Friday, October 02, 2009

West of Lake Michigan—Part VI

The hands of the clock keep right on moving across the face of time. Honesty has at last arrived to our house on Wellington Ave.—West of Lake Michigan. The whole concept of truthfulness was a kicker since every word that ever fell from my dad’s lips I considered golden. The thought of a lie was unfathomable. Dads don’t lie. Moms don’t lie either, and yet, I heard her lie when she talked to Monica’s mom, saying I made the story up about Dad paying a ransom. But I heard him say it. I didn’t lie. Why did she? This was most confusing in my eight-year-old brain.

And now for the big reveal. The kidnapping, the ransom, the escape to Arizona to get away from The Chicago Tribune headlines and the police—least they learn the real truth resulting in fines and a family embarrassment that the entire city of Chicago would be privy. Mom sat me down. “Dad has a drinking a problem,” she said.

Okay, I knew this already. Just last summer I had to get behind him and push him up a hill he couldn’t navigate by himself on his unsteady, drunken feet. Most of the time when he drank he would disappear from us for weeks. It was a part of life. My life. I thought all Dads’ did this. In between the drunk spree and coming home, he’d enter into a detox program. It’s just how our family worked.

During those times, Mom distracted us by signing us up for ballet lessons, horseback riding lessons, and visiting museums and The Art Institute. Then when Dad was BETTER and back home, life was on an even keel for a bit, until the next time, which meant another flurry of increased activity for us kids. And long nights for Mom as she gazed out the window, finger pressed down on the Venetian shades, checking the street for Dad. Wondering if this was the night he’d come home.
But that was just a part of the bigger, ugly truth. Dad also had womanizing problems. That was news to me. I didn’t understand womanizing but I did know what it meant when Mom said, “Dad has several girlfriends. He was on a date, in a bar, the night he got hurt.”

Whoa! Reel that thought in and take a good look at the horror dangling at the end of my imaginary fishing pole. He can’t date, he is married, right? I felt shame. I felt dirty. I wanted to go knock on those dating women’s doors to tell them he was my daddy and to back off.
“Why didn’t Dad drink at The Ivanhoe?” Was there no end to his cheating and betrayal? The only restaurant I had ever been to up to that time had been at The Ivanhoe—except for the time we had lunch near the giant Christmas tree at Marshal Fields. Not only was Dad unfaithful to Mom, Karen, my brother and me, but he was also unfaithful to his establishment.

Mom repeated; Dad was on a date with his girlfriend, they got drunk and into a brawl. The result was a bashed in head and multiple broken ribs. He was robbed of two thousand dollars that he had in his wallet for our family vacation, along with a diamond pinkie finger ring. On his way home in a cab, alone, he came up with a super duper lie to explain where the money went as well as why he was so badly injured.
At two a.m. one morning, he told this lie to his wife, never suspecting his eight-year-old daughter sat in the dark at the top of the stairs listening to the whole thing. That same daughter spread the news far and wide from show-and-tell, to the daughter of a police captain. From that moment it took on a life of its own.
Rather than to fess up to the police and the Tribune and suffer public humiliation, it was easier for my parents to leave Chicago, hoping during the month away, the attention would blow over. It had but it left its toll on me and the most precious friendship I had. Mom saw me. My tears. She had a broken-hearted daughter on her hands, who had lost her best friend in all the world. Mom called Monica’s mom and they made a lunch date where she finally told the truth. Once that situation was cleared up, Monica and I went returned to the Catacomb craziness and our Barbie doll playing. My world slowly healed.

Only there was a new problem, I looked at Dad differently. My hero, along with my princesshood, was gone.

To this day, fifty years later, my show-and-tell is still logged as an unsolved Chicago crime. See? I knew I had the best story in the third grade classroom.

*** be sure to come back next week for another slice of life.


Christine said...

That's a huge wake up call for your little kid self. Unfortunately, it's not a rare one--especially for that generation. What is rare is the snowball effect of your dad's actions and your subsequent show and tell. This one started an avalanche!

Faith said...

Very honest and makes me realize that if not a long way baby, we women have made some progress in taking control of our own lives. But also it took strength and wisdom to hold families together back then when appearances were so important.