Sweet Home Chicago: “Part IV – Family Reunion”

Love Love Love
Love Love Love (Photo credit: Gregory Jordan)

I have never thought of myself as hopeless romantic. I don’t think that I fit that billing.  I may have some romantic tendencies or leanings, but I would not claim that I was the kind of fool that believes in love above all manner of reason. Perhaps I’m a bit too jaded to think that way. Damaged goods, such as myself, are too bruised up to achieve that level of romanticism. To be a hopeless romantic I think its necessary to have a level of naivete that can only come from the comforts of a relatively sheltered life. It requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. To trust in the inherent good nature of your fellow man. And you have to genuinely believe that when you meet that someone that makes your little cynical heart skip a beat, that they will forgo their own sense of self preservation, and dedicate their entire existence to you; just because they see something in you that goes beyond anything you ever saw in yourself. I’ve met many wonderful souls in my life. People that are good natured, hard working, loving, and compassionate folks. The proverbial salt of the earth. Yet in the 35 years that I’ve been flying on Spaceship Earth, I’ve only known one person that have ever looked me straight in the eye and made me feel like they had forgone their own sense of self preservation because they thought I was worth it.

When the future wifey and I started talking on the phone over a decade ago it felt like the entire world had come to a complete stop. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t care about current events. There was no war on terror. There was nothing going on in the realm of pop culture that was remotely more interesting than what the wifey had to say. Hundreds of hours were spent on the phone just yapping away. My brother would sometimes leave for work early in the afternoon and would come back several hours later only to find me in the same position still talking with her. We would call each other every night, right before we would go to sleep, just because we wanted to make sure that the last thing we heard that night would be each others voice. Jess would often fall asleep while on the phone, and I would whisper to her good night. She would then wake up and plead that she was still awake and not to hang up. We spoke 9 hours in a row once. We shared so many great laughs. We shared so many painful memories. It was if we had been ignored by the world all of our lives and now all of a sudden we had found someone in each other that wanted to hear what we had to say. And now we couldn’t shut up.

I couldn’t get enough of Jess. Every conversation made me yearn  for her all the more. And knowing that she was 805 miles away ( I know this because I had Mapquested it) just amplified the feeling all the more. Naturally the more we spoke the more comfortable I felt opening up about my family and its rough past. I remeber sharing with the wifey some of the painful experiences I had gone through with my father. About the drug addiction, the arguments, the ugly confrontations, plus the occasional humiliations. It was not at all out of character to hear Jess sniffeling and blowing her nose after recounting some of my personal horror stories. She never quite knew what to say. That’s never been her forte. But she would always say in the saddest voice that she could muster, with what I often pictured being tears streaming down from her beautiful face, how sorry she was that I had to go through that. I would laugh it off and say that it was no big woop. Just something that happened. That I was a big boy and that it no longer phased me. Off course I was lying.

But I didn’t share just sad stories. I would also tell her about some of my fondest memories about my father and mother and the rest of my siblings. Pleasant memories that ebduced big fat smiles on my face. Memories that I had not bothered to think about for years because I had grown so comfortable focusing on the bad ones. Jess enjoyed my happy tales. Especially the ones that dealt about my misadventures as a kid. Like the time when I was 12 years old, and I punched my dad so hard in the groin, after one of our wrestling matches, that my dad had to get one of his doctor friends to do a house call and check on his badly bruised family jewels. He wasn’t able to go to work let alone walk straight for about a week.

She laughed at my ridiculous stories. I think that was when Jess started to hear something in my voice, something that I either had not realized was there or that I had chosen to ignore. She heard the affection that I still had for my dad. I recall the wifey asking me, “You still love him don’t you?” I guess I did.

Don’t you think it’s time you forgave him?” she once asked. I forgave him a long time ago I told her. I just rather not deal with him, that’s all. “I don’t know Tom. I think enough time has passed for you two to make nice.” I would tell her, “look luv I get why you would say that. And I appreciate what you are trying to do here. But you don’t know my dad. He will find a way to fuck things up. And I honestly rather not have to deal with it. It’s not worth it. Some people can’t be helped. My dad will just find someway to screw me over. I rather not have to deal with another let down”. That was really my reason. It is madness to go through the same song and dance number time and time again and to somehow expect different results.

But Jess would not be so easily swayed. She felt deep down in her heart that if I made peace with my dad that it would all somehow work out. Perhaps she sensed that I secretly wanted to make amends with the old man after 3 years of silence. Or perhaps she just felt that if she managed to get my dad and I back together it would make her feel really good about herself. Whatever her reasons where she made sure to insist that I reconsider my stance.

If anyone had suggested something as hopeless as me and my dad making peace, I would have laughed right in front of their face. I knew the man. I knew his nature. I knew I couldn’t trust him. Not because he was evil man beyond redemption. But because he was sick. And sick people can’t help themselves sometimes. But I ignored my own sense of self preservation. I allowed myself to suspend disbelief. I threw out 23 years of personal experience. And allowed myself to trust in the inherent goodness of my fellow man. All because of her. I wanted to believe what she believed. I wanted to make her happy. And by making her happy I would be making myself happy. And who knew. Maybe this time things would actually work out for the best. Maybe it was time for me and my dad to bury the hatchet. Maybe we could let go of the past and start a new. Yeah, maybe, just maybe this might be good for me.

On a warm sunny day in July of 2002 I saw my dad coming up the block with my sister. He was dropping my sister off after a weekend visit. I went downstairs and met them at the door. My dad was somewhat surprised to see me standing there. I smiled and asked him if he wanted to come upstairs for a bit. He hesitated. I think he was wondering if I was going to ambush him in someway. I smiled some more. I assured him that it was ok. That I wanted to speak with him. My dad nodded and followed my sister and I up the stairs. It had been 3 years since I had last uttered a word to the man. You would think that we would have had a books worth of material to talk about. But oddly enough we were both not quite sure what to say next. After a few minutes worth of awkward small talk I grew the cojones to tell my dad why I had invited him up. I told him I was ready to let go of the past. That I was sorry for the way I had treated him the last time we had been in the same room. That I was ashamed that I got so out of control and that I had pushed him. I also told him that I forgave him for everything that happened. That I knew he wasn’t a bad man. That things sometimes we allow life to get messed up. And that I was willing to let it all go and make a brand new start if he was willing to do the same. My dad smiled. He told me there are things that I will not understand until I am a father, but that he would love me and always be there for me for as long as he lived. We hugged that day. We tried to do our best to let go off all the baggage that we both carried. It wasn’t so easy. There were times when I could hear hints of anger in both our voices when we we talked about specific events. But we were able to keep our cool. Anytime one of us got a little heated we were able to defuse the situation by either changing the subject or taking a nice deep breath.

It felt good talking with my dad again. For a split second I imagined that maybe, just maybe things would be different. I remember thinking how wonderful life was. I had this great girl in my life that was crazy about me. And my dad was back in my life. Everything was falling into place. I was allowing myself to breath again. For the first time in years I was feeling optimistic about the future. And I had the wifey to thank for it all. I called her up that night and told her what I had done. That I had spoken to my dad just like she had suggested. And that surprisingly it all turned out pretty well. I even told her that my dad and I had agreed to go see a movie together. There was a new Tom Hanks. It was called Road to Perdition. It was a gangster flick. It looked cool. He had seen the commercial and wanted to see it too. So we were going to catch it the following weekend. Jess was so happy for me. She couldn’t help herself and kept saying  “I told ou so. I knew it would work out.” I smiled. Yeah maybe it would.

To be Continued: Sweet Home Chicago: Part V – On the Road to Perdition

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