Oh Deer

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This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.  I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.  It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.  I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.  I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.  Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.  Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.  When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.  It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.  My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.  A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.  He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.  A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.  My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.  He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.  I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.  By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.  He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.  This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.  I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.  My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.  Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.  Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?  I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.  And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.  My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.  I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.  Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.

Thankful

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It is SO easy to dwell on negative feelings and problems.  I have had a very difficult couple of weeks lately .  My dad’s drinking has been out of control, my boyfriend is severely depressed and I just found out my ex-husband is having a baby.  I really want to try to stay positive, so I decided to make a list of some of the things I am thankful for to remind myself of how lucky I am.  So in no particular order:

  1. My 18 month old niece…the love of my life
  2. My pets, who always make me so happy
  3. My job- I truly love teaching and feel like I make a difference
  4. My close relationships with my mom and sister
  5. My Hyundai Tucson- it’s my favorite car I have ever had
  6. My friends- who are always there for me, no matter what
  7. The Office…best show ever (“that’s what she said”)
  8. My house- I am proud of owning my own house
  9. Being financially stable and having a savings account
  10. My heated blanket- it’s so awesome
  11. Being able to spoil my niece as much as I want
  12. My boyfriend- we have stood by each other through thick and thin
  13. My health and being able to afford a personal trainer
  14. Being in therapy with a psychologist that I really trust
  15. Decorating my house for fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas
  16. Getting a card in the mail (or sending a card to a friend)
  17. Having a good relationship with my boyfriend’s parents
  18. Loving to read and having access to good books
  19. All of my cherished memories with my grandparents
  20. Cardigan sweaters- my wardrobe staple

Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

Celebrate good times…come on!

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This past Sunday was my father’s birthday.  He had been in the hospital for the four days prior, so I was fairly confident that he would be sober (he had just been released the evening before).  I was very pleasantly surprised that we had SUCH a nice time.  It was just my sister, her 10 month old daughter, my parents and me.  It is rare these days that our whole family is together (all five of us lol).  It was really cute to see my dad with the baby- she’s their only grandchild.  My sister kept telling me to take videos and pictures of our father holding the baby and singing to her.  I think we always have the thought in the back of our minds that each time we see him could be the last.  I realize that is very morbid, but he is in bad health and still makes really bad choices.  Each time we have a day like this, we relish the new memories we made with him and the feeling of having a “normal family”. I know from lots and lots and lots of prior experiences not to take days like this for granted because my dad can easily erase the good feelings with one nasty email.

We have a lot of fun, celebratory events coming up, mostly all revolving around my niece…her Christening, her first birthday, her first birthday party.  My dad has always been able to keep it together for big events like this, which is always a relief.  However, he also has a tendency to cancel coming at the last minute. I never thought I would say this, but I really hope he comes to everything, because I am pretty sure they will be more good memories for our family, and we definitely could use more of those!

‘Til death do us part

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I recently read an article online and came across a quote that struck me.  It was written by a recovering alcoholic who stated, “All of us stop drinking at some point. It’s just that for some people, that point is death.”

I kept going back and reading those two sentences over and over.  It is such a simple statement, but it is really powerful and concise.  I never really thought about alcoholism in that way.  My father has never attempted to stop drinking and I have accepted the fact that he will most likely die an alcoholic (he may even be drunk when he dies).  My father’s alcoholism will not end until his life does.

Today, my dad wrote one of his obnoxious, embarrassing emails and copied various people on it- my sister and my mother, my aunt and uncle (his own brother from whom he is pretty much estranged), my other aunt (my mom’s sister who is an alcoholic herself), my cousin and about seven friends of our family (two couples and a few guys who have loyally remained friends with my parents from when they were first married).  Even though I am accustomed to the lunacy of his emails and can usually ignore them completely, sometimes I have to look at it from the perspective of one of these unsuspecting recipients.  They must literally think he is insane.  It is hard not to feel that it is a reflection on our family (or that at the very least there are several people who probably open his email and can’t help but pity us).  Most of what he writes is utter nonsense and this email was very tame compared to the majority that he sends, but it still makes me feel weird.  The other day when my sister and I were with my mom we were talking about hobbies and one of us mentioned that it was unfortunate that my dad doesn’t have any interests to keep himself busy.  My mom quickly replied, “he does have a hobby- writing his emails.”  It’s darkly funny and ironic…my paternal grandfather used to write in a journal every day when he was alive.  He had an easy chair in the corner of their living room, right next to a small bookshelf filled with little leather bound journals.  His journals seemed sacred when I was growing up and during my visits to their house, I was never tempted to read one of them.  After he died, my grandmother packed them all up in a big box and put them in the attic.  Many years later when she passed away, my sister was helping to clean out their house and found them.  She brought one to me as a keepsake (she and I are both VERY sentimental, especially regarding our grandparents).  I was shocked to discover that his journals were not filled with philosophical ideas and deep reflections, but rather the minutiae of everyday life.  He noted the weather, how he was feeling, what he did that day (“went to the dump”), etc.  If my sister and I were visiting, he would write about how much we had grown and about what we did at the beach that day.  I have to admit I was almost disappointed when I read it, because I was hoping for…more.  Now that I know he was an alcoholic, too, I wonder if this was his pre-technological way of doing exactly what my father does.  My dad treats his emails as a daily journal, although instead of keeping his inner most thoughts private, he copies various people on them.

