My parents were divorced when I was eight. That was in 1979 when bell bottoms were big but your perm was bigger.
My mom was now ‘trying on’ her life as a single mother of five, now that she was finally free of the marriage she tried to run from for so many years…or was she? My dad still came around on the weekends when he felt ‘up-to-it’. My dad suffered from bi-polar—Something an eight-year-old could never understand. I just thought he was angry a lot and sometimes fun when he got enough sleep—once he came home with a brand new car!
Before the divorce, once time I woke up and thought I had dreamt about an ambulance coming to our house…
I walked slowly out of my room rubbing the sleep out of my eyes in my stripy nightgown I had outgrown, but still insisted on wearing. I noticed something weird on the living room floor (I always noticed something new or out of place—my son does this too). I picked up the white large bullet looking plastic things (two of them) discarded on the living room floor, along with some waxy circles, looked like the discarded parts of a band-aid.“What is this mom?”, in my rough morning voice.
“What is this mom?”, in my rough morning voice.
“Oh, nothing,” grabbing them from my hands.
“I had a dream about an ambulance last night.” I said while having my morning stretch “wait was that a dream mom?”
“No, your dad needed some help last night.”
Very concerned now, “what happened?”
A long pause…
“Your dad had a stroke.”
At five years old, I had no idea what a stroke was but I felt or knew that he was in safe hands.
This exact scene happened a few more times. After the first time, I just asked, “Did dad have another stroke?” “Yes.” She always answered yes, knowing the truth was too hard to explain.
For years, I always ticked strokes ran in my family on the medical papers…FOR YEARS! Until one day, years later — I’m a mother now myself — we talked about it, in the living room. I found out the so-called strokes were really mental breakdowns. Similar breakdowns some of my siblings now struggle with.
Since the divorce, my dad’s anger was not hanging around the house anymore except on the weekends. He often came over trying to ‘win’ back the woman of his dreams. He loved her. He always loved her even when he was yelling at her and controlling her. He couldn’t seem to help it. We always got excited when dad came over because it was always just us boring kids and tired mom. He brought this sense of excitement until we saw him settle in on the couch next to her.
He wasn’t there to see us, so we went back downstairs and continued to watch TV. We found happiness in re-runs. I think we watched every episode of The Brady Bunch, Happy days and Lavern & Shirley. Then those shows turned into Growing Pains, Who’s the Boss and Family Ties. We even watched Three’s company, WKRP in Cincinnati and The Jefferson’s when we were desperate and now as an adult catching a re-run, they were not kid appropriate at all. But we watched them. We watched everything.
My mom was a working mom now, going out and supporting all five of us on her own. The older kids looking after the younger kids. I ate a lot of bread. Bread was easy. It didn’t need to be cooked (as I was too little to cook anything). I used to roll bread up into a ball and pretend it was an apple, I would roll bread out flat with my little cookie cutting set and cut cookies out of it. I would spread peanut butter on it or just eat it plain, just a piece of bread. One time I even pretended it was the sacrament, but I got into big trouble for that when I passed it around to my family.
We caught the bus to and from school. The fumes gave me a headache while listening to the driver shift into the different gears. On the way to school, the driver had the radio up so loud there was no room for kid conversations. We just sat there and listened to ROCK 103, but on the way home if the radio was on you couldn’t hear it. It was just loud kids shouting, laughing and screaming at each other. Come to think of it I’m not sure if it was just the fumes giving me the headaches.
My little brother went to daycare. It was hard for my mom. She dropped him off crying, telling us that he would be ok once he got in, then dropping us off at the bus stop. I worried about him all day at school because I knew that he cried all day, hiding himself in a corner of the playground so the other kids didn’t see him. That’s what my little four-year-old brother told me. My heart broke for him. But soon he was on the bus with us smelling the fumes.