Roads on Her Face #26: Animal Instincts

As I listen to my mom pull her story out of herself piece by piece, matter-of-factly but as if it were a struggle, realizations come to me unbidden. She talks about the people my parents would stay with, here and there, everywhere, and for the first time I think that maybe those people didn’t look forward to these visits. For the first time I see my dad as a mooch, as not so self-sufficient, as not so strong. I think about those kind people who helped, and maybe grew tired of helping, and I feel ashamed.

As a kid I thought of our visits to family and friends with excitement, and never thought that we might not be welcome. I never considered that we might need them, that his drinking had left us nothing and that we needed charity or a safe place to rest. We are so oblivious, in our little insulated child-worlds, even when we have seen the straight of things, the ugly, the dirt swept beneath the couch.

My own sense of strength and personal ability, even in the face of the ugly, comes from the deep feeling of self-sufficiency our little family instilled in each of us, whatever false basis it may have had. When you look closely, we were not alone. We were supported by welfare and food stamps, generous churches or “friends,” family who didn’t want to see my parents together but were swayed by the sweet (and dirty) faces of children. My dad could wheel and deal and spin nothing into cash, old cars into new trailers, empty pockets into dinner. We could live in the desert for weeks with no interaction with the outside. But we had crutches too, and I just now am wondering if I am too self-assured with too little reason.

What option was there, really? The road is no place for weaklings. If your skin is not thick enough the judgment of others will hurt. If you cry, they will pounce and devour you. If you put yourself in a situation, you might deserve what comes to you. You must be prepared for every aspect of the human condition, the animal condition too. Killers and thieves walk among us, and the herd must stay close and circle, ever watchful, around the young ones in the center.

Don’t talk to people you don’t know.

Don’t tell anyone anything, ever. Keep your mouth shut.

Don’t believe what they tell you. They’re out to get you, every one of them.

Cops and the government are ripping us off!!

If they ask you questions at school, don’t answer them.

Stay put, don’t whimper, little foxes. The den is the only safe place.

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4 thoughts on “Roads on Her Face #26: Animal Instincts

  1. I think there’s a really important differentiation between this comment – “we might not be welcome” – and this one – “swayed by the sweet (and dirty) faces of children.” Though only those who took you in could say for certain, something tells me that it was your dad who wasn’t welcome. It sounds like you, your siblings and your mom were in this situation simply as a result of your dad’s poor choices. Have you ever thought to find any of these people to see what they have to say? I’d be curious.

    • Thanks for your always-thoughtful analysis and comment…it was known I think among all of us that the real problem was our dad. However, we were such a tight family unit by necessity that it was kind of one-for-all and all-for-one, regardless of whose fault things were (to ‘outsiders’ anyway). I haven’t directly asked anyone these questions- I’m not that curious for some reason. More because I feel like I know what they’d say, I guess. If I’m going to write a well-rounded book I probably should ask!

      • You are not curious, because you already know the answers. You do not want your book to become too well-rounded… there should be some rough edges. Talk to them when they come to the book signings you invite them to. I hope your mom is starting to enjoy helping you write a little bit. Little Penny needs material.

      • Well, I do have plenty of rough edges so I should be ok. 🙂 Mom is loosening up a little- now to start logging all the interviews with her! This could take me years…- A

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