Beware, or I'll eat you alive.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What happened last Christmas, a "final" chapter~~~

Hello again my sweet, yummy, luscious things.

I hope you have a nice cup of hot chocolate or coffee or maybe even good bourbon to drink, from the way things are going this is going to be a very long post.

First I want to say to Fram, now that would be a wonderful sight to see. Once in a great while a large hawk will swope low along the inland road going to the Oakland Airport, I know its a hawk, and near the historic high school I've seen falcons so close that you can count the feather markings, they have become so adapted to city living no one bothers them, because it's so wonderful to see such creatures, and near the hotel, there are tall old palm trees that owls make a nest in. It's rare to see them but several people have.

I said earlier today that my elderly neighbor, Lillian told me that I should finish, round out if you like, what happened after I left my Father’s house to go to college and then this last Christmas day, when I shook things up at his church.

For that I’m going to have to back track a bit; remember my Mother did a special act of rebellion when she took me to a Catholic Church, during the time that my Father was gone for a few days from the house.

I still can remember that place, the scent of incense, the music, and everyone joining in the prayers with feeling, every now and then a little child would mis-behave but the attitude was of quiet , a soft “shush, Jesus is here and he wants you to pray and say the mass” it seemed to focus the child, but if the child was too little, then either Mom or Dad would distract the child with a soft toy, or a book, or would take the child out into the entrance foyer, totally different from my Father’s church where you knew any infraction would result in standing up front of everyone and being made an example of a sinner, and the whole congregation would call out “shame, shame”.

Going to that Catholic Church was a revelation, completely different and it was my Mother’s one of only two acts of rebellion, when she put me to bed that night I told her that it felt different, and she said that she wanted me to see something other than Father’s church. But it was our special secret. Later she became pregnant with baby sis and after that there were no more acts of rebellion by her except one and of course the quiet knowledge of my planning my freedom and her not interfering.

I was grateful for Mrs. Smith and Miss Lambe, the few times my Father encountered them he discovered he met his match, women who were not afraid of him, were not intimidated by him, and as I got older in my late teens, I told Miss Lambe how I wanted to be free of my Father’s domination, I also told her about that one time going to the Catholic Church and what had happened.

She helped me improve my grades so I could qualify for scholarships for college and helped me apply for them.

Being in College wasn’t easy, the scholarships only went so far and I had to work part time, but I was use to doing without. I was lucky to be able to get a dorm room; I shared it with two girls, who, along with several others, became my close friends, Yoshi and Karen. If it wasn’t for them, and their support dealing with college, it would have been more difficult. It was hard dealing with the more privileged, moneyed students and their little ‘cliques’ or sororities, I never joined any, and although it helped you to join, one could “network” contacts that way, it made them appear in my eyes as ‘snobs’, and, when they had their drunken parties, idiotic snobs.

At the restaurant where I worked, sometimes these ‘sorority sisters would come in, make impossible demands for ridiculous things, even sending whole meals back, making it difficult for me to attend to other patrons, and then not tipping, one time one of them tripped me, fortunately I was not carrying any dish or glass ware, but in falling I painfully scraped my knees, I continued to work that night but with large band aids on my knees and walking to my dorm was painful. Janet one of my dorm mates was being asked to pledge to the sorority that would come into the restaurant, but when she saw what happened to me she had her doubts that it would be a good thing.

But I told her she should; her mother was alum of that sorority and would be disappointed if she didn’t become one of those sisters. Doing that was hard for her, because of our friendship, but I thought that once in there I would lose her, that never happened, and thanks to her friendship she helped Karen, Yoshi and myself and helped us get the connections we needed.

And for the other sorority sisters that tripped me? They were asked to not come back by the manager, who wrote a letter to the Dean, that little trick did cost them. What they didn’t know is that I had made a deal with the chef and the manager, any food that any customer didn’t want, instead of being tossed away, set it aside I would carton it and take it to my dorm mates, we ate very good.

