My father killed himself on Tuesday, March 8th, 1983. I was eleven years old. I've told that story here. This, however, is the story of what happened next.
But first, let's back up a bit. Back to the late 1960's.
My mother and father were teen parents. She was 16, and he 18 when they married with a baby on the way. They had three children before their brief marriage fell apart; those children being my sisters Lisa, Karen, and myself. We were were living in Allentown PA when they divorced. The year was 1971. I was still a baby.
One day, when I was roughly six months old, my father came home from work to find an empty apartment. My mother had packed up and taken her children with her to Scranton - an hour and a half away from my father, who spent much of the next seven years fighting for full custody of his three children.
My two sisters and I lived with our mother in Scranton during the week and visited our father in Allentown every weekend.
My mother remarried when I was seven. As custody battles raged between my mother and father, my mother and step-father had two children of their own. My father remarried as well, though he and my stepmother had no additional children.
In the summer of 1979, my mother finally gave up the court custody battles. My two sisters and I went to live with our father and stepmother, while my mother and stepfather built a new life for themselves and their two children.
In the summer of 1981, my father moved the family to Columbus Georgia, where he'd gotten a new job. He was an accountant. He had a huge office. We had a brick house with an in-ground pool in the back yard. For the first time in our lives, life was very good.
By 1982, when I was ten, my sister Karen was showing the early signs of things to come. She was moody. Often angry. Always problematic. By age eleven, she'd already mastered the art of manipulation, and it didn't take long for things to spiral out of control.
Karen moved out in the fall of '82. She returned to Scranton Pennsylvania to live with our mother and stepfather.
My father was devastated. He'd spent the better part of a decade trying to get custody of his three children, only to lose one of them a few years later. My two sisters and I had been a trio since I was born. But suddenly, three became two.
That was a sad winter in our household.
It didn't help that my father had a bad back and had been in and out of the hospital having it operated on.
A sad, sad winter.
It is no coincidence my father killed himself on March 8th. Karen's birthday is March 9th.
My stepmother, my sister Lisa and I left Georgia a week or so later to bury my father in his hometown of Dushore, PA. My sister Karen came to the funeral as well.
Karen coming to the funeral, though expected, was awkward. At one point, one of our uncles spotted her walking down the street as he was driving by. He rolled down the window and shouted "You killed my brother!!!!" at her. Karen was barely thirteen years old.
It is no understatement to say that my family is absolutely and utterly fucked up.
The whole family was staying at my grandmother's house. Her house was huge - mammoth even - and the family was large, so chaos was the norm. Still, it was easy to find solace there, even amongst the comings and goings of an Italian family during a wake.
The funeral had been what funerals of young men are. People were stunned. No one knew what to say. "Be strong. Be strong." My father looked so handsome in his favorite suit. So peaceful. My stepmother wailed. How could she not, really? Her husband was gone, and her family was in ruins.
After the funeral, our family and friends returned to my grandmother's house. So many people were dropping by to offer their condolences. "He was so young" they'd say, again and again. "Too young." As the sun began to set outside, the scene inside grew darker as well.
While the adults stayed downstairs in that enormous house, I went upstairs in search of some peace and quiet. Shortly thereafter, my sister Karen came up to join me. This was really the first time she and I had been alone together since she'd moved away the previous year. Despite the sadness of the circumstances, I was excited to see Karen again. It felt like a long lost best friend had returned, but we'd be parting again soon when she'd leave for Scranton with my mother, and I would return to Georgia with my sister Lisa and my stepmother.
I had so much I wanted to say - to ask - to know. Where to begin?
I heard a car park in the gravel driveway below. "God, people are still coming" I thought. "How long does a wake last?" I just wanted this day to be over. I wanted quiet. And I wanted to talk with Karen... but she appeared to be too hyper to talk.
"Let's go outside and play!" she said. Any place that wasn't downstairs with the adults was fine by me. Their sadness was giving way to anger. You could feel it throughout the house. I didn't want to be part of that.
"Come on" Karen said. "Let's go."
We made our way back down the long narrow staircase and found a stranger standing in the doorway. "My car broke down." he said. "I think it's the radiator. I was wondering if I could borrow some water."
Even in the midst of such sorrow, my Aunt Marie managed a helping hand and a smile. "Oh, sure. Don't mind us, we had a funeral today. My brother died. Anyway, hang on, I'll get the water."
"Thanks" the stranger said. "That's really kind."
Karen seemed intrigued by this. "Come on Bobby. Let's go outside and watch."
"Sure, you kids can watch if you want." the stranger said.
"Great!" Karen replied as she headed out the front door.
"Come on Bobby" sad the stranger as he took my hand. "You come watch too."
There was crash of glass and a scream, though I don't recall where from. I only remember the front door. Karen was gone, the door had been slammed shut and this stranger who somehow knew my name was still in the house. He had a firm grip on my left arm and my Aunt gripped my right.
