April 7, 2012
Good Morning my Dear Sweet Girl—
1983. I close my eyes and see you, your sister Erin, standing at the small round dining table I found at a garage sale.
Both of you buzzing, anticipating multicolored jelly beans and a basket full of green fake cellophane grass with bits of chocolate nested in the sleek shimmery shreds .
A Betty Crocker white cake baking in the oven in two round 8 inch pans fills the house with vanilla and sugar scent. Later we will make the bunny cake. Now, we dye the dozen white hardboiled eggs that sit in the middle of the table surrounded by mismatched cups, some with cracks, filled with translucent red, orange, blue, green dye.
My thoughts are all over the place.
I cannot sit still.
I am afraid to just be with myself right now.
But that is where I need to be.
Quiet. Taking in the whisper of air as it moves into my nostrils, I fill my chest with it, inflate.
Come back to now.
This moment, when the only sounds are the whir of the computer processor, the steady hum of the refrigerator, the clock ticking—tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
The house creaks, groans.
My dad is in the hospital. A heart attack. He waits for a transfer to another hospital, for the Plavix to leave his system so his platelets stick together again, the assignment of an operating room.
Sisters, brothers, stories. My family history is real. It remembers me . It gathers around my dad.
On April 2, 2012 you notified us of your potential need to take family/medical leave due to care for a parent with a serious health condition.
This to inform you meet the eligibility requirements for taking FMLA and you have FMLA leave available.
Since last Sunday, I have been at one of three places, at home, at work, at the hospital.
I have long forgiven my father for my childhood, or lack of one. Neither of us wants to confront it, discuss it in any great detail. Any more than a paragraph here and there.
I ask questions. He fills in gaps.
The stories I never told you. If I did not speak of them, they would not be real. The stories would not repeat themselves.
Over and over.
My stepmother made Cinderella’s look like Donna Reed. My dad will not admit he knew.
As I helped you and Erin each cradle a hard boiled egg on a teaspoon, slowly lower it in the colored liquid, wait for figments of color to imbue the hard white shell, the stories of my Easters past fluttered their pages inside me.
With a clear wax crayon, my stepmother made me write Fat Ass, Trouble Maker, to identify which colored eggs were mine. My sisters had their own identifiers. Lazy, Stupid, Ugly.
Deep breaths as you and Erin and I turn the eggs in their green, red, yellow, orange, blue, pink dye. Wait for the perfect hue. Lift the egg, hold it against the side of the cup as we tip the spoon, spilling color back into the cup. The egg is placed to dry.
There is nothing written on your eggs.
Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick.
1961. Easter. I was 6, almost 7. My sister Kathy would have been 5, Karen 4, Dale 3, Linda almost two. My mother, 23 years old, was pregnant with baby number 6—who was not my dad’s. She’d left him and we were living in High Point, a housing project in Seattle. She—a single mom not ready for, not wanting motherhood.
My father’s words—“The end always justifies the means.”
No. It does not.
But I do not argue.
1961. I woke early Easter Sunday. I was old enough (a) to know it was Easter, and (b) to expect the Easter Bunny to have left 5 wicker baskets full of sugar treats, 5 chocolate bunnies. I felt the brittle chocolate breaking as I brought my teeth down on its ears, tasted the cocoa—butter—sugar melt on my tongue, stick to the roof of my mouth.
I opened the bedroom door, walked down the hall toward the living room, it was barely light.
There was nothing. No Easter baskets. No chocolate bunnies.
Surely there must be a mistake.
I went in the kitchen.
Maybe the Easter bunny was running late. It was still early.
If I went back to bed and was really quiet, there was still a chance he would come.
I laid in the bed I shared with Kathy. Listened for my sisters and brother to wake up. Everything had to be quiet. Or the Easter Bunny would not come.
He had not made it to our house yet.
The house creaked.
I was bathed in a sea of relief. It was the Easter bunny.
Quietly, I made my way down the hall again. Peeked around the corner.
Checked the kitchen.
I went back to my bed. Grew anxious.
How was I going to tell Kathy, Karen, Dale, Linda the Easter Bunny had not come yet?
How was I going to keep them quiet until he made it to our house?
I piled our blankets in the bottom of the closet on top of the collection of dirty clothes mixed with clean. Explained the situation. Enforced silence, stillness. Linda was the hardest to keep quiet. She was wet and hungry. I could not change her diaper. I did not know what to feed her.
If we are not quiet there will be no jelly beans, I call dibs on the black ones. There will be no chocolate bunnies.
Where was my mom?
My dad was an ocean away, stationed in Hawaii. Making another family. Until my mother disappeared and the Red Cross brought him back to Washington to claim us—five of us.
“Your stepmother and I got together to do a job. We each had children to raise.”
“You all turned out all right.”
“Dad, maybe. But we are all fucked up in out own ways.” I tell him.
Linda is with me. She shakes her head yes.
He measures his success by what we have accomplished. Does he realize how much there was to overcome?
I know my story. I come here to the hospital so he can tell me his.
I listen him. Record him. Take down notes. Ask questions
He is my father.
I am his daughter.
I have forgiven him for all he thought he knew about parenting, for all the things he did not.
Without these stories, my father’s, my mother’s, and now mine, without understanding I, too, was a child, became a young woman, and then your mother—without knowing this history, will you forgive me for all I thought I knew about parenting, for all the things I did not.
Mostly, I thought love would be enough.
I thought I could make up for my childhood by giving you yours.
Without a frame of reference, without me telling you about how I grew up, how could you know?
I am my father’s daughter.
I start again from there.
Eat the ears first.