When I think back on my childhood, most of my memories are good ones. There were the times my parents would take me to Chinatown in the middle of the night just for fun and the summertime music festivals in the Poconos where I rode the ski lift around and around as many times as I wanted. There was all kinds of music -- mostly Grateful Dead and The Beatles, filling the rooms of our apartment at all times. There was guitar playing and love -- a whole lot of love.
But there were other things, too. There was a lot of fighting -- so much so that on some nights, I remember thinking my parents must have forgotten I was sleeping in the next room. There were things I didn't understand, like my dad falling asleep at the dinner table for no reason or why some of my classmates' parents wouldn't allow them to come for a playdate at my house. In our little apartment amidst the laughter and what I believed to be a happy home, my dad's drug addiction was always there, hanging over us like a heavy cloud.
As a 7-year-old, I just didn't get it. I couldn't understand my mom's "unjust" anger when my dad lost a job or forgot to pay a bill. And from my lack of understanding came rage. I felt loyal to my dad, and with every fight, my resentment toward my mother deepened. She would yell and he was too sick to defend himself and I just couldn't take it.
I don't remember exactly when my mom sat me down to explain drug addiction to me, but it was around the same time I started doing anything I could to protect my dad. My mom worked full time and then some to keep food on our table, so many afternoons when I came home from school, I would rouse my father enough to walk him to my room and close the door. I wanted to hide him from her, and in many ways, I wanted to hide his disease from myself.
After two separate trips to rehab, a few gloriously happy months each time he came out and a third relapse, things took a turn for the worse. My dad had moved to the couch permanently and I was still (unintentionally) blaming my mom for his distance.
I was 11 years old when he died. And then it was just the two of us. My mom and I clutched on to each other a lot in the beginning -- even sharing a bed during that whole first year. The blame subsided, but the misunderstanding endured. As a preteen, I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that sometimes she just couldn't afford to let me go to the movies, even if "ALL MY FRIENDS WERE GOING!" (Bear with me, people, I was in middle school.) More importantly, I couldn't grasp the fact that no matter how much we both mourned our loss, and how much we collectively struggled as a result, that at her core, she felt a sense of relief from his death.
As the years went on, things started to change (as they do, with time and age). I started to see things from my mom's point of view. To me, he was dad -- he could do no wrong. But to her, he was the man she fell in love with. A man who, no matter how wonderful of a person or incredible of a father he was (and he certainly was both of those things), would always be too sick to be a husband. To her, he is the man who left her with a little girl to support financially and emotionally, all on her own. I always respected her, of course -- she's my mom. But when I finally understood her perspective, I started to do so in a completely new way.
My mom is a brave, beautiful, incredible person and parent. She has shown me more love on her own than some people get from two parents. She raised me to be the strong, happy woman I am today. But more than that, she has shown me that out of a shitty situation can come something truly beautiful.