Friday, June 15, 2012

True Stories-- June in Oktoberland, Con't.

 My father was murdered by loan sharks when I was 11. He was not living with us at the time.

 This is a weird kind of cachet for a daughter to have, and I may never learn to use it correctly; to impress and/or horrify properly, to show the seriousness of my understanding of outsiderhood or trouble, or street cred. Instead, I speak of it matter-of-factly, and people go dead quiet, or sputter a little. If they know me only since adulthood, whenever that happened, they may get a look of wary disbelief, as if I'm putting them on, and will reveal the joke any minute. Some have thought I was lying. But it is true.

 I remember the night we found out-- just a couple of weeks or so after my February birthday, making it March, I guess. It was late, so late it was getting early, and my oldest brother came down the long dark hallway, through my older sister's room, and in to the large unheated back bedroom I, my mother, younger sister, and other brother then shared. Except I'm not sure if my other brother was there or not. I can't recall him on the scene-- I was tired, suddenly waked by the slamming of a door, voices. I was there, and I heard my big brother say clearly, "The old man's dead." It's funny, but even though we hadn't lived with my father since I was a toddler and my little sister a baby, and I had no relationship with him, I knew who my brother meant, instantly-- and not just because his infrequent references to our father were always about "the old man." It was a scary enough set of circumstances to make me question my intuitive belief, though.

 My mother was rocked, broken-up, of course. Leaving someone because of their alcoholism doesn't make you stop caring, and it doesn't kill passion. Then my brother, a hard-ass, tough and almost unfazable, a guy nicknamed The Ox by his trucker co-workers, passed out, from shock I suppose; passed out while near the entrance of the big room, and on the way down scratched his back on an uncovered motherfucker of a long, vicious screw that was sticking out from my big sister's bureau, where the drawer's knob handle had fallen off and not been fixed yet. The scratch must have been 7 inches long-- I'm not sure if tetanus shots were required-- I do know it was discussed at some point. But his fading down the front of the dresser in slo-mo was electrifying to me, unexpected, and gripping to watch.

 I say shock, but from that day to this, I've never remembered to ask him. We haven't been close, primarily because of the more than 10 years between our ages, and then later, geographical distance that grew into other kinds of distance. Well, there are/were other reasons, too. My older four siblings had a radically different experience of childhood than we two younger girls-- they had lived with, loved, been hit by my father. They had gone from a large house in Lancaster, NY, to having creditors at the door, had eaten potato bread three meals a day at times, had witnessed fights and had piggy banks stolen from for booze expenses, and all that goes with a drinking father. Our separate, non-drunken dad life must have seemed a magical tour by comparison. At best, it made us seem spoiled, and made it difficult for our older brothers and sisters to be too sympathetic to our measly problems. 

 Occasionally I remember to wonder-- had my brother been drinking, and blacked out from that? Was that the true measure of how upset he was, having to give my mother the news? I know what that's like, because I was the person to find my maternal grandmother's body, and tell my mother of that loss. But that's another story.

 The untimely death of my father caused a sudden, permanent raise in our standard of living. Instead of being on welfare, as my father was disabled, and a veteran, and the law couldn't get much money from him to support us, we now had an income-- money from his insurance, and his railroad retirement pension. My mother was able to get a job, too, being fresh out of college at 42. Again, another story. We got his car, the dull pine green Dodge Duster I painfully learned to drive on (manual steering, if you can believe); we moved out from the middle of Buffalo to Tonawanda that very summer, going from a rented falling apart flat with an absentee landlord, to a nice rented double with the owner living upstairs and a wide swath of deep, scary fields beyond the backyard.

 I should say, it was a raise in most respects: my younger sister and I had been attending parochial school, just up the street from us and next to SUNY at Buffalo, on a special financial arrangement involving much good will on the part of the school. But in Tonawanda, maybe because of our still-not-posh rating, the Catholic school didn't want us, for any money-- my attendance record, I'm sure, had something to do with that, too, but I hadn't even approached anything like the spectacular spree of school-skipping I would begin in 7th grade, then 7th grade again, then 8th.

 Do I even need to say it, this time?