Adults were pouring into the room from all directions. There was cursing. There was more screaming. The front door opened again as someone from the car came to the stranger's aid.
It was two against who knows how many, and the stranger must have seen the writing on the wall. He and his companion fled with Karen in tow as I was pushed back into the stairwell I'd come down. The door at the bottom of the stairwell was slammed shut in front of me, more or less locking me deeper within the house for safety sake.
Everyone else chased the strangers as they fled to their car. From behind the door, amongst the screaming, I heard Karen call the stranger "Uncle Bill."
My mother's first attempt at kidnapping me had been foiled by her inept brother.
As is usually the case, the story doesn't end here.
Well. That made me cry.
I'm starting to wonder if there are ANY families that aren't horridly messed up.::::: | March 8, 2005 7:17 PM
Well, my family is certainly horrendously messed up, but it's all part of what made me who I am today - and I'd like to think I'm a good man, so... I don't know.
I suppose I could wish for the family I never had, or pretend mine isn't a mess. Instead, I accept and move on.
Sorry I made you cry though!::::: | March 8, 2005 10:23 PM
Creative Pants said:
I'm totally awed by that story and the way that you wrote it. Like a screenwriter almost... reading it created the whole scene in my head just like a movie.
I love your blog - always an interesting read. And I'm sorry your family is a mess.::::: | March 8, 2005 11:41 PM
wow. don't know what else to say. thanks for sharing it.::::: | March 9, 2005 9:32 AM
Vivian Golan Weisman said:
I am in a bit of shock. I knew your Dad, from before he was going w/your mother. Your Aunt may remember me; I was Bebe's (and Manny's) neice from NYC and vacationed w/them in Dushore, and we all went to the drive-in.
I am upset by your "news" (to me)-and can only think of him as a very bright, warm, considerate young man who wrote terrific letters, and who once your mother became pregnant tried to continue on a path that was responsible to her and yet had him continue with his education so he would not be in Dushore forever. I also remember your Grandmother's big house and how kind she was to me. I found your blog in following a whim to google your late father. You are a fine writer-he would be proud of the way you can express such difficult memories. I will try to read more of the archive.
It's funny how everyone remembers things differently. BTW his name is Dale, not Bill.::::: | September 13, 2007 8:11 AM
OH - MY - GOD!
You're RIGHT! His name was Dale!
Honestly, I sat and stared at my screen for what felt like an eternity when I read that name. Dale. Wow. Dale. Wow. I've been repeating the name in my mind for the last five minutes.
Amazing how an event from 25 years ago can suddenly feel like yesterday.
By adding that detail, anonymous, you've given me new clarity on the part of that evening which had been a bit fuzzy: the brief moment when I was standing at the bottom of the stairs, as my aunt was getting water for the stranger's radiator and my sister Karen was trying to lead me outside. Everything in that moment happened so fast.
I believe there is one other important detail I got wrong when I wrote the above story: I don't believe the stranger ever said my name!
It was my sister who foiled the kidnapping attempt. It was Karen, not the stranger.
My aunt was at the sink filling a watering can for the stranger's car radiator. He thanked her.
Karen was talking to me, leading me to the door. She said "Come on Bobby. Let's go outside and watch."
I remember thinking "Why would we want to watch somebody mess with a broke-down car?"
The stranger said "Sure, you kids can watch if you want."
Karen replied: "Great! Let's go watch Uncle Dale."
She said UNCLE DALE!
The stranger never said my name, which is why I was so confused when he then took me by the hand to lead me outside, but I didn't even have a moment to freak out about that because my aunt had heard Karen call the stranger Uncle Dale!
My aunt shouted as she repeated the name, in shock. I remember it so well now! My aunt screamed "UNCLE DALE??!!" as she instantly realized what was going on. She grabbed me and started cursing and screaming at the stranger, who was pulling me by my other arm. I think that's when someone managed to slam the front door shut, trapping the stranger inside. Or maybe Karen ran out and slammed the door behind her, accidentally locking the stranger inside as he was pushed against a closed door? He had me, but he couldn't get out, which probably meant that kidnapping me became the least of his problems at that point. The chaos and yelling led the rest of the family to come pouring into the room. He must have let me go because I somehow got shoved into the doorway to the staircase my sister and I had just come down. That door was then slammed shut in front of me, locking me safely inside the house as Karen and the stranger fled followed by all of the screaming adults who, just moments before, had been in the living room. There was at least one other adult waiting for Karen and the stranger in the stranger's car. To this day, I have no idea who it was.
I went to a window upstairs and took quick glimpses of what was going on outside, but really, I was an eleven year old kid. I was horrified. I didn't care what was going on out there. I just wanted to be safe.
I should also note that I refer to him as the stranger because, at that moment in time, to me, that's who he was. I was eleven years old. To me, he was a complete stranger. I don't know if there was ever a time in my life I'd have recognized him.::::: | September 13, 2007 11:05 AM