Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Living in Your Head

Yesterday when I talked to Tara I went into all this clinical mumbo-jumbo about people who go through trauma learning to live in their heads because the emotions are just too painful. I told her I had done this.

“But the tears are right there,” Tara said, gesturing just behind her eyes.

“No, I said. Not really.”

And I think I lied.

Perhaps I can keep tears at bay by keeping people at bay. We learn to laugh, to be clinical and intellectual about things. “My father put a gun in his mouth.”

Yeah, that still catches at my lungs if I let it. So I take two steps back. “My father suffers from bipolar disorder. Or perhaps it’s unipolar with some paranoia. Certainly, the diagnosis has changed over the years.”

How does someone do this whose father left this world with his head in fragments? I have only the imagination of this. The Children of Suicide Club has the reality, the stunned, “Oh, God” moment when they got the news. The thing that was unfathomable to their spouses and friends, who didn’t know what to say and responded awkwardly with warped theology or silence.

My husband had to be that spouse, after the attempt. He had to sit down and explain to me what had happened. I don’t remember any of it except, “Your dad,” and “he took a gun.”

After that we visited him in the hospital for six weeks. I had so much I wanted to say to him. One day he was so looped out on lithium I didn’t recognize him. Another day he made me a cross in the craft workshop. He painted it green. I think it was in honor of all my attempts to convert him. Jesus would make him better, I was sure. He’d be a whole person and the demons would torment him no longer.

And all he could say was, “Why would I worship a monster?”

Why, indeed?

I don’t know if I ever could make Jesus not a monster for him. Sometimes we can succeed in that, sometimes not. But he did make me a cross.

Here’s the thing I’ve never gotten my head around. My father CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD. He was in the cold basement of the Arctic Building with a gun in his mouth at five o’clock in the morning and he heard someone in the building and did not pull the trigger. Instead he put the gun down and took a bus to the hospital.

Tonight we are going to the opera. I don’t think I’ve been at the opera in twenty years. I know Dad hasn’t. It’s his Christmas present. We’re going to the opera and I have all these thoughts banging around in my head.

Usually Dad and I get to the real stuff pretty quickly. I like that about him. He’s harsh and critical and bigoted and fearful. But he’s as honest as he’s able to be and he doesn’t insist on talking about trivia. He doesn’t change the subject when I bring up something that means a lot to me. Lately, I keep wondering if “this time” will be the last time I see him. I wonder that every time the phone rings and he doesn’t answer. I definitely wonder it every time he gets sick.

So why don’t I try harder to spend every remaining second with him? What is wrong with me?

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