My childhood memories are sketchy at best. Whether some are repressed, or my mind just doesn’t want to remember or accept them, my recollections are a bit all over the board. Both my parents were in the throes of alcoholism, and I suppose they did the best they could with what they had as a lower middle-class family. This isn’t to say I don’t have some fond memories, I do…I just know that there are some very unpleasant ones in the mix too. While a lot of this happened during the mid to late 1960’s and well into the 1970’s, I suffered the initial brunt of that dysfunction during those years, but my younger brother probably took the worst of it in the later years. I guess this is why two weeks after graduating high school, I went (do not pass go, do not collect $200), directly into the United States Marine Corps. It was the only thing I could think of to get me out of the craziness and into some place of normalcy. USMC boot camp…normal? A bit of an oxymoron I suppose and a better word could have been used, but it’s the only one that comes to mind. Anything and anyplace away from that life. To me, enlisting in the Marines was the normal thing to do and my next path in life.
I struggle with the word “normal” as I know there were those families who had it much better, and those who had it much worse…way worse. But I only learned from the example being set for me during those formative years. I drank, did the drugs and was promiscuous, probably as a result of sexual abuse. It was what I saw, what I experienced and what I learned. I thought it was normal. My mother was in the midst of an affair with my father’s “best” friend that started in the late 1960’s, and after leaving my father upon the affair being discovered in 1979, she lived with this man until her death in 1991. My father had a debilitating stroke in 1980 and was confined to a wheelchair with only the use of his left hand…the one he used in 1984 to pull the trigger of a handgun and commit suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple.
Yes, I know…a tragic story. But, in the midst of it, there is a silver lining. I survived those years, and so did my brother. Not much of a silver lining you might think, but I’m writing this aren’t I? (I kind of smiled as I wrote that last sentence). You see, people are resilient. They can suffer the most tragic and horrific childhoods or even adult circumstances and come out on the other side not only healed, but in a better place altogether. And that is where I am. I’m in a much better place and I believe my brother is too.
My initial intentions at the outset of this story was not going to be what I just wrote about, but it sort of morphed into something different. My father was not much for words and I intended to write about the one and only thing he ever, and I mean ever told me that he felt I needed to learn to grow into a productive adult. And, that was to sacrifice. I guess I’ve thought about this over and over in the probably 60 plus years since he told me this, but I assume sacrifice is a part of life and I accept it as I move into each new day. Delay pleasure, sacrifice now and succeed. I guess I sacrificed a lot of my childhood as there are and were other issues too numerous to mention here. But when I wake up in the morning, I sit up and say a prayer of thanks and gratefulness that I’ve been given a new day. One of sacrifice (give to others), and one of gratitude.
I have a great life, and I’ve had several great careers that will sustain me through the rest of my years. And, as I continue to work, learn, love and express everlasting gratitude, I know that the sacrifices I’ve made are the ones meant to bring me to this place. And, for that, I am eternally, undyingly grateful.