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Coded

July 6, 2009

I wrote some time ago about coming home from school, stepping off the school bus and into our apartment, locking my gaze onto my father’s shirts hanging on the banister and knowing that that sight heralded the end of my parents’ marriage.

 

I don’t write much about the After. Not because there’s anything bad, really—it was just difficult. It always is, I imagine, no matter how hard the parents try to make things easier on the kids. Divorce Sucks, plain and simple. There is no way to sugarcoat it, wrap it up, tie with a pretty bow, or make it more palatable. It is what it is. It is an irrevocable rending of something that once was whole—or at least, was whole in the eyes of a child. It may not have been whole and healthy where the adults were concerned, but those things escape the notice of most young children.

 

I do not write about the After mainly because my mother reads my blog and I feel a little odd writing anything intensely personally revelatory, knowing that she will read it. We’re fairly close now, but sometimes I feel as though we’re still picking our way through the minefields of my adolescence and teens—which weren’t all that bad, again, but weren’t the “my-mom-is-my-best-friend” stuff you see so much of these days. I was deeply private when I was young, retreating to my world of books and laying my thoughts down on paper instead of baring all in mother-daughter chats.

 

But we’re wonderful friends, now. The kind who, when I first got married and realized a few days after my honeymoon that I didn’t know how to make sweet tea, I didn’t feel like a total moron calling her up and asking her how to boil teabags. The kind who play gin rummy late into the night when we get together. The kind who share recipes old and new, and tease each other about really messy cabinets and junk drawers.

 

I think it’s great, despite the After, that we are such friends. Because there was an After.

 

Just as there was a moment that ended the marriage, in my eyes, there was a defining moment that began the After. It came one afternoon on the cement sidewalk outside that same apartment. My new stepfather, Carl, knelt down before me, taking me by the shoulders as he did, and looked me earnestly in the eyes. I remember being startled at the contact, and somewhat afraid.

 

“I’m your daddy now,” he stated. “You can call me Daddy.”

 

There was a small pause as I assimilated this information. I was six, or maybe seven by this time, but I was no fool. Worse, I was unfortunately Daddy’s girl, called so by countless dozens of individuals. I had a strong suspicion that it would be somehow worse than disloyal to call this man by the same appellation that my own father had gone by for the sum of my years.

 

“I have a Daddy,” I told him baldly, with a sass that would be the harbinger of our relationship for years to come. “I will not call you Daddy.”

 

Carl’s fingers tightened on my shoulders. I didn’t realize it, but not only had I thrown down a gauntlet, but I had hurt him, as well. He responded in the only way his orphan childhood and military background had taught him how—striking back.

 

“You’ll call me Daddy Carl, or you’ll not get an answer.”

 

And thus our life as a new family began. Most of the time I simply avoided beginning or ending my statements with any kind of identifying tag, out of sheer stubbornness. I can be a stubborn person at times, but then, so can Carl.

 

I’m praying that stubbornness serves him well right about now. Mom just called, and Carl’s sick. He’s actually been sick for some time with this vague lung illness that the doctors at the Veterans’ hospital are having a difficult time diagnosing. I’m sure it has something to do with all those cigarettes he smoked for all those years. Stubborn goat. The illness catches him fairly frequently, though, with a more acute batch of symptoms than normal, and lands him in the hospital. Apparently this happened today.

 

This wouldn’t typically be cause for alarm, except that he coded upon arrival at the hospital, was thankfully revived, and is now intubated, sedated, and in ICU.

 

This is the man that my mother chose to help her pick up the pieces, even though we couldn’t begin to understand her selection. This is the man who has stood by her, and us, faithfully for over twenty-five years, through thick and thin and foul-tempered cats. This is the man who sold his beloved car…a Corvette, I think it was…to provide Santa for us one Christmas morning when times were tight. This is a man who taught us that he would always stick up for his kids, always believe in them—because that’s what daddies did.

 

I’ve written a lot of unnecessary words here as I circle the wagons around what I really need to say.

 

This is Daddy Carl. And I love him.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2009 2:19 pm

    Beautiful words. I hope everything turns out for the best.

  2. hintonrae permalink*
    July 9, 2009 10:57 am

    Appreciate it, Gerb.

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