Sometimes the answers aren’t the answers we want, nor does discovery always produce a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes what is is what is and what’s most important is to accept that people are fallible creatures dealing with their own trying circumstances and inner demons.
Unlike my older siblings, I have no memory of my parents together. Their break, long in the making, occurred when I was two years-old. I assume they spoke later, for the three children were often passed back-and-forth, I the youngest by many years. On the other hand, those transfers were ofttimes accomplished via bus or a scramble to a waiting vehicle, our possessions in tow. Those exchanges later included me alone.
Between my mother’s later rocky marriages there were the quieter times, times spent sitting up late on the weekends to catch old mysteries, nights when I’d brush her thick, dark hair. I envied her that, though later in her life she began lightening it. There were even times during those years when her guard slipped and she exposed her frequently stifled sense-of-humor. Even as a child there were shadows within me, but there was one particular shadow I couldn’t understand, for that knowledge was hers and not mine.
In the few years proceeding her unexpected death shortly before her sixty-ninth birthday there were hints that became clues for me to pursue after her passing. The drinking. The beatings. The Catholic upbringing that wouldn’t allow my father to demand an abortion. Instead, a drunken rage attempted to create brutal accidents. It was all the insanity that marks an imploding marriage.
After my mother’s death I inherited the surviving family photos, those pictures her depressive destructiveness had spared. Buried at the bottom of one box was a yellowed envelope containing odd-sized negatives I’d later figure-out were taken with a Kodak Brownie like the one she’d given me decades before. Among the shots of people I didn’t recognize was my parent’s wedding photo.
Strange to look at two young people a full eight years before I was born, two people who didn’t fit together in my mind and, as it turned out, in reality. Yet, for as much distance as came to exist between them, more existed between me and them, an unexplained distance revealed when I’d look into their eyes. That distance that manifested as sadness was a trait they shared until their respective ends.
I turned the negative into a photo and stared at an event predating my birth by a full eight years, the union that was already degenerating into a protracted and ugly breakup before I was conceived. My mother’s tales and their hinted meanings returned then, along with my parent’s paired sadness and my father’s drunken ravings that suddenly made more sense. Over time I became an investigator and uncovered more pieces that older family members supplied, pieces that fit together to paint a Dorian Gray-like portrait.
Sometimes you discover the answers you sought are unwanted. The sadness looking back at me all those years was a shadow from the past, a shadow created on one particularly violent night, a night they both relived each time they looked at me. Rather than inheriting a bond with them, I was a living reminder of shame, regret, and the desire to forget.
Cause and effect. Actions often have repercussions that reverberate beyond the moment, the year, or even the lifetime. More than fifty years after the night that marked me I faced my own challenge: to forgive and leave the past where it belongs. I’d be lying if I said it isn’t sometimes a struggle.
In my effort to understand I unearthed a truth I didn’t want, yet along the way I discovered other truths, other glimpses into two searching souls who collided at a critical juncture, oil and water maintaining their mix only at a boil. The churning years that followed produced two children in a year, stumbled through abuse and mental illness, and wept beneath the descending curtain that coincided with my arrival.
Understanding brings perspective, not just for me, but for all of us. We all make mistakes. We’re all frail in some way and often more so at particular moments. We each bare burdens best left behind so they don’t bury us prematurely as they buried my mother and, in many ways, buried both my parents on a night in 1958. I have my own burdens, but I’m trying to shed them and hope everyone reading this will also make the effort. Understanding brings perspective and the knowledge that those who came before were doing the best they could at the time. Those in the past were no less flawed and no more psychic than you and I. When you achieve a deeper understanding compassion flowers along with the opportunity to move on. Don’t carry someone else’s burden. Don’t carry your own. I’m pulling for you.