Coffee Break

My childhood memories that I show you are usually horrific ones of an abused and scared little girl.  I remembered this contradictory morning and wanted to share it with you.  Not every hour and every minute was bad and perhaps that type of childhood is even more challenging – never knowing where on the spectrum of love and hate a moment is going to land.

It’s Saturday morning, not too early because even as a little kid, I was never a super-early riser.  Perhaps it’s 8 or 9 o’clock.  I’m watching Saturday morning cartoons from my spot  on the floor at the end of the coffee table.  In front of me is a half-finished Libby  juice glass of “coffee” made especially for me by dad – three heaping tablespoons of sugar, probably filling 1/3 of the glass, 1/3 whole milk and the final third of coffee.  Tasting more like dessert than bitter coffee, it’s delicious. Dad is sitting behind me at the dining table, reading the paper with his mug of black coffee in his hand.  The rest of the family is still asleep.  All is well.

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Still the child

Oh shit, dad is mad.

It dawned on me, like the bright morning sun peeking over the horizon. We were talking about a specific feeling I get – the feeling that comes over me when I screw up, when I receive negative feedback, when I’m in a car accident, the day  after my ex left, when I get pulled over by a cop and even when I was reprimanded by the customs official as I crossed into Canada on vacation.

The feeling itself is difficult to explain – it’s a vibration throughout my whole body, as if every cell is alive, scurrying beetles under my hot skin.  I can’t necessarily name it – it’s one part fear, one part shame, and other things that I can’t put my finger on.  I’ve felt this feeling many times before,  when I was a child, looking up to see my dad’s dark shadow descending over me, his eyes slits of hate and a grimace on his lips.  In that instant before he reaches me, I get that feeling – and the thought, “Oh shit, dad is mad.”

I try to avoid that feeling at all costs.  Don’t make dad mad. Don’t make dad mad. Don’t make dad mad.  “Are you a ‘pleaser?’” my ex once asked me.  “No, of course not” I vehemently answered, but now I’m not so sure.  I will do anything not to make dad mad – and “dad” is everywhere.  My male boss is dad, my male customer is dad, my boyfriend is dad, my male friends are dad, and dad is the policeman and the customs official. Dad is the world’s watchful eye, criticizing, judging, waiting gleefully for me to screw up.

Don’t make dad mad.  It dawns on me that I’ve been avoiding conflict and smoothing over relationship issues; I’ve lived my life as the most demanding and exacting perfectionist and shied away from possible failure.  I’m so afraid of getting called out – all because I’m afraid to make dad mad.  If I didn’t try to avoid that feeling, if I didn’t care if dad got ferociously mad, what would I have said and done differently?  How would I approach my daily interactions?  What wouldn’t I allow people to do to me?

And to make matters worse, my mother often couldn’t be bothered to soothe and comfort me.  I was a little child, my dad was a tyrant and I had nowhere safe to go.  I’ve brought this childhood into my adult life – when did it embed in my brain? I’m terrified of the wrath of others and crumble when I receive it, even in its most gentle state.  I’m searching, searching, searching for the nurturing bosom I never had. I want someone who will never get mad and who will protect me from the harshness around me, which is really impossible.

Realizing all of this makes me feel healthier, even if I haven’t fixed it yet.  Sometimes I feel guilt when I write the ugly truth (as I see it) about my father.  He’s been dead 8 years and cannot defend himself.  There was a dad of my childhood and a dad of my adult years – and they are two different fathers.  The father of my adult years was kind and loving.  Whenever I saw him, he would kiss me and tell me he loved me – he never raised his voice.  Maybe the sight of his mortality softened him or, perhaps, once I moved out, our physical distance alleviated the friction.  My sister has a theory that makes sense to me – perhaps I will tell it someday.  Yes, he thankfully changed but, by then, the damage had already been done.

Childhood Memories

from pul.se

He glared at me filled with bitter rage, His 6’1” hulk towered over my child’s frame.  “Goddammit, you’re going to ride that bike and I don’t want to see you again for at least an hour.”

We were visiting my parent’s friends, Bob and Sarah, in Cedar City.  My brothers and sisters were old enough to stay home and bow out of this trip.  I was only 10 or 11 and had to go with them.  I was alone with my parents.

Bob, an older, retired man, realized I was most likely bored moping around their house while the adults sat around the kitchen table, catching up.  He offered me use of an old bike.  Scared of being a bother, I declined the first two times he brought it up.  By day five, however, I was going stir crazy and asked if he minded my using it.

I shrunk in horror when I realized the bike was located in the far recessed corner of the shed. “No, no,” I wanted to shout, “Nevermind, please, its okay.” Bob moved the mower out of the shed, rearranged the aluminum lawn chairs and wrestled the bike to the grass with a clatter.  My father looked on.

As soon as he set the bike down, I knew I was over my head.  It was a dusty, black men’s ten-speed and the top of the frame landed somewhere between my navel and my chest.  This bike was much too large for me.  I bravely took it over to the porch steps, swung a tentative leg over the center bar and took off – my feet didn’t touch the ground.  I rode it down the sidewalk without a hitch, but when I stopped to turn around, I instinctively jumped down, smacking my pubic bone hard on the center cross bar.

I dismounted the bike and limped my way back to the house.  “I think it’s too big for me,” I said as I brought the bike back to the porch.  My father would have none of it.  The malevolence that could flash from his eyes towards his own child always overwhelmed and shrunk me. I had inconvenienced Bob by asking to use the bike and I was expected to ride it now – to hell with safety or injury.  My father looked at me as if he wanted to squash me like a gnat if he could.

Upon waking this morning, I remembered this incident from my childhood.  I remember riding the bike back and forth in front of the clapboard houses, as I was commanded, dreading the end to the sidewalk where I must stop.  I tried using the fence to assist my dismount.  Almost every time, I bruised myself on the crossbar. I road the bike for an hour, came home, and didn’t ask Bob for anything again.

Crepes

In school the last two days, we made crepes – along with six or seven other French dishes. Crepes take me back to my childhood. My father didn’t cook very often at home, but he was an expert at weekend breakfasts. When my older sister eulogized him at his funeral, she didn’t talk much about what a great man he was (in truth, he was often difficult), but she did expound the merits of his breakfasts – fresh apple fritters, deep-fat-fried French toast, and crepes.

He had a special pan reserved for this one task of crepe making and was forever tinkering with the recipe – in quest of the perfect batter and the perfect technique. These light pillows of heaven usually encased fresh macerated strawberries or my mom’s homemade raspberry preserves. He topped each envelope of goodness with powdered sugar, whipped cream, or both.

I spent many a weekend morning watching cartoons with my “coffee” (half milk, half coffee and 3 heaping spoonfuls of sugar) and munching on dad’s famous crepes. I’m proud that I can now carry on the tradition.

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