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I don’t often check out the Daily Prompts these days. Like everyone else I had started finding them repetitive. But I stopped by The Happy Quitter just now and read Bridget’s post in response to today’s prompt and it stirred emotions in me — not just Bridget’s words, but the prompt itself. Please do stop by her blog and have a read. It was a beautiful post about the legacy her grandmother left her.

The prompt was: When Childhood EndsWrite about a defining moment in your life when you were forced to grow up in an instant (or a series of instants).

The prompt brought up some painful memories that are still rippling through my life nearly 60 years later. I’ve written about this before but it’s been awhile. If I had to choose one thing from my childhood that altered the course of my life — specifically my relationships with other people — it would be when my father walked out on our family for a time.

Though he returned not long after, I believe that event left me feeling vaguely responsible for every bad thing that ever happened in my life or the life of those I loved. Sometimes children are forced to grow up all too fast, to begin to take responsibility for others at an age when they’re not ready. Six years old was far too young to become responsible for the unhappiness of my parents. They were responsible for their own unhappiness, of course, but how is a six-year-old supposed to know that?

That experience not only left me with a free-floating feeling of guilt that sits on my shoulders like a mantle, but also a niggling fear that anyone I love will eventually leave. Contrary to trite advice, time does not always heal all wounds… I’m working to change those wrong messages that rattle around in my brain, but I gotta tell ya I still trip over those suckers a lot!

(Poem reposted from 2/28/15)

* * * * *

Trying

boredsix years old,
she stands
by his side
and watches
her daddy
slip the letter
into the bible.
when i’m gone,
he says,
tell mommy
where this is.

she doesn’t
understand
why daddy can’t
give it to mommy
himself.
a hug, a big one.
daddy is crying.
she watches as he
hitches a bag
over his shoulder,
pulls the front door
shut behind him.

don’t go, daddy…

* * * * *

the letter made
mommy cry, too.
no… she
made mommy cry.
she was the one
who showed her
where it was.
she feels guilty,
though she doesn’t
know the word
or what it means.

don’t cry, mommy…

* * * * *

mommy
is angry now.
angry at her
she thinks.
mommy
doesn’t like me,
she thinks.
she knows what
that word means.
she hears mommy
and daddy not like
each other a lot.

mommy, please like me…

does daddy
not like her, either?
is that why he left?
was it
because of her?

oh, daddy, please like me…

* * * * *

mommy says
daddy’s coming home,
but she wonders
if daddy will leave again
if she’s not a
very, very good girl.

she doesn’t want
daddy to leave,
she doesn’t want
mommy to cry.
she doesn’t want
them to not like her.

why can’t jesus
fix the not likings
the way he fixed
the lame man
in her colored
sunday school paper?
maybe jesus
doesn’t like her, either,
because she
doesn’t know
how to be a good girl.
maybe no one
likes her.
maybe she’s just
not likeable.

she will spend
the rest of her life
trying to be likeable
so that daddy
won’t leave again,
and mommy
won’t cry anymore,
and jesus will
answer her prayers
when she prays.

* * * * *

a lifetime later
she’s still trying…
…only now it’s
with everyone.

 

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