The day of my birth, February 16, 1972, is a day that was often “discussed” in our house. When my parents were engaged in their nightly ritual of drinking and mutual, verbal sparring, and I stepped in with my feeble attempt to make the peace, my mom would inevitably bring up the events that may or may not have transpired on this historic day.
“Why don’t you ask your father where he was when I was in the hospital giving birth to you?” asked my mom with a noticeable slur and an underlying tone of contempt. The question clearly being addressed to my father, he would respond,
“I was out celebratin’ because my son was born on my birthday.”
My father and I share the same birthday, along with Ice T, Sonny Bono, John McEnroe, and Kim Jong-il.
“You goddamn liar! You were at the bar getting drunk like you always do and screwing around with your whores!” I suspect that my mom, along with her sisters, were born with a genetic mutation that allows them to contort their faces in a moment of rage that must serve some evolutionary purpose.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some infidelity on both my parent’s parts, but the reference to my dad’s “whores” was more figurative than literal. To qualify as a whore, one had to be female, between the ages of 17 and 60 and come within a 10-foot radius of my father. My mom made exceptions for immediate family members, close friends of her children, and herself.
This conversation, or script, rarely modified, played out over and over again like poorly written computer code stuck in an endless loop. The repetitiveness was most likely due to the fact that both my parents would get so drunk that they simply didn’t remember what they had and had not argued about the night before. This script was just one of their many that I heard night after night. The others all revolved around the themes of jealousy, infidelity, intoxication, and hatred. To say I grew up in a toxic environment would be an understatement.
The “What the Hell Did We Argue About Last Night?” Script
It was no secret that my parents’ marriage was more like a verbal WWF cage match than a friendship with benefits. Even as a young child I gave my mom my full support when she would sit me down and tell me that she and my father were getting a divorce (this script played out at least three times per year). I needed my father and mother; I just didn’t need or want them under the same roof. They never did get a divorce. There were probably many reasons that despite their contempt for one another they stayed together including their children, finances, and the stigma attached to divorce given their Catholic upbringing. Perhaps the biggest reason was that my parents needed each other in a highly codependent and psychologically unhealthy way. The times when they did get along best was when they were attacking a common enemy, such as my aunt, uncle, a family friend, or a politician. Even the “good times” were based on anger and hate.
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What is a “normal childhood?” Does it include almost being murdered by your sister with an ax? Speeding around town in the back of a station wagon because your mom is chasing an “alien spaceship”? Being busted by the police for intent to light a pond on fire? Tackling your mom to the ground and wrestling a knife out of her hand because she was trying to kill your dad? While my stories may be unique, readers will be able to relate to the broader themes are part of a normal childhood such as sibling rivalry, eccentric parents, doing stupid things, and frequently preventing one’s parents from literally murdering each other.
Although some of the subject matter is not something one would generally laugh at, you have my permission to laugh. Social rules don’t apply here; my rules do. It works for me, and who knows, after reading the stories from my past, you might be inspired to see your own screwed up past in a more humorous light.
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