This is My Story
I want to take this opening statement to better articulate what has been troubling me. I felt the need to write this down because my natural reaction to the question "how are you?" is always met with a quick "I'm fine." Now I know in most social settings, divulging all of your emotional weakness is most likely not the best place to do so. But there needs to be times to just lay it out there with no judgement.
First and foremost, my default emotion tends to be anger. One moment in my childhood, during a family visit to my aunt's in New York, I blew up in ferocious anger against one of my younger cousins, then preceded into a shouting match with my grandmother. No harm was done in the aftermath, yet I remember my mom telling me afterwards that my aunt observed in me that I carried around a tremendous amount of anger.
Now, my mother and I never really addressed this episode ever again. We did what we do with almost every other emotionally dynamic episode, we compartmentalized it. We never bothered to follow the breadcrumbs of that incident. Never once inquired in an open and honest conversation about what was the root cause of this anger.
I love my mother to this day and would never try and take away that love for anything. Growing up she was a strict disciplinarian, and, as well as my father, ruled over their house hold with a belt if we ever got too far out of line. My father is a Pandora's box of emotional trauma to say the least. He immigrated from Mexico in his early 20s with no more than a high school education. I love him very much, but to say that he was emotionally underdeveloped is an understatement. For most of my childhood, he was diagnosed with chronic depression -- prescribed a litany of anti-depressants -- he let the cloud and fog dictate his personality and his ultimate relationship towards his children.
With that, I wish to share probably the most defining moment in my journey into adolescence. I call it defining because I remember this day as the moment my innocence for life died.
One afternoon after school my father enter by bedroom appearing distraught. He seemed angered and, what I remember distinctly, on the verge of tears. I'm not sure how it happened but I knew that my parents were fighting again (which is strange in hindsight because my mother was still at work).
I remember I was about 10 or 11 years old and I was in my bed watching tv. Then I remember my father walking in and started apologizing to me and what a failure he had become. He wanted to be more but that he couldn't be around us anymore.
I remember distinctly my reaction to this and it was cold detachment. I didn't beg or plea or wonder why he was doing what he was doing, just that if he needed to do this then goodbye. I remember shedding a tear but that was it. I was already compartmentalizing the moment while it was happening.
I don't even know what he said to my brother and sister because I didn't follow him out my bedroom door. My mom came home later that afternoon and I told her what happened. Her response was almost colder and with less emotion than mine.
And that was it. For that day.
Then the next day came. I arrived home from school when my mother finished a phone call. She told me it was my Dad's sister. She just informed Mom that Tijuana PD had found my father in a park bench, about a mile from his car. Barely breathing, passed out with nothing on him but a few empty bottles of his medication. He was lucky that he only suffered a few days in a clinic in San Yasidro with pneumonia.
Mom that night made the long, lonely drive from our hometown north of Los Angeles to San Diego. And she made this drive without any of her children for support. She came back home and entered the house ahead of Dad. She wanted to warn us about who we were about to see and to be supportive. I did as I was told. When I saw him I remember him still wearing his nightgown and robes from the hospital. He looked so fragile and weak. He went to his bedroom to go immediately to sleep.
Mom then gathered my brother and I in my bedroom (my sister was with the sitter). She broke down in front of us and began criticizing us for not making the drive down to see our dad in the hospital and how terrible she felt making that drive to pick up her husband after what appeared to be a failed suicide.
All I remember of my response was that I was upset that he walked out on us and couldn't make any understanding why he did what he did. My brother started to cry about his fear of death and that this was the closest he'd been to seeing it first hand. I'd like to say that we found catharsis in that conversation but it was most likely boxed away again to never be spoken of. And as far as Dad goes, he's alive today, but the Father that I knew who walked out of that bedroom never returned home.
My final thought is this: I am a father now and I have an opportunity to write a different story for my son. However, in order to do this I have to know myself first; that requires uncovering more of these boxes stored deep in the past; it requires a deeper level of compassion and self love that I don't ever think I allowed myself to feel then and now. The self-loathing and hatred that almost feels as if it stems out of nowhere can all be attributed to this connection towards isolation and abandonment. I had to teach myself then that people will leave you and you will have to protect yourself at all costs. But this only self harms and will continue the destructive cycle onto my own children.
My wife has been instrumental in teaching me a new way of viewing my own personal turmoil, my erratic emotions, and most importantly, my purpose in life. She has introduced me to the concept of grief and how it takes many forms (not just the literal death & loss of a loved one). I expressed how I felt as if on that fateful day I lost the only dad I ever knew, and through that experience, I have been grieving ever since and just never knew it.
Here's to grounding myself in a new path towards freedom and happiness, and the ability to finally allow myself to heal again. Because it is not in the highs of life that we find meaning and worth, but in the deepest, most painful memories. It is in these Pandora boxes that the whole self is truly discovered.