Tag Archives: soul-searching

I was thirteen the first time I had to lie to the police to protect someone I loved, a short story

illustration mom hit the boy on the bike

I was Thirteen the First Time I Had to Lie to the Police to Protect Someone I Loved, a short story

I was thirteen, in my first year of high school, and one afternoon I was home watching TV by myself while my mother went to pick up my little brother from nursery school. The doorbell rang: a police officer stood outside, tall and broad and scary. He had gleaming handcuffs and an oily looking gun buckled to his belt; a long black stick with ominous scuffmarks hung at his side. “Your mother’s okay, but she’s been in an accident,” he said. Less than an hour ago I’d seen the way her whole body swayed as she went out the door. Her empty glass was sitting right behind me in the kitchen, unrinsed and still reeking of Scotch.

Even now I see my mother’s face, soft and drunk, pale and frightful, moving through the darkness, soaring over me as mysterious and unreachable as the moon. Her affection waxed and waned, never constant. When she’d had enough to drink, she loved me, but the way she went about her mother love, pulling at me with sorrowful, clumsy arms given unnatural strength by liquor, made my flesh wither under her touch.

“She hit a boy on a bicycle,” the policeman said. “Do you know if she’s been drinking?” he asked. He shifted his weight from one leg to both legs evenly, spread his feet wider on the cement walkway and moved his arms from his sides to his belly, holding his hands together down low at his belt.

“No,” I answered the policeman, looking unflinchingly into his eyes, which was excruciating but imperative, I knew, if I wanted him to believe me. “She hasn’t been drinking.”

My mother had skin like rose petals, eyes like a fawn’s. There were the rare times when she forgot to be sad, if only when some equally sad eyed man noticed her. If a man loved her to the point of obsession, to the point of contemplating suicide, she imagined she might find the strength within herself to survive, but she eventually rejected all such suitors, wanting only those who were hard nosed and cold blooded, as her father and, later, her husbands were. Remote, a source of funds and orders and criticism, the closest men in her life approved of her external beauty but not her soul. They didn’t care what she wanted: they wanted her to be like all the other girls and women, to be beautiful and obedient. They broke her will; she broke their hearts.

She was memorable for simple things: her rose garden and her Scotch and water, her menthol cigarettes and her Pucci nightgowns, her ladylike hands and her A cup breasts, her bitterness, her resignation, her unending string of sentimental, alcoholic boyfriends. She taught me how not to be. How not to live. A psychic once told me she was my one true soul mate in this life and that my heart had been broken the day I was born, that first hazy time I looked into her eyes and saw nothing there for me. One normal thing I remember is hanging clothes out to dry with her in the backyard when the dryer was broken. Once, she even took me out to the movies.

“Are you sure she’s not drunk?” the policeman said. His face was a smooth blank, revealing nothing, but then so was mine. “She’s acting pretty out of it.”

“She gets that way whenever she’s really upset,” I said.

“We need you to come take care of your brother,” he said. “While we decide what to do.”

The policeman herded me into his car, and we drove to the place Mom had the accident. They’d already taken the boy away in an ambulance; all that remained was his bright yellow bicycle, its frame horribly crooked, its front wheel bent almost in half, sprawled on the ground in front of my mother’s car, a powder blue Cutlass Supreme. I glanced offhand at the front of the car, afraid to look too long, afraid the policemen would be able to tell something from the way I acted, but I didn’t notice dents or blood or anything. Even without that, the bike, obviously brand new before the wreck, was as frightening as a dead body. Mom was sitting in the back of another patrol car, and her eyes were red, her face was wet.

My three year old brother sat beside her, and I could tell he hadn’t cried yet, but I could tell when he did it was going to last a very long time. Then I wanted to tell the police she was drunk, yes, she was drunk today and every single afternoon of my life, but the way she looked — her beautiful hands trembling as she smoked — temporarily severed the connection between my conscience and my voicebox. I couldn’t talk at all, because I knew I’d cry. I’d protect her from the police, make sure she wouldn’t end up in jail, but later, I would coldly steal money from her wallet, cigarettes from her purse, clothes from her closet. In the end, the boy on the bike died, and she died, too.

Toward the end, my mother said she was on fire from the neck down. Her arms and legs felt like they were glowing, orange red, molten. But her head felt like a block of ice. She was emotionally or spiritually paralyzed, she said, and worried about whether the condition was permanent. She felt like the nerves from her head down to her body were cut, and she didn’t know if they would ever grow back.

Right before the end, she said she could not distinguish life from dreams; she slept little, ate even less. She didn’t feel mad, she felt terribly, irrevocably sane. Everywhere she walked the ground seemed on the verge of opening up into blackness, into fire. If only she could go mad, she said. When I found her cold and stiff on the living room floor, she wore nothing but blue nylon panties and her white gold wristwatch, given to her by her own mother in 1958.

A watch which is in my jewelry box, upstairs, right this second, and which I wore to the Palm Sunday service, yesterday, at Holy Faith Catholic Church. I took Communion from Father John, even though I am not now, and have never been, and never will be, officially a Catholic. My friend Clyde, my dear friend, mentor, and fellow lawyer, told me that he thought I would still be eligible for Heaven, regardless of what the Catholic Church, as an institution, might determine.

Because of all this, and a couple of other things which I won’t bother to mention here, I had to hold myself very still, and open my eyes a bit wide, during the reading of Jesus’s betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane in order not to allow the fucking tears to drop out of my eyes. Yes, I am a liar. So sue me. Good luck!

