Today is a significant day in my family’s history: an important birthday and an anniversary. I am celebrating by putting pieces of our lives in clear plastic boxes.
There are papers, photographs, school events, children’s plays and concerts, ticket stubs. Children’s drawings of hearts and animals and misshapen people, and always the sun is in the sky bright and yellow, and there are birds flying in the sky which is always blue. I am gently sorting the works of six different children into six different clear plastic boxes so I’ll have something to leave my children: the pieces of their life a father has carefully saved and protected for them so when they look back – and they will one day – they will have some tangible happy memories.
There are no pictures of mom and dad in the boxes yet. For the messy, violent life my family has endured the last five years, it is amazing how tidy it looks when evidence of a family’s life is stacked paper by paper in clear plastic boxes, with labels and names on each clear box. No hint of turmoil between mother and father, no hint of the happy marriage gone bad, no hint of the hideous changes that poisoned and killed the love between father and mother. No additional boxes for accomplices to the crime, the confused friends and bystanders, the disinterested family court personnel for whom we were just another dreary statistic, a group of numbers and ages and dollar amounts to run through the sausage factory where at the end the children, houses, and money go to the mother, and the father gets sausage scraps. By the time the sausage factory started grinding no one was even pretending things were going to be fair. The lies were flowing too fast to be turned off until the sausage was tubed and the massacre was over.
Nothing from that last paragraph is in the clear plastic boxes that resemble little coffins for lives that used to be. I am doing an autopsy and a post-mortem to a common family tragedy. It is too late to bring anything back to life. Life goes on but a life has died as well. I dreamt of my children on the shore of Lake Superior: a favorite place for us to be, clambering on the rocks, throwing stones defiantly into the dark waves. Except now the children have forgotten to play on the rocks. They stand and sit without moving; they have forgotten how to play, they have forgotten who they used to be: looking around on the rocks for a time when Mom and Dad loved them and loved each other too.
Dad isn’t looking around anymore. Some things can never be undone: they can only be suffered and endured. If you pray you beg God to either kill you or make you stronger, and if you are heard it seems you are made a bit stronger: strong enough to live but never strong enough not to cry. The tears come and go and come for years. Dad doesn’t share his tears with his kids because he doesn’t want to scare them, he doesn’t want them to feel that they have to take care of Dad when Dad is supposed to be taking care of them.
So dad weeps by himself at odd times, like on special family days like today: his ex-wife’s birthday and the day Dad was received into the Catholic Church. It had always been a happy special day for Mom and Dad. Now both events feel foreign to him. His wife left with the children and the Church – well the Church just slipped away amidst the pain, misery, and confusion. Dad tried to hang onto the Church, he battled to stay a practicing Catholic, but it was just too hard and it wasn’t making sense anymore like it used to. During the painful year plus of divorce proceedings Dad had faith to spare, even though his life was a horror. Now that the horror is over, the divorce is over, and he is actually able to see his beloved children regularly, he has conceded the obvious: the faith for him is just another memory, like the memory of a happy marriage and happy, unscarred children.
Dad’s religious faith was unable to protect his children or his family. No amount of rosaries and novenas and masses attended and fervent prayer and sincere faith and an alliance of priests made any difference in the end. Mom did not want to be married to Dad anymore, and when she took the children into hiding and wouldn’t let Dad see or talk to them for weeks and weeks she eventually forced Dad to do the unthinkable – file for divorce. It was the only way Dad could see his children and make sure they were okay. And when he finally saw them, of course they weren’t okay. They would never be okay again. They had lost that precious innocence he had so loved in them: an innocence Dad could actually smell on some of them.
Dear sweet souls raised in a consoling, gentle faith, and one day it was ripped away from us all. I wondered how things can go on like they are and I wonder where God was, where God is, why He didn’t protect our young innocents from the trauma their mother inflicted upon them. A mother who as a girl lost her father suddenly through death. Now a grownup, she visited the same trauma on her five daughters – one day their daddy was gone as if he had never lived.
Outraged when Dad filed for divorce, Mom slandered him publicly with the worst sort of lies. Mom really didn’t like Dad anymore, and she won big by telling whoppers. No one seemed to listen to what Dad had to say. Now he does the best he can by his children, and tries to prepare for their future by saving pieces of their lives that in happier times will bring smiles. That is one of the few hopes Dad allows himself these days. When a father cries alone and no one hears, does he really cry?
Yes, he does.