I warn you in advance that this is a little bit of a mess, hence the title.
According to reliable sources my father married three times in his lifetime. While select unreliable sources credit him with four wedding (and a funeral) I’m going to stick with what can be proven. Many of you reading this are familiar with his first and third wives (my mother and his last wife) but I suspect that only my family knows about my father’s second wife, Linda, whom he was married to for the longest time of the three. While I’ve mentioned her a few times in stories on this blog she has never really gotten the credit she deserves for being a positive influence on my life. Here are a few things you should know about her:
1- The first time Linda I met her I had just been suspended from school and sent to my father’s house so he could deal with me. Despite my delinquency she made me chocolate milk.
2- From the time I was 15 until I was 20 I lived with her and my father. During much of this time my father was only sporadically employed so his second wife fed and clothed me and kept a roof over my head. She later did the same for my brother and sister.
3- She caught me smoking and drinking when I was 15 and didn’t tell on me.
4- The only time my father hit me I did not hit him back, but she did.
5- About six weeks ago, she died.
My sister called me today to tell me that she just learned that Linda had passed away after a long illness that we did not know she had because we had not spoken to her in many years. This was not by design, over the years we just lost contact. The easy thing to say is that she and my father divorced and each one went their separate ways but the truth isn’t always so neat.
The truth is this: they had several good years but things changed over time. She and my father both brought out the best and worst in each other, the best was the ability to light up any room they walked into and the worst was alcoholism and raging self-destruction. In the five years I lived with them things got ugly with enough regularity that as a teenager I always had an escape plan in the event it got too out of hand.
From my perspective it seemed like my father caused these problems a greater number of times but it takes two to make an unhappy marriage. Regardless of who was to blame they split up shortly before I moved to Los Angeles but that was kept a secret. The night before I moved she joined my father and I for dinner and smiled like nothing was wrong. No one in the family knew they had split until Linda stopped RSVP-ing for family events. My father proceeded with his life as if nothing was wrong and nothing had happened. Our questions about her were met with vague answers or silence. Still, we kept in touch for a while through email and mutual acquaintances would tell my family how she was but eventually those things stopped. When members of my family tracked her down they were kindly told that she was sorry but she wanted to leave the past in the past. I accepted this decision because I had no choice, still I hoped there would be time at some later date to catch up.
When my father passed away last year Linda’s absence was notable but understandable. After all she had been through with my father I understood that she might not want to reopen those wounds even if I was a little hurt that she wasn’t there. What I didn’t know is that she was already sick from cancer at the time. When my uncle tracked her down to tell her my father had died she asked how my brother, sister and I were doing but never mentioned a word about her health.
Today I don’t know what to think. I’m sad that someone who meant a lot to me is gone and I didn’t know about it for six weeks. I regret that I could have at any time over the last several years tracked her down and I never did. I feel terrible that I allowed my father to essentially erase someone out of our lives. I feel selfish for having hurt feelings when she didn’t show up last fall. I’m sorry that things ended badly between she and my father and I’m sorry that she didn’t live long enough for her life to get better again. More than anything I just wish I could have said thank you.