I had a long talk with my older sister today and learnt about more family secrets. Secrets that I’m not suppose to know about. Secrets that I’m not supposed to talk about. I get angry thinking about it. Why is it we just can’t talk about these things? Why do they have to kept bottled up? So I’m going to do what I said I would long ago. I’m going to write a book about these family secrets. Will I ever try and get it published? I don’t know. It would not paint certain family members (mostly of the older generation), in a good light. But know matter what; I want to get it all out. I want to be released from it all.
January 29, 2003 at 5:35 pm
Thank you for taking the time to share that story. It means a great deal to me. As I sit here thinking about what I learnt yesterday, I can’t help but angry. Not necessarily at what happened, but more so at all the energy put into keeping it a secret. So many lies and half-truths were told over the years. Why can’t adults just understand that at some point, children are entitled to the truth from parents/grand parents/aunts/uncles, etc? So just stop all the lying. We may not like what we hear, but honesty can provide clarity and help move so many things alone…
January 29, 2003 at 1:53 am
Secrets have a way of breaking free, of pushing up through the nicest sidewalks in front of the most placid ancestral homes. It all comes out eventually. I know this to be true.
Several months before her death, my mom and I were talking about how, until recently, she’d managed to overcome the disabling effects of scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. I told her that back when I was in high school, I had been especially impressed by how she found the will to perform exhaustive physical therapy and avoid having one of her legs amputated.
But that’s not what really happened, she revealed. Those circulatory complications weren’t entirely the result of arthritis or scleroderma. Her legs became mangled when my alcoholic father flipped out one day and rolled her wheelchair — with her still in it — down a long flight of stairs. She heard him laughing as she lay crumpled beneath the wheels.
Dad evidently unflipped after a few minutes and got her to the hospital.
When asked by doctors, mom merely said she’ll fallen, not that dad had pushed her. Those were the days when doctors and hospitals never wondered about all the women who arrived in emergency rooms with stair-related injuries, and mom’s setback always was presented to us kids as just another normal obstacle in a long path toward rehabilitation.
When mom told me this a couple of years ago, I nearly broke down. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded.
“What would you have done?” Mom asked.
I said I would have killed my father.
“That’s why I didn’t tell you,” she replied.
Dad wasn’t merely an alcoholic; from my vantage point in 2003, it’s obvious he had severe psychological problems, too. These days, I like to think such conditions are more apparent and that people suffering from dad’s problems are getting help. But as far as I know, he never did. Dad walked out of our lives a short time later and I never talked to him again.
Over the next 15 years, dad suffered two heart attacks, a minor stroke, a major stroke and had liver problems. Toward the end, he clung painfully to life for several months in a nursing home. Although he and mom had separated, they never divorced, so when dad lapsed into a coma, mom had to authorize “do not resuscitate.”
Would I have really killed my father when I was a high school freshman? I certainly would have been angered nearly beyond reason then, because when mom told me about the incident decades later, I was pretty agitated. But I’d like to think I wouldn’t have done him in.
These days, I still feel some anger, but mostly I feel pity. I look at the pictures of my parents when they were dating as teen-agers and make eye contact with them, seeing their love for each other and their boundless optimism for the future. Or I read the goofy love letters from dad that mom still kept in a treasured box of memories. His poetry stunk, but the man loved her.
I even found the science books dad bought for me when I was in elementary school — he actually had me reading about the Millikan Oil Drop Experiment in second grade. At one point, before his brain began misfiring, he sure had high hopes for me, too.
If dad had received help, there’s no guarantee that our nuclear family wouldn’t have still become fissionable, of course. But at the very least, mom and dad might have been able to go their separate ways and still had a chance at happiness.
My story, your story or anybody’s story aren’t really family secrets because such sorrows are woven into all our lives — even we don’t fess up publicly. And that, as they say, is the hell of it.