Last night, my boyfriend and I went to my parents’ house to celebrate my baby sister’s 13th birthday. She was eager to see us, all smiles and giggles when we arrived. She only asked for two things for her birthday: a video game and new shoes. This made gift-giving incredibly easy compared to previous years. My folks cooked a quick dinner and we sat around the table, laughing and talking about their recent trip to New York, the musical Wicked, and My Little Pony. It was a fun night, only made awkward by some of my father’s comments.
My father brought up the movie “A Walk in the Clouds,” I think to compare something my brother either said or did to Anthony Quinn’s character in the movie. I mentioned the summer spent with my grandparents, and how they only owned four DVDs, “A Walk in the Clouds” being one of them. My brother and I laughed recalling having to watch the same Keanu Reeves movie at least ten times in order to stays somewhat sane. My father’s expression quickly sobered and became very serious.
“I should have never sent you all there. That was one of the worst mistakes on my part. I’m sorry.”
My brother and I, puzzled, pressed him to explain himself, but he refused. My grandparents sat at the other end of the table, glossy-eyed and oblivious to the conversation going on in front of them. My brother and I tried to get the conversation back on track, but the moment had passed.
My father excused himself from the table to have a cigarette some time between dinner and birthday cake. I followed him out to burn one as well, curious as to what triggered his abrupt response during dinner. As he and I talked, I asked him again why he felt the need to apologize. Without making eye contact with me, he said,
“You got so unhealthy, you gained so much weight. They fed you whatever you wanted. They didn’t care about your health. They said they would put you all in camp. You came back so fat. I should have never trusted them.”
And then, without warning or prompting, my father continued by saying, “I shouldn’t have left you there as a baby.”
Now this isn’t something that my parents had verbalized before. I had my suspicions based on childhood photos, as they captured me between three and nine months old clinging to my grandmother and grandfather alone. I asked for some explanation from my father, and he blamed financial troubles and not being able to find a babysitter as the reason for sending me off to my grandparents’ house shortly after I was born. He blamed my grandmother, his anger in that moment making him sound belligerent.
“She said she couldn’t stay in Maryland, that her place was in Puerto Rico, and that her husband needed her.” He said, finally flicking the cigarette into the lawn. I knew there had always been bad blood between my father and my grandparents, surfacing the day he married my mom. Now that my grandparents are old and need someone to take care of them, my father’s anger towards them has resurfaced, and the list of resentments has grown. The vitriol he spewed in that last minute on the deck was new to me; he always encouraged me to love them, to respect them, to ignore the tension and fighting between the three of them. Now, he didn’t care. He didn’t care a damn bit.
The evening ended with my brother and I telling stories about our parents disciplining us and laughing about them. These stories were lighthearted. My brother and I were laughing. Everyone was laughing. My brother told the story of the “No, mom” dance he used to do that got him a swift spanking when my mother heard it one time too many.
As I told my story of getting the spanking of my life for stealing a lighter, my father interrupted me and interjected that I was remembering the story entirely wrong.
“You got spanked because you kept stealing candy.” I attempted to correct him, but he continued. “You were the one child that kept me up at night. You were the hardest to handle. I lost my cool that day, and after that I swore to myself and your mother that I would never touch you or your siblings again. I left the disciplining to your mother after that.”
My brother and I looked to my mom for some support and an accurate depiction of the events that occurred, but she looked at my father and then back to us kids and said, “I’m not getting in this.”
Instead of engaging in a verbal smackdown with my father, I promptly said my goodbyes and left. My boyfriend was proud of me for exercising restraint, but I spent the majority of the car ride trapped in my own mind, questioning my own recollection of events that occurred in my life.
Was I losing my mind? Was it his selective memory at work, or was it mine? What detail had I missed? What had I gotten wrong. Most importantly, was I that difficult to manage? I attempted to exchange a few text messages with my brother to clarify the situation I removed myself from. After a brief exchange, he said “Forget about it. I have.” I don’t forget, though. That’s not what I do.
My boyfriend attempted to get my mind off of my exchange with my father by playing music on the drive back. He is well aware of my affinity for 90’s alternative music, and decided he would play Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” to kick off the car ride.
I don’t know if he was conscious of the message his decision conveyed, but the song was unintentionally appropriate. I was distressed. I felt unhinged and “crazy” at that moment in time. I was buying into the message my dad was conveying, both what he explicitly stated and what his words implied. I was terrible. I was a fat fucking mess.
I woke up this morning just in time to make my boyfriend coffee and breakfast before he went off to work. I could have processed my feelings with him, but it would have meant heavy conversation at 7 AM, which no one wants. I bit my tongue and sent him off to work with a kiss.
I’m still biting my tongue. I’m actively fighting the urge to call him and scream at him, or to call and scream at my mother for not defending my memories.
I won’t though. The high road, from what I hear, is better. But I can tell you, the high road is a lonely one to walk.