So, we were forced to attend the excellent, but larger and non-religious, schools in the public school system there. I went to Willow Ridge, after 2 horrid days at Glendale, and it was a trade-off-- at Glendale, my class was huge, because they had merged two big groups into one double classroom. This didn't sit well with small-school me, so I bussed it past the creek everyday to Willow Ridge, where there were six sixth grade classes, but whew! each in their own private, normal classroom. My homeroom teacher, Mr. Murray, was a gentle, kind person, and my first male teacher. We did okay together, except when I frustrated him by speaking too low-- he had hearing loss in one ear, and I was painfully, deathly shy and self-conscious, especially without a familiar uniform to wear. Uniforms are great for keeping teenaged tits in place. But I digress.

 Another small raise was that my little sister and I began to receive a weekly allowance, for the first time in our lives, of a quarter apiece. I usually squandered mine on rocket pops-- those red, white and blue popsicles, which cost exactly my allowance at the time, per popsicle.

 The hard part was, we had to move away from my best friend that lived around the block from us, and my other good pal. Our next door neighbors for the previous few years, were a very cool young couple with three kids-- girls aged the same as my sister and I, to be friends with, and a boy one year older than me, to torture me everyday about my burgeoning booblets. We had to leave them, and none of those relationships were ever the same, though we all tried for a while. Worse, there was really no one accessible, that was either of our ages, in our new neighborhood, except the boy who lived upstairs, and didn't like us much. He certainly didn't play with us, or hang out. There was also no place to go, no place you could walk to but the one convenience store about a half mile away, and they didn't let kids loiter. Suburbs. Yech.

 I have been at pains to verify the salient points of this story, and it hasn't been easy-- my impressions being the impressions of a young and tired mind, and my family not being given to talking about our father much. Some of the lesser details may be swimmy feelings that ran together, but I think not; it was a startling sort of event, the kind that sets up sharp, forever. And the big important parts: the death, the fainting, who said what, have been verifed for me. It's true as true-- my father was murdered by loan sharks.

 The crime was never solved; when my mother sought answers from the powers that be, she was told not to look into it, that that would not be a safe thing for her or her remaining family. She was told outright not to pursue justice, or information. It was only then that she was given the full understanding that her husband's death, left to bleed out in a stairwell from a wound in the head, had not been at all accidental, not a case of an old drunk slipping during a binge. It was murder, and the case was closed. She wisely let it be-- a smart woman with six kids and her own mother to take care of, knows when to let things lie, at least for a long while. Nothing much about the matter has come to light in the intervening decades; a few minor additions to the tale, but not concrete ones.

 My father was buried, and some of my own classmates were the altar boys at his funeral, which I did not attend. I wonder now, how much shit and blame my poor mom had to take from her in-laws on the occasion. I wonder if anyone connected with the killing did go to the funeral or burial, under the guise of friendship, or drinking buddy-ship. I can never know. There are no trails left to follow, if I wanted to. Even his original grave is gone-- his parents moved him, without consulting or telling his widow and children. They preferred to dig up his bones a year or so later rather than let him stay where we'd put him, and we found out while trying to visit his plot. One more indignity, for the road.

My father was 48 when he was beaten to death: the same age I am now. It's an odd, if common, occurence to realize you are outliving a family member by age gained, particularly one of your elders. I already had it happen four years ago, when I hit and then passed the same age as my late, oldest sister. She wasn't murdered, she died of cancer, although the way she handled her illness, you could make a case that she committed suicide by cancer. Or, I could... and have.

 But that is completely another story.

 I truly wish you all a Happy Father's Day, believe me.

 Peace, Mari


Dr. Niamh Clune said...

This is a moving, sad tale of childhood. You have become a wonderful mind and your fierce spirit shines through the shite and dross that clutters so much of how people present themselves.

I am glad to know you, Exploding Mary...from one dysfunctional childhood survivor to another. Don't it give you something to write about? Don't it just? Makes of us writers, poets, musicians, artists, soul-mongers and mongrels one and all who keep the conscience of Humanity at least tinged with some collective awareness of child abuse/neglect/loss of innocence and its life-long consequences. Hearts to you, my friend. I have not featured father's day...although I share your congratulations to those lucky enough to have wonderful fathers.

heavy hedonist said...

It's true; even if I mined my childhood exclusively for a decade, I think I would keep having have stories to tell. And I never had a parental hand raised against me, or went hungry.