Last week my stepfather died. Most accurately, he was my ex-stepfather as he and my mother were divorced about 20 years ago when I was in college. As with so many things today, this is a complicated situation.
My sister and I were the first kids to have divorced parents. As we grew older, we were joined by more and more of our peers until we became one of many, but until our teens were were outliers, or forerunners, depending on your perspective. My mother and C. lived together for many years before they married, also something “no one” else in our peer group had seen. My own relationship with C. was difficult, tumultuous, and, eventually, nonexistent. He was not a nice man, wielding sarcasm and disparaging remarks as his version of motivation. There was no ‘pass’ for being young: if you didn’t know something, you were dumb, or made to feel that way. He had absolutely no interest in discipline and none for himself. He was not a good role model, and I have no memories of any assistance with homework or anything. He treated me like an adult, and if that was inappropriate at the age of 8, it taught me self-reliance.
There were positives to his relentless and unyielding intellectualism: I grew up in a household where Beethoven and all of the Classical music was played as constantly as all of the Jazz greats and the Blues masters, and rock & roll threaded through it all. Dinner conversation compared and contrasted the vocal styling of Billy Holiday with Janis Joplin and how they evolved from early blues and then drifted into art movements in pre WWI Germany and why the Arts & Craft movement was such a powerful influence in so many areas, not just physical crafts . . . and from there into the blacklisting of Hollywood directors and actors during the McCarthy era, and all the while a Mahler symphony would be playing in the background. . .
Ironically, I made my peace with him in my high school years, coming to appreciate him for his good qualities and basically ignoring anything else. So when my mother chose to divorce him when I was in college it was as if I had to relive the original divorce all over again.
Eventually, however, things on his end devolved and I started only hearing from him when he wanted something, usually money. It was always for a good reason — much needed dental work, a new computer so he could keep in touch, car repairs so he could keep working . . . But when I talked with my sisters, we discovered a pattern of working through us all as a kind of supplement to his income. He always had money for smokes, weed, and booze . . . I finally cut him off.
The last time I saw him was at my sister’s wedding, more than a decade ago.
So you’d think that the news he died would be fairly inconsequential. I did. But I find myself sad. And confused at my sadness. Angry at my sadness, even. Angry at a lost childhood. Angry at wounds and scars and work I still have to do all because my parents failed me and now I have to do it myself. Desperately glad I didn’t have children of my own so I didn’t wound them as well as I ended up doing the all-to-common healing while parenting thing that I see so many of the previous generation have done.
Also in there is fear that I will end up as broken as him when I finally die. Granted, he died at home and in his sleep, and I wish with all my heart to go as easily. But I know I will be alone when I go, and that is a FEAR, a deep desperate sad lonely crazy-making keep-me-up-at-night fear that cannot be solved but must be accepted and assimilated.
Tomorrow I’m flying down to Berkeley to go to a wake 2 blocks from the commune we lived in when my mother first left my father to be with C.
Tomorrow I will return to the scene of the first crime.
Tomorrow I will hoist a glass.
Tomorrow I will light a stick of incense.
Tomorrow I will be both Priestess and daughter.
Tomorrow I will listen to tales being told.
Tomorrow I will laugh.
Tomorrow I will cry.
Tomorrow I will choose whether to remember, because what is remembered, lives, and I’m not sure I want this to live.