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Submitted by Amy King

I’ve heard writing it down makes it real, maybe too real. Is that really what matters? Making it real?  My friends have told me I need to write a book, but I’ve never thought what I had to say mattered much.  Who would be interested?  It was my own personal struggle with reality – a private battle I like to think I won am winning.  I guess I don’t think the battle ever really ends; maybe that is part of the issue, believing that it will end.  It’s just like when we were younger and thought, “If I just made $0.25 more per hour” or “if I just made $100 more a month!” “If I just had . . .” Well, you get the picture.

circleIt is a vicious cycle . . . or maybe a circle? After all, a circle continues with no beginning and no end; it is eternal. We experience living; we start out thriving, progress to striving, and end struggling.  What we do during each stage is the plot of our lives.  From a very young age, I thought, “In my next life it will be different: I will be smart and popular in school, I will be beautiful, I will be thin, I will marry a prince, and I will have a big house, a nice car, a ‘normal’ family.  I will have it all.”  I don’t know at what age I realized that there isn’t a ‘next’ life – only this one.  I am not discrediting anyone who believes in reincarnation, though; I believe I am an old soul, so there must be ‘next lives,’ but I am thinking there are none that we are conscious of.

If I had to break it down into thriving, striving and struggling, my life would be out of order.  Thriving would still be first; it’s the striving in the middle and struggling in the end which would change.  My struggling began at eleven-years-old.  That is the age at which my father left my mother to start a family with another woman.  More importantly, that is when he left me to struggle on my own with my mother.  Today is Mother’s Day, and I sent the obligatory card, empty of sentiment. I also called and left a message on her answering machine.  Whether she just didn’t want to take my call, isn’t home, is in the hospital, or is at a friend’s house, I will probably never know.  And so it goes, the cycle continues.  Each year it brings back all the memories of my youth, and there aren’t many good ones.  So you see, writing it down does make it real, in my mind at least.  I wasn’t beaten, locked up in a cell, tortured, or anything like that.  Nothing physical happened, but then physical scars fade after time.  For me, it’s about the memories that remain.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? I could keep the clichés coming for a long time, trust me. I have become good at delivering funny stories and clichés, old sayings to make people laugh and hopefully not ask too many questions.  These make me appear ‘normal’ on the outside, at least I like to think so. Before Dad left, I thought we had it all: a double-wide trailer on a lot that was close to an acre, two nice cars, a camper, a boat, nice clothes, shoes, and a cat named Daisy (although, it was discovered later that Daisy was a Duke.)

Then the world changed.  It was the summer of ‘74. I was going into sixth grade in the fall, starting my second full year at a school that I was hoping to be at long enough to graduate from.  We left for my Grandma and Grandpa’s house that summer for a week of vacation. However, I was going to stay an extra two weeks with my grandparents to visit with them and my cousins on the farm.  I usually looked forward to it each year.  Grandma was strict, but there was structure and Sunday school! Oh, and cookies! And for breakfast, I could have bananas and lemonade.

lemonadeI will never forget the day things changed; it was a hot July morning. Grandma didn’t believe in air conditioning, and I was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying the breeze blowing in from the open kitchen window over the sink; the same sink I have vague memories of being bathed in. Then Grandma dropped the bomb, “Your dad has left your mom; they’re getting a divorce.”  I think in my heart I knew it was possible, even inevitable. I just didn’t want to believe it was actually going to be true.  My parents fought CONSTANTLY, about EVERYTHING.  It seemed my dad did nothing right, and my mom was never heard.  You see, Dad was passive and seemed to take all of the yelling in stride.  Mom would yell, Dad would ignore her, Mom would smack him, Dad would ignore her . . . Again, the cycle (or is it a circle?) continues.

