I had begun to wonder. What would it be like to have been born into a different family? Would the rules have changed? Would I have still become an addict? For that matter, would I have lived long enough to make to recovery?
So many questions…So little time.
It is not shame that has brought me into this need. This longing to write out exactly what happened in my family’s little cycle/circle of abuse. I caressed that wound years ago. Adamant that more needed to be done. Actions needed to be taken against my abusive father and emotionally distant mother.
I stewed over the pains and aches…like leftover beef on a hot outdoor grill in the New Hampshire summer humidity.
Yet, something began to turn inside of me. There had been less pointing of the finger at those I felt were culprits in the boiling blood of my family legacy. And, more of a need to understand my own paranoia, anger, compulsiveness and…unfortunately, physical ailments.
As I write this, there have been several orthopedic surgeries within the last five years. More than ten…Less than fifteen. I say, unfortunately about my disability…for I will never know for sure. Never to know the exact background to illnesses that have taken the lives of relatives from the past. For I do not know the exact reason for the ills that have befallen many on my family tree.
I do know this for certain…
My grandfather, who had been born in Worcester, Ma., was unpleasant. As unpleasant and outwardly angry, as most any man, I have ever met. His scowl and belittling undertone statements struck fear in any person…unlucky enough to have met him.
He had been a Massachusetts State Policeman. He had been a chain smoking, heavy drinking, Irishman, who took no prisoners…Took no prisoners when he worked. Or, when he came home.
Somehow through the course of the 1960’s Joseph developed a knack for photography. One thing, led to another…And, not only did he carry a gun to the scene of a crime. He also took pictures of all the deadly, beyond a good imagination, crash sites. He became the go to man when it came to homicide, suicide, and accidental death, by motor vehicle.
I still remember vividly the many occasions in Waltham, on Cedar Circle. The obligating ride down route 128 to an obligating visit…to pictures strewn about the dinning room table. Vivid black and whites of the latest victim of death upon the Massachusetts’s turnpike.
If anything…my grandfather’s glorious response to how…beautiful and engaging the photos were. Only truly depicts his personality. The idea that someone could get so much satisfaction out of another’s untimely demise…stirs the depth’s of my soul.
Guns, guts and glory!
To this stoic man whose employment photo in full uniform, reminded me of one of Hitler’s henchmen: My grandmother was a dumb Pollock and my mother a, stupid cow.
So often my grandmother found herself the butt-end of polish jokes. And, my mother, forever, reminded of a youth speckled in bullying. Bullying by her own flesh and blood. Over her size and weight.
There had been the slaps, the belt, the insults, the pushing and shoving…by my grandfather towards both Grams and my mother.
I recall riding home from my great aunt’s funeral. Passing the homeless, the burned out buildings, the graffiti and the desolation of streets in Waltham. I never cared for the city in which my mother grew up. Having been born in Concord, New Hampshire. The definition of city envisioned itself quite different. Concord being the bright sunlight of day. Waltham being the wet and dripping stonewalls of night.
Riding home in the backseat with my mother. I spent my time in a blank state of mind. Avoiding eye contact with those on the street. Pretending to enjoy the gray of the city. Passing a rundown watch factory, and just over a set of forlorn rail-tracks…we came up on a bridge.
My mother said something to me…Something, I will always remember. She also spoke in a familiar tone. A tone that I can only associate with childhood. Very, very, hush, hush. As though, her words had no air.
“This is the bridge where I almost jumped!”
For a moment. I thought maybe she had misspoken. But it took little time for me to realize who was speaking to me. My mother had a vast history of suicidal thoughts, tendencies and suicide attempts.
Quickly and with what meek energy she could summon…
She spoke a few words more.
“Your grandfather sent me out to get him cigarettes in the middle of a snowstorm. He had a few patrolmen over, he’d been drinking and…he didn’t feel like getting out of the Lazy Boy.
He didn’t give me enough money. I couldn’t get the cigarettes. When I got home, he asked me…
‘What good are you? You’re as stupid as your Pollock mother!’