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he didn’t know he would die on december 19, 1979. a beautiful letter, regardless. my daddy. i loved him.

001

Thurs. 9-27 (1979)

Hello my beautiful daughter,

I haven’t checked my mail at Steve & Etta’s in a couple days, so I don’t know if you’ve written or not.  When I wrote you last and asked to hear whether you’d gotten it, that seemed important.  When I’ve thought about it since, it hasn’t.  That is, if you’re supposed to get my letters, you will; and if I’m supposed to/need to hear from you, I will.  I love you, and one of the things that means is that I enjoy expressing myself to you.  Don’t get me wrong:  I also really like hearing from you, hearing you/listening to you expressing yourself to me.  That’s what I want, and what I get will be what I need.

I hope you’re enjoying yourself and learning and growing.  I know you’re doing the latter two; the first is the only thing I’m unsure about.

Things are really interesting & exciting for me: seeing some patterns in my life, some big ones, for the first time ever.  They are really far out:  mostly they have to do with my history of relationships with women (including your mother & going back further than her) and how I use/have used those relationships to work out my feelings about my mother & her inability to give me love, affection, respect, hugs, kisses, TLC… that kind of stuff.  (I’m unclear about how much of this I “should” be sharing with you… when, if ever, should I relate to you like a peer?  Or:  when a father tells his child about his own emotional/psychological struggle/growth/insights/development, is that OK?  I guess I should go with my feelings and it feels OK to go this far; I’ll go as far as it feels OK to.  Part of my desire is for you to maybe learn a little something about your own psyche, and to know me as well as you can… given our… the way our relationship has gone (off the main point: I want you to know that I am not threatened or bothered at all, any more, by your relationship with your stepfather.  I accept that he was your father, is your father, in many ways.  And I think it’s beautiful that you have two of us.  How many young women have a straight dad and an unconventional dad?)  At any rate, the genesis of this recent big insight was George Oliver, from whose apartment I called you the other week.  I was talking to Geo. about my feelings of longing for Barbara & he told me that what I was saying sounded just like what I’d said & been feeling right after separating the last time from your mom.  That blew me away, because it was real true.  In essence, my largely unconscious/subconscious need/wanting to “get back at” my mother for what some part of me sees as her deliberate refusal to give me what I wanted, love, has led me over the years to play the game with women (who I’ve viewed as mother-surrogates) of “when I’ve got you, I don’t want you; when I haven’t got you, then I want you back.”

All this realization is so new I’m still trying to get my mind around it.  I’m pretty sure I want to stop playing it:  it sure doesn’t feel good for those involved, myself included.  (I realize that, at some level, it had to be satisfying some real deep need in me; otherwise why go on doing it for 30 plus years?)

Exciting and scary times.  The prospect of opting out of the game is exciting.  And scary:  the game-playing part of me says, “gee, what will I do if I don=t play that game?” or “But that’s all I know how to do!”

Incidentally, I have no regrets about having come down to Florida & having been there 3 & 1/2 months.  It all needed to happen, I’m sure of that.  And our time together was beautiful.

And something else that needs to happen is going to the first part of next week: I’m heading south again.  I’ll be driving in the van down Baja California to La Paz & taking the ferry across to mainland Mexico again.  I’m going to revisit some of the places I raced through (e.g. 3 hours in Oaxaca) and visit some of the places I chose not to make side trips to.  And drink in that delicious tropical sun & sea for a while.  I guess I’m feeling that I’d rather go to Europe in the spring, warmer weather.  (Sat.)  A feeling that’s really been reinforced by the last couple days in LA, real cool here, rainy & overcast on the beach today.

My current thinking about my travelling is that I’ll do Mexico again until Dec. or Jan. then go to the Caribbean.  I’d love to visit Jamaica, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, etc.  And then in summer go to Europe.  Rather than going to London now, then immediately to warm weather in Africa then going back to Europe next summer.  But, it’s real hard to stay definite..  I don’t know what this does to our talking about travelling together, but if we’re supposed to, we will.  And I would love to see the Caribbean with you.

I don’t know whether I’ve told you or not: when I came out here in Aug., my first stop was San Diego, where I talked to my Aunt Cecelia (who also was my godmother) & the lawyer that drew up my mother’s will.  Cecelia, after hearing that I felt humiliated, hurt and angry about Mom’s will, said that Mom had felt all those same things & ways about what I’d done in living my life.  Which is no doubt true.  And sad, that my efforts to live & be happy were taken so personally by her, and that she chose to be so upset about them.  There’s a lesson there, for sure.

I will write you from Mexico and I’ve decided to assume you will get my letters & stop worrying about whether Gail might intercept them.

My thoughts are with you a lot.  Know that I love you.  (The thunder outside seems to punctuate my writing with an exclamation point after that sentence!!)  Allow yourself to be who you are; remember that if you were supposed to be different, you would be.

Dad

Incidentally, I asked Sheila’s lawyer how long before I get my money from the estate & he said he couldn’t be definite (you know how lawyers are) but he thought it’s be sooner than 6 mos.!

(You can write me in Mexico if you want.  I’ll be stopping in La Paz, in the state of Baja Calif. Sur and mail will be held for me if you send it c/o Lista de Correos, for that city & state.  La Paz is 1000 miles or so south of San Diego so I shouldn’t be there until at least a week or so, more like 2 weeks, after you get this.)  I’ll let you know other cities later.  The next one after La Paz will be Puerto Vallarta, but I forget the state name, but you can just check an atlas.

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