The author visits an old thinking spot behind a boat yard in his old neighborhood and finds something he forgot about.
Mood music for this post: Mother Love Bone, “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns”
With Erin working yesterday afternoon, I put the kids in the car and drove to Revere to visit Dad and Dianne. It was truly an afternoon of flashbacks, which could be seen as a bad thing. But it was an absolutely sublime experience for many reasons.
First, it’s a true gift that I can go down to a city that is essentially the scene of the crime for many of my early traumas and enjoy the company of these parents. I’ve written about Dad and what I’ve learned from him, but Dianne deserves mention here because we fought each other hard when I was growing up. This is more because of me than her, because she had the misfortune of joining the family right as I was hitting my malcontented, conflicted and rebellious teenage years.
She was really at a disadvantage. My brother died only a few months after she appeared on the scene, and she was home the night he had that final asthma attack. She plunged the adrenaline needle in him while waiting for the ambulance because that’s what you were supposed to do in the event of these attacks. But his number was up, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
She was also there a couple months before, in October 1983, when Michael had a similar attack that almost killed him that night. The doctors didn’t think he was going to make it that night, but he bounced back from the brink just in time, just like I bounced back from the brink more than once when the Croh’s Disease was attacking me so bad that the doctors were ready to pull out the colon and throw it in the trash.
I guess I was just a little luckier than he was.
Anyway, me and Dianne were always in conflict. I thought she was in the marriage with my Dad for his business success. I fought constantly with the step-sister she gave me. I was jealous of the step-brother she gave me because he was suddenly the cute youngest kid. Before my parents divorced it was Michael, Wendi and me, the youngest. Being sick, I was also spoiled rotten. Then the step-siblings came along and Michael died, making me the oldest son, a title that carried a lot of pressure.
I blamed it all on Dianne.
Of course, she also gave me a beautiful half sister in late 1985 who came along at just the right time, bringing joy to the family I never thought we’d see again.
Fast-forward to 2010.
I’ve learned a lot over the years. One is that I was the asshole most of the time back then. I was looking for people to blame for my pain and she was too good a target to pass up. She has stuck by my father through all kinds of illness and turmoil. She loves him deeply, and worries about him constantly.
Unfortunately I don’t see the step-siblings — Stacey and Brian — nearly as much as I should. Brian is one of the funniest people I know, with one of the sunniest dispositions I’ve ever seen. Stacey has a great husband, two beautiful children of her own and has stuck by her mother through thick and thin, when idiots like me were too busy with other things.
Then there’s Shira, my half-sister. Now in her mid-twenties and spending all her time in far-away places helping others. She’s in Mexico right now. She teaches and she LIVES. I don’t think she’s afraid of anything. She reminds me of me at that age with some very notable exceptions — she doesn’t carry around the fear, anxiety or the chip on the shoulder that I had at that age. She reminds me of the life I denied myself all those years ago.
Wendi deserves special mention here as well. I don’t write about her much for the sake of her own privacy, but this much I can say: She lived all the trauma I lived in Revere, through her own perspective, mind you, but she suffered mightily and, like me, has lived to tell about it.
So here we are in 2010. Me and the kids kicked back in their grandparents’ condo, building pillow forts and making a general mess. To show how at ease my father can be, during one visit last summer we came in to find a giant high-powered water rifle on the kitchen counter, which Duncan immediately grabbed and fired — in the direction of Dad’s medicine stockpile. He was unfazed. In fact, I think he was amused. He enjoys the kids’ antics.
A couple hours into yesterday’s visit, Dad got into my car with me, Sean and Duncan and we took a little drive down memory lane. We stopped at the old house at 22 Lynnway, which has seen better days. The current owners ripped out the bushes surrounding the concrete patio that held a large storage room beneath. When I occupied the basement, that storage area is where I went to sneak cigarettes and pile up empty beer bottles from the last party. I’d love to get a look in there today and see if any wreckage from my previous life is still there.
From there we went to Gibson Park, where all us kids hung out. While the kids played on the playground equipment and my father watched, I took a little walk to a spot at the water’s edge where I used to go off alone and think. I would always go there when I was particularly depressed and needed to sort things out. The spot hasn’t changed much:
One thing was notably different, though. This time, I was standing there in a state of peace rather than trouble.
On the way back to Haverhill we passed the new Paul Revere School being built on the site of the old Paul Revere School. I went to junior high there. Those were among the unhappiest times of my life, so there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing a new building rise from the rubble of the old.
Yet another symbol of how time heals all wounds if you’re willing to take the steps to make it happen.