June 3, 2016

Hardened


My dad is sick. Four words I could have probably strung together at birth. If I am honest, he was always sick. Deeply gifted and deeply troubled; a photographer with a brilliant eye, a lighting director on blockbuster films, and a man who made art out of everything he touched, for better and for worse.

He was handsome and talented and charismatic, a personality that everyone just wanted to be around... until they didn't. He'd show up at grade school pick-ups in leather pants and a white t-shirt with cigarettes rolled in the sleeve, nodding me onto the back of a roaring motorcycle, and earning equal parts raised eyebrows and swoons from teachers and parents. He would buy me elaborate presents on his own birthday, and always repeated that if any kid ever really messed with me, he'd beat the shit out of them... I just had to say the word.

There were the years before rehab; cabin walls covered in photographs, meals cooked over an open fire, summer morning stops at the 711- to pick up a buttered bagel and a Yoo-hoo for me to tote to camp. There were the years of optimism following rehab; loft walls covered in photographs, money rolling in from big movie gigs, one then two then three more babies in as many years. And then, there were the years that connect those memories to today; the reality that mental illness, and not merely addiction, haunted this man; studio walls covered in photographs, watercolor postcards with hundreds of stamps and fragments of narratives bearing my address, broken relationships- personal and professional... blocked phone numbers, forced distance.

For over a decade, I have been convinced that I've made peace with my relationship with my father. He was so mired in the past, obsessed with wrong-doings from his own father, all the injustices of his own life... That isn't me. I won't allow that to be me. I am strong, I am willful, I am mindful, I am responsible, and I will cherry pick memories that serve me, and cast aside those that defeat me.

I will remember all the trips to fine museums, the ballet, tiny art galleries, punk rock shows, and dive bars. I will remember when he'd buy shoes for homeless guys on the street, give them his cell number, and in a few cases, a fresh start in life. I will remember how he wept seeing my drawing of Frida Kahlo, how he told me that I'd never be poor with talent like that, and how truly he believed in me. I'll remember his generosity, how his gifts for my children, whom he never really met, have always been numerous and flawless... right down to the box that arrived a month ago from Mexico; superhero wrestling capes for Smith, colorful embroidered dresses for Roo, perfectly fitting for each.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed a few missed calls from Minnesota, no message, no answer when I phoned the number back. Then came the news from my aunt, my dad wasn't well. He'd been in a geriatric psych ward, and now in the ICU. Maybe it was the trip to Mexico, maybe the shift in seasons, likely a mental break that was years in the making, maybe he'll pull out of it, maybe he won't. And just like that, the thick skin that I have spent 38 years hardening, feels riddled with holes. I don't know what to hope for, I don't know what the best end to this story would look like. I only know that this is a piece of my life that I was resolved would never again cause me pain, and it hurts like hell. No matter how tough I try to be, no matter how tightly I try to hold my shit together and make this life beautiful and easy for my children, the fear and pain and joy and beauty of my own history can never be escaped. I'm working to cope with that, and working to realize that it's probably for the best. I'm working...

12 comments:

  1. Oh Lilly...I haven't called in for so long. But, I know you are still there. This is a raw and honest story about your past, you are very brave for sharing it. It is a striking photo of your dad. I have a less than perfect relationship with my father, thankfully he is fit and quite healthy and stable but there is an awkwardness between us that at the age of 39 I sometimes still struggle with. Families are not always picture perfect and I applaud you for sharing your story. Take care. Jane x

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    1. Thanks so much Jane for your words of support. It's so true that few families are as perfect as we might wish. xoxo

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  2. I hope these coming days are gentle on you, and your father.

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  3. Lilly, I have tears in my eyes reading this. Such beautiful, haunting words, such a tough and emotional story, a story all yours that you have shared with us. Thank you for sharing this piece of your life with us. You are such a beautiful person, inside and out.

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  4. Wow. this is so powerful Lilly. One of my favorite posts of yours ever. And that photograph of him is hard to stop staring at. I relate to so much of this. My own father killed himself when I was 6 but shared many of the same charismatic traits you write about here so it touched me deeply.

    And I know it's a very personal piece but if you ever care to share this on the Ma Books, please let me know. I'd love to have some of your writing in that space.

    xo
    J

    p.s you guys share the same handsome bone structure!

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    1. Thank you Jess, I hadn't known that about your father. I will be in touch xox

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  5. I cried reading this, Lilly.
    What a beautiful writing, thanks for sharing.
    Hugs!

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    1. Thank you so much Anna, I appreciate your words.

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  6. Lilly,
    Your childhood is about as different from mine as I could imagine; thank you for sharing. I am thinking of you during what must be a tumultuous time. I commend your efforts to create such a stable, loving, and safe environment for your children.


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  7. This is simply the most beautiful thing I have read in a very long time. I bet it just flowed out of you when you wrote this. Man...wow. I understand all to well about how addiction and mental illness hold hands. It amazes me just how many people don't know or recognize that they go hand in hand. - I am sorry your father is sick and I hope it all works out as it should. (but I'm hoping for the best) I came across your blog by chance this evening/morning ;) on a whim searching for ideas and plans for making a cardboard playhouse. I never get sucked into blogs (NEVER EVER), but it happened...you're a fantastic writer/blogger. I look forward to reading more in the future. I apologize for my spastic writing - just excited, tired, moved by your story and also my adhd is in overdrive. I loathe that, but hey it's apart me being me. And that's okay...sometimes. Anywho,have a good one! ~ Allison

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