Last week the boyfriend and I went out for Mexican food at our favorite Nolensville Road restaurant and just happened to be seated by the managing editor, Mark, of the news station where I work. He was sitting alone because his family was out of town, so I asked him to join us. Since he was already drinking a beer, he did the sensible thing and invited me to sit with him. We accepted his kind invitation.
He asked me about my day, and I told him it's always been a good day when you've been called a pro-anarchist baby killer. The boyfriend found it funny that I'd been labeled pro-anarchist since I am so laughably not at all like that. I grew up a total goody-two shoes and even now, I explained, I'm always afraid I'm going to get in trouble. I always want to know the rules and try to follow them out of general fear. The few rules I do break I break willfully and after giving it much thought.
Mark asked me why I was like that, always afraid of getting into trouble. I paused because the answer is so complex and sordid it would take days to tell. I found the right words in, "My childhood was somewhat chaotic." We all left it at that and dove for more salsa.
But after spending a wonderful afternoon with my mom and my sister yesterday reminiscing, I was able to think more about the chaos. And learn more. My mother told me things about very messy part of my past that, frankly, I don't remember much about.
She told me about the divorce from the man she married after she and my Dad split up. He was abusive mentally and physically, and he had been hoarding money. He controlled every aspect of our lives and worked us like little slaves on his propery, raking leaves for hours on end, picking up cigarette butts he'd thrown on the ground. I was too young to fully grasp it at the time, but my stepfather was exploiting this mentally disabled man who was poor and lived on our street for labor. He'd work him for hours on end with payment of only a meal for his effort. He was such a sweet man, and I felt so sorry for him.
My mother, who worked at the time as a church secretary, spent hours in counselling with the pastor at our church. She finally found it in her to leave him, even with the little money she had. I never thought until now how much that preacher saved my family. I should contact him and thank him for that.
So, she told him she wanted a divorce. Then he bugged our house.
Seriously. It's like something out of a movie, but it happened. He installed a surveillance system in our home and on our phones to monitor her every move. He was going to try to prevent her from leaving in whatever way he could. He was hoping to catch her in an affair with the pastor of the church who was helping her flee his abuse. He listened in on her conversations, then would take phrases or snatches of her speech he couldn't have possibly heard and repeat them to her later. She thought she was losing her mind, and how could she not have?
My stepfather confronted the pastor with the tapes as if that was proof my mother was cheating. That is how far gone this guy was. He's the one who told my preacher about bugging our house, which is how we all knew. Luckily, this information saved my mother from losing her mind. Can you imagine having someone repeat your private conversation back to you when you know they were somewhere else entirely?
It wasn't long after that that we left. We actually fled his house in the night and ran to my uncle's house. But not before he hit my mother one last time. We stayed at my uncle's house for two days, and I was just happy to be out of there.
We got a tiny apartment in Ashland City and for a while my stepfather stalked us. He would follow my sister and I on our walks home from school and offer us donughts if we'd get in his car.
I learned last night that soon thereafter he had a heart attack.
My mother went with my aunt to visit him in the hospital. She knew his children who lived out of state didn't know about his heart attack, so she thought she'd do the decent thing and contact them. She looked for his children's numbers in his wallet, but they weren't there.
She called to his room a few days later to check on his status when she was told she'd been barred from contacting him in person or in phone. When he awoke, apparently, he thought that my mother had been going through his wallet to steal his money. And with that phone call she ended her relationship to a severely sick individual.
He moved to Phoenix with his childeren after that where he had another heart attack and died. My mother did not learn this until she saw that mentally disabled man my dead stepfather also once abused working as a greeter at our hometown Wal-Mart. He stopped to tell my mother that my stepfather's family had flown him out to Arizona for the funeral. Apparently that sweet man did not know he'd been mistreated, or could not hold a grudge.
Then he asked my mother if she'd been the one to send dead flowers to his funeral. She said no, that that was the first she'd heard of his passing. And with that we made our way to buy whatever it is we were there for.
Dead flowers will always be how I remember him.