Crossing the Mississippi in the dark again. The last time I was on this side of the river was exactly a year ago, heading north from my first Christmas with no mother.
My father was with us, invited to join us for a week with Sugar’s family in Chicago and Michigan. Since moving to New York, we’ve alternated, spending Christmas with one set of parents and the week following with the other. My dad was with us for the same reason I’d insisted he come with us on our Virginia trip at Thanksgiving: I was afraid he would kill himself if left alone. He and my mom met in ninth grade. They got married right after college. He’d never been alone.
A year ago today, he was next to me in a coach car of this train, he in the aisle seat and I, pregnant and ungainly, at the window. I have a happy surprise, he announced. Love is blossoming between me and K, and old friend of my mother’s who had come from Alaska to the funeral.
At this point, my mother had been dead less than two months. I still spent a portion of each day sobbing, by which I mean not crying, which I still do, but the kind of thing that tears physically at your abdomen, the kind of thing that is screaming so hard in the shower that your throat hurts even though you haven’t let sound escape.
A happy surprise.
And at that moment, as I struggled to stay in control of myself long enough to stumble downstairs to the bathroom to sob some more (because he is my only parent and I can’t afford to alienate him), I lost all the patient understanding I’d tried to feel when there were no Christmas presents for me except the pajamas my mother had bought right before she died, the ones that hadn’t been meant for Christmas at all, since of course by then I was too big to fit in them. Nor did he wrap those, nor get anything for Sugar or the Bean, though we found things for them my mother had already set aside.
I know that the “happy surprise” this trip is to plan for their wedding. Dad wanted Sugar to tell me, but she told him to do it himself. He hasn’t yet. Supposedly, after he drove her from Alaska to Little Rock, after canceling his summer plans to see us at the very last minute for lack of time, she was getting her own apartment, but it’s been obvious that her dogs moved to his house immediately. (The Bean is terrified of dogs.)
I haven’t written any of this before, because how? In the very beginning, I didn’t think I should tell anyone at all, because they would be mad at him. My dad lived at my mom’s house for a summer as a teenager. Her siblings were so clear that they wouldn’t consider him lost when she died: how could I risk bringing their anger upon him? If they felt angry, as I did and do.
Wait, I have a picture for one of the posts on this subject I never found words to write:
Then I didn’t write about it because it was all too complicated. Yes, I want him to be happy. Yes, I get that this is not uncommon behavior. No, K is not a terrible person. But my father has a terrible tendency to find replacement people; I can name the people he’s replaced me with at various times. It hurts a lot to feel I’ve lost both parents at once, even as I feel guilty for feeling this way, knowing how wasted this time will feel one day. I can’t afford to be angry at anyone when people can just die with no warning.
And there’s something so infuriating and stifling about being really, soul-scrapingly sad in the company of someone with a pathological need for everything to be Fine! Great! no matter what. It is fucked up to segue from asking what you think we should do with my mother’s ashes to telling me how “wonderfully successful” your trip to Alaska was, how you are “living a miracle.”
I do cry every day, or nearly. I am probably depressed for real. I do get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work. I try not to be as short tempered as I am. I take care of my children and enjoy them, at least mostly. But no, I would not describe the events of the last year as miraculous.
There are other problems, too tiresome to get into in detail. Money issues, broken promises. It hurts my feelings that there was no gift when Jackalope was born, except a pack of cheap onesies wrapped only with the creased but curled ribbon my mother must have taped on them back in October out of excitement, those sent too late to fit for more than a week or two. I don’t know why he didn’t get real birthday presents for the Bean, either. Or me, for that matter. We skype every couple of weeks, so the children can see him. The Bean loves him. I do, too. But I just don’t know what to say.