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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

West of Lake Michigan—Part V

Wedding Day. My older brother Dick with his bride Joan.

My sister Karen, who once thanked me for shining the media spotlight on her, the one who had a handsome police escort to and from school every day, now turned against me because Mom and Dad had to leave Chicago and seek privacy in Arizona. For meals, in place of the usual juicy meat, clouds of mashed potatoes, and pea mounds, followed by some kindof a yummy dessert that involved chocolate, we now sat over mystery food drenched in a layer of wheat germ. Our sister-in-law, Joan, was a health nut way before it was fasionable. Added to this horror, the candy basket Mom kept in a cupboard near the fridge was suddenly empty. We had our suspicions no matter many times Joan shrugged her shoulders saying she had no idea what we were talking about.

The first rule breaking took place 'day one' after the initial wheat germ incident. Karen wanted to exact revenge on me and my big mouth. She ordered me to do something forbidden by both Mom and Joan. Karen was five years older than me and towered above my head. What choice did I have? In the basement laundry room, right above the wash machine, there was a small door that opened up to the crawl space under the porch. It was filled with dirt; a really cool hiding place. But we didn’t hide. Karen had me sit in the door opening and said, "Don’t move, I will be right back." In a moment Joan was there. Karen beamed during my spanking.

At night I was sent up the steps to do my own bathing, dressing for bed and praying. All clean and jammied up, I started my run from the hall and then took a leap into bed, hoping to dodge the boogie man's spindly fingers from under my bed. Having safely made it, my heart still raced. I pulled the sheet and blankets up over my head. However, sleep only brought nightmares about witches coming in through the backdoor of the house. They all looked exactly like the Wicked Witch of the West. Of course, it didn’t help Mom made me watch Wizard of Oz right the night she packed to leave.

Finally the month was over, and it was time for Mom and Dad's return. They came home all sun-tanned and smiling, with suitcases filled with presents for us. Just putting my arms around Mom and smelling her sweetness was present enough for me. And again she heard my nighttime prayers, chased away the boogie man from under the bed, and made meals free of wheat germ. Even the basket in the cupboard next to the fridge was once again filled with candy bars. My world was back to being normal. Well, almost, there was still the matter across the street that needed to be cleared up. That one about Monica, my very best friend in all the world. She still wasn’t talking to me. Rightly so because the family thought I made this whole story up about what happened that night when Dad paid a kidnapping ransom.

I cried mournful tears, wanting to hear Monica's voice on the other side of my phone line. I couldn't wait to hide in the nightclub's Catacombs and listen to people scream when Monica and I touched their arms in the darkness. Mom was moved. She said she would set things right with Monica's mom but first she had a confession to make to me. After hearing what she had to say, I wasn’t so sure that the story Dad told Mom the night I overheard them wasn’t the preferable one to the real truth. That one was so terrible that I never would have told anyone. And if The Chicago Tribune or the police found this truth out, there would be real trouble for us all.

PART VI next week. In the meantime please check out my newest release, PASSAGES, now a Kindle book on Amazon (see the link). Or, if you don't have one but don't mind reading the eBook on a computer, follow the other link in the left hand column on this page to purchase it from me. Just be patient if it takes a few hours until I send it. Thank you so much. You are the reason I keep writing. Well, that and because I love to do it.