Wednesday, June 30, 2004

New Mown Hay and Moonlight on the Wabash, Part 2

BF and VDF were visiting the night before I left for Indiana (D., my husband, and BF's husband had left us after dinner to meet up with other guys for Vinyl Night, which involves a turntable, records from the 60s-90s, lots of beer, and no women, and, as I was telling them as I packed ), I felt a little humiliated to finally be feeling so angry at my father, just before leaving to visit.  Earlier in the spring I'd read a book called THE SISTERHOOD OF THE MAGICAL TRAVELING PANTS, a gift from BF (because it is also about good female friendships), and one of the characters was the daughter of a father who was getting remarried to a woman with children. One of the subplots was about her coming to terms with her feelings of rejection and replacement as a result. 

I've been to counseling many times in my life --- and even to some very good ones.  I have no good explanation for how it is that it took 25 years for this set of feelings to finally present themselves so simply to me.  I do credit the book some, for portraying the girl as being angry at everyone but her dad for most of the story, until at last she could see that her anger was at him.  I recognized myself, I suppose.  In any case, I was seething as I packed, feeling betrayed and angry and hurt in a way I don't know if I've ever felt so directly.  I was not looking forward to going and though BF and VDF were good ears, and reminders that I was not on my way to a confrontation, but to an event that was about a good thing, inside, I was just a mess of dank and tangled bad feelings.

I got on the plane and it was full of Midwesterners.  You'd think it'd be full of Californians, since we were leaving from California --- and it probably was full of both in two senses.  For one thing, it is a commonly held myth that Californians are a different species from Midwesterners.  The truth is most Californians ARE Midwesterners -- transplants.  And those Californians who aren't transplants themselves, are most commonly second generation transplants. It's hard to find a native Californian whose grandparents or great-grandparents -- much less even farther back -- were also natives, unless in fact they were Natives.  (Which is part of why we don't have the whole blueblood society of back East.)  For a second thing, I was in a state of feeling alienated from my Hoosier self, as a result of feeling alienated from my Father-God. So, of course, it seemed to me that the plane was packed with passive-aggressively nice people --- the kind who talk to strangers in particularly well-meaning, helpful ways with the implicit understanding that anyone who does not respond in kind is a misguided and unchristian heathen with whom God is surely displeased.

To be fair: Californians are passive aggressively nice in a different way.  Californians are the kind who smile indulgently and believe that true kindness is to appreciate people's differences and that respecting each other's personal space is the only civilized course of action.  Californians tend to believe that those who do not respond in kind are well-meaning idiots whom one can only pity their cluelessness.  Where am I in this mess, you may wonder?  As always, somewhere in between.

Since I was full of dank and tangled bad feelings, I would have preferred to be surrounded by Californians, though. I closeted myself as well as I could in a sardine can and suffered the judgment of my unchristian heathenness.

After 8 hours of travel-compression, I got to Indianapolis and was finally on the road. I found a radio station, the kind I only listen to in rental cars: some soft-rock oldies scholckhouse that was sure to play songs to which I could sing-along.

I was halfway across the I-465 loop when "Our House" by Crosby Stills, Nash and Young came on.  And I started crying.  When I was eighteen, twenty I went through a phase of really needing to know what had happened in my parents' marriage to cause their divorce.  It was a tough time for all of us, because as anyone who has been through divorce knows (and I do, now), an important part of the healing process is deconstructing the mythology that you had created with your ex at the time when, long ago, it had all seemed so right and good to be together about why you belonged together, and what kind of a future you would have together. And I needed my parents to remember the mythology they'd once created as well as how and why they'd deconstructed it.  And they needed most of all to remember that they had deconstructed it, for fear it might otherwise grab their ankles and draw them back into the heartbreak of a marriage's collapse. 

To their credit, they both tried. And in the end, I was consoled by the affirmation that they had once loved each other, and that I had been a wanted child, not an accident of poor planning in a doomed relationship.  The other thing I got out of that process were some writings they'd both done, one of which was a house-warming ceremony they'd written for themselves and friends when they moved into the one house where I remember all of us living.   The song they'd sung at that ceremony was "Our House;" the lyrics had been in the program, every line of them intentionally a part of my parents' idea of themselves and the future they saw before them at the time.

I sobbed my way all the way out of Indianapolis and onto State Road 37, where as my tears began to dry, I noticed the green farmlands and woods spreading out on either side, the light casting gold on patchwork quilts of corn, soybeans and fallow fields, and big old farmstead where one horse's head would be poking out the door of the barn and dogs would be running through the fields toward stately old farmhouses.  Man, do I love the ocean.  But Indiana's farm lands are my spiritual landscape.

I didn't notice that I was thinking until I found myself aware of the realization that my step-mother had been a good mother to marry my father.  Not only did she find a good friend and husband for herself, but she found a good father for her children.  And that, simultaneously, it was not crazy of me to think of her as having taken my father from me --- though it was not her intention.  She did not mean to take him from me, she only meant to do the right thing for her own children.  And she did.   And though I was not wrong to feel displaced -- no one had meant for me to be. 

My father had been very lonely and heartbroken after my parents' divorce.  For six long years afterwards, he was alone and lonely.  At one point shortly after my mother had moved to California, my father refused to send my brother and me back to my mom at the end of a summer because he couldn't part with us -- resulting in a custody battle that formalized the terms. School years: Mom. Summers: Dad.  While I've been disappointed he didn't move to California once those terms got set, I also understand it would have meant abandoning his career.  He's a good man, and he believed it mattered that he stay the course.  And then he found my step-mother, and she loved him.  And she had three kids who needed him.

It's not unnatural for a daughter to want her father's love to move mountains.  To want him to be able to make everything right, to be right behind her whenever she turns around, looking for reassurance, and there to offer wise and loving counsel, whatever she may face.  It's not unnatural.  It's the opposite of unnatural, actually.  But, it is unreasonable.   Especially when he is married to a woman he loves and who loves him, one who knows how to hold the candle lighting his way home on dark nights --- a woman whose life and children are 3,000 miles away from that daughter.

I do not wish he had remained lonely instead.

When I pulled up to their house in Marion, I was nervous, not angry.  And I was excited.  To see my Papa. 

And, also, to see them, my dad and step-mom, together