Yeah. When sequestered to a silent room and the company of a wall clock is the only companion, my mind rolls back the clock to a different time. Might even say an era. For every beginning, there is an end and for my life, the end of an era began with my grandparents. This story I unfold is as much as mine as it is theirs. I would not have been here if not for them They might have had their faults, too, but as with all people we have to dig deeper and see what good is in them. I loved them both, even now after their passing I love and miss them.
If you close your eyes, if you sit very still and listen to the silence you might hear the sounds of the seventies. For me, that meant there was no internet - let alone a personal computer. There was no cell phone (the existing phones were rotary); although almost every American had a t.v. by the seventies, we all still had the misfortune of tolerating the "rabbit ears," and cable was a still a distant dream. No matter where I went, no matter what I did there was still the lonely sound of silence in the night because even before I encountered him, I was beginning to live the life of an insomniac. A night owl. As a kid, the only thing I could really do was wander the house as quietly as kid could do. Some nights, by the very hand of my grandfather, I'd get a spanking for making too much noise. The worst was the leather belt.
When I sit alone now, I can only imagine the life they lived - my grandparents on both sides of my parents. From what I learned, both practically led the same lifestyle and this is what I remember, what I learned from family. Life was hard. Jobs were scarce, even for Natives like us, jobs were just hard to come by in the early days of our fair state (we weren't admitted to the Union until the early fifties). For my grandfathers - the breadwinners - that meant a lot of seasonal work in the canneries, either in town or out of the city. For the remainder of the year everyone foraged for food: hunting, gathering and the like. For my mother, she had twelve other siblings in a time when it was hard to raise that many children.
My father fared a little better: his family only six children. I've yet to meet all of them. Still haven't. From what little I learned, their lifestyle wasn't as hard, but still somewhat difficult. They weren't affluent, but comfortable. They came from a smaller town than mine. For both families, and this is what really confuses me, the weekends were a time to unwind the only way they knew how: party and party hard. Both families, like most Native families were drinkers.
By the time I came around, my grandparents were already old. The wisdom I could have enjoyed, the spirit of being a part of a people that lived off the land had passed into the nights they wanted only for themselves. I learned a lot from family, but I also learned about sex and cheating, about drinking and fighting among family when it could have waited until everyone was sober and sane. There was even a time when my grandfather tried to teach me the passion of basketball - something everyone in family enjoys but I shunned entirely for my own selfish reasons. One day he simply gave that up, too. For him, it was all about drinking. I don't begrudge him, or blame him. That's just how our family was in that time. Drinking was a part of our lives.
Of that, I was very familiar with as I grew older to see my mom follow in the same footsteps as her family.
At first, though, she led a strict life that adhered to family values based on Catholicism. She did as she was told, studied hard and was the middle-child of thirteen kids. In the years leading up to meeting my father, she hadn't ever touched a drop of alcohol. My father was her opposite. He played hard and partied hard. A gift for basketball, he was in the sites of scouts before awarded a scholarship to UCLA. He was that good. Before leaving for the big city, though, he met and fell in love with mom.
The way she tells it, he didn't have much in the way of courage when trying to approach her - at first - and found false bravado in bottle one day. This didn't help much, and I'm sure he meant well when he finally walked up to her, but my mother told me he rudely asked: "So why don't you talk to me?! What are you, stuck up?!"
Of course, my mother being the good girl she was could only reply in the way we Natives reply: "What about you?! Why don't you talk to me?!"
It was love at first sight.
From that point on, everyone tells me, the two were inseparable. They went everywhere together and did things that only couples in love would do. Together. So before leaving for college, my mother announced to him she was pregnant. Dad, doing the only thing he knew he could do, decided it was best they go to school together. He'd figure it out while going to college, but somehow he wanted to make it all work. She hadn't graduated from high school yet. In the sixties, this was still kind of looked down upon - high school student, unmarried and with child. I don't think either of them cared, really so they tried to live a life in Los Angeles. Within less than four months, and with no money in their pockets they turned to the tribe in trying to find a way back home.
