Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Family That Stays Together: Part 2

When I wrote the first part of this story, I was gung-ho to tell it. It was the easy chapter, you see. Once I posted it, I leaped off an edge of sorts, but not completely. There was still a net; I could stop before I’d really even started.

I’ve been dragging my heels in writing the next section and the best way to explain my hesitation is through a rollercoaster analogy. The first chapter is going up the hill, sitting in the cart, experiencing the slight jerks as you progress slowly, slowly, slowly. It’s still a safe feeling, although there’s more anxiousness as you wait for the plunge. What I’m writing about today is the crest of the coaster. You’re not yet racing down the slope, but there’s no buts about it- you’re riding the damn rollercoaster whether you want to or not.

Also, before I get going, I have to say 'thank you' to my family for being cool enough with me telling this story which, while it is my own perception and experience with the whole thing, affects everyone I discuss. So thanks, family; I love you all.

Need a refresher on where I left off? My parents got married to each other in Thailand after knowing each other for three months. A year later, they divorced.

Ok… I think we’re pretty much caught up.

I’ve asked my mom, not my dad, why they divorced. Her answer has always been the same, albeit a very vague explanation: he wasn’t ready for marriage, more specifically, in her eyes, he spent more time worrying about himself than her or them.

So they divorced.

The next question I always ask her is what did she do once she was on her own again? She tells me she was angry a lot of the time; she tells me she was embarrassed for marrying a man she barely knew, for having to tell her family it was over.

I asked my dad the same question a long time ago, and he told me he casually dated and constantly thought about my mom.

During the two years they were apart, my dad phoned my mother all the time. For a while, she refused his calls. Then, they started chatting. After two years had passed, I assumed they were still thinking about what could have been. So she made a decision that affected more lives than she knew at the time.

She believed that he was ready for a real relationship, a real companionship, a real life with her. 

Probably not surprising to many of you, they fell right back into the comfort of one another. They didn’t fall back into love, readers, because they never had fallen out of it. So what was next on their to-do list?

Well… conceive me, of course!

Originally, they decided they would not remarry. They would be one of those cool, hippy couples you see tootling about the Bay Area with their child decked in mismatched rainbow clothing dancing to the beat of a hare krishna’s drumming. They would hold hands, and drink fresh roasted coffee and enjoy thick slices of homemade bread slathered with organic butter and hard-to-find specialty cheeses (I may have put some of my own spin on this San Francisco parenting vision). Vowing and sealing it with a ring for the second time? Not a priority.  

Not for them, anyhow. My grandmother (an amazingly, wonderful woman who I miss every day) was horrified at the idea of her grandchild being born out of wedlock. And when she couldn’t convince her eldest daughter to take the plunge a second time with the same man, well, she pulled out the biggest ammo she had: the tax write-off guns. Speaking to my father’s frugally practical side, she convinced him of the benefits of being married, having a child and being able to claim legal dependents.

They were remarried December 30, 1983, this time at city hall. They had to do it before the first of the year in order to get the write-offs, naturally.

I was born less than four months later.

What can I say about my childhood in the Bay Area? It’s foggy at best. I remember snippets of strange things, like the stairs leading up to the second story of our house in Berkeley. Scratchy pajamas with zippers that always seemed to snag my skin. Warm cinnamon and sugar toast. Huggabunch and Care Bears. A lot of rainy weather.   

My sister was born less than two years later and then… there were four. We moved to Laguna Beach less than a year after her birth and I remember it being an immensely happy time. Sunny afternoons at the beach with Doritos and Ecto Cooler. My Little Pony and Barbie. Dinner shows that revolved around my and my sister’s performances, dancing, singing, ludicrous plays that never had an end. My parents weren’t fighting then. I’m pretty sure they were immensely happy too.

The funny thing about becoming an adult and reflecting on your childhood is that you realize, sometimes, there’s no clear-cut explanation as to why people start to clash. Much of the time, it’s a snowball effect. A little annoyance turns into a big grievance, and the things that were once cute and lovable stop being such. I have to guess that’s how it was for them.

It started when we moved into the house I would consider my childhood home. My parents bought it when I was five and we lived there for 15 years. Tension. Anger. Screaming. Tears. It happens in more homes than people are willing to admit. My sister and I agree though that, at the time, we liked being able to say our parents were still married to each other. It was something to boast about with the rate of divorce that was happening amongst our friends’ parents.

However, I did ask them to get a divorce when I was nine. An unforgettable Christmas outing to see The Nutcracker ended in an almost-car-accident (caused by my father's clown driving) that nearly killed us all. It led to one of the biggest fights I’ve ever witnessed my parents have and my sister and I found ourselves at the local Albertson’s at 10pm, pushed in a shopping cart by my mom, who was attempting to cool off before heading back. It was on the car ride home that I asked; my mom answered with a defeated, “I don’t know, Elizabeth,” and my sister started sobbing.

They didn’t divorce until I was 24. And by that time, much had changed. Much had surfaced. Much had revealed itself, things that only one person in my family of four knew about and had kept from the rest of us for years.

The thing about true love is the pureness of the whole love thing can lead to bad decision-making. The thought of losing that special feeling can supersede good, or righteous, life choices, the kind that affect other peoples’ lives irrevocably. 

A decision like that affected me. It affected my sister. It affected my mom.

And it affected a pair of people I did not know existed.

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