Friday, March 11, 2005

A tangle of thorns

I've been thinking about balance, and about compassion, and about acceptance. Few people understand why I don't hate the Ex. Some people respect that I don't, I suppose, but most people expect me to and some are obviously discomfited when they realize that I don't. I often feel angry with him, and there have been many times when I sincerely wish I could hate him, when I long to believe in a world that is so clearly defined that I could feel nothing but contempt for another person simply because they deserved it. But I see too much grey.
When I was 8, my mother remarried. I think she was lonely, and tired. I think she wanted something different from what her mother and her siblings expected her to do, which was to stay in her mother's house, raising her daughter--three singular women, continuing on in the midst of a long line of lost men, dead men, disappeared men. So she picked a man who showed interest in her--and whom (more importantly, perhaps) everyone, especially her mother, warned her away from. She was just a few years older than I am now.

She heard a lot of rumors about this man. That he'd beaten one of his previous wives (he'd been married twice before), that he wasn't trustworthy, that he was a liar. But he told her his ex-wives had spread lies, that they had run off with other men, that he'd had a low past but had found Jesus and been born again. Personally, I don't hold any of this against Jesus. I don't think he'd want to be mixed up in this story.

So they ended up getting married, and this man convinced my mother that God was calling him to move far away, to a place that needed good Christians to combat the evil forces of Satan that were running rampant in that part of the country. My mother is not a stupid woman, but she can be stubborn, even when it's to her own detriment. She bought this line--or pretended to--and off we went, 2000 miles from the entirety of the universe as I knew it, the grandmother who had cared for me while my mother worked, from the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, the friends, everyone and anyone who might have provided some balance or retreat or image of normalcy in the wake of her figuring out what type of man she'd really married. To a tiny town, and not even the town itself, but the countryside 5 miles outside of town, where the neighbors all farmed and mostly minded their own business, and left you to mind yours, unless there was a fire or some other act of God. Sad, twisted, abusive men who isolate their wives while they slowly drain the life out of them don't count as an act of God.

The first thing he did was sell her car the following summer, while we were visiting my grandmother. The next thing he did was stop working, or stop working more than enough to scrape by but not enough for her to get the money to leave. I don't really remember when he started calling her stupid, or fat, or useless, but I don't imagine it took very long. He decided that we should switch to his denomination of choice--hellfire and brimstone, of course, for that extra touch of mysogenistic indoctrination. To this day, although I hate to admit it because I realize it's unfair, I am horribly prejudiced against evangelical Christian churches. I have several friends who would probably consider themselves to be evangelical Christians, but I have an elaborate system of excuses I make on their behalf, to exempt them from my revulsion.

I don't like this about myself. It's a knee-jerk reaction to the hypocrisy of the man who would drag us to service three times a week, who would make sure we had family prayer time every morning, who would blame the slightest accident or inconvenience on Satan, and who would then spend a goodly amount of the remaining time verbally abusing his wife and trying to cop feels off his stepdaughter. Certainly, even without this, my political and moral ideals are far removed from the conservative branch of my faith; still, I don't have such a negative reaction to any other form of worship, regardless of how far-removed it might be from my own beliefs. I'm working on it. Namaste.

So. This man was the only father I'd ever known. And he was a warped person. When I graduated from high school I left that town, and when I graduated from college I left this country, and yes, I certainly do attribute that at least in part to my desire to get as far away as I possibly could from everything that lay behind me. While I was living in England, my mother divorced him. He wrote me one letter, which contained an apology of sorts, though I don't think there was much sincerity to it, any more than there was in my reply.

If I was going to despise someone, this would be a good place to start. But this man taught me to reject the racism that the rest of my Southern-bred family clings to. This man taught me to take risks and not to give up so easily. He would take us on drives up into the mountains; he pointed out geodes and pyrite and old mines, deer tracks and elk tracks, pinon pines. He used to take me on long walks through the countryside, and we'd sit and watch the prairie dog colonies, try to skip rocks in the streams, climb haystacks. Once, in the fall, we went down the hill, through the cornfields, and he told me about gleaning and what it meant, and about the animals that lived in and off the cornfield, and about the harvest moon, and when we went too far and it started getting cold and dark and I got too tired to walk back, he carried me.

I don't delude myself into thinking he was a good man. He wasn't. I think he's damned; certainly, he's damned himself to a life of lies and sickness. When I turned 30, I reported him to social services. It was all I could do, really, that far after the fact, the fact not being nearly as bad as it could have been, thankfully. Believe me when I say I am a vigilant mother, and I have no tolerance for people who abuse children--or other adults--in any way. But sometimes, I look at my son, and I feel so sad. Not for the man that hurt my mother, or me, but for the man who carried his daughter home through a cornfield, and taught her about arrowheads and rock formations.

The world is grey. When we're lucky, it's even technicolor. But it's never black and white.