What's difficult to determine is when they married. But my father insisted on marrying mom before I was born. From what a beloved aunt told me, she had gathered sources together to make the dream wedding for my mom a reality. That's where I come into the picture.
In my time, a man would walk on the moon, the back lash of Vietnam had turned the tide of war and riots were common on the streets of America. Those that made a niche for themselves in San Francisco were now moving away. The country was in turmoil. But in a small place called Alaska, my parents continued a life of love. Young love and passion don't go hand in hand, though, does it? I mean, reality sets in and money becomes the main issue of any family as you try to make ends meet.For my father, a new organization was emerging and he became a part of it while working his way up the executive ladder. Many of the other Natives in the U.S. had reservations to call their own. We had something a little different by 1975 and my dad was a part of it before going public.
But because the corporation was still in its infancy, money was hard to come by and life was a little difficult at times for us. Only natural that fights would erupt and tempers would flare, so one night they fought vociferously about the finances and that ended up with the only thing my father could do. He left the house in the late night of December, those many years ago.
The one thing we all have in common is the abuse. For my parents, that meant they avoided hitting each other. They just wouldn't do it. To circumvent the need to strike out when such tempers would erupt, he would walk. Just like that. Didn't hit, didn't hurt her but kept things safe by leaving before everything got out of hand. I'd admired him for that. I do. I do now, actually. Because that's exactly what I do when I argue with my wife. I leave. Just walk away. She knows that's time to put a pin on the argument, even though she'd like to continue fighting - and believe me, she likes to fight - she'd leave it alone until we both calmed ourselves.
So in the late night of December in the early seventies, it wasn't much of a surprise to his brother and best friend that he wanted to spend time together. They partied and roughhoused like guys usually do, venting when it was necessary and playing it off when it wasn't. Guys night out.
My seed of hate began on this night.
No one really knew until it was too late that the guy about to pick a fight with my father was on a new kind of drug called PCP. Of course, rather than engage in fist-fighting, my father walked away to keep the peace. His brother, my uncle, had just come back from overseas (he was a Marine) and his best friend, I think, had orders for the army (drafted). They wanted to make the best of the night and decided it was better to leave. Even as drunk as they were, they crossed the street and didn't notice the guy stalking my father who was brandishing a steak knife he had just stolen from the bar. Without notice, he came upon my father and fatally stabbed him in the back. Before anyone noticed, he fell the ground from the shock of sudden trauma. As if that wasn't enough, he was going to continue stabbing my father if it wasn't for the other two trying to prevent further harm.
My uncle suffered a severe injury trying to fight off the attacker. My father's best friend fared better and managed to swipe away the knife before the attacker could do anything else. Struggling to maintain consciousness until authorities arrived, both my uncle and friend kept him detained. It would take time and healing before my uncle recovered from his wounds.
My father was dead before the second strike to his body. He didn't have a chance.
When news reached my mother about my father, she literally freaked out. I mean she lost it. Those that were with her said it simply and best: for the first time in her life, she started drinking. She didn't just drink, but she binged. One morning, when I was old enough to understand, she told me what happened in her words. For two weeks all she did was drink. No sleep. No food. Just drank herself to near death. She said by the time Christmas arrived, everyone around her seemed "far" away, like they weren't there with her. Without really knowing what I was saying, yet knowing it felt right, I replied: "You almost died. That's what happened. You almost died."
In the same morning she broke down the story about Christmas eve. "I had been crying all day and I was with you. We were both at grandma's house and I guess...I guess I fell asleep. I was dreaming and knew it. I dreamt of your father. He knocked on the door and I answered. He asked if he could come in. We came into the living room and he didn't say anything. He just looked around and sat for awhile. When he stood, he said, 'I have to go now. Take care of him. You're going to be ok.' When he opened the door, I woke up and there was your grandpa and grandma. I started crying again."
Every decision, every thing she did from that moment affected us in a way that neither of us would understand until it was too late. From that moment on, and for reasons we couldn't understand, she'd seek out guys that were just plain bad for her. By the time I was five years old, I knew I was in trouble when meeting the abuser for the first time, because I knew - even at five- this wasn't the last time I'd see him...
...a fading light reveals the brilliance of darkness. And the darkness begins now.