“Want to support the Disabled Veterans?” she asked as I pushed my grocery cart by the table.
“Why not?” I said.
“Why not? That’s what they said,” she said, “when they enlisted. Thank God they did.”
“Yeah…” I said as I stood digging around for a bill, hesitant and unwilling to argue the pros and cons of military, war or service.
“My father is a veteran,” I said surprising myself with my words and voice.
“Is he still with us?”
She said “us” as if it were a circle he could hop in.
“He’s homeless,” I said.
“He’s homeless?” she asked as if to check if she heard me. Then she put her hand into a pile of paper flowers. They were blue, with six petals and a little yellow bead at the center. I stared at her salt and pepper covered scalp and then smiled.
The flowers was a forget-me-not.
Decades earlier I got a scholarship which took me to Palmer, Alaska to comb and calve Musk Ox. On a day trip I got to tip toe on the tundra. Acres of tiny plants digging up through where there was once a glacier.
Forget-me-nots hide their fragrance by day but at night they will perfume the sky.
She gave me a a paper flower attached to green wire which I twisted on my finger like a string to remember I too was fathered.
“Why doesn’t he live with you?” she asked.
Me, in the wealthy suburb of Hingham adjacent to my home in Weymouth. Me, out in the middle of the day on a Thursday, wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Me, passing for normal, well-adjusted and housed. Maybe even wealthy.
I’m none of those things.
I must look like someone with a guest room who would welcome him.
Why doesn’t he live with me?
“Um… Agh… Well…”
The question assumed he’s alive and he might not be.
The question assumes I know him. I don’t.
The question assumes I’d let him near me or my kid, that he’s he’s sober, safe and sane or if not, that I wouldn’t mind.
“He’s an alcoholic.”
That’s the only sentence I had to deliver.
He was violent to me, my sister and my mother before serving his country. I think of his as a ghost. Those thoughts I keep to myself.
We never were a family that worked like a family is supposed to. Not then. Not now.
I hate questions which leave little room to breathe the truth.
“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment we accumulated silent things within us.” Gaston Bachelard
My collection of silence sits like cement in my solar plexus. My pen is a jack hammer I use to break it down. In the cracks I find words, make stories. I’m tired of living with the heaviness poured into me by others. I’m excavating myself so I can give it back.
I rage at homeless people begging for dollars at street corners and selling flowers. It makes me feel mean and cold. I want to say, “Call your kid,” or “Send a birthday card.” Instead I keep my eyes averted and my windows rolled and think I’m related to homelessness.
If a homeless person deserving food and shelter doesn’t have a sibling, parent, spouse or kid looking after maybe there are reasons. Assume reasons is what I want to say to this woman and don’t sell me served our country lines.
It’s not that I don’t know my father deserves healthcare, food, housing and compassion. He does. It’s just not me that can provide that.
Some family members have searched to find, feed and love our homeless relatives. Some people had to flee in safety. Some of us are quiet, puzzled, pained, ambivalent or unsure what to do.
We may have managed whole lives, father daughter dances, proms, first dates, changing tires and cook-out holidays without parents, siblings or spouses we could have used.
Families that didn’t start out like families are supposed to work rarely offer traditional family solutions to societal problems. We are ALL responsible for the care of each and every member of our society. Children. Veterans. The disabled.
That doesn’t mean we always know what to do. I don’t know how to help my father. The best I could do is help myself.
Many of us are estranged from family of origin which might seem tragic to others but may be safe, wise and necessary.
Assume reasons. The logic used by people who have functioning families is the wrong peg for my broken circle.
I’m daughter to a man I don’t know.
Not by choice. I didn’t walk out on him. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive, housed or hungry or a raving lunatic or if he has even once thought about me.
I’ve filed reports with the Missing Person’s Bureau at the Salvation Army. I’ve written to Genealogy Roadshow. I’ve learned to live without.
He hasn’t come looking for me.
I gave a stranger a $1. bill after grocery shopping.
That’s the best I could do.
I pretended the flower was a gift from a father and I let it spin on my finger like a candy rock I could suck like a pacifier. For a moment before the sun hit my face and I tasted the truth of never having had that experience. I’m proud of myself in a fatherly and daughterly way. I take both roles.
I made a life despite his violence and absence.
“Why doesn’t he live with you?” she asked.
I shrug nodded in her direction, “That’s why you’re here right – to help disabled veterans?”
I left with Taco shells in my bag because that’s what my daughter craved for dinner. She is who I am responsible for. Not him.
He doesn’t live in my house. He lives in me.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.