After my father was stabbed, he had an extremely difficult time readjusting to “normal life”. He couldn’t receive disability because he wasn’t insured, (he was employed by my Uncle) and he had difficulty finding work due to his injuries. He did odd jobs and sometimes took money under the table.
Moving constantly is stressful, moving and looking for work, felt like a fight for survival. Sometimes in very real ways.
My dad is a tough dude. He’d served his country, been a volunteer firefighter, and a prison guard. Now he was landscaping with a giant slash down the side of his neck.
I can’t imagine the pressure of two mouths to feed and trying to keep it all together. Sometimes he couldn’t. The truth was, my father had changed. He was always so serious, always so stressed.
Sometimes he would get so red and angry I was afraid his guts would come spilling out the side of his neck. As an adult, I now realize that he had PTSD didn’t have the appropriate coping skills or support system.
It’s a strange sensation to catch your parent behave in new and foreign ways. Seeing them sneaking a cigarette, or noticing that when they act funny and smell odd and formulating a comprehension of what intoxication is.
I missed the man that would play with me, instead, I was left with someone stuck in an unwinnable situation who was slowly giving up.
My parents tried to regroup and decided it was best to move back to Las Vegas where they had both grown up and met. The very families that they had tried to escape by marrying one and other were now going to be their support system once more.
We packed our modest belongings in a tiny U-Haul and crammed four people the tiny cab meant for two and began our long drive into the desert.
“Ass, Grass or Gas, no one rides for free.” were the words attached to a sun-bleached air freshener in my grandfather’s car. It swirled in wild tornadoes as he drove through the city with his window down. His left arm was a good 5 shades darker from hanging it out of the window to smoke a cigarette in the desert traffic.
When I found out he worked at the Jack-In-The-Box, I couldn’t figure out why someone so old would work at a drive-through.
A few weeks later, I sat with my Grandmother and my sister in the car before church. Before we would enter she had a ritual of applying this lipstick in the rear-view mirror.
The lipstick was bright lime green inside the tube but would turn bright pink when applied and smelled like watermelon.
Usually, we showed up to church in her giant white station wagon, but today as she applied the lipstick in the review mirror, my grandfather’s air fresher hung in front of her like an effigy.
The smell of watermelon and cigarettes in the hot car made me feel ill. She explained that we were going to pray that grandpa came home during church and afterward we were going to go to the strip to look for him.
We spent the afternoon my Grandmother, my sister, and I on casino floors searching in vain for the guy that was supposed to watch us after school on Monday.
Wish I could say it was a onetime thing. This was one of my first memories of our new life we were supposed to be building, and it became one of the most normal things that happened to me over the next year.
Every two weeks my grandfather would get paid, he’d hit the strip and wouldn’t come home until he was broke again. After a couple of trips to the strip after church, the idea of praying with Grandma as something useful seemed a little silly.
The reality was that odds favored my grandfather coming home with a small purse of winnings over changing his ways. What seems jarring at first can quickly become routine, until it is your own father that stops coming home.
During my first-grade school year, we had moved four times, this is also the period when my sexual abuse began. After the turbulence of the previous year from the attack on my father, I knew our condition was fragile. I did my best to remain silent, and avoid creating a volatile situation.
On our last move of the year, my parents rented out a house with a swimming pool in the backyard. My sister and I both had our own bedrooms for the first time. For a second, I felt like things would be okay.
In the middle of a hot summer night, my mother woke my sister and I and put us in her car. My sister fell asleep again in the backseat and I rode with my mother awake and while I didn’t know what was happening I knew enough to be frightened.
When we entered a parking garage on the strip, it was such an odd yet familiar that I knew from searching for my grandfather’s car, but now we were looking for my own dad. My heart sank.
My mother found his truck parked next to a stairwell on an upper level, and she backed into a spot down the lane and turned off the car.
Usually, at this point, we would go into the casino for my grandad, but this time we just sat and waited. Her eyes were wild, and she didn’t speak until she exclaimed “There’s your father!”, and turned on the headlights showing my dad walking with his arms around another woman.
I was beyond confused. My mother started the car and drove it straight towards them narrowly missing them both. She proceeded to turn the car around and chase my father down the aisle with the car until he was pinned between a concrete pylon, a wall, and the bumper of our car. I was frozen in shock as my mother continued to rev the engine.
She would have killed him if the pylons weren’t in her way, and she wouldn’t have stopped trying if my sister didn’t wake up screaming at the sight of her mother trying to run over her father.
We went home and whatever we could fit in our school bags is what we left with that night. No more bedroom, no more family, no more house with a pool.
A week later the woman my father was with had moved into the house with him, along with her two sons. They each got one of our bedrooms and our belongings.
When my mother watched her walk out of the house in her robe, in broad daylight she tried to run over my father a second time. This time pinning him between a gated fence and her car. The incident left him with chain-link shaped bruises on his thighs and an angry dent from his foot on the hood of our car.
At a certain point, it becomes hard to trust anyone or anything. I felt replaced and abandoned by my father, and I was now terrified of my own mother. In addition to authority figures abusing their agency, and the constant moving nothing in life felt certain. The truth is nothing is ever certain.
It created a deep-seated desire for normalcy and relative safety that was non-existent. In my experience, it is a short trip from being a child that isn’t being cared for, to being labeled a “problem child”. In the way my father’s incident left without the proper skills to deal with his trauma, I was dealing with similar challenges of my own.