While I’m fully aware it’s February and summer feels like somewhat of a fading dream, what I did on my summer vacation last year had a big influence on 2013. The universal bordering on cliched assignment that teachers ask their pupils to execute at the beginning of the school year is perhaps unconsciously cathartic to some and torturous to others who would no doubt like to turn back time and relive those illustrous moments of unihibited freedom. I was the latter of the two student types just mentioned. And at the age of 38 no less. For 6 months after, I would of given anything to relive my 6 straight days in Madrid, Spain.
Before I elaborate on this aformentioned vacation, I think its important to investigate the “Why” of what I did on my summer vacation.
I’ve mentioned in this blog that I found out my son was mildly autistic in January of 2012. What I didn’t delve into was that at around the same time I had willingly chosen to allow my estranged father back into my life a month prior. My reasoning? Pity. His sister, one of the few left on this earth who was willing to consistently be involved in his life despite his physical ailments, alcohol addiction, and issues with depression, died. I attended the funeral and realized that while my father was a sweet man with a wonderful long term memory of Calexico past, his short term memory was shot and he was battling alcohol addiction. This assessment on my part wasn’t immediate as I think that while I was in the throws of the funeral trip to northern California, I was desperately trying to not think the worst, to keep the faith as they say, and distract him from saying what usually triggered feelings of pain for me. It was a strange balancing act that led me to sit at a bar in the Sacramento airport, sobbing on the phone to my Mother.
The first six months of 2012 involved me juggling my daughters ongoing therapy to have her speak and be understood, combat the issues she faced when trying to initiate play with her peers, and force her local elmentary school to put her in their Pre-kinder program despite her birthday deeming her ineligible. As for my son, I had the task of cutting as fast as I could through red tape to begin ABA therapy services through the county and suing his school district for not providing adequate services.
I’m a lucky woman. Yes, you read correctly. Lucky. I get to stay home with my kids and oversee all their therapy we get from the county, the school system and the private therapy my husband pays for through his hard work. I get to drive them to and from school and I get to partcipate in most of their school activities. I have help three days a week and you know what? Chances are- my kids are going to be fine as their delays are minimizing each day through early intervention.Its a full time job though and I may not get paid for it but I’m still tired after each day.
They say that God doesn’t give us anything we cannot handle. I don’t know if thats something we tell ourselves when were overwhelmed. But what I do know is that you have to take advantage of those moments where you are being offered a mental reprise. Over the course of the year, I began to notice that my efficient ability to fix all the issues around me was losing its lustre. I believe May of 2012 was the final jolt that set in motion my lost week in Madrid. Knee deep in litigation with the school district over my daughter and son’s education plan which includes both their school placement and therapy, I received a phone call from a relative saying that my father had gone on a bender and inadvertently fell knocking his head unconscious. They did not find him for three days. But he was alive and in a hospital.
In this blog, I’ve mentioned that I have a strong mother. I was raised by her and a protective grandmother who stepped in as the patriarchal archtype when my actual father went MIA after my parents split. I had time to emotionally distance myself from him but simultaneously feel cared for, lessening the typical abandonement issues a child experiences.
So the chaos I felt all throughout my body was scary. For two days, I was crying on and off angrily. At that time all I wanted to ask him was to stop with the cries for help and put himself out of his misery and let me scatter his ashes along the tides of San Felipe. Six months of calling him every week. Six months of astutely manuevering the conversation so that he never got too sad, or started to cry, sincerely offering to make plans to visit in the summer with my husband and kids and even escort him to his 50th class reunion in Calexico. He would be one more issue on my plate that I didn’t want to help as I knew this was beyond my mental capacity. I had more important things to accomplish as my children rightly took up most of my time. Most of all, I was furious that he was not trying as I thought having his daughter around would give him a reason to stay sober. Please note, that as I write this I realize how naive that was of me to think. I had a friend tell me that he couldn’t as he’s an alcoholic. This is true but their are recovering alcoholics and the tragedy was that he wasn’t going to be one just yet.
As all this was happening my mother’s younger brother was losing his battle with organ failure. Like many men growing up in 1960’s he had his hang ups. But as a father he was present and nurturing. This juxtaposition only served to fuel my hurt and frustration. The same week I delivered a eulogy at my uncle’s funeral, I wrote my father an intervention letter. But as life can be, in deep sadness there was beauty as we celebrated my daughters 5th birthday at my home for 50 parents and kids. It was a wonderful day, lightening my family’s sad mood. I saw Ali, my daughter actively playing with her friends. If one of my kids had been on adderall, people would have assumed I was stealing it as the party was at our home in Los Angeles Saturday, my uncles service was the day before on Friday and on Thursday as I arrived to San Diego, I managed to get into a fender bender. The expected cracks in my demeanor continued after my crazy week as my husband found me asleep on the bathroom floor after too many glasses of wine with my family Saturday night. He took a picture as proof. I’d post it but I’m not asleep on my good side.