In a letter that my Mother wrote me she told me that Father was furious that I had escaped him, but since I was of legal age there was nothing he could do, but not Mother, she was secretly glad. I wrote letters home to let my Mother know that I was fine. I wrote more often to Miss Lambe, and from time to time she would send me a care package. I thanked what ever powers there were for her help.

When I finally graduated and got my first job, I lived in a small apartment with Yoshi and Karen, we lived in that tiny place until we each had jobs that helped us afford our own places. But Yoshi went back to live with her Mother and Grandmother in China Town after her Father had died, it was better for them and even after she married, she and her husband continued to live there.

After living in the City for six months I saved enough money and went home to visit, I had written Mother what day I was coming, I also wrote to Miss Lambe, she called me and said she was so proud of me and insisted that I stay with her for the few days that I would be in town, which did save me money and I arrived at the bus station a day early so I could spend some time with Miss Lambe.

The next day I went to my parents house, my Father was at work, baby sis was glad to see me, Mother fluttered around me like a Mama bird, I asked if she got my letters, she said she did and read them but she didn’t save any, because the day my letter arrived telling Mother when I would be coming to visit, was one of the few times Father stayed home from work ill, such a rarity for him, but his fever was too high for him to work and Mother had to take him to the Doctor’s office for treatment. So Father stayed home for a few days.

Mother had gone shopping and baby sis was at school when the mail arrived with my letter, he read it, then when Mother came home he handed it to her, she read it and then Father asked where were the other letters, Mother knew that it was not wise to refuse so she got them. He read them slowly, sometimes twice, and then he destroyed every single one in front of Mother. She told me she cried when he did that, it was like he tried to destroy me, but he can’t you know my sweet things, he can’t and this last Christmas after so many years he discovered that he couldn’t destroy me.

It was back then that Mother gave me a slip of paper, it was the name of a lawyer, she said I was to see him about Grandma’s trust, Father and Grandfather had tried to break it, but couldn’t. Grandma had written a provision that if there was any attempt to break it then the trust would go to charities. Father then thought if I didn’t know about it then I would never claim it and even threaten Mother if she told, but Mother gave me the information, it was her second and last act of rebellion.

In thinking about that moment those years ago I realized that in the years that followed I saw her becoming more and more gray, more and more quiet, the spark that kept her going was fading and that now she is just marking time. What she had done is given me the financial wherewithal that became my financial foundation to always be able to maintain my independence.

When Father came home from the office he saw me and barely said anything, so I ignored him and simply answered baby sis’s questions, while Mother went into the kitchen to get dinner ready.

He sat in his over stuffed chair reading his paper, while baby sis and I talked; finally Father said to me “I guess you expect me to pay for your sister’s college education when she’s old enough?” I looked at him and said “If she keeps her grades up she can apply for scholarships and grant programs and work part time like I did, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to open that wallet and let the moths out and help her like you didn’t help me.”

I won’t go into the fight that followed but I did have a certain satisfaction of saying to him that I had now become the type of woman he was afraid of…One that was neither intimidated by him nor cowed by him. He made the mistake of saying to me “I’m your Father” to which I replied “Yes, to my ever lasting sorrow, you pitiful little man, you are my father only by biology but not by respect.” He stared at me then with a straight back, turned and left the room. Mother pleaded with me to leave, for her sake I did, but just as I left I gave her Miss Lambe’s address and phone number and told Mother she could always contact me through her.

It was 2 years before Mother asked me to come back to the house (I can never really call it home) for the first of many strained annual Christmas dinners. Things have never been warm between Father and I, they never will be but I do it for Mother and baby sis’s sake.

Miss Lambe is still alive and at the Library as a volunteer where she still does the Saturday afternoon story times, I count her as my friend, mentor and surrogate Aunt, I never hesitated to write to her or call her. And with e-mail, questions and replies are quicker than snail mail; she helped guide me as I matured, just as Mrs. Smith helped with the initial breakthroughs to create the desire to learn.

