Mapping Grief

Dad’s words are elusive. I have pages and pages of his later life, but those that reveal the brief period between leaving Marysville and graduating high school are sparse. They reveal little of what he endured or how he felt. And yet, the meager two paragraphs say far more than had he written volumes.

But I cannot even use those two paragraphs as a map of events because they have disappeared. Every time I place the sheet of paper somewhere to be remembered, it vanishes until finally, it has dematerialized altogether. It is as if a ghost has taken upon itself the guardianship of those words and of that moment.

It is an elusive moment.

And so I must remember those words. Even though the moment was never given space within our family. Even my beloved Aunt Mayme could speak of her twelve year old daughter’s death from lockjaw more easily than she could speak of those events after Marysville — her beloved sister unmoored by my unspeakable Grandfather. His name was absolutely forbidden. Aunt Mayme would cry for her daughter. Her daughter’s passing was bitter and heartbreaking, but a very dark cloud would crawl across Aunt Mayme’s face and a storm would brew within her gentle eyes if the subject of that time after Marysville arose.

And so I will whisper them.

When they returned to Arizona to say good-bye, Dad had to negotiate those things he would take with him. He had to leave his books, toys, and bike behind. Worse, he had to say good-bye to his Aunt Ida and Uncle Frank, his cousins, Shirley and Capitola, his childhood friends, and his horse and his dog. Gone was his home. Gone was the desert. Gone was his sense of place and belonging.

His own father had taken it all from him.

Grandma took a job in Lompoc as part of the war effort and Dad attended school there, but it had already been decided that his brother, Keith, would attend high school in Santa Barbara.

Dad’s closest friend, confidante, and partner-in-crime was taken from him. The devastation was overwhelming.

At thirteen, he was bereft of everyone and everything that mattered in his world. Except his Mom and she was swamped in grief.

I remember once seeing Dad’s report card from this period. Endowed with the measured IQ of a genius, D’s and F’s filled the boxes of his classes. I was too young to understand how so much grief could mar someone’s ability to cope. For me, it was a cause for smugness. And absent from that card was the turmoil in his social life.

The fights.

The fists.

The anger.

There was no one in his life to counter the chaos of emotions. His Mom tried, but she was drowning.

Drowning more than anyone could have realized.

She was dying.

 

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