When my dad does die, I wonder who will care.  I mean, I know people will care, but will they really care?  He has burned so many bridges with so many people.  During his brief two year sabbatical from drinking, he changed in so many positive ways.  If he had passed away during that time, it would have seemed more tragic…like he had so much to live for…that my sister and I had lost our dear father.  Now, he just seems pathetic.  His death will be a big deal for my mother, sister and me, but will be a tragic blip on most other people’s radars.  They will feel sorry for us, they will feel sad for losing the man they remember- the brother he was growing up, the friend he was in his 20s.  But when people think about him, he will always be thought of first and foremost as an alcoholic- a sad label that defined him for the past 25 years.

 

November

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I had a difficult time sleeping a few nights ago and as I lay awake in bed (ALL night), I thought about the month of November.  I have a love/hate relationship with the month.  I love it because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and as a teacher, there are a lot of days “off” in November, so it is an easy month.  The air is crisp enough to leave the windows open during the day and yet chilly enough to snuggle under blankets at night.  It is still light out early in the morning when I leave for work and stays bright enough to walk my dog in the evening.

But November has a dark side for me.  Several years ago, I had a HORRIBLE November…it was the month I filed for divorce, that I lost my grandparents, that my sister had a health emergency.  All of these things happening at the same time was completely overwhelming.  In a way, I was so numb…my divorce was incredibly painful and very drawn out.  My beloved grandmother passed away and within about a month, my grandfather followed.  There was just so much trauma that I almost had to separate myself from it.  I feel like I prepare myself at the end of every October to be ready for November…for the flood of emotions and memories to hit me.

Things in my life could not be more different now than they were that November six years ago.  First and foremost, my family has way less drama due to my father becoming sober.  I can truly look forward to the holidays coming up in a way that I was never able to just a couple short years ago.  My parents are getting along and my mom seems more content. My sister is in a relationship and has a challenging, fulfilling job.  I have a wonderful boyfriend who is caring and supportive and successful and my divorce is hardly even a passing thought these days.  I can think about my amazing grandparents and all that they taught me without becoming teary-eyed.  And yet, there is still that dull anxiety that November brings.  I just hope that as years continue to pass that the negative memories associated with this month get replaced by new, happier ones!

Grandparents = LOVE

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My grandmother passed away yesterday. Obviously losing her is upsetting, but beyond that I am so sad about the fact that my last surviving grandparent is gone. My grandpa (her husband) died in 1990 when I was 12 and my Mama and Papa (my mom’s parents) passed away within 40 days of each other in 2009. For my whole life, if you asked me to define the “roles” I had, granddaughter was one of the most important. I have so many wonderful and special memories of all of my grandparents. They all loved me, supported me and each played an important part in my childhood.

My grandmother’s passing also brings up other darker feelings, though. Over the past 10 years or so, she definitely became less involved with our side of the family, due to my dad’s alcoholism. Even though my dad was her son, I think my grandmother was very disappointed in him and it must have been very hard for her to see how he acted when he was drunk. My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic and I am sure it broke my grandmother’s heart that my father turned out like him. She became very close with my Uncle’s family…and I don’t really blame her. Therefore, over the years, she spent a lot more time with my cousins (who are also younger than my sister and me). Incidentally, my sister and I became much, much closer with my maternal grandparents. I was so devastated when I lost them (I was also going through my divorce at the same exact time which didn’t help), so there is a little guilt that I didn’t have the same reaction to losing my grandma yesterday. Although I am so sad she passed, she was not a regular, constant part of my adult life like my Mama was. My therapist today told me this was totally normal and that people have different relationships with various relatives in their family (the copay was worth it today!)

Regardless, I am so blessed to have had my grandparents for as long as I did. I have friends who never even knew their grandparents, so I know how fortunate I am to have all the wonderful memories of them that I do!!

Like father, like son

My paternal grandfather passed away in 1990 when I was 12 years old. I adored him and he was a loving, gentle grandpa. Most of my memories of him were either of him on the beach or sitting in his favorite chair reading or writing in his journal. It was not until many years later that I learned the truth about my grandfather…that he was “like my dad”. He was a verbally abusive, belligerent alcoholic. I was stunned. It didn’t change how I felt about him, but I was very surprised and it made me think about how alcoholism seems to permeate families.

Recently, my sister was at my grandparents’ house and brought me back one of my grandfather’s journals (even though they were always in plain sight, everyone seemed to respect his privacy and I had never read any of them growing up). As I was just reading it, one entry really touched me. This is what he wrote in 1989:

“My son said that I have a problem to my wife. I can’t blame him for feeling the way he does. Christ, will I ever learn- I just hurt everyone.”

This, naturally, made me think of my father (although the son my grandfather was referring to was actually my uncle). I wonder in his sober moments if my dad really thinks about what he has done to our family…how he has hurt us physically and emotionally? I wonder if he really understands how his drinking destroyed our family? My father knows he is an alcoholic because he has occasionally said “daddy drinks too much” (my dad speaks in the third person…I know, creeeeppppy- lol). I drink very, very cautiously and if I never had another alcoholic beverage again in my life it wouldn’t faze me at all. So, how did my dad grow up with an alcoholic father and STILL become the way he is? Or is he the way he is BECAUSE my grandfather was an alcoholic? Obviously those are rhetorical questions.

I just don’t get how both my grandpa and my dad could both know how much their drinking was hurting their families and still do it. I know it isn’t that easy and that it is a deep-rooted addiction, but it makes me sad that neither of them tried to stop. My grandfather died at a pretty young age of complications from diabetes, so maybe he would have tried at some point, but my dad has been an alcoholic for almost 23 years (wow.) and as far as I know he has never taken any steps to get help.

It just makes me really sad.