But now going back to this last Christmas it seemed to culminate the relationship between Father and myself, perhaps shifted it to a different level.

I had groaned at the thought of going back there for another Christmas dinner, for the last few years Father tolerated me staying under his roof for the few days I visited, one of the few shifts in things. It was better in a way, it seems that for the next week or so before and after Christmas the members of the church were going to go every evening, and I realized that each night, the sermons were ones repeated from years before, only updated, but looking around I saw that many of the members were listening as if they were hearing it for the first time. None so blind and those who refuse to see.

On Christmas Day I had dressed carefully and deliberately, Father’s church was having a late afternoon service instead of a morning one, I discovered that the church was having a late communal breakfast and Father had to be there, with Mother; baby sis and I would come later for services, as we were preparing dinner.

So we had our own bite to eat, free of Father’s thunderous glances, and when baby sis saw what I was wearing she said “You are going to make a lot of people unhappy” and I smiled at her saying that it was my intension.

We sat through a long sermon in which the ‘minister’ was going on and on and on about the evils of the world, that there was no redemption to be found and we were going to be swallowed up in hellfire, not one word about the promise given to us in the guise of an innocent baby, and not one word about God’s love. We were bad, we were evil, we were every abomination that one could think of, and it went on sooooo long that I thought that splinters were seeking themselves into my posterior side.

I found myself becoming angry at the ‘minister’s tirade, but I knew that there was only one time where I could speak and I waited.

There is a moment in the service where those who feel they may have ‘sinned’ should stand up and ask forgiveness from the congregation and be prayed for. Almost everyone stood up and confessed their ‘evil deeds’ even baby sis at Father’s insistence for some meaningless infraction.

When the minister asked “Are there any others?” I had the pleasure of standing up, which shocked everyone, and made this statement, (I thank baby sis for having made a transcription of the tape recording of the services) ----

“The only thing I’ve done is to break away from this repressive church and discover the freedom that a warm and loving God offers’ I’ve come here not as ‘Jezebel’ but as ‘Judith’ welding her sword against ignorance and bigotry as preached to this congregation.

God is loving and forgiving, he gives us the free will to make choices and to enjoy life, to live our lives in loving moderation, but in doing so we must give back and help those, no matter who they are, who are less fortunate than us, in their time of need.

Without preaching, without forcing our beliefs upon them.

Not being with God is not hellfire and damnation or self flagellation but being separated from his love, which he never withholds from us, for it is always there, but it is us who withhold our love from him, we who think we are sinful and unworthy to receive his love and his blessing.

By not praising ourselves or seeking praise but simply doing the greatest commandment that God has given us that makes us worthy of his love even down to the smallest of kindnesses.

It is said in the bible “to make a joyful noise” to welcome Him into your heart but you do not do this, even when God gives us the lilies in the field and the songs of birds for us to hear, see and enjoy, yet you deny his gifts.

In your seeking your god you do as the publican did in the temple, by saying “I’ve given this up for you and suffered this for you’ you are only glorifying yourselves, not god, you should be like the Tax Collector who does his duty and tries to do it well but does not know if he is worthy of God’s grace and only asks for forgiveness for his weaknesses and God finds him, with all his imperfections and honesty, to be perfect.

It is said in the Book of Judith “How can you expect to search out God and comprehend his thoughts?” You cannot except to understand, not literally but through the heart that there is only one law, only one commandment, the greatest of all and that is “To Love One Another”, and yet, here, in THIS church, love is considered a sin.

I pity all of you.”

I sat down, my back straight against the unyielding bench and stared straight ahead as I felt every pair of eyes on me. I expected the ‘minister’ to make some remark condemning me to hell, but instead there was only silence, until he cleared his throat and asked the congregation to turn to a particular page to do the final reading, then the services were closed.

