I met Jack when I was eight years old. I walked in from a hard day of playing outside and there he was…..just sitting at the table, talking to my mom, just sitting and talking to my mom, like he belonged there, like there was nothing unusual about a strange man I never saw before sitting at the table.
But it was unusual, very unusual and I was instantly curious about who he could be. I tried eavesdropping but they weren’t giving anything away. I looked around the room for a clue and spotted a bag of oranges on the counter and thought maybe he sells oranges. I asked my mom where the oranges came from and she told me my Dad brought them home. Nope, not the “Orange Man,”
When he finally left, I asked my mother who he was. She told me he was my father. I was confused and dismayed by this new development. I did not particularly like or trust most men and I already had a dad that I loved. I didn’t understand where he was supposed to fit into the picture of my life. I already had a mom, a dad, a brother, and a big, fat cat named Tiny. A complete, whole family. There was no room for a “father” too.
I became a little more open to the idea when I found out “the father” came with four step-sisters. I already had a Dad, but sisters…I didn’t have any sisters. I WANTED sisters.
I went for a visit, I liked it but I could tell my mother didn’t want me to like it and even if she didn’t come out and say it, I knew she didn’t want me to visit.
Jack’s role in my life never became consistent. I always knew this was due to me and not him. I never became comfortable with him. I was never able to connect to him as my father. It was not his fault. I knew he wanted to love me but I was an abused girl, afraid of men, and he didn’t stand a chance.
I stopped my weekend visits with him when I was 12. Right before my life went completely and totally out of control. But that’s a story for another time.
When I was 25, I decided to try and find Jack. I felt strongly that my son should have the chance to have a relationship with his grandfather. I tracked him down and was waiting for him to be given the message that I was trying to find him. I didn’t have any doubts that he would call me. I always knew that he loved me.
While I was waiting for that call, my mother asked me to come for a visit. During that visit. She sat me down and told me Jack wasn’t my father after all.
I felt shocked, confused, betrayed and lost. I felt like I didn’t know who I was or who I was supposed to be. I did what I always did in situations like this. I ran. I ran because that was my default tendency. I ran because that was the coping skill I knew best. I ran because I didn’t know how to deal with all the feelings that were coming up for me.
Jack called just like I knew he would. I listened to his message on the answering machine and I cried. I never called him back. I don’t know if he tried to call more than once because when I said I ran, I mean that in every sense of the word. I immediately moved out of where I was living. That’s how I handled things in those days. I took off, I escaped, I avoided, I started over. I was always starting over back then. I never stayed any place for very long. I frequently changed where I lived, where I worked, who I associated with. I didn’t have long term relationships. As a matter of fact, I didn’t do anything long term. I didn’t know it then, but that was part of my PTSD. Back then, I didn’t even know I had PTSD, but it was ruling my life none the less.
I handled this situation by changing everything in my life and then numbing it all out with food and gaining a lot of weight until I reached a point of total self-disgust. Then I changed everything in my life and lost a lot of weight. This was also a coping mechanism and recurring cycle in my life. I put myself back into therapy and once again attempted to heal my life. Something else I was always trying to do. I worked hard on myself and I thought I finally achieved that goal.
I did heal. I healed a lot! I just wasn’t as “finished” as I thought I was. I did heal enough of myself that I was able to learn how to stay still. I stopped running. I learned how to stay in a relationship. I got married. I had another child. I learned how to partner with another person and achieve goals and build a life. We bought a house. I had the two things I craved most, but never thought I would achieve, security and stability. I was living a normal life and I was healed at last.
I was 31 years old. My son was in 7th grade. I now knew Jack wasn’t my father, my son did not. He came home from school and he was really excited. He told me that day in school he met his cousin. He told me he gave him our phone number my father would be calling me. Within hours, Jack called.
Jack was also very excited. My mother told me that Jack knew he wasn’t my father. It was obvious to me it that wasn’t true. My mother decided to call him and tell him. He immediately called me back and said my mother was a liar. I decided it didn’t matter. Legally he was my father. He was excited. My son was excited. He wanted a relationship with us. And so I tried. I really did try. There were a few visits. Only I wasn’t as healed as I thought I was. I still didn’t know yet that I had PTSD and the unhealed parts of myself were being triggered and I was unable to follow through. For the last time, I abandoned my relationship with Jack. It felt like the right thing for me to do. And at that time, it was. I had to honor the boundaries within myself that I was capable of keeping. I didn’t want to hurt him but I know that I did.
Jack passed away recently. With his death came an opening inside of me that I thought was closed off a long time ago. I wasn’t prepared for the grieving process that still needed to take place, I wasn’t prepared for the random bouts of tears that came out of nowhere. I wasn’t prepared for the anger that rose up inside from a place where I thought there was no more anger left. In the 20 years since I last saw Jack a lot has changed. My healing has continued. On most days I feel whole, happy and healed. But that doesn’t mean my PTSD can’t still pop up and smack me in the face. It can, it will and it did. And it truly Sucked!
But as awful as it was. It didn’t completely take me out the way it once did. I was able to recognize what was happening pretty quickly and my recovery time was smoother, gentler and faster than it used to be as well. I am grateful for the healing process, the tools that help me through it and the life it lets me live. It’s okay that I’m still learning, growing, evolving, healing and that I always will be.
To the man who just wanted to love me, I am deeply sorry that I wasn’t able to let you or to love you back. RIP Jack.