Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pity Party

Because it's HNT, I feel like I can post this today and not have anyone read it or comment on it. I warn you in advance that it's a fairly maudlin post, and not one of my many sad attempts at humor. That said, read on at your own peril, or do the prudent thing and just come back tomorrow for the week in pictures.

A few of my fellow bloggers have recently written stories about their families. They've been funny, insightful, touching, heartbreaking, and sometimes all of those things at once. Reading those posts got me thinking about my own life, and my relationship - or lack thereof - with various members of my family.

My childhood was a mixed bag. . My mother stayed home with us, while my father worked a 9 to 5 job as an Assistant Manager at a Sears Repair shop. During the day, we were pretty much left to our own devices. I'd go to school, come home and do my homework, and then either go out and play sports with my friends or sit up in my room reading or playing games that I'd make up. My sister and brother (my youngest sister didn't come along until I was in my teens) had more friends than I did, so I was alone more often than not.

When dad came home from work, things would get tense. We'd sit down for a family dinner and talk, but I'd have to be very careful to not spill anything lest my father get angry, slap me across the back of my head, and throw his plate across the room before storming out to sit in the living room. Oddly enough, my sister and brother had (slightly) more leeway in this area and would often escape with nothing more than a stern look.

My mother was terrified to insert herself between me and my father. He had physically abused her during the early years of their marriage and, to this day, he continues to emotionally abuse her - doing his best to blame everything on her and making her feel as worthless as possible. At one point early in their relationship, she confided in him that she had been molested by her uncle (who she named as my godfather) and my father jumped on that to make sure that she felt fortunate to have any man interested in "damaged goods" such as her.

My father, on the other hand, felt that my grandfather mistreated him. Though my grandfather died of lung cancer when my father was 16, my father always expected special treatment from everyone for the abuse that he suffered through. He's never been able to understand that he treated all of us far worse than anything that was done to him.

A typical night at home would consist of us being forced to "enjoy" family time sitting in the living room watching whatever show my father chose. We were not allowed to talk above a whisper, nor could we eat "crunchy" snacks because the noise annoyed my father. Even now, when I eat chips, for example, I put them in my mouth and break them by pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth. We'd be called upon to massage my father's head, back, or feet while he sat in his recliner. Those massages would last for hours at a time, and would leave our arms burning from exhaustion. You would think he'd be asleep and would try to creep out from behind the recliner only to have him mumble "just five more minutes" which meant you'd be trapped for another hour or two.

Those not on massage duty were on beer duty. It consisted of literally running into the kitchen, pulling a frosted glass from the freezer, pouring in a beer with minimal head (another cause for beating in my case), and bringing it to him as quickly as possible. You'd then take his used glass, wash it in the sink, and put it in the freezer. As an alcoholic, he'd often go through 20 plus beers a night during the week, and over 30 beers on a typical weekend.

Dad was off on Sunday and Monday. While my brother was allowed to go out to play, I would be chosen to help him around the house. A typical exchange would consist of Dad asking me to hand him "the thing", me guessing (usually incorrectly) which tool he needed, and then having said tool thrown at me while he yelled "I TOLD YOU TO GIVE ME THE THING! WHAT THE F*CK IS WRONG WITH YOU?" If I stood in the wrong place (usually defined as anyplace I stood) I was thrown to the area in which I should somehow have known to stand in the first place.

I'd always thought that this is how typical families acted, and it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I began to realize just how dysfunctional my family is.

All of this began a cycle that I've only recently realized I follow. I try hard to please everyone and to take care of those I love. I have a tremendously difficult time doing anything that might cause someone pain, and when faced with a conflict, I'm wracked by guilt no matter what choice I make. If I'm in a relationship and the person I'm with becomes upset with me, I cave in immediately and try to win back their love by apologizing, bringing gifts, doing things for them, and trying to show that person that I'm worthy of their love.

While my sisters and brothers avoid my father like the plague, I am the one who winds up being there to help him around the house, to take him to the doctor, or to mediate the disagreements between my parents. I took it as a point of pride that I was able to forgive my father for the things he did, and my mother for not stepping in to protect us.

The stories above are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and it's only recently that I've begun to understand the scars I carry. That's not to say I don't take full responsibility for everything I say and do as an adult, but merely to say that there is a well of anger and resentment inside of my that I've been unable or unwilling to acknowledge due to an entire lifetime of choking it back for fear of being told I'm worthless - and incurring additional beatings.

I love my nieces and nephew more than life itself. I want to have children of my own one day, but at this point in my life that's unlikely to happen. That, in itself may be a blessing for I can't help but worry that I'd be exactly like my father. That thought alone is enough to keep me awake at night.