January 2nd 2007. I hung up the phone with my brother and headed out to get on the bus for work. The call that had made me late hadn’t regarded a death, an overdose, or any event of such weight.
“Our father is getting a divorce.” Is how Bonner started. The divorce itself may not happen. It may happen. Whichever route our father’s third marriage takes isn’t really what Bonner wants to discuss. He wants to talk about the blame and where it belongs.
The truth of it should be an easy matter. It’s our father’s marriage. The blame should lie with him and his wife. But that’s not going to stop him from displacing it and if he can, onto Bonner or worse, Bonner’s kids. For a lot of people this type of blame shifting wouldn’t work. They’d tell dad to fuck off or something. But it will work on Bonner, to enough of a degree that he’ll lose sleep over it. He tells me he already has. He spent last night not contemplating the new year, or celebrating with his wife and beautiful family but tossing and turning over what our father the drunk has said.
Me, I was sleeping. Fourteen hours straight. I needed to rest after my own New Year’s eve celebrating and drinking. I was content to go to bed New Year’s Day at four o’clock and let time stop for a while. 2007 would wait. I wanted to rest.
Then I dreamt of Jeff, whose last name I couldn’t remember. I dreamt of high school and frogs and my father’s second wife and a bunch of other people and things but when I woke fully rested on the morning of the second it was already clear that the past was wanting to be dealt with.
I’m thirty-three, just graduated with a BA in History. I have a job that has nothing to do with History that I like pretty well. I have a good life. A good boyfriend and a lot of houseplants. I’m finishing my second novel, and hopefully this one will publish.
Life is pretty good. Until the phone rings and my family, and the past, comes pouring in. The term dysfunctional won’t really work here. They function, barely sometimes, but they function and I pretty much work the same way. I get through each day, go to work, cook and sleep, keeping my craziness as internal as I can. The gym helps. The daily ritual of coffee and writing on the bus helps.
I critique my city. I watch the people on the train. I do my job. And I wait for the next phone call: “Your father is dead” or “your sister has overdosed.” Instead I get “your father is getting a divorce” and this starts off my year. He tried to call me yesterday morning, to wish me a happy new year his message said, but I wasn’t going to fall for that.
The frogs I dreamt of were massive and they would eat their young. Jeff, whose last name I can’t remember, explains to me that these bullfrogs do this to any young they think can’t survive. The parent frog somehow has access to their offspring’s entire blueprint, a map of what they are going to be. So the frog wisely consumes any offspring that is going to evolutionarily disappoint. Jeff was cute, now that I think about it. Dirty blonde like me, he was a bit acne-ridden and slightly nerdy. Like me. We were never close, never friends, and I only remember one conversation with him in high school. Dreams are weird that I think of Jeff now. Whoever and wherever he is now, I hope he’s happy. I hope he got out. That’s the best wish I can have for anyone in Oklahoma, or at least in the version of it I lived in.
My brother tells me the root of the issue: our father attributes his first divorce, from our mother, to us. He says that we gave him our permission and therefore it is our fault. He blames his second on Kaleb, my brilliant nephew. The fifth of gin my stepmother consumed daily and my father’s own excessive drinking have nothing to do with it. It was an eight year old who deftly unraveled the tapestry of passion, angry sex and abuse that my father and his wife wove together.
I calmly stress the need for boundaries. I repeat this several times. I don’t talk about instances. Instances are just symptoms and they are without count. That Bonner and Kaleb aren’t responsible for what is not theirs. And I feel a twinge of guilt. Because I left. Because I got out. And I rarely look back unless I’m forced too: someone dies or someone overdoses.