Warning: The essay below is raw truth, vomited onto the page exactly thirteen years ago, the day my divorced parents came to my house and told me they were remarrying. October 21, 2000, was a Saturday. I would have worked at least half a day, come home, showered, prepared to chill out, maybe let my brain veg on a surfeit of TV. Instead, my parents delivered the emotional gut-punch that led to this essay.
I didn’t plan on posting this today; I stumbled upon it while looking through old files on the laptop. Think of it as a child’s wailing, or a teenager’s “are you stupid?” response. Dad had left Mom, tried to be part of a different family, screwed his life into a triple-twist pretzel, and she was going to take him back? No way.
Strange, isn’t it, how roles reverse in Time’s play? In the words of Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun, and all life’s troubles are not unique to one person. They have been visited upon untold generations past and only seem new to the uninitiated.
My parents raised, housed, clothed, and fed me, and now I house my father. He is not infirm or unable to care for himself. He is homeless.
Why do so many men think the sex is better on the other side of the marriage bed?
Like trouble, folly is nothing new to humanity. It is our entire makeup: passion, foolishness, and a logic that can only be described as ill.
It is why we do things we shouldn’t, and refrain from those we should. The craziest part of all? The fact that we know we’re doing the wrong thing even as we do it. Yet we persist, like flies caught in our own web, watching in morbid fascination as we suck the life from ourselves. Maybe that explains suicide. It certainly sheds light on why we are drawn to self-destruction like hapless moths. Folly, emotion, and lack of reason. The triumvirate of our existence.
Yes, my father is homeless. Irony of ironies, he has a place to stay only because he convinced me of the wisdom in buying a wreck of a house that the owner sold for a mere $11,000. Turns out that the owner bought the property in the ‘sixties, divorced his wife, and moved two hours away to remarry and begin a trash collection business that became modestly successful. He didn’t want the house, the memories, or the taxes.
Somewhat the way Dad didn’t want Mom. He let go of something valuable because the maintenance was too expensive. “Falling out of love” is just a whitewash expression for laziness and a lack of imagination, a shrug that brushes aside commitment and promises as if they were insects, minor annoyances. In reality, he had found another woman who—in his words—made him feel needed. She called, he answered. There was no hesitation.
Meanwhile, Mom—the independent woman—cried, screamed, railed at the wind. Pleaded with the wind. And the wind, sounding very much like Dad, replied, “There’s no chance in hell I’m coming back.”
Wind, like words, can be by turns gentle or cutting or pounding.
“Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome,” said Beatrice to Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. All ended well in the Bard’s comedy. Would that it could end as well in life.
Foul words have been spoken. Who can snatch back the wind?
Or reclaim innocence once trust has been broken? Love is used like a magic cloak, allegedly covering a multitude of sins by those who subscribe to the notion that love is blind. I disagree. Love sees. Love is transparent. Love needs no covering because it can stand naked in the public square, unashamed. Only liars and thieves need shields from the light.
As Dad became more and more entangled with the other woman, love became a more common word in his vocabulary. It seemed as if he thought tossing Mom a couple of greeting cards and the occasional note would somehow assuage her fears about his whereabouts. How degrading! Like tossing a steak to a dog in order to distract him while robbing his master’s house.
Simply because the dog didn’t make a fuss doesn’t mean the thief had an invitation.
Mom did make a fuss, though. She kicked him out of bed. Literally.
In the absurd reasoning that he employed, Dad was the victim. His rights, his trust, his person had been violated.
How could Mom call herself a Christian? After all, Christ was compassionate and forgiving, right?
True, but He wasn’t blind or stupid or unfeeling, nor did He demand such from His followers. Dad has always been great at affixing guilt and shifting blame. He shades the truth with as much skill as Vermeer painted light.
How fitting that the man who needed to be needed is now in need. The family he chose to embrace and help as if he was their personal messiah has stolen from him, used him, left him a bloodless husk, like the body of a fly once the spider has dined.
“Come into my parlor….”
How inviting and pretty the web looks, all spangled with dew in the morning sun! A jeweled deathtrap for the unwitting or the self-important.
Even now, having thrown himself upon our mercy, he behaves like the victim. His egocentricity is astounding. He truly does not see our pain. Yet, being the horribly hypocritical Christians that we are, we have taken him in and provided succor and aid. How appallingly ungodly of us.
He thinks the occasional good deed—bringing in the trash can from the street, sweeping the floor (but leaving the broom in an inconvenient and dangerous place), cooking up a pot of stew—is an effective erasure of the past.
“Ah! How sweet! You bought milk! Of course, I forgive you! All is forgotten, and we’re a happy family again!”
In a movie, perhaps, where the characters are flat and a happy ending is the foregone conclusion. We are humans, however, whose complexities and frailties make for uncertain futures.
Burning one’s bridges may be cathartic, but it’s also final. One must be careful not to set the boats in the harbor alight, as well. I want my father back, I want the family to be reunited, but my wishing it so can never make it so. A match—such a small, insignificant thing in size—has sent thirty year’s of bridge-building up in a seering, seething tower of flames.
Infidelity need not be confined to steamy noon-hour sex. It can be the listening ear a man gives to anyone but his wife, the attention he pays to another woman by looking into her eyes and smiling, the concern he expends or the money he bestows on her. The time he spends in her presence.
Although he claims that extramarital sex never occurred till Mom ended his tenure in the house, Dad’s affections and thoughts were long involved elsewhere. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it falling out of love, call it what you will, betrayal by any other name would cut as deep.
Perhaps adulterers are innately adept at semantics, the verbal shell-game employing sleight-of-tongue and a gullible audience. They lie not only to their spouses but to themselves. Lies to oneself are the most insidious untruths of all.
So my father is homeless, but the lack of familial feeling is not his fault. No, blame belongs to me, who has provided a shelter for him, but not my heart.
“Show me a man who cares no more for one place than another, and I will show you in that same person one who loves nothing but himself. Beware of those who are homeless by choice.” (author Robert Southey, 1774-1843, chapter 34, The Doctor)
My parents were married only a couple of weeks — if that long — before Dad left again.
Three wives later, he’s sane again, settled, someone my brother and I can talk to and hang out with, but his wife is dying. She’s not Mom, but she’s a good person, she understands Dad, and she cooks for the residents of a retirement home. She’s important to a whole lotta folks. But what can we do?
Thirteen years ago, I wouldn’t have cared. I was wound too tightly in my own pain and anger. Now, I want to fix everything, patch up the problem, but it’s beyond my help.