When Grandma told me the news, all my eleven-year-old brain could think was “What about me?  He can’t leave me there alone with her, right? How could he?  He loves me too much, right?” I just knew he would come back for me; he had to.  He knew what she was like. Grandma’s face had that frown she always got when she was saddened or concerned over something she had just heard, whether it be my news, the news of a local townsperson passing, or when one of her grandchildren fell and skinned their knee.  The long corner of her mouth turned down, and the sympathetic stare right into your eyes made you feel like she really felt your pain.  I finished my banana and extra-large lemonade (to this day lemonade gives me heartburn . . . maybe this is why) and went back to my bed and laid there and cried.  I prayed too.  I prayed so hard and for so long for him to come home: “Please make him change his mind. I will do anything, anything at all, just please don’t let him leave me.”  However, no amount of praying could bring him back.  The story was written; the words were spoken and were not being retracted.  There was no correction article to follow.

The following two weeks went by fairly quickly.  I really don’t remember actually going home.  Seems I don’t really remember too much detail past that day; there are just the highlights of the years that followed.  And here, the term ‘highlights’ is used lightly for lack of a better word.

schoolSixth grade started without much fanfare.  Mom started working most every day at the local diner, or as we called it, the “Greasy Spoon.”  Then the first ‘highlight:’ I was taken from my school and whisked away to live with my grandparents so that I could go to school in their town, population 303.  It was quite a bit different than a suburb in St. Louis.  Talk about culture shock!  I was placed in the sixth grade ‘class,’ not as in grade but as in classroom.  There were 19 sixth-graders in the entire school.  I spent the next two and a half days explaining to everyone where I came from and who I was, only to be picked up and taken back to St. Louis and re-enrolled in my old school.

Immediately, the other kids thought that I had made up my story of leaving to go to another school, and I fell deeper into myself.  Being 5’0” tall and 120 pounds at eleven-years-old didn’t exactly allow me to fade into the woodwork.  I had no one to talk to; Mom was either working or ‘out’ with her friends.  She was too tired from work to take me to the mall or to drop me off with friends at the local skating rink.  She was too tired to cook.  She was too tired to talk.  She was just tired.  When I asked why I couldn’t stay with Grandma, she explained in her own charming way, “Because your dad thinks he can have you and that’s not going to happen!”  (Not “Because I can’t live without you,” the words I really wanted to hear.) My only thought was “finally!”  But that never happened.  Now, as an adult, I understand the games that are played during a divorce.  He only came over a few times to see me or to take me to visit his new family.  It was not just us like it used to be.

My dad is gone now; the years have passed amazingly fast as they always do as we age.  I blamed him for many wrongdoings growing up, and we spent approximately eight years not speaking.  Then, as usually happens in Lifetime movies, a tragic event brought us together.  Our tragic event was my dad’s car accident when I was 22.  His sister phoned to tell me he was in the hospital and was pretty banged up.  She explained to me that she understood how hard it is to let go of the past, but that he was my dad and he loved me.  I started to cry.  There wasn’t anything I wanted more than his love.  It had been a cold eight or so years, and so, I went.  We cried.  I stayed by his side as he healed.  He was surprised to see me and my enormously swollen belly, which was holding his soon-to-be fourth grandchild and his first granddaughter.

We started making amends. Trust me, it wasn’t a Lifetime movie . . . it took another seven years and another granddaughter to heal our wounds and to make our full amends, but we did.  We both cried, and more importantly, he apologized for not being there for me.  We talked about the past and the stubbornness we both had.  We talked about how we cannot change our past and how we can only move forward and make the most of what we have today for our tomorrows.  And so, we did.  He never missed another Christmas.  He never missed a call on my birthday.  I tried my best to get candy corn to him every September for his birthday.  I was not the perfect daughter.  He was not the perfect dad, but he was my Dad.  We had an understanding and didn’t ask questions we didn’t want to really know the answers to.

I miss him dearly.  And as strange as it may seem, he taught me much by his absence.  We cannot make people into something they are not.  We have to love and appreciate them for who they are.  We are all here with one common goal: to survive the best way we know how.  Everyone copes with life’s challenges in different ways.  Some handle the struggles very well.  Some run away or turn to alcohol.  Some suffer from mental illness or depression; some throw their lives into an outside passion.

And yes, some write.

writing cupFurther Links:

Interested in reconnecting with a family member? “Can You Forgive?” has some insight into this sometimes difficult process, or read some other suggestions on how to keep the peace and on how to forgive.

Read about some coping strategies for dealing with life’s challenges or read all about the benefits of personal writing.

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