Father couldn’t look at me. As we left the church I heard some of the older parishioners say they would pray for him to have the strength to carry his burden.

Did I mean to publicly humiliate him? Not only him but everyone in that church, I had had enough, after all these years, after hearing that ‘preacher’s" sermon of damnation on Christmas Day I finally had enough. Baby sis’s so-called boy friend was not there to see this; he came to the house later for dinner and no mention was made of it to him.

When we got home Mother quietly asked me to change into something less bright, for her sake I did and helped her put dinner on the table.

One of the few things that did surprise me was Father allowing us to have a little ‘fun’ by putting together a large puzzle after dinner was cleared away, but since it was a puzzle of one of Thomas Kinkades paintings it was considered not ‘sinful’ in Father’s eyes.

The day after Christmas, I had made plans to go and see Ms. Lambe for a few hours, when I returned Mother and baby sis were not home but Father was. He called out my name from the living room when he heard the front door close.

I went in expecting him to breathe hellfire upon me, if he did I was prepared to leave immediately, but instead he said to me “You spoke very well, my late Father would have been surprised that a serpent such as you could use words so eloquently.” I looked at him and said “Thank you for the complement, it was meant to shake everyone up, I won’t apologize if it humiliated you because I think you enjoy the sadistic pleasure of it.”

I turned to go upstairs when he said in a stronger voice “Woman stop!” I turned back to him and he continued “I am your Father, you SHOULD respect me!”

I replied “Some years ago I said that you are my biological father; that I can never deny, but respect is earned through love and gentle firmness in discipline that a child knows is meant with love.

I acknowledge that you clothed me, but in second hand clothes, you fed me although miserly, you sheltered me, although with little comfort, you sought medical aid for me and sent me to school only because you could not be humiliated by being arrested for child neglect and were warned by your Father that it was in the church’s best interest to avoid having the law come into this house and only through that fear did you do it.

Not once did you comfort me, praise me, encourage me, even hug me. For that you only earn my contempt. If you want me to leave this house now I will. But if you do anything to endanger Mother’s health, if you harm her or my sister, if you try to force my sister into a loveless marriage, then I will take steps to free them from you and take on the burden of their care and you can remain in this cold, empty house with your idea of god.”

We stood there looking at each other, I could feel the air between us vibrating, I realized it was a test of wills and I was not going to back down, I already had in place what my next steps were if he should tell me to leave but that did not happen, instead I could feel the tension deflate, then he turned and said in a almost conversational voice “Your Mother and Sister have gone shopping for some things, they should be back in an hour.” And he went back, sat in his chair and took up his newspaper.

I went upstairs and changed clothes playing that scene over and over in my mind, who won? Were there any winners or was it a truce? That evening after dinner Father left to go to his church’s bible class most likely to receive more sympathy from fellow members all saying words of ‘comfort’ to him.

Now alone for a few hours Mother, baby sis and I sat in the living room and I told them what had happened earlier, Mother said that was not like him at all to back down from that kind of confrontation, and left the room to make us some tea. Baby sis said that what I said the other day at church was very brave, and she told me that some, but not all, felt the same way I did, and that it was harder and harder for the ‘minister’ to keep the younger members involved with that church, and even worse, some had left.

She, Mother and I talked about how things have changed in the world, the new technology, the greater acceptance of many things, baby sis said that she thought it was wonderful that I stood up to Father and what I told him. I made her promise to never bring it up to Father ever again.

Then I took a good hard look at everything in the living room, nothing had ever changed, with the exception of re-covering some pieces of furniture and always fixing the refrigerator, the only thing replaced was the washing machine and even that was the simplest model, the place was ‘frozen in time’ and Mother always dressing the same way, she sewed her own clothes but it was always from the same patterns, she had remained frozen in time as well, except for getting older.

