But of all sadness this was sad –
A woman’s arms tried to shield
The head of a sleeping man
From the jaws of the final beast.
This is the saddest incident from my childhood. I will tell you now.
My father, a gambling addict, had lost everything, and been evicted from his last apartment. He was living in a camper-van, and unemployed, and had been unemployed for several years. I was 16 years old, working at Long John Silver’s fast-food restaurant, and giving him all of my wages. I made $5.15 an hour, and I couldn’t work more than 20 hours a week because of child labor laws…but I worked all weekend, every weekend, and I gave him everything. He wanted me to steal from my job, but I wouldn’t do that. He wanted me to steal from my mother’s jewelry box, but I wouldn’t do that either.
(as an aside, you don’t know what a huge douche global capitalism is until you’ve worked all day, on your feet, dealing with assholes, and your healthy, fit teenaged body aches at night, for FORTY FUCKING DOLLARS. Fast food was the hardest job in my life.)
One day he came to me in his camper-van. He was wearing his best suit, a khaki suit, with a blue-striped tie. And he said, “I have something to show you.”
He took me by the hand into his camper-van.
There were two suicide notes hanging above the little kitchen unit: one addressed to me, and one addressed to my mother.
And then he showed me how he intended to kill himself: with gas, maybe helium, but I guess it could have been propane, I don’t remember. He’d rigged a tube up from it, and put it through a heavy-duty plastic bag, and formed a noose around the bag, so that it was like a mask.
(he was, at one point, a respiratory therapist in the ICU ward. So he knew how these things work)
I felt like I was seeing all of this in slow-motion. I felt the oddest sensation of horror and numbness. I felt like I couldn’t feel my face. I swear to you: it was the most awful moment of my life. And I’ve had plenty.
Because I LOVED HIM. I loved him beyond morality. I don’t love him anymore–now I feel nothing but contempt and disgust, but at the time I LOVED HIM. And I felt responsible for him and obligated for taking care of him.
Then he left, and I sat there for a few minutes, feeling so weird inside. I was so scared for him! I was like, my daddy is GOING TO DIE?
I walked into my mother’s house. My little brother wasn’t home yet (he was at soccer practice). I remember that there was a Persian rug in the living room with a circular pattern in the center.
I collapsed in the middle of the rug, and curled up into a ball, and I started...to shriek.
Nothing like that has ever happened in my life. I cried when the Surgeon damaged me emotionally a few times, and I cried my ass off for a month when the Mathematician betrayed me, but, I am telling you, this was the most gut-wrenching fear/terror/grief of my life. IT HURT IT HURT SO BADLY.
My mother came into the room and she lifted up my face, and she was FURIOUS, and she looked at my face, and she slapped me upside the head…hard.
“Get yourself together!” she hissed.
(Keep in mind, I was never a little drama queen. It’s not like I made histrionics on a regular basis. I was always extremely quiet and calm, even as a baby–both of my parents would tell you that even as a baby, I never cried.)
I shut up immediately, and then I went to go barf in the bathroom, because I could not cope with the anxiety.
Then I gave her my father’s “suicide notes.” She took them and I have no idea what she did with them. We never discussed them. I could not bring myself to read either one.
Now, as an ADULT, this is what I feel: Mom should have been GAME OVER, PSYCHO! RESTRAINING ORDER! Any family court judge in the country would have given her (and me) a restraining order. My father was completely out of control and this was transparently psychologically abusive.
My mother sent me back to him. Why, cannot say, except that in some intrinsic way she hates my guts.
A month later, he committed himself to the State Mental Health Hospital. There was nowhere else for him to go.
And I visited him there.