The last time I saw my father, I was 13 years old.
He was supposed to pick my brother and I up at my mother's house in Vermont. He was late and I was impatient becuase I had turned down a friends boy-girl party to wait for him.
It had been at least 2 years since our last visitation at that point. My mother had a brand new baby with the man she would later marry. My brother was not quite ten.
While I remembered what he looked like, I also didn't. I mean...the eyes of an eleven year old girl recall her father being huge. Massive. All Encompassing. Larger than life.
My father was a Marine, by choice. He enlisted during Vietnam. This added a layer of toughness that was unmistakable. I was drilled with the Marine corp code. Always faithful. First ones in, last ones out. The shotgun was put in my hands when I was six and he laughed when the recoil knocked me down. When I began to cry, he called me a baby and demanded that I get back up and do it again. This is similar, apparently to the way he taught me to not touch medicine. He held it out to me, offering. As I reached out to take it, he smacked my hand. After several attempts, I gave up, hand stinging. Lesson learned and noted.
These memories are tempered with the moments when he was a tender and loving father. I recall after my brother was born, he came home, got me dressed, painted my nails, took me to dinner and a movie. He told me that he loved me and that I was his daughter, his first child.
This is the same man who, in a fit of rage, shot my dogs to death one winter night because they were barking. My mother had to clean the bloody snow up before I woke up. I was told that Candy and Karen had run away. Or after telling me that I had been a naughty girl, hid all of the Christmas presents as I napped. I woke up to find everything gone. Santa, I was informed, had changed his mind and taken everything back. I was five.
Some of my ability to closely observe people came from living with him. His moods needed to be monitored closely. I learned to read him. I learned how to stay quiet and watch. I never moved first, but planned my counter move in response to the first move of his whims. For instance, you never woke him up by approaching him by the side of his body - always from the top, near his head. He tended to punch as he woke up, and I had gotten socked in the gut enough to know better.
I wonder sometimes what he looks like now, and have occasionally pondered making the drive back to the Ohio valley where I was born to see for myself. I am no longer a little girl seeing him as a demi-god. Was he tall, or is that just how I remember him? I remember that he had black hair and brown eyes. My brother resembles him, and yet doesn't. My brother has a sense of humor, a tenderness about him that my father never exuded.
I doubt that he remembers the same things that I remember. I suspect that years of drug and alcohol use have dulled his memories. I tend to wonder if he would even recognize me if I walked out into the driveway of my grandparents house. I struggle with the line between bravery and fear. Am I brave enough to open the light of reality onto him, bright rays chasing out the foggy images I hold from more than twenty years ago? Or does it speak of more bravery to walk away from this man, shutting and bolting the door, then bricking the wall so that he and his kind never reach out to my daughter?
Would seeing him as a 57 year old man make me pity him - the logic and reality of all these years of therapy to undo his carnage showing me that he is a damaged human being who could neither help nor understand the impact of his actions? That he is a frightened abused little boy?
When I first started my therapy when I was 18, I tried for a year to understand. To be compassionate. To tell myself that my parents did the best with what they had. I was trying to absolve and forgive before I had even unveiled the litany of wrongs. Imagine my relief when my therapist told me that I didn't have to forgive him. That the things I had experienced, the abuses of my trust in a parent, the abuses of my body, the abuses of my mental and physical well being - well. They were unforgivable.
That is how I began to heal. I didn't have to forgive. I didn't have to be the bigger person.
And now...Well, I sometimes dream of him. I dream of my grandmothers house. I dream that he sees me pulling into the driveway and that I walk in to find him. Sometimes we talk in these dreams, but more often we don't. I sometimes wake from these dreams to wonder what his reaction to me today would be. I envision my brother and I walking in to that house, side by side. His children - we who look so familiar and yet are not at all known to him.
I fear that by humanizing him, by actually seeing him in the flesh,I would have to forgive him. I would see a man. A human man. I would realize that I am far stronger than he could have ever imagined and that his hold over me was too long mythologized in my creation story. I would see that rather than being God, he was just a bit player with a few random lines. I would see that he, in fact, did not cast me from an imaginary Eden...but that I walked out of the gates of my own free will free from any vestiges of sin.