I have a memory. I was a little boy standing in a room. There was a window to my left. It was light outside, but it was cloudy. It must have been late in the evening because the room was almost dark. I was not aware of anyone else in the room or even if there was any furniture. There were no sounds.
This memory floats through my mind often—like a vapor. Over the years I believed this remembrance had significance, but it remained a mystery. It has been something like working on a jigsaw puzzle without having all of the pieces.
I think I was four years old when my family moved to a small town in southeast Kansas. I had a sister twenty months younger and a brother four years younger. When I was five I was sleeping with a butcher knife under my pillow. A child that age would have to be very frightened to feel the need for that kind of security. I remember asking my mother nightly if dad was coming home. She assured me he was, but I did not see him until morning. For a long time I thought I was afraid of him, but I could not understand why. My memory gets a little erratic as I try to put pieces together. I’m not sure of the exact order of my memories.
One night an ambulance backed up to our front steps and took my mother away. I found out at some point that she was taken to a mental hospital and was given shock treatments. When I was in my fifties, after both my parents had passed away, one of my siblings told me that mom told her this happened because she told her doctor that she feared she would hurt her children. When she told her doctor about her fear, he had her committed. This was a major piece of the puzzle. Being the oldest child at the age of four or five, I am sure I was the target of her frustration. She said or did something that scared me enough that I thought I needed a knife for protection. It was then that I realized I was afraid of her, not my dad.
I didn’t know my dad was an alcoholic until fourteen years after he passed away. I was in my forties. I confronted my mother with my suspicions after reading about the characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. They fit me to a “T.” She admitted that he was.
When she was twenty and pregnant with me, she, a Jewess, married my dad against her mother’s wishes because he was a Catholic. Her family refused to attend the wedding. Her father died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease less than six months before.
Dad’s father died when dad was six leaving a widow with seven children and pregnant with the eighth. Dad was eleven years old when the Great Depression hit. I don’t know if he was an alcoholic when he married mom, but I do know he and his older brother bootlegged whiskey from Oklahoma to Kansas when dad was eighteen. I also know that two of his brothers were alcoholics and a sister was married to one.
I was born less than two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. My dad enlisted in the army and left shortly after I was born. After boot camp he was stationed at the Pentagon. We moved to Arlington, VA, to be with him–a city where there were signs that said, “Soldiers and dogs stay off the grass.” I only mention this to show the disrespect of the community toward soldiers and their families. On the way to Arlington, mom met a Catholic priest on the train and he shared Jesus with her. We moved back to Wichita after dad was discharged. Somewhere along the way my sister was born. My brother was born in Wichita.
Now, at age seventy plus, I look back on all these circumstances and I try to understand her and all that she was dealing with. She was married to an alcoholic who moved her to a small town, where she didn’t know anyone, with three children ages four, two and less than a year. Her family never visited. She converted to Roman Catholicism. Where my memory fits in–I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter. I’ve read that when children experience sexual, physical or emotional abuse, they handle it in one of two ways–they either remember every detail and block out the emotional turmoil or they block out the details and experience all the mental and physical manifestations. I’m the latter.
Change something today to make your tomorrow better.