My mom met the man who contributed fifty percent of my genetic material some time in 1974. She was a single mom of 2, supporting herself and my older siblings working as a waitress at a bar that has always struck me as the Southern California desert small town equivalent of Merlotte’s on the HBO vampire series True Blood. My father was a frequent patron, but as it was The Place To Be in town, hanging out at a bar every night didn’t seem to reflect on his suitability as a source of romance. He presented himself as a single father raising his daughter alone and looking for a woman who would be a good mother figure for her. They started dating and it wasn’t long before my mom was pregnant. They married in December of 1974. My mother soon discovered that he wasn’t the man she thought/hoped he was. He wouldn’t hold a job (my birth certificate, laughably, lists him as a seasonal worker), spent his days and nights drunk, and his daughter spent most of her time living with her grandmother. When my mother was 7 months pregnant, the twins she was carrying were stillborn. When my mother talks about this period of her life, she talks about what a great source of support my then 9 year old older brother was. While she was bed bound in physical pain and immeasurable grief, he cared for my sister and my mother by cooking and cleaning. My mom doesn’t mention my father, her husband, at all. I suspect he wasn’t around much or wasn’t pleasant to be around and certainly didn’t do much to help her through what must have been crushing heartache. Or maybe it was a pure hell that she just can’t talk about. In any case, it wasn’t much later that she found herself pregnant again – this time with me. Getting pregnant again was enough to make her get herself together, take her kids, and leave.
Although he didn’t contribute financially, my father did see me for the first couple of years of my life. I have no pictures of us together, but I do have a very clear memory of seeing his reflection in the side mirror of a car in a parking lot while perched on my mother’s hip. I’ve always assumed this was the last time I saw him, maybe as my mom was packing the U-haul that she used to move us to San Diego in 1978.
It wasn’t long after the move that my mom got the disturbing phone call from my grandmother – my father, never terribly stable, had gone completely off the deep end. He snapped. He walked into a bar, saw his girlfriend chatting with another man, and started shooting. Two people died that day. I’ve always avoided hearing the details, so I don’t know if there were other injuries, but it’s likely. He didn’t have an automatic weapon, so he couldn’t do the kind of damage that Jared Loughner did. My mom, still legally married to him, had to talk to police officers and lawyers galore. I’m sure she was both horrified with what he had done, and boundlessly thankful that she left when she did.
My mom always answered my questions about my father as honestly as she could. I don’t remember not knowing the kind of man my father was. He was convicted of two counts of 2nd degree murder. Until I was about 9 years old, I received frequent cards from him. My first name was always misspelled, and they were always signed “Daddy Loves U” with X’s and O’s added for emphasis. He tried to contact me again when I was 16 via a family member, but I refused contact. I have no idea if he is still serving time or if he has been released. I have no desire to meet with him or discuss things with him or to hear that “Daddy loves” me. I have two pictures of him that he sent me during the time he was writing to me. I’ve saved them, though I rarely look at them. Looking at him in those pictures is like coming face to face with my own evil. It’s hard to see the ways I resemble him.
Sometimes when rage bubbles up in me over something small, I wonder if I have inherited that switch – the one that suddenly flips and turns an otherwise normal human being into a monster. When someone cuts me off and I feel a momentary urge to ram my van into the back end of their car, I wonder if the anger I’m feeling is normal. I’m infinitely grateful to my parent friends who are open with me about the bouts of rage they suppress daily when their kids infuriate them – I might otherwise wonder if there’s something wrong with me on those days that every parent has (when the kids are fighting/disobeying/deconstructing the house faster than you can put it back together/the chaos refuses to be tamed/etc), when I have to do something like hide in the bathroom and silently (or not so silently) scream to avoid hurting someone or seriously consider (for a few minutes anyway) getting in my van and driving away as fast as I can and as far as my tank of gas will take me.
Every time someone goes on a shooting spree, it’s like they turned the knife that’s been sticking out of my chest since I was two years old. I remember watching in horror in 1999 as students and faculty were evacuated from Columbine High School in Colorado following the shooting spree of two seniors. As details emerged about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters, the knife kept on turning. These boys were only 5 years younger than me – I could see myself in their faces. I had to wonder – did I have that capacity? If high school had been just a little bit worse for me, could I have been them? More than anything, though – I wanted to go hug their parents. I’d send Mr. and Mrs. Loughner flowers, if I thought it would do any good. Most people can’t even imagine being them – but I can. I understand their grief, too.
So Jared Loughner’s rampage last Saturday has hurt me in ways that it hurt very few other people. While the mother in me is sobbing for Christina Green, a little girl only months younger than my oldest child, and the American in me is pulling hard for Rep. Giffords to have a miraculous recovery and horrified that a public servant like Judge Roll could be taken out at the grocery store, and the human in me is grieving for the rest of the dead and cheering on those who are still recovering from their injuries – the selfish part of me wishes that I just didn’t have to be reminded of the horrors in my own history that have both so much and so little to do with who I am. I treasure the long period of time between stories like these, not only because it means that fewer innocent people are dying in the world, but also because it grants me a precious period in which to forget, a time during which the nightmares can fade, and a space in which I can live without feeling frozen with anxiety about all the things in the world over which I have no control.