As a Mom, you learn to seek ways of coping with stress through the hobbies or escapes you create that are yours and not shared with your kids or your husband. I do an intense circuit training class 3-4 times a week. When I’m depressed I go on internet gossip blogs. This particular escapism started when my friend Margot died of breast cancer in 2011. Prior to both deliniations just mentioned, I began reading books on the history of Spain, watching TVe Espanola as we get it on our cable carrier and coming to terms with the bittersweet reality that I should of returned before I had my kids, after leaving Madrid and Spain in 1995.
At the end of June, Andy my husband mentioned that he was going on a business golfing trip to Scotland. Wives were not coming so I was out of luck. My first question was if we had a good amount of miles accumulated from all his traveling for work. He said yes. I then remarked that he was leaving around the time of our 6th year wedding anniversary. He said he did not realize that. So, I suggested that he use all the vacation he hardly touched and meet in me Madrid as it would be a good way of making it up to me. His first question was if I felt guilty leaving the kids with my Mom, My sister, My two teenaged neices, our Nanny, his mother and my mother’s boyfriend. I then asked if he felt guilty leaving me with the kids while he went to Scotland to play golf. He said no as it was business. I retorted that my going to Madrid was a vacation I really wanted and this was our chance to return to Europe together as we hadn’t since we had Ali and Jack. He agreed. I made my plans.
I left exactly one week after I got a fender bender in San Diego. I left on the exact day I returned to states after living in Madrid for a the 1994-1995 school year. When I came six days later I felt like I had been hurtled back to earth, my earth. I crash landed and it was painful, joyful and raw.
Why? Well, probably beacuse I experienced the ultimate feeling of escapism while over there. I had no children with me and the first 48 hours I was alone. I flew business class, I drank lots of wine and was served and cared for by flight attendants. I roamed the steets of Madrid and breathed in the nostalgic days of my youth. I contemplated great works of Art in its museums without any distraction except for my own hunger or fatigue nudging me to pay attention. And I ate wonderful meals whether they were small tapas that popped in my mouth or long 5 course meals while watching my first Madrileno sunset in years. When my husband arrived, I really let loose and much to his chagrin. He was tired from lots of golfing and scotch drinking, I had us out after late dinners hitting different bars and wandering the streets with litronas of beer in oversized plastic cups spying on late night early morning street fairs and modern movidas that lent itself to some of most intriguing people watching I’ve done in years.
My husband works but his work requires him to travel so he’s away from us often and even though its work it is adult time where someone isn’t depending on you because they arent mature enough to do it themselves.
I had been relieved of those duties after 5 years of doing just that, all the time..a mini reprise overnight trip here and there but nothing like this. This was as close to debauchery as I was going to get.
I went into therapy when I returned. I avoided my father when I returned. His family up north had assisted in getting him into a rest home. And he was sober. I felt immense guilt for not wanting to talk to him but talking to him dredged up the past. And I was so angry and hurt. I had come to realize that our relationship was what other people would call a tragedy. Missed opportunities. He knew he had fucked up. But he just wasn’t strong enough to learn from his mistakes and move on, with his girls. There was no consistency in our father-daughter relationship. And yet I know I yearned to have a Dad. Now, along with his other health problems, he was losing his memory. This started happening a long time ago.I just didn’t understand until the fall. He could only talk about the past. Specifically, my childhood. The one I wanted to forget because it had him in it. When we were happy. That was his comfort zone. To me, it was the calm before the fucking insufferable emotion one contracts when someone you love and unconditionally trust goes away and doesn’t come back. For whatever reason.
For six months after I returned, I kept wanting to return to Madrid. I wanted to forget my worries, my kid troubles and my own mental hang ups. The last night I recall conjuring ways to come live in Spain’s capital over mint tea with my husband at a quiet Moroccan restaurant. I just didn’t want to go home.
That wanting to escape changed today. I realized summer was over and my desire for a carefree set of days was naturally extinguished.
Today, I begin a new life with my father and close the book on the old. Manuel J. Nunez died this afternoon at the age of 70. I could sit here and feel immense guilt for not saying “Goodbye” properly. But to quote David O’Russell,
“The intention of it is to say that the best way you can say goodbye to somebody is lovingly, from the best place of yourself, which doesn’t happen often enough in this world. I think very often, when it’s time to say goodbye to each other, we choose to agitate or turn it into something else, because goodbyes can be too emotional.”
So here’s my goodbye for what its worth- You are loved despite the fits and stops. I dream of you as a beautiful happy spirit, unbridled and independent, exploring your past world and your new universe. But more selfishly, I envision you watching over me and my family. You are strong and without demons. You protect and guide me to make the best possible choices for my children as a good father would.
So I’m stronger today because my summer vacation helped me cope with my daily load. Buts its over now. And if I go to Madrid it’s going to be because I love the city and need a chorizo bocadillo. I’m not trying to find an escape from my daily obligations. Cause I’m not alone, ya know? I have people in high places.