Halloween is fast approaching, bringing it's usual trappings - tasteless lawn displays, scary movies on TV (I'm afraid to turn it on, for fear of what I might see), pumpkins, princesses, goblins, superheroes, and my favorite, Mini-Reese's Cups. While my children are eagerly anticipating dressing in their costumes in order to pillage and plunder the neighborhood with the goal of triumphantly returning home with more pounds of candy than they can carry, I am thinking of ghosts. Old ghosts.
I tell myself these ghosts have taken up more than their share of time and space in my life, that they deserve nothing more from me, but still they persist in their haunting, insist on my attention and resist my attempts to scoop them up and smash them under the big, slimy rock where they sometimes reside and where I wish they would just stay. "Just go away", I say, but like gnats on a humid day in PA, they invade my eyes and my ears. They discomfit and distract me, as insistent as a 3 year old who clings to my leg and cries because he's hungry while I stand at the stove making dinner.
Ugh. Fine. O.K. Ghosts, you win. I'll sit with you, you may have my undivided attention for the rest of the afternoon while I type out this blog. But don't come crying to me when you don't like the attention I'm about to call to your bad behavior. You've earned this. What I once considered a flaw in myself is really yours. Your choices, your shame. Here you go, fill your Trick or Treat bag with this and then shove it up your ass.
I was 9, the same age my daughter is now, when my father died. Suddenly, of a heart attack at age 32. And while my loss was soul-scarring, having happened in my tender, formative years, it pales in comparison to the surprising and preventable loss my little brothers and I suffered in the years following my father's death. My father was taken from us, he did not go willingly and, as my very wise great-aunt pointed out to me that evening, he died loving us. His family, my mother's in-laws, our aunts and uncles--not so much. They, one by one, some immediately, some over a period of years turned their backs and walked away. My grandmother, gone. My cousins, taken from me. In what situation, what world, is that ever o.k.? It wasn't. It isn't. I don't know that it ever will be.
My mother's parents took us in for awhile, until she felt strong enough to return to the house where we lived with my father. (How she was able to do that, I'll never know) Her brothers stepped in to shore up their sister and care for us. They are the men who took us fishing, taught me to ride my two-wheeler and hit a softball. And while my other, (former) uncles had the grace to look embarrassed whenever we might chance to meet at the county fair during my teenage years, the damage was done. There is no way for them to say "sorry" to that 9 year old. There is no excuse valid enough, no explanation that will ever make her understand. I recently bumped into a (former) aunt at a foliage festival in my hometown. And while she and my mom made small talk (here again, I must marvel at my mother's fortitude) I really had nothing to say to her. I just looked at her through my big brown eyes. I don't know what she may have seen in them as she returned my gaze. I hope she saw my father, for my eyes are his, and I would guess she saw a door with "No Admittance. Authorized Personnel Only" written upon it. She had her chance(s). She, and the rest of them, made their choices and we have all lived with them for thirty plus years.
Thirty plus years...wow, I'm a grown up now, with children of my own. These scars, these ghosts I'm shining the light upon, they still affect me so. I'm so used to this story, I know it inside and out, that I have almost reached the point of saying, "it's no big deal." Amazing what we live with, adapt to, assimilate into our beings. But if I take myself outside of it, allow myself to imagine hearing this story from a dear friend, I would tell her, "Hell Yeah--It is a BIG FRICKIN' DEAL!" I would be outraged for her and rush to assure her that it wasn't her, it was them. That there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not unlovable, that she is worth knowing and treasuring.
And perhaps, that is my lesson, the one that I can teach my own Darling Dears. My in-laws, my children's grandparents, are not actively involved in our lives. One evening, during my engagement, my 9 year old self cried inconsolably in my fiance's arms at the realization that his parents didn't really accept me. "They are never going to love me!", I sobbed. And though he made all the appropriate reassuring noises, really, what could the man say? I didn't know it in the moment, but since then, I have come to realize the two of us were battling those old ghosts, and on that evening, they won.
So, now, we don't talk about Grandma and Grandpa that much. Once in awhile my daughter will ask when we are going to visit them again. I want to shield their tender hearts from feeling the same scorch of rejection I have carried all these years. One of the greatest pieces of advice I will ever give my children is this: "Don't pursue a relationship where there is none to be had. You will meet all kinds of people in your life. Some of them will be unable to recognize you as the treasure you are, and some of them will be unwilling to do the work needed in order to deserve your love."
Those people, especially, those who are supposed to love us while we are children, are contemptible poison. Let us save our gifts and our treasures for those who do care for us. Let us not throw our pearls before the swine.
Now, where did I put those Reese's cups....