Friday, March 27, 2015

That Which I Failed to Say

My dad had retired a few years before, intending to Play Some Golf, but seemed intent on dying of boredom. The value of his and my mother’s house had skyrocketed, and the mortgage was paid off. They’d always been frugal. I didn’t want them to leave me all their money to me and my sister. I’d managed to get them to go to Europe for a couple of weeks three years before, and now, in the late summer of 1987, I implored them to go again. The catch this time was that Mom was afraid that Dad might drop dead in the middle of some bustling piazza or something, and she, unable to speak the local language, would have no idea of what to do. It was exactly the same sort of catastrophic expectation that would keep her from “allowing” him to come home from the convalescent hospital he’d eventually die in five years later after the stroke that took away his ability to walk.

In any event, I said I’d go with them if that’s what it took. My first marriage had just collapsed, and I hadn’t been out of the country in five years. Noble, noble me!

The afternoon my parents arrived in San Francisco, expecting to spend the night in a motel in Sebastopol — where a friend and his wife had been sheltering me since I’d left the home I’d shared with my wife and daughter — the travel agency from which I’d bought the airplane tickets called to say our departure date had been moved up 24 hours. I had to buy a change of clothes and toiletries pronto, and then all three of us needed to get down to SFO.

 I think often of what would happen if I were somehow able to see my parents again. I like to imagine I’d be gentle and loving, but worry that within five minutes I’d revert to being the monster I was with them pretty much from the time I (chronologically) entered adulthood. My dad had let my mother treat him with withering contempt my whole life. He’d said things that had hurt me badly a few times (as what parent, wishing anything but, doesn’t?) when I was a child, so wasn’t it only fair that, in young manhood, I should treat him as did my mother? As for whom, well, how could I have any sympathy who bullied so rapaciously, who never in my sight had shown my dad — an indisputably nice guy, and one who made no secret of adoring her — the faintest trace of affection? All of which is to explain why, within a half-hour of their pulling up in front of the building in which I worked in the Financial District, I’d already begun cutting off little pieces of them every time I opened my mouth.

We went to the airport and started getting in lines, and I almost fainted with love for them. They’d put all their essential documents in clear, carefully labeled plastic bags. I could so easily picture how intimidated they were by the prospect of international travel, and how carefully they’d prepared for it. I could picture them rehearsing getting things out. They knew just where to reach in every case, and I wanted to burst into tears of adoration, to embrace them with all my might. And naturally I settled for saying something snide. I think back to that moment 28 years after the fact and feel strongly that I don’t deserve to be alive.

We flew to Paris, and then took the train to St. Malo, France, from which we sailed over to the isle of Jersey, which their gardener or someone had told them was heavenly. Over our second lunch there, I’d never seen my mother so happy, and I couldn’t deal with it, having seen her so effusive only fleetingly maybe twice over the course of my childhood. I distracted myself from her joyfulness for giving my dad a hard time for having dumped all the dipping sauces that had come with our appetizers on his entrée, which was my dad all over.

It continued like that as we flew over to London (where I’d unknowingly booked us into a bed-and-breakfast apparently favored by gay BDSM enthusiasts), and then headed down to Barcelona, where my mother’s painful constipation (she never rehydrated while out and about, for fear that she wouldn’t be able to find a restroom, or at least a clean one) kept her indoors the whole time. I’d screwed up the reservations, and it had cost my dad $180. Throughout my childhood, my parents had agonized over every outgoing dime, but do you what my parents said to me when I confessed my mistake? “Don’t worry about it.”
I had resolved to tell them how much I loved them, and how I didn’t think I’d be able to love my daughter to the superhuman extent I did if not for their generous, faithful love of me, but the moment didn’t seem right, and didn’t seem right, and then we were on our way back to San Francisco. Twenty-four hours later, I was back to processing words at the big fascist law firm where I worked, and they were on the road back to LA.

I never did tell them, and don’t deserve to be alive. And it doesn't fail to occur to me that my 13-year estrangement from my daughter is poetic justice. 

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