I finally asked Mother where did the furniture come from, and she told me that the house had belonged to Father’s Grandparents and when they died Father inherited the house and everything in it before he married Mother, it had always been there, the only things added were a few pieces of furniture that was from his Father’s house before it was sold.

I gained a certain insight to this man who either hated or was afraid of change and new technology, the only new thing was a push button phone in his den where he paid the bills, the one in the living room was still a dial up phone.

I thought of something one of my friends told me, just a few months before her Grandmother had died they had gathered at her Grandmother’s house to watch man walk on the Moon. When she helped put her grandmother to bed, her Grandmother remarked that as a young girl she saw Hailey’s comet come out of the sky, so bright it was that it could even be seen in daylight, then she talked about all the other changes that happened over the years, man flying, several world wars, advances in medicine of illnesses that had killed some members of the family now easily cured, and now man has walked on the moon. Her Grandmother sighed and said “I think that is enough for one lifetime.” 4 months later her Grandmother died. She had seen enough in her lifetime.

I thought of all the sudden advances in technology that had happened in the last few years, is this what my Father is afraid of? That technology is causing him to lose control? Has changed all that was familiar with him, until he felt so lost and isolated?
Or was it ingrained into him by his own Father and Grandfather’s fears, passed down like a defective gene into the very cellular memory of the body, that he had to inflict it on his wife and children as well, but by a quirk of fate we see things differently and accept the changes as a part of life.

Had what I done awakened something in him or had it broken him, these thoughts ran through my head as baby sis talked about her plans to complete college. Then Father came home, Mother of course went to him to help him take off his overcoat, and he sat in his chair, I chose to say nothing, but baby sis asked him how was bible class, and he said that some of the members wanted to talk about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra so that was discussed in class. When I stood up to take my cup into the kitchen he asked me when I planned to leave and I told him the day after next, I wanted to avoid any New Year’s Day traffic, he only nodded. When I left to come back home to the Bay Area, he had gone to work and never said a word to me at breakfast, which was fine with me. I said my goodbye’s to Mother and baby sis, I had called Ms. Lambe and said I would e-mail her when I got home.

The drive home was uneventful, and once in my own home, I e-mailed Ms. Lambe and then slept for 14 hours. And what has happened since then? Mother now writes me once a week, with extra notes from baby sis, and I write back to her at the house, she says that she doesn’t hide the letters that she writes to me any more, and when the letters from me arrive she reads them and even Father asks if I have written and he reads them, but he makes no comments on the contents of my letters he just hands them back to her, he makes no effort to tear them up.

But Mother says that except for that everything with Father is much the same, the congregation at church is the same, but I think something may have changed, maybe I have him thinking. I know I am.

I don’t think that there can be any amends between us, the gulf between us is too wide, the wounds too deep, although I’ve done my best to heal those within me, as I said I don’t hate him, I only have contempt for him, and pity, he’s older now, and all that was familiar to him is really gone, he has lived a joyless life created by his Father and his Father before him. It’s moments like this that I think what would have happened if it had been different, the road not taken, the path not explored. Perhaps that is why I enjoy seeing the camadrie between elderly couples that have lived together for a long time in love still. The road never taken out of fear.

It’s late, the lights of S.F. twinkle faintly, and there are night clouds that attempt to shroud the city, no stars in the sky, and rain threatens again, earth’s tears. And so to bed my sweet things, to bed, and let the cares of the day float away on pillows of dreams.

1 comment:

Fram said...

I read, and read, and read.

Sometimes, I want to ask who you really are, but I do not dare, so do not tell me. I prefer my own illusion: Mickey and Ava. (Of course, I am taller than Mickey, better looking and much more muscular. I mean, really. But they were a cute couple.)

The times are too unsettling. Some manner of escape for a while to foreign lands beckons. Wind, water and sun.

Ever fire a Glock? I broke down and bought one a few years ago. Model 30 (.45 caliber, of course). Absolutely reliable, and I can hit like a champ with it, but I still prefer the 1911. It fits me best.