All so personal

Taboo talk
everything locked up tight.
about every neighbor he gossiped.

Dad and Grandpa, year unknown

Everything has been locked up tight. I wrote feverishly during high school years and burned the papers in 1998. The poems and letters from time I had rather forget. Moving home to Wisconsin, having lived in Michigan (UM-Ann Arbor), Connecticut (Yale) and NYC (Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital) I was happy to return to a rather unhappy place in my mind. I choose to move close to our children’s grandparents so my husband took a job at Abbott Labs in IL. Looking back I regret that decision. I should have chosen to live in NJ, my husband working at Merck. It is shame I reminiscent about mistakes, keeping me from loving my place in life in 2016. All the same, perhaps it will heal the pain, I hid for so long.

I regained my voice in 2008, the urging of my husband. It was taboo to speak of family matters of old, as it spread to my childhood years, with no stopping the gossip about neighbors. Denny, the farmer down the gravel road from my grandparents, could not live up to town standards, nor could grandpa’s children or grandchildren. His row of tobacco, so straight and proud, became the beginning of a tragic downfall.

Grandpa never realized nothing lasts forever, even in desirous wishes and prayers. When grandma became sick and unable to help with farm chores, grandpa was forced to sell the farm. My aunt bought it and grandpa moved into town with grandma, within walking distance to attend church, visit the post office and friend’s houses.

His mental health withered, days turned to weeks and nothing improved in his mind. The slow churn downward was speeding up and on a brisk October day, grandpa lay in bed. The doctors tried shock treatment to no avail. He wintered several months before the morning warmed. Grandma headed to the post office, most likely to pick up a letter written by me, her chance to escape the shackled cell. Upon returning, the house stood quiet and she decided to sit down for mid-day tea. Grandma sat to read my letter, politely folded and treasured it safely away, then rose to check on grandpa. He was gone. (Dad’s family comes from England, Maxwell my surname, and traditions of tea had been passed down since the American Revolution. This another story for another time.)

Scanning their five room bungalow, what appeared were empty chairs and a blank TV screen. She took to the garage, side door open, car in the parking stall, and there lay grandpa, shotgun by his side.

I was working when mom called and told me I needed to come home, fast. Why so rushed? Traveling to Viola WI, the car wheels spinned no faster than my head. Not a thing was said, a four hour drive west. The silence unbearable.

It was Memorial weekend, the end of May, a cheery Spring morning. I was planning my July wedding and quite happy. Upon entering the funeral parlor, seeing grandma stark white, a line of people greeting her, things began to fall in place. Or rather apart. Grandma and I, eyes averted, understood while I wailed in her arms. She was totally uncomfortable.

Grandma and grandpa were Methodist. The congregation sang How Great Though Arta memorial to a man’s love of the land, the hills and valleys of Vernon County, and his prized Jersey cows. He treated his cows to classical music morning and evening, they long been scattered, so they would never know of his departure. Yet I was forced to sit in the pew, thumbing through the Bible, and came upon verses in the OT about sins of the father, generational curses and needing to be the change of the NT. A dawning of life in 1985 that would later be rattled by new news years later.

Today, October 2016, driving down the highway, my daughter videoed a burning car. I had never seen such a sight. I feel naive to think life is invincible while also anxiously awaiting my fate. Danger lurks at every bend. After two suicides in the family, I have become an anxious neurotic. I have been told I am a survivor, strong and courageous to face days, but no one ever feels that way unless armed with a weapon. Emotional resources are absent to me, with no way to construct love from the emptying hope seeping through my skin. I have found words again, though I wish it did not have to be this way. I write down the bricks built, from the outside looking in, to release the pain.

I have approached child-rearing differently from reading those Bible verses in 1985. My children and I talk about everything. Nothing is hidden beneath bushels of bull. My children know as they grow, I will share more, knowing they are mature to handle the unthinkable. I have warned my daughter about men who spike drinks, taught my son to treat women with respect and continually encourage my youngest daughter, who finds high school a mountain too tall to climb. She suffers from thoughts of wanting to die. There is no reason for those thoughts, she realizes, as she tells me thank you every day and apologizes for her agony. I understand her battle, battling those same suicidal thoughts. I believe mental sickness hereditary. A generational curse. Our thoughts take sparks from life to light the inner battle. Some people are strong enough to overcome setbacks and others are vulnerable to the tiniest pin drop. The reverberations strong enough to bring down the most beautiful and loving life.

“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”  Ned Vizzini It’s Kind of a Funny Story

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