It didn’t always work. I was young and didn’t have the self-control required.
Once, we were at the lake and he was throwing all the kids into the water. He was the only adult that really played with us and made the boringness of growing up poor a little lighter. I didn’t want to go near him, but I also wanted to have fun like everyone else.
So I did it once. And it was a mistake.
Instead of letting me put my feet in his hands so he could toss me up, he grabbed me by the crotch and my chest and sailed me like a paper airplane.
I swam away and didn’t go back, reminded of my previous unconscious contract with myself.
I didn’t have a way to process my emotions back then, and so I shoved them down and blamed myself. It was the safest option.
Speaking of the lake reminds me of another time when I felt a parent had abandoned me emotionally.
It was my 15th birthday, and I remember I felt so grown up.
<My youngest just turned 15 yesterday, so it is insane to me to reflect on that time in my life just now and remember how grown up I felt!>
With a summer birthday, we celebrated at the lake almost every year.
We spent the day there having fun and hanging out as family and extended family. Toward the end of the day, a few of my dad’s friends showed up. I don’t remember if they knew we would be there ahead of time or just happened to see us and say hi. I was not familiar with these friends.
As the sun started to go down, we all changed out of our bathing suits for the drive home.
My dad was standing at the edge of the lake, smoking a cigarette, staring off into space. I ran down to tell him we were all ready to go.
I have many memories of him standing at the edge of a body of water smoking a cigarette by himself.
Once when I was about 7 years old, his cigarette hand swung down and he accidentally burned me on the back of my hand with the end of his cigarette. He felt bad. I had a scar for several years.
There was a kind of peace I think he felt near the water. I would try to join him there.
All of a sudden, his friends showed up with us at the water’s edge.
They had come to wish me a happy birthday.
“Do you mind if we throw your daughter into the water on her birthday?” they asked my dad.
“No, Dad, tell them no!”
But the two “friends” grabbed me one on each side and swung me into the lake in my dry clothes.
My dad’s response of a shrug rang through my mind as I sat furious and shivering all the way home.
It was not a quick trip. It was probably 45 minutes home, like everything else in the middle of nowhere where I grew up, and I was humiliated and angry the whole way.
And abandoned, yet again.
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