There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.
William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A little history, the wounds of war, a love story.

There was a special segment on one of the morning TV shows this last Sunday. It marked the anniversary or was a remembrance of the photo of a young girl named Kim running naked down a road in Vietnam.  She had been burned with Napalm. There was an interview with the now 50 something Kim. She is badly scared but happy.

Wars; the horrible things humans do.  Young men and women lost, those coming home walking wounded....some of them anyway.  

I met my second and third husband (same man, different marriages obviously) early 1968. I'll call him Bob.  I was a single mother of two living partly on the welfare system, cleaning houses for the rich, and going to cosmetology school.  Bob was just home from Viet Nam.  He had been in the motor pool and while he wasn't on the front lines I eventually learned he had been exposed to horrible experiences.  He was the second most handsome man I had ever seen; the first was Omar Sharif.  He was Hispanic and American Indian, had long, black hair that he tied back with a leather thong, was muscular and brooding.  I saw that as mysterious and a sign of strength I guess.  He was damaged. He was that way before he left for Viet Nam I am sure, but the war just compounded the issues already there.  He came back an alcoholic and a drug user. I knew he drank, but the drugs were another story. 

By the summer of 1968 we were married and in June of 1969 our son was born. Let's call him Alex. Here is how the first marriage went: Alcoholism, domestic violence, calls to the police, arguments about drinking and drugs and not being home, cheating constantly (him), domestic abuse over and over, more police calls, crying, lost jobs (his), frightened kids (all 3), and more of the same. We tried marriage counseling, several times. We divorced.  He saw our son regularly, but he always picked him up at either his mother's house or my parents home. 

I heard from his sister that he was in therapy.  So was I.  Again. Three years went by.  I was dating....lots of first dates, only a few second ones.  By chance we saw each other at a club.  The "romance" started all over again; we saw ourselves as "healed." 

Here is how the second marriage went:  OK for the first year.  Then, see the above first marriage, add child abuse to that list of misery, and at the end, things more horrible than god awful horrible.  The divorce was ugly.  He was only allowed to see our son with a court monitor.  He saw him once. 

Fast forward to 1998.  Steve and I are in Idaho, my son Alex is getting married.  Of course he wants his dad there.  Seems Bob had married again and divorced and had another son.  In the 4 seconds that I was sitting alone at the reception, he came, glass in hand, and sat next to me.  Hey, good to see you, how are you doing? he said. Get the fuck away from me.  Now.  I said; and he did. 

About 8 years ago, Alex called me in a panic.  He couldn't find his dad.  Their communication was sporadic at best.  He was a full blown alcoholic (I don't know how to describe someone that is beyond being just an alcoholic) and had been having health problems.  Alex had found out that his father had lost his job, his condo had been foreclosed on, and no one knew where he was.  Alex wanted to know what to do.  I told him to call the local jails, hospitals and start looking for his SUV at the bars in the town where he lived. 

Alex found him living in his SUV in back of a supermarket.  He was collecting cans to support his drinking, a little gas and food.  Alex offered to help his dad;  his dad declined.  The next time Alex saw his dad he had broken into that lost condo, the SUV had been repossessed, he was cooking Raman on a hibachi, there was no power, water, no nothing but a seriously ill man and his booze.  Alex became a one man interventionist.  Somehow, he managed to get his father to agree to go to the Loma Linda VA. 

The VA got him dry and into a program, treated his diabetes, heart problems, blood pressure and found him campus housing.  He was granted VA disability and when he was ready to leave campus living, he was placed in a sober housing complex.  That lasted less than a year. 

Since then Bob has moved 5 times, survived a near fatal single car accident, lost toes to diabetes, had 2 respiratory arrests, one cardiac arrest, been treated for kidney failure, had a 5 vessel bypass, been in the hospital more times than Alex can count, had his bypass incision infected so badly he was in the hospital for a month, started on dialysis, and has never stopped drinking.  In August this year he was found non responsive in a strip mall parking lot next to his car, bagged broken beer and wine bottles under his head according to the police report.  He was released from the hospital a few weeks ago.  Alex can't find him.  He has a DNR in place; Alex has power of attorney.  Alex is waiting for the call to come.

