Perhaps the thing I resent and hate the most from my childhood years was constantly being put in the position of deceiving as a means of protecting others from pain. I was a very bright child, in fact until fourth grade, the model child. Courteous, helpful, great grades, and teachers pet. Things at home started to become unstable when I was in the second grade. At least that is the closest I can remember when I look back. I don’t recall any specific incidents at that time other than I started having what they now call night terrors. I’d wake up screaming and scare the crap out of the family. I know that one particular dream, my mom later told me, freaked out a friend of my brothers. Anyway, back to the topic…..
When you are young you don’t have the ability to discern certain behaviors. Some things that you may find hilarious at that age can be hurtful to others. Or lighting a match seems like a lot of fun until you start the garage on fire. These are all situations that a child learns from, in a normal household. However, when substance abuse and dysfunction prevail, the child can have his wires screwed up for the better part of a lifetime.
Most weekends with my dad started with a ride to the hardware store, or for a ride to get a pack of cigarettes. Some times we’d actually make it there before the inevitable detour. My fathers favorite phrase to me was “wanna grab a soda”? That was code for “lets head to the bar and spend the majority of the day there”. Initially, these were the words I longed for. This was heaven for a kid. I got to hang with the “adults”. Sit on a bar stool and watch and listen to the dice cup being slammed down on the bar. I got to hear “bad” words and conversations I didn’t fully understand, but I’d laugh when they laughed to fit in and act like an adult. The “old” ladies (who most likely were younger than I am now) who’d kiss me on the cheek and buy you the little plastic bottles of juice with the foil tops. The free Slim Jims and Kit Kat bars slid across the bar for me without even asking. What a life. When I didn’t think it could get any better I’d get a couple bucks in quarters for the juke box and pool table. It was heaven……. for a while.
I don’t know when I first noticed it, but when I did, the fun was sucked right out of the high life for me forever. The phone call at the bar. The bartender covering up the mouthpiece to whisper, “Chuck”, (my dads name) “are you here”? My father shaking his head, “no”. The bartender saying, “no, haven’t seen him”. Looking back at my dad who acted like nothing just happened. My stomach dropping when I realized what was happening. All of a sudden this wasn’t so much fun anymore. Why was my dad lying? Why was the bartender helping him with out even blinking? Why didn’t the other people at the bar say anything about what just happened? The pool table no longer interested me and I really wanted to just go home. I never did ask him about what happened, I just began my lifelong habit of shoving it down inside. Eventually as the sun began to disappear, we’d head out. I’d jump in the car and we’d head home with a man who had no business behind the wheel. He’d put his hand on my head and mess up my hair and say, “don’t tell your mother where we were” with a smile. I don’t even know how old I was when this ritual started. I couldn’t have been older than eight or nine years old, but I remember the feeling. I remember the confusion. I remember not wanting to lie to my mommy. I remember being mad, but never showing it, about being asked to not tell the truth. Arriving home, the ritual which would be repeated over and over again would begin. The whispered arguments and questioning which would eventually crescendo into insults and shouting. I would usually retreat to the corner of the couch and not make eye contact and pretend I was absorbed with the TV.
Eventually, mom would begin to question me about where we were, who was there, what time we were there. This is where I’d learn to deceive. “We weren’t there long”, “No, there were only old ladies there”, “he didn’t drink much”. All the while my stomach would be tight, my hands usually clenched. Through the years, my fear and anxiety would start to turn into anger and resentment that I’d shove down to join the other emotions that I wouldn’t allow out. My Mother never meant to hurt me by asking these questions. She was hurt and scared and insecure and had no idea what putting me in the middle was doing to me. This went on for years.
I recall one instance of driving out with my father to pick my brother up from a job tending to horses after school. It was about 10 miles out of town in a rural area, and must have been fall as it was dark already. My dad spotted a saloon and grabbed my leg and said, “how about a soda”? At this point I no longer would respond like a kid at Christmas. I’d sheepishly half smile and not make eye contact. I didn’t know how to say no. Inside, I was pissed off. I just wanted to pick my brother up and get home. I knew this would not turn out well. Well, we stopped for a quick one, which turned out to be multiple. After arriving late to pick up my brother we headed home on I43. Five minutes in we are pulled over by the Muskego Police. This was the 70’s….so my dad got out and walked back to their car. I have no idea what was said or if he got a ticket or not. What I most remember is my brother looking at me in the back seat and accusing me of begging Dad to stop at the bar. Because my dad always dragged me there and I didn’t know how to say no, it was assumed that it was me who asked to go to the bar. I was hurt and angry and I denied it loudly. Well, a few minutes later my dad got back into the car and we drove home. Again, this was the 70’s and if it happened today, I’m sure he wouldn’t have been released to drive two kids home. Of course as soon as we hit the driveway, dad’s favorite line was used. “Don’t tell your mother.”
I haven’t even mentioned the things I saw and covered up for with my older siblings. I was the “good kid” who was always believed. I was the designated cover up guy. The highlight of my abilities was to answer the door when the police arrived and lie about the party that had just taken place in the basement. I was the ripe old age of 10.
My dad would tell me what not to say and my Mother would grill me for details. I’m forty-eight years old and this still affects me today. I freeze emotionally when I should be available, I laugh when I should cry, I shut down when I should open up.
This is just the tip of the iceberg….. I tell myself that I will follow through and write more, but with me, who knows. However, this is one giant step. Writing this stuff down makes me feel unworthy. Talking about this stuff makes me feel like I have no business when so many others have their own pain.