It’s easy to believe that a floodgate can just open and spill its guts. Years of retaining soaking rains and melting snow gone in a second. Like that, an avalanche of water crashes and crushes everything. But any good engineer can tell you that’s an illusion. It’s a lot more complicated. It takes years of pressure. But there comes a point where the most solid of concrete cannot contain any longer what it has held back.
There is a point of stress, at which time, history crawls down your throat, rips out everything you know and understand, and leaves you empty. Bereft. Gonzo. A mind-numbing-walking corpse. Your worldview, shattered, bleeds alongside the road.
Dad’s death was such a point. But it wasn’t the beginning for me nor was it his.
Understanding requires dissection. How the hell did I end up with a worldview, a sense of keen knowing, that could so easily be uprooted? Even as you dissect that single moment, you end up unraveling so many others until an avalanche of memories and misunderstood meanings cascade through the process.
I imagine a moment for my Dad that helped turn him into the enigma he was becoming for me. The very memory of him was shape-shifting.
Born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, he was moved to Phoenix, Arizona when he was six. My Grandfather had asthma and the hot and dry air was better for him. My Dad’s childhood there was idyllic. Filled with family, pets, and friends, life flowed. Until December 7, 1941, when hairline fractures appeared.
The problem with hairline fractures is you don’t know they’re there until the whole thing gives way. Pearl Harbor didn’t just happen to my family. It happened to the country. It happened to the world. Hindsight is 50/50, but no one could see how events had been set into motion long before that fateful day. From there, nothing would be the same. It became a day that demarcated the before and the after. The day that began the displacement of thousands of American families.
On December 8th, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the address that would set so many things in motion, including the trajectory of my family: Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
But that’s the thing about epic events — there are no clues until you hunt for the reasons. And then the clues multiply and you wonder why the hell you never saw them in the first place.