A Midlife Reckoning With Childhood Trauma
I am two months shy of my fifth birthday when my father dies. He has been ill throughout my childhood, his kidneys failing after a childhood illness ravaged them. He has been on dialysis as he’s awaited a new kidney, but he dies before one becomes available. He is 36.
He leaves behind my mother, his wife of 15 years; me and my almost-seven year old sister; his parents, whose loss of their only child is a blow from which they are too old and set in their ways to recover. He has been in and out of the hospital for years; I have no way to comprehend that his absence is any different from previous times he went away, even though the plaintive cries of my mother and grandmother scare me.
I’m sure I cry too, though that’s not what I recall now so much as the laughter. I am gleeful that I know the news before my sister, who had been asleep when my mother returned late at night from the hospital. Having information first as a younger sibling is precious, and this is big information, giving it gravitas. I win. I am fatherless now, but am triumphant nonetheless.
My mother remarries one year later, and one year after that her new husband adopts us. We are a complete family again; what’s done is done and now we are here, complete with new surnames and birth certificates. Minus a handful of photos and grandparents from the first father, there is little evidence that he existed.
We move to a new town, welcome a baby into the family. I fall in love with my second grade teacher; when it’s time to go around in a circle and tell the class our favorite food, I say spaghetti and meatballs because that’s what she says, even though I like neither spaghetti nor meatballs. We join the town pool, where I learn to swim with a floatation device strapped around my waist. In the winter, the pool becomes a skating rink where in between twirls around the ice in my red flared skirt I drink hot chocolate and eat frozen Charleston Chews. My childhood is full of wonder and innocence.
Children are resilient, and it must be so because everyone says it. Children endure unspeakable loss without the ability to comprehend what they’ve lost or the permanence of…