I am a Molotov cocktail of a person.
When God knit the masterpiece that is me (His words, not mine), included were a short fuse, an indiscriminate flash-bang and a slow burn. I’m not much for initiating a war but more than happy to riot when I’m backed into a corner. I fit the profile of my Scotch-Irish heritage, that’s for sure.
God also made sure that I was a first-born with a healthy understanding of the difference between mischief and trouble. It was a nice check-and-balance for me. If I’d been a part of the Boston Tea Party it’s likely that I’d have been at the Green Dragon rousing the rabble and then signed up for the role of lookout when it came to time dump the tea. I want to get my point across but I really don’t want to go to jail or get shot if I can avoid it.
Now, I know my dad didn’t intentionally abandon me. He didn’t choose the heart attack. In fact, he’d prepared for his demise with a will and life insurance and all sorts of wise choices in the event of an untimely demise. Doesn’t change the fact that he untimely left and never returned, though.
Anger became the primary emotion. That’s how it works when you feel cheated.
When expectations, unrealistic or otherwise, aren’t met the natural reaction is to take it out on somebody. Gunslingers in the Wild West killed over palmed cards. Kids howl when they don’t make the team. We all get edgy when the texting driver next to us swerves into our lane. Punks riot when the band they paid to see cuts the set short and won’t be giving refunds. So it goes.
And my unrealistic expectation was that my dad would live to hold his grandkids and be at my next little league game. You bet I felt cheated even if I wasn’t thinking that far forward when I was a kid. I mean, you expect your dad to come home from work when he left that morning, right? Not irrational or unreasonable, but you can see it’s unrealistic, right? Bad things are out there, man. We’re all one phone call away from a very different life than the one we currently live.
Compounding matters was that there wasn’t one lone villain to exact vengeance on. The doctors? The hospital? My mom? My dad? My God? The effects of “The Fall?” The world’s being an imperfect place where screws fall out all the time? The answer was “all the above” and “none of the above” at the same time. Frankly, it would’ve made my life easier if anyone or anything wore the black hat.
Instead I got angry and everything and nothing all at once. It wasn’t like the guy in Inside-Out who had the full-time job of being angry. No. Anger can’t maintain that pace. Anger has to rest but it’s a light sleeper.
You’re walking around being 13—and every single thing that entails—with your friends and that kerosene soaked fuse on my Molotov cocktail would ignite…
…Poster promoting the father/son golf camp out.
…My mom crying because Jimmy has a dad that can pick up at the arena after the hockey game downtown but he commandeered the daylight drop-off shift instead.
…after the game all the parents were there but your mom had school and, oh, yeah, Frankie’s parents tell you they will take you home and you get to sit at the pizza place with their family feeling all third-wheel for an hour while knowing you’d find the house empty when you got there.
…when you’re heating up hot dogs in the microwave or making soup or Mac & Cheese or Steak Umms (old school reference there, kids) or grilled cheese to eat by yourself for who knows how many nights in a row after a lifetime of family meals together.
…when Danny’s dad would be giving us advice on how to score points with the girls before he dropped us off at the skating rink on Friday night.
I won’t go on. I’m not trying to get pity (that sets my hair on fire, too), only trying to give you a few examples of what ignited the fuse.
This is where I remind the newbies here at The Diner that my family’s life changed dramatically from late November 1979 until late 1982. My mom went back to school to get her teaching certificate up-to-date and get her Master’s degree…and my Cleaver life disintegrated (more on that with Friday’s entry). This would include any church attendance—which was fine by me since I’d made a deal with God.
The theologically accurate/practically benign statements of church folks at my dad’s funeral ensured that even though God’s plan put my dad in a better place, well, my view was that the plan had a few holes in it and his current location wasn’t near me. I’d be okay if God stayed on his side of the universe and I stayed on mine. Interesting to this day that I never doubted His existence through all that.
A bit more for the newbies: When you’re mad at everything and nothing all at once, all the time, you seek out ways to blow off steam. Booze and drugs were out since first-born me was sure my mom would find out and she’d cry some more. Too young for girls (this is what those of us who weren’t good with interpersonal relationships with the opposite sex say). No car. But I found a tribe of angry folks in the punk scene. That music sounded like the way I felt, and a night of moshing (fun fact: it was called mashing until the singer of the seminal band Bad Brains—who was Jamaican—said it and people just repeated what they heard) to music that was about something gave anger a sleeping pill.
That’s the rub, though. Remember? He’s a light sleeper and whatever valve the steam came through would get shut. Booze/pills. Sex. Stuff. You can induce naps for him that way, but he remains a lather-rinse-repeat deal for everybody. Anger was a lifestyle for me. A lifestyle that’s hard to maintain even if you have the check-and-balance of being a first-born.
Insider truth: That makes it worse.
See, as a first-born, you don’t want to evoke pity so you never answer with the truth when they ask how you’re doing. You tell everyone what they want to hear because you’re tired of creating awkward pauses. You stay composed when you feel like bashing someone’s/anyone’s head in because everyone is waiting see when/if/how you’re going to lose it. You can’t dissolve and stay in the fetal position sucking your thumb because then they’ll see you’ve lost it. You second-guess almost every emotion you have.
So, first-born me found a punk tribe outlet that was rabble rousing but at least accepted within the framework of society…this means grown ups would put this in the category of “teenagers rebel” and let it go. Well, as long as you didn’t bring it to school or drag their perfect kid into it and for god’s sake please turn down that noise.
Here’s reason one I fear abandonment: If I’m abandoned, anger is a guaranteed side effect.
If you’ve ever lived with the Molotov cocktail of anger as a way of life—let me emphasize that again—as a way of life…
…you know how hard that life is. If you throw the bomb there will be consequences. If you hold on to it, it’ll explode in your hand. Crazy about those options?