one of the most awful things in the world has to be growing up knowing your father doesn't love you.
and even worse, doesn't like you.
this is what i knew.
the twitch of the jaw muscles when he looks at you, the reluctance to make eye contact or touch you, the desperate edge to his voice, the grating grit of his teeth when he's annoyed at you...all signs of what a child understands to be dislike, or even hatred.
i knew my dad didn't like me. i was also pretty sure he hated me.
my father was ex-military, and probably undiagnosed bi-polar as well. my early years were spent alternating between fear and fury.
fear of his rages...
fury as i became old enough to stand up to him.
not so much.
i was a sensitive, dreamy kid. what we would call nowadays an "emo"...totally lived by feelings. my little antennae absorbed every sound, every color, every emotion that was in my world.
early on i learned to be careful, to control my outbursts, to cry quietly, to defend and protect those who hurt worse than me. my mother, my younger siblings, all looked to me- or so i thought- for help and leadership in the war against the father who often raged over nothing and sometimes laughed hysterically at things that weren't funny.
it was normal. i thought everyone's life was like this.
after i started school, it got worse- my 'emo' personality took refuge in fantasy. i once actually told my teacher that my dad had been killed by a bear, working in the north. to this day i'm not sure why i told that tale, but looking back i think i must have been very worried about him- he was indeed working in the north- and yet in a way wished that he would disappear. i don't know.
flashbacks of those terrible early years of school haunt me to this day...the memories are faded in some areas but others are so clear i can smell them.
the scent of chalk on the blackboard.
the cold smell of rain on the highway.
the stale odor of fear on the classmate "helena" who was a "DP"- a displaced person; she hardly spoke any English and we- yes, i joined in- tormented her daily on the playground.
childhood is not for wimps.
mine was tough.
in fact, it didn't exist.
i was born old. i was born careful. i was born silent, thinking, cautious. even my baby picture shows me making the 'shhhh' sign- finger on lips. tread softly, softly.