With more money in hand and crying. I slipped on my goulashes and left. He had such a way of making me feel so small.”
My mother had a unique way of starting a feel good family story…and, just ending it. Just like that. As if the story didn’t begin in the first place.
The most of I got out of her? Had been a simple, non-comedic, punchline…
“Anyway, I felt so horrible. I stopped at that bridge. Climbed on the bricks. Slipped and fell, back onto the sidewalk. A patrol-car passed by. Recognized me as, Joe’s kid. And, gave me a ride back home. Completely oblivious to what I had just tried to do.”
Grabbing my mother’s hand gently. I looked ahead to my grandmother, who was still alive at the time. And, my father, who had been complaining about my grandmother’s use of the car window.
That is all I have to say, at least for now, about dear old granddad. A man we the children called, affectionately, Joe Poe.
Whoops! Untrue. I will introduce the Matriarch of the family, by giving one more nod to Joe Poe.
In my mid twenties, I had come out. Not full blown. I’m not a full blown…anything. I just am not a wearing the rainbow flag like a poncho, leather wallet with chains, lesbian. Do not get me wrong. That image works for many. It just has never been my style. I have done the marches, the sit-ins, the demonstrations and the volunteering. Yet, for many reasons, I remain private but open.
My grandfather disowned me…when I had been 24 or 25. Nothing spectacular. I had moved to North Carolina. My grandfather was beginning to slowly die, grow blind and talk gibberish. Though, to me he had been sick all his life.
I sent him audiotapes of Sherlock Holmes detective series and a sundry of other murder mysteries, on tape. They were all sent back. Very little communication occurred. And, in the same hushed voice my mother always used. I had been told…Joe Poe was not pleased with my sexual orientation.
Five years later, upon my return to New Hampshire. My grandfather died not two months into my return.
With some coaxing by my partner and my mother, I renewed a relationship with the Matriarch.
Ruth Quinn had once been…Ruth Stukonis! The Pollock joke is on you Joe Poe. It turns out my grandmother is actually, Lithuanian and Russian!
Raised by bad ass nuns and foster families from hell, Ruth came of age before and during the depression…The depression in Boston being raised by an already uncaring and violent family, could not have been easy.
It could be said, that my grandmother had the mouth of a truck driver, the drinking ability of a sailor and the prowl-ness of a well handled knife.
She worked in factories, restaurants, college cafeterias, etc., only to come home to a belt wielding, gun totting hard-ass, husband. But she was married! And, for a woman of the 1940’s, catholic and fat (her words, not mine) that was everything.
There are times where I know I did not love her. Yet, I respected her. My grandmother and mother both dealt with severe weight issues. All their lives. Even when they were below a good weight. In their minds, and due directly to my grandfather’s belittling, both were forever on a diet.
Ruth told you, daily: How stupid you were, how fat you were, how you could do better, what was wrong with your wardrobe and many other things she deemed your personal flaws. Her abuse came verbally.
Emotionally distant, not one for the friendly feeling of a hug, and/or telling you she ‘loved you.’…That had been my grandmother. Along with telling you dirty jokes, pointing out your latest cold sore and listening to Jimmy Buffet’s
Let’s Get Drunk and Screw
Indeed, she accused me of stealing, lying, drinking and drugging, on more occasions than I can count. And, much to her now deceased… chagrin, she typically pronounced these indiscretions when I hadn’t done anything.
Do not get me wrong. I did steal, lie, do drugs and drink. Just now when she wished upon me the Scarlet A.
I actually tried to make an amends to her, early in sobriety: For taking a paperboy’s tip, from decades before. She refused to believe me.
Looking back, I know in the deep part of my heart. The part only my wife and animals are allowed to see. I know…Ruth and Joe Poe did not care for me. I had been the product of my father’s blood. And, my father was a heathen, a heretic, a non-catholic.
My siblings did not share my father’s heritage. And, though they had been prime examples of abuse, from my mother’s first marriage…They still did not belong to ‘that man.’ That man who had been my father.
To Be Continued…the Dying of a Matriarch