“It’s Complicated”

Warning: this is not about tech or D&D comedy. It’s a bit personal, and some of you may not want that here. I understand that more than you think, but it is my site, so yeah.

I have been a reader of Goldie Taylor’s work for some years now, but it wasn’t until I started following her on twitter (@goldietaylor) that I gained a true appreciation for her depth as a writer, her ability to talk about the events of her life, in particular her father, and the mystery surrounding his death, one that may never be cleared up.

The writing she’s done about her family has resonated in me in a big way, but it wasn’t until recently that it came together why: in a very real sense, I never knew my parents. I mean, they were there, my dad until 1991 when the throat cancer he’d worked so hard to get took him, and 1999 when my mom’s lungs did the same for her. I wasn’t there when either of them died. I was in the Air Force in 1991, assigned to Grand Forks, and when my mom died, I was living in Boston, she in St. Petersburg, Fl.

My mom had died some time before I knew about it. For many, that seems strange, but my mom and I would regularly go weeks, sometimes months without talking. We were…contentious…at times. All three of us. We spent a lot of time talking at, or over each other, but rarely with each other. It wasn’t until I’d tried to call her and getting no answer, called the local police to check on her that I found out I was no longer just half an orphan. The way the cop said “Mr. Welch?” told me everything he was about to say.

I was 24 when my father died, and 32 when my mother died. My father died long before my son and my somewhat disastrous first marriage happened, my mom was able to spend sometime with Alex when he was younger (two or so.) My dad was fond of telling stories about himself as a child, and as a young man, most of them…well, the movie “Big Fish” reminded me a lot of him. His stories have a kernel of truth in them, but taking any of them as gospel, probably not a great idea.

My mother said almost nothing about herself. Before she died, I knew she’d been raised in dire times (they were both born at the beginning of The Great Depression), that she had walked away from the Catholic Church after being disgusted by the opulence of a cathedral in Mexico City in 1966 (while she was pregnant with me) while so many of said cathedral’s parishioners were living in the street and starving. “They wouldn’t give them food, but still demanded tithes.” she said, with more disgust in her tone than I’ve heard before or since.

To my knowledge, she never set foot in a Catholic church for services ever again. My mother was unbending about some things.

All I knew about them as a couple was they met in the Boule Miche bar in Chicago, my dad thought she was quite attractive, they dated, they got married and well, then we were a family. They were married in a civil service in Indiana, ostensibly to avoid payback for the many pranks my dad had pulled on his siblings.

It was only later, after she died, that I found out the truth underneath a lot of things. They were married in November of 1966, I was born in March of 1967. Everyone can do that math.

Sitting on the floor of her apartment, reading that wedding license, so many things clicked. Like really why they’d gotten married in Indiana. My dad’s family was very Irish-American and very Catholic. There had always been this tension between my mother and his family. Her antipathy was barely-disguised, and after about 3-4 beers, loudly undisguised. It took me 32 years to find out why.

It took me another few years to forgive them. Which is funny, given my parents and I weren’t that close the last 10-15 years we were on the planet together, but that was us. Other people being unkind to them was not permissible. Weird, isn’t it, how that works.

What also clicked were the reasons behind the nightly, alcohol-fueled screaming matches they had. Well, alcohol-lubricated. They were fueled by anger and resentment. My mom had carved out a rather nice niche for herself in Chicago, and my surprise introduction cratered that niche, rather thoroughly. She never learned how to deal with her resentment at that, and so I was called a remarkable variety of unkind things growing up. Usually at night, with beer being the lubricant that opened the doors to where she mostly kept those feelings locked away.

I’m not angry about it anymore. Getting older does that, it gives you perspective, and with any luck, some empathy.

But when I was younger, it meant that there was this distance between us that never went away, never got better. Had they lived longer, I don’t know if it would have gotten better. I’d like to think it would have, but hard to say.

My mom had radiation poisoning from a job she had with the Air Force in Japan in the late 1940s. Her office was in Hiroshima. I found this out from a cousin long after she died. She’d come home sick, her hair falling out, weakened…then some months later, she was better and she never talked about it to my knowledge. I know she never talked about it with me. All I knew of that time was that she’d been in Japan and there are some pictures of her at parties. She is almost never smiling. There’s a wariness about her, but I don’t know why.

There are things about her life that tell me she may have not been completely straight. I can’t imagine, if that was true, what that was like for a woman in the U.S. in the 30s-60s. But it would explain much. I never knew what her life as a woman, as a person was like, and I doubt I ever will. My mother guarded her privacy more zealously than anyone I have ever known, and even if I could find out, it would almost feel like a betrayal to actively do so. Whatever reasons she had for closing off her past as tightly as she did were hers and I do respect her memory enough to allow them to remain as she preferred.

If abortion had been legal in the late 1960s, I am quite sure I’d not be here. If that would have allowed my mother to live a life with joy instead of resentment as its core, I would almost volunteer to fix that. Every unwanted kid knows that fact. No one has ever hidden that from their children.

note: This does not mean I don’t think that she loved me. I’m sure she did, I know that to be true. But love does not eradicate everything negative about a relationship.

My father was something of an open book, in that he talked a lot. What I learned, decades after his death, was that what he talked about was shallow. It wasn’t until his youngest sister sent me a box of his things that I learned things like how he’d not hit puberty until after high school. I took after him that way, fortunately my son did not. That is a shitty way to go through high school. I learned that he and his father had not gotten along well, and at least up until him being drafted into the Army for Korea, he’d not known why, but desperately wanted to fix that.

I don’t know if he really ever did, but I would like to think so.

He had a host of anger issues that he was never able to manage well. After he was mangled by a car in 1978, he spent the next 13 years kind of waiting for death. He just gave up in many ways, and the beer didn’t help. Sometimes, often times, I think the cruelest thing ever done to him by the universe was allowing him to survive that accident.

I’m regularly surprised that I’m not ardently anti-alcohol, given its centrality in so many of the worst experiences of my childhood, but ultimately, the beer just sits there. It’s the human that causes the problems.

People, not often, but sometimes ask me if I miss my parents. I say “yes” because that is what is expected. In truth, I don’t know. I miss parts of them. They were both, regularly fiercely intelligent. They were obsessive readers, and played Scrabble the way MMA fighters go after belts. They were amazing writers, and my father a just as talented photographer. I learned a lot from their good qualities, as well as their bad.

But I can’t cafeteria them. I can’t just remember parts of the people they were. For better or worse, I’m stuck with all the memories. I am specific about what I will share, but i’m stuck with the range of memories they left me with. So when someone asks me if I miss them…I don’t know. There are parts I absolutely miss, and parts I absolutely do not. Twee tropes like “don’t dwell on the bad” don’t help. They were complicated people, completely unprepared for the ADD-poster child they brought into the world. I daresay most people were unprepared for me.

They did the best they were able to do with the paucity of tools they had available. I managed to not die at a young age, and given I grew up in Miami in the 1970s/1980s, that is kind of an accomplishment.

So yeah. There’s no real point here. There may never be. Other than maybe I feel a certain sympathy/empathy with Goldie Taylor’s lack of knowledge about her father and his death.