Warning – this post will be very raw and may contain items that people find offensive but they will be true from my point of view and memory.
In this series of posts, I will share dominoes that touched me. I remind you, dear reader, that the items you are about to read are true from my own point of view and may be uncomfortable for some to read. I am writing about my journey not to place blame but to help me heal and maybe help someone else struggling with a similar journey.
DOMINO Track One:
My parent’s divorce changed the layout of the domino pattern of my life. During this time, the layout consisted of two parallel tracks. One track was life with my dad while the other was with my mom. I consider them parallel because I was the one balanced between the tracks. In reality, the worlds were very different. Track one will focus on life with my dad. This time is very precious to me as you, dear reader, will find out in a future domino.
The house my family lived in while my parents were married was sold as part of the divorce. My parents would move into very different neighborhoods. As I mentioned in the last domino, my dad was awarded custody of my siblings and me, initially. With dad, we stayed in the same area of our city but moved into a welfare apartment community that people to this day still refer to as Roachland Village. No matter how clean we kept our unit, there were always some little roaches to be seen. This was a major adjustment for me.
I remember going on the city bus with dad to the social security, welfare and unemployment offices. I thought of them as adventures. I remember being in those offices for what seemed like hours. It was during one of these adventures that I received my social security card. I was proud that I could sign my name in cursive. I still have that card. When I see it, images of these adventures play in my mind’s eye. I had seen food stamp booklets before since my mom worked in a grocery store. While dad never complained where I could hear, I could feel his embarrassment when we used them at the store. At that young age, I thought they were pretty cool looking. I didn’t understand the stigma.
Since dad was able to stay in the same area of the city, I was able to stay in the same school for the third grade. I attended a Catholic school at this point and we must have been outside the school bus routes because my parents dropped me off at school every morning after the divorce. I was picked up by my babysitter after school. These were the beginning months of 1984. This is important because these were the days of the year when the sun was not up when I was dropped off at school….it was very dark. I do not know the details of the arrangement between my parents but I know the result. Every school day, I was dropped off, in the parking lot of my school. Seems ok until I tell you that I was the first person there. Not just the first student but the first person. I would sit on the steps until a teacher or the principal or some body came to open the building. My older brother was in high school so we were not at the same school. I turned 9 years old that February of 1984. I do know there were no options. Both of my parents had to be at work early. I don’t think parents could do this in today’s world.
I began to really feel I needed to take care of the people in my life. I would make meals when I could. We lived fairly close to a store that I could pick up milk. This was when I found out that milk could be a powder and come in a big white box with the word MILK printed on it. My go to for cooking was hamburgers with macaroni and cheese. I was proud I could do this chore to help lessen dad’s stress. There did come a day when he had to break the news to me that I made this meal on the wrong day of the week. How could that be? As I mentioned, we were Catholic. It was lent which meant no meat on Fridays. I didn’t really know or understand that. All I knew was I was happy to cook dinner. I began to cry when dad told me. I thought we were all going to go to hell. I remember asking dad if God would still let him, my brother and sister into heaven since I made the mistake and not them. I remember him hugging me and telling me that it would be a bigger sin to waste the food. So, we sat down and ate.
We had many adventures with dad. The area we lived in had numerous bars. On Saturday mornings, we would go to these bars, climb in their dumpsters and pull out all the aluminum cans we could. This was a time when beer and pop were still served in or poured from cans and not bottles. This adventure was usually very stinky. My little sister and I would pick up a can, hand it to dad and he would use a magnet to confirm if it was aluminum or not. When I think of these adventures, I don’t recall our brother being there. He was taller than us so maybe he stayed home because he was too big. I don’t really know. After we filled several trash bags with the cans, we would go to the recycling place and get money for the cans. I thought this was so cool.
The next adventure we would go on regularly was to the library. I loved the library. I was amazed at all the books, records and cassette tapes I could take home. I had some favorites that would come home often. There were silly song books, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller record which was a big deal. I loved that I could enjoy these things and not spend any money. I felt so blessed. Dad never refused anything I picked out. It was amazing.
The final adventure I will share is we would go to the various parks around us. One we went to was actually a cemetery but it had this big pond with many ducks and geese. We would take our stale bread and feed them. One time my sister was chased by a goose. She was only 5 years old and it really scared her. At the parks, dad would push us on the swings, toss the Frisbee and baseballs with us. We would play tennis and a few times tried to figure out shuffle board. All these things were free. Again I felt blessed to be able to enjoy all these things. I loved this time with dad.
Sundays were for church in the morning. We attended a small church that was in the basement of my school. I was proud that my dad was a church helper. There was an older gentleman that had his leg amputated and was wheelchair bound. These were the days before everything was accessible. My dad would help this man’s son carry him in the wheelchair down those stairs. I thought dad was so strong and loving. When mass was over, dad was one of a few people who stayed to receive supplies and blessed Eucharist in his little kit. We would then go to some of the senior citizens in our parish who were no able to leave their homes. I was in awe watching dad deliver a shorter version of mass and provide the blessed Eucharist to these people.
I love my dad. Our lives would follow this pattern for a few years. I had no idea at the time just how fast the time would go. The fall of 1988 would end this domino track. That will be a domino story all of its own.
I believe this time with dad built my capacity for empathy and love. An unexpected side effect would be that I wanted so much to take care of the people around me that I forgot about taking care of me for a really long time. I learned that no matter how hard I thought things were, there were others who had it worse. I was determined to work hard enough to stay out of the hands of welfare. I was determined to make my dad proud of me.
Reminder: This is a very raw experience for me but I will continue with the next Domino soon. Again, my hope for sharing this journey is that someone will see they are not alone in their pain. My hope is they will see my healing and learn it is possible to accept yourself and even love yourself. Until the next Domino, treat yourself with kindness….you are worth it.