Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On Abandonment: Part One

After the rebirth of my miserable excuse for a blog in 2004, my first post was actually a reprint of my “what-brought-you-to-this church” story, requested for our weekly bulletin. The summary began with the sentence, “I am the byproduct of happenstance.” This was not my original introduction. This was the toned-down, mutually acceptable introduction. No one asked me to change it, but I chose a line that would be better suited to a church bulletin story. If I recall, even that line may have been edited out for the final version, and I suppose it was just as well. My original version began with the sentence, “I am the bastard child of polar opposites.” And now, the rest of the story…

I am the bastard child of polar opposites. The fact that I was born in Arkansas, in and of itself, is a mystery to behold. Both of my parents were born in California, and both love me dearly. Beyond that, the comparisons end. My mother came to Arkansas with my sister and brother in tow to escape a bad high-school-sweetheart-turned-unstable marriage. My grandfather, long since divorced from my grandmother (both of whom had remarried), was living here and it seemed as good a place as any. My father, from an upstanding mid-western family, followed his retail job to North Little Rock after his alcoholism made completing college an insurmountable task. So my parents met while working at a Woolco store. Being a mid-seventies brat, it is interesting to note (through the insight of Wikipedia) that the brevity of my parent’s relationship directly correlated with the demise of the Woolworth corporation. Now ain’t that a kicker?

Through the seductive powers of BJ’s Star-Studded Honkey Tonk, my parents managed not just to attract each other, but to procreate (albeit, unintentionally). To place these events in their proper historical setting, please cease reading and go rent Urban Cowboy if you have yet to view the film (and yes, actually, my mom looked just like Debra Winger at the time). I was baby number three for my Momma, and baby numero uno for my dad. My mom, already experienced at the whole single-mom thing, was fully prepared to go it alone. My father however, a good Catholic boy in his sober moments, was insistent upon marriage. Of course, there was the fact that my mom was still technically married to my siblings’ father. And the fact that she wasn’t particularly interested in marrying him. But eventually, a year or so after my birth, my parents did marry. The ceremony was held in true Southern style at the Old Mill, made “famous” by the movie Gone With the Wind. Strange thing about marriage, your problems don’t disappear. My father was still an alcoholic, and my mother still couldn’t stomach that. Still, they managed to attempt to represent a pleasant, relatively middle-class family for several years.

Our neighborhood was not upscale by any means, but it was quaint and safe and white. We lived across from a church, which was literally surrounded by houses and field and forest, rather than some major thoroughfare. We walked to school (and carried our lunch, for the Bozo fans out there). Also, both the elementary and junior high schools were embedded within the neighborhood rather than set-apart in a busy area of town. Our enclave was full of kids, who spent our time chatting in each other’s driveways, catching crawdads, catfish and turtles in the shallow creek bed, lip-syncing to our favorite top-40 hits, building forts in the woods, and riding three-wheelers in the rare snowfalls. My dad was a part of the Elks, my mom could make homemade candy, there were barbeques and card games and Cotton-Bowl parties. Life was good, and I didn’t have any reason to question anything in the world.

My father grew up Catholic… really Catholic… Irish Catholic! I’m talking Catholic schools, Mass on other days in addition to Sundays, I-am-Catholic-hear-me-roar Catholic. To the best of my knowledge, Church wasn’t a big part of my mother’s upbringing. I know she had a general knowledge of the Bible, but I’m not sure if they attended anywhere. When I was very young, we attended a Church of Christ for a short while, but I don’t recall how long or really anything about it. I know they had an interpreter for my brother who is deaf, and I remember that a ridiculously obnoxious clown would come through the neighborhood in the summer and invite everyone to Vacation Bible School. Then there was the neighboring Baptist church. A family down the street attended there, and occasionally I would go with them. I didn’t much care for their kids, nor did any of the other kids in the neighborhood, but they were the only ones with a trampoline, and that made it worth putting up with them.

Usually I tried just to meet up with them while they were walking to church, rather than meet them at their house, which was at the opposite end of my street. If I started out at their house, then I had to participate in that awkward time where they all stood in a circle in the living room and held hands and said prayers… it felt so corny, even to a seven-year-old. Those girls were very bossy, and always telling everyone else what to do, and their parents never corrected them. I remember one particular slumber party, where the youngest got mad and stomped on my suitcase record player and broke it. We told her to go home, but she refused to leave, and laid down on her sleeping bag. So we picked her up, sleeping bag and all, laid her out on the porch, and locked the door behind her. Back in those days, you could get away with that sort of thing. I’ve got lots of stories about those girls, but I digress.

Church was not a part of our lives, but in our neighborhood everyone believed in Jesus, so it didn’t really matter. The people who actually attended church on a regular basis were just annoying, anyway, so it took a lot of the pressure off those of us who didn’t bother. We did occasionally seek refuge there, being as it was the only large structure in our tornado-alley neighborhood built underground other than the junior high, but we didn’t have to listen to any sermons… just lots of prayers for our houses and the trees surrounding them.

Eventually, my father’s alcoholism got the best of my mother and they divorced. Unlike my siblings, I hadn’t even noticed there was a problem. I knew all of the country songs about drinking and cheating and hard times and such, but that was just entertainment. I had yet to reach 3rd grade, but I was already starting to understand that there was something broken in the world, and I was helpless to fix it.


Jerusalem said...

you had me at Bastard. part two please. now. please.

Caligirl said...

Ah, life. P.S. You aren't a Bastard! You're a child of God! Oh, this is Tara btw