. And he was a mean drunk and that normally meant taking things out on my mother and on me. My younger brothers didn’t get it as bad as I did.

My father was a big man. He had been a Marine, fought in Korea and was a firefighter. He was a man’s man. He looked a lot like Clark Gable but without the charm.

I don’t know how he and my mother meet. I do know he was married once before and that I had an older half-brother who I never really got to know.

What I do remember is the drinking and the anger. And usually his target was my mother. She was half his size, small even for a woman. She was short and skinny. She worked as a registered nurse all my life.

When father wasn’t drinking there wasn’t a problem, but he was always drinking. Often my mother tried to take myself and my brothers to hide somewhere. Usually it was at my paternal grandmother’s house. She was the one person who, even when drunk, my father tended to listen to.

On more than one occasion she would stand on the front stoop of her house and refuse him entry while we hid in her bedroom. She ordered him to leave until he was sober.

Yet her own husband was a drunk. I don’t know if he got violent the way my father did, but he was loud and obnoxious when he was. In all the years that I can remember she never allowed him into her bedroom. He was permanently in exile, sleeping in the attic alone. There were two bedrooms downstairs. One was my a small bedroom that had been my great-grandmother’s room. But she died when I was young. I have memories of her but not many.

Her room remained empty. Sometimes I slept there. Sometimes I slept next to my grandmother, it made me, and my brothers feel safe when we did.

As much I learned to despise my father I know he didn’t mean to cause me pain. I remember once he came into my room during the day. I pressed myself against the wall by my bed until I had pushed the bunk beds away from the wall, which wasn’t easy given my age and small size. I crammed myself between the bed and the wall and looked at him with terror. I was waiting for him to hit me and I was trying to find a place that would be as safe as possible.

He wasn’t drunk that day, but I didn’t understand it. I was just terrified of him. He started to walk toward me but when he saw the fear on my face he stopped. He just stood there looking at me. I was trembling, wishing he would either go away or get it over with. He looked extremely sad. It was the one time I think he realized what he had done. I just remember the expression on his face when it was clear to him that his own son was terrified of him.

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t express any regrets or even try to speak. He just looked at me with despair and turned around and walked out of the room. But things didn’t change. He’d still drink and then there were the fights. I could hear him hitting my mother. It terrified me.

One night I remember well. The screaming started and I heard thumping and bangs. I forced myself out of bed and looked into the hall. He was there and had my mother. He grabbed her on both sides of her body and lifted her into the air. He was a tall man, and she so slight, that he had no trouble lifting her up. He was hitting her head against the ceiling and screaming at her.

I screamed at him to stop. He did. He dropped her and turned toward me. I got a beating for interfering.

There were many such incidents, such as a ruined Christmas. But perhaps I will touch on them at some future time. I just don’t want to now.

All I want to do is say how we ended up at Glenwood.

It was Mother’s Day, early morning, literally before dawn. At this time there was myself and my three brothers. One was under 1 year of age. The three younger ones were in one bedroom. I had a very tiny room of my own at this time. And there was a bedroom for my mother and father.

It was still dark out when I heard the screaming. I was convinced it was another beating going on and I was afraid to leave my room. But I could hear my mother screaming over and over and calling out for me by name.

I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go running but I was afraid to get out of bed. I was afraid he would turn on me. She kept screaming and I heard the front door open and she ran outside yelling. She ran to the house next door and started pounding on their door.

 

I finally crept out of bed and made my way down the hall until I could just peak into the living room. My father was on the couch. Something was wrong. He seemed to be having convulsions. It is hard to remember exactly how he moved. But he was moving and something was very wrong. I could see it in his face, the same thing he saw in mine for all those years—fear.

And somehow I knew. He was dying. I didn’t know what was causing it, or why it was happening. I just knew it was. And I stood there. I didn’t move toward him. I couldn’t help him. Even if I could, I knew I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t lift a hand for him, for all the times he lifted his against me.

I just stood in the hall and watched until he stopped moving. The life just drained out of him as I stood there. And I felt relief.

I heard my mother and the neighbors running up the driveway and I returned to my room. I never told her what I saw that night.

I laid in my bed and listened to the crying, and the voices. The light of an ambulance flashed across my bedroom wall. I carefully peaked out the window so that no one could see. They took the gurney out. My father was on it, covered with a sheet. He was dead before they arrived. There was nothing they could do to save him. And I was glad of that.

I crawled back into bed and went to sleep. I may even have smiled. I don’t know for sure. But that is how I envision myself, snug in bed with a blanket around me, a small smile on my face. And for the first time, I slept knowing I was actually safe.

By the time I awoke my aunt was there. This is my mother’s sister. Perhaps she had my maternal grandmother with her. I don’t remember for sure. They brought the three of us boys out. The youngest was too young to be told anything. They sat us down on the couch. I was on the left and to my right were my two brothers in order of age.

I don’t remember if it was my aunt, or my mother. But one of them said: “Your father went to heaven today.”

I knew what they meant. So did my brothers. I just sat there. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell them I saw it all. And I didn’t tell them what I was thinking. When I was told my father had gone to heaven, I had one thought. “No, he didn’t. Not him.” I never believed he was the kind of man who deserved heaven and it satisfied me.

My aunt bundled us into car and drove away with us. I remember all the neighbors coming out to watch us leave. The kids were knew stood there watching. By then everyone knew he was dead.

I was on the left, in the back of the car and looked out the window at them. And I was wondering if their fathers were like mine. I was wondering if all fathers were as awful as my own. I had always assumed that what we experienced was the norm. And, that morning, for the first time, I was doubting it. If the father of a friend of mine died, I wanted to know if it would make them as happy as it was making me. There would be no more screaming in the night. There would be no fists punching my mother, no one slapping me around. For the first time I thought life with tears and pain was possible.

I didn’t realize how wrong I was.

The funeral was awful. My grandmother collapsed as we sat there. They thought it was a heart attack and rushed us boys out of the room. It was just grief. Her loss I would have felt. She was a refuge for us. She saved us in ways my mother was never capable of doing. In truth, she was the closest to a mother that I really had.

It was shortly after the funeral that we were told that I and my brother Rick would be going away. They were sending us to a school. They wanted to make it sound fun and told us it was a military school and we would get uniforms. I don’t know if Rick found that appealing, but I didn’t. I wanted to stay home. For the first time in my short life I actually wanted to be home and now they were sending me away. I know I cried at the news. But my mother said she couldn’t take care of us. I don’t want to sound cruel, but she was never able to take care of us. But I didn’t want to leave.

No crying or pleading on my part would change her mind. She was sending us away and that was all there was to it.

And, for me, this was the ultimate betrayal. She was too small to protect us from the man she married. But the threat was gone. For the first time since my birth there was peace in the house. There was no drunken tirades or fists hitting soft flesh. And, now that the problem was gone, so were we. I couldn’t understand how it was possible for the two youngest to stay home and for us two to be sent away. It was a treason I would not forget. And what happened at Glenwood meant it was a treason I would never forgive. 

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