My son Alex is a remarkable man in spite of his parents.  So are my two other kids; just remarkable humans given what they lived through. The three of them have forgiven me for the choices I made.  Forgiving their fathers is another story. Yes, there is a story with husband #1. 

Back in the 60's and early 70's our family was called dysfunctional.  Therapists either had a field day with our dynamics or didn't know what to do.  Now, the terms used are more advanced, more descriptive...PTSD, co-dependent, enabler, substance abuse disease, and several listings in the DSM-IV....or is there a V or VI now?

Bob was doomed long before I met him....a broken home, alcoholic mother, fraternal uncles killing each other, another uncle drinking after shave to feed his addiction, a sister that committed suicide, a brother that walked away from a deeply homophobic family never to be seen again, and on and on. 
Compared to Bob's family, mine was almost normal.  My dad was an alcoholic and my mother had affairs....what's to complain about?

Did I love Bob?  I did.  Obviously it wasn't a healthy love, or even close to one day of happiness love.  It was, in the end, just fucking miserable for both of us and the children we brought into our hell.  I take responsibility for my choices.  I don't wish Bob dead or in more pain than he brought on himself or what Viet Nam piled on top of that....but, he made his choices just like I did.  No regrets though.....I have Alex. 


booda baby said...

Oh, that was a chronicle of sadness. And it *is* a ghost story. Two people who had a future to create but were haunted by family. Always, I bristle when people say 'you have choices.' Invariably, I hear them saying it cavalierly and maybe they're not, but I hear it anyway. Who doesn't know there are choices; the question is whether we have the skills and the psychic clm to make them.

Alex must be thick and solid with love. You did really, really good making a son that has that much compassion. And forgiveness. I can swing the forgiveness. But there's not a chance in hell that I'll let someone back in my life that twisted how I see myself in the world.

jp said...

Oh, Rosie. I couldn't be more proud of you now. You are always honest and you always write from your heart. Over the years you have alluded to this story but I don't think you've ever told it until now. SO. DAMN. PROUD.

What Cris said about forgiveness. I don't care if you forgive him, great if you do, but you absolutely have to forgive yourself [Yes, I'm a shrink now, go with it.] This has haunted you for way too long and it has to stop. Your kids are wonderful and they love you dearly because I see it in their faces in the pictures you post. And they are not who they are despite you, they are who they are BECAUSE of you. You did a whole lot of things right in there and you're just going to have to admit that. Don't even roll your eyes at me like that because I'm SO not kidding.

I say this all because I care about you, but also because I fear that Alex is getting closer to having his heart broken a final time, and then he will need you, and he will need the best of you. And just like that damn tumor, you've got this.

Love and hugs.

rosemary said...

My kids are miracles. While Alex says he is just tired of all of this with his father (I can't tell you how many times he has tried to help his dad...calls in the middle of the night, picking him up from jail...just so many things he has done for him) I know, and he does too, that the loss will be as great or greater than the life he is living. So many opportunities to be a dad...just lost. There is so much more I could have told/confessed. This is enough. I feel like bricks have been lifted.


we have so much in common...I'm pretty sure you know my story about Jack..if not..well ..a different ending for me..and for Jack...sad.sad..sad.. I love you

Citymouse said...

It is amazing how many of us are out there -- we need to share our stories more often.

more cowbell said...

First, hugs to you. You just never know what someone's story is, do you? I remember after the shit hit the fan with my ex-husband (nothing near what you went through, for which I am grateful), when I could finally drag myself out of bed and stop crying long enough to go to the freaking grocery store, I remember looking at some oranges, and suddenly it hit me that no one in the produce section knew what I was going through ... and that I had no idea what their stories were. It kind of freaked me out in that moment. We pack it in and go about our business, but everyone has a story, and some are stories that you'd never guess.

Next, what JP said. No beating yourself up. I think we women tend to do that, especially around things involving our kids, but the other thing about moms is that most of us do the absolute best we can with what we know at the time. Sure, once we're older and have been through a few things and have the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to say we could've/would've/should've done things differently or better or not at all or whatever, but ... we do the best we can with what we know at the time. Your kids and now grandkids are wonderful. That's due in large part to you, mami.