Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mixed Emotions

My parents didn't go to prom together.

They were dating. It was the late 60's in a small Texas town. The town was untouched by the radical politics of the age. My father waited until two weeks before prom to ask my mother to be his date. I can imagine her frustration and confusion. I can hear her wondering, “Why isn't my own boyfriend asking me to prom?” But with it being the 60's in a small Texas town, it was still a more formal time. I know my mother. She never would've asked him. She's far too traditional. I can imagine my father, too. I can imagine him assuming that his girlfriend would never accept the invitation of another man. I can imagine him simply putting it off or having a bit of a commitment issue. I can imagine him making too many assumptions. Another man asked my mother to prom before my father got around to it, and she accepted his invitation out of fear. It was the late 60's in a small Texas town. No girl wants to miss her prom, and no girl like my mother in that time and that place could go alone. I am not my mother's daughter or my father's daughter; I am a strange mixture of both. I went to my prom alone. But I went alone in the 90's in a small Texas town after having been raised in a big Texas city, and I always was a rebel.

My father spent prom night in the parking lot with his best friend, the both of them getting drunk and lying on their backs looking up at the stars.

My parents have been married for 35 years. They are perfect for each other. They are perfect for each other, but they are not perfect. The first time I heard the story about prom, I felt very sad. How wonderful would it have been that these two people, together since high school, had shared one of those pivotal teenage moments. How romantic would that have been? But I actually like their story better. It illustrates the awkwardness of life, the unknowing. Sometimes we have an idea that if things are right they will go perfectly. If they do not go a certain way, they must not be right. I'm so very glad that my parents didn't give up on each other after having things go imperfectly.

I'm so very glad that they love each other.

My father's mother was engaged to another man before she met my grandfather. He died in a plane crash in World War II. I know very little about this story because it makes my father sad. In fact, my grandmother never told my father this story; she told my mother. She came from a time when you picked yourself up and moved on with your life. She came from a time when people understood that life was something that happened to all of us. I don't doubt that she loved my grandfather, but I believe she always thought of her first fiancée as her true love.

But I don't think she ever felt sorry for herself. I also think I could believe she thought of her first fiancee as her true love because it makes a more interesting story for me.

When I was 11, my father's mother died. My father adored his mother; he was a mamma's boy. Her death crushed him, and his response was to snap shut tight. He didn't want to talk about it. He doesn't believe in depression, and to admit the way he was feeling would be to admit that he was wrong. I have trouble with not knowing things as well. My mother took it personally. She thought that if he loved her, he would tell her everything. She believes that to love someone is to have them let you crawl underneath their skin and have every part of them. I get this from her. On good days this is why I am a poet. This used to be what I hated about her until I saw it in myself. It's harder to hate someone when you see that you are them. She started drinking more; every night a box of wine. I thought that they should get a divorce because it didn't look pretty. He was making her hate everyone because he was making her hate herself. That's how I saw it when I was 11. I tell this story as if I knew that his coldness was the result of his mother's death then. I didn't. I didn't know that until I was 16 or so. I'd spent years angry at him for things I didn't even try to understand.

But, then, isn't this always why we hate anything? Paying attention is an act of love, and any time we try to pay attention to something we grow to love it in some way. It is our ignorance that keeps us angry and unable to love.

My parents never got a divorce.

A couple of summers ago, one early evening in summer, my family and I were hanging out in my parents' pool. We were making fun of each other and laughing as we usually do. We were listening to music, and my father would randomly ask us, “Who sings this?” whenever a song he believed to be obscure would come on. Sometimes he'd add, “Nan, you're not allowed to answer,” if he figured it would be a cinch for me. Sometimes he'd say it to my brother Robert. He never said it to my mother; she never knows who sings anything, although she's very familiar with the work of The Grass Roots. My father was sitting on the side of the pool, and my mother was sitting on the top step near him. At some point I looked down and noticed that they were holding hands.

A friend of mine recently chided her sister for missing their dead father. She wondered whether or not her sister really missed their father or just the idea of him. She wondered if maybe time had changed her sister's memories; their father had not really been much of a father at all. He'd made plenty of mistakes. Her sister must've rewritten history to make missing him possible. I said that it was possible that she still fully recognized their father for who he had been and still missed him. We can love and miss a person even when they are imperfect.

If we couldn't, we couldn't love or miss anyone at all.


  1. I like this story. I too sometimes think I remember things differently when I was younger about my parents because I didn't fully understand what was taking place. My sister whom is 9 years older usually has a different perspective when we swap memories.

    Childhood is fulled with an innocence that you never really regain past a certain point in life...

  2. WOW. Stunning post. Thank you for sharing. Deep message in there hey. I can half relate.