This post has absolutely no political content whatsoever. It's entirely personal, so if you're not interested in personal kinds of posts, go ahead and mark it read now, and move on to the next blog in your list.
My name is William G Hartwell. My father’s name was Clarence Vernon Hartwell. He was a Japanese POW for nearly four years. His unit was a Naval hospital that (according to him) was across the street from the American Embassy in Manila, that the Japanese didn’t even know was there for several days after they took over the city. I’m not saying this to claim he was a war hero or anything - in fact, based on things other men who knew him said, that may be the farthest thing from the truth. I don’t know for sure, because all I have is hearsay to go on. In any case, he did survive four years as a Japanese prisoner. This has a bearing on what I’m going to be saying.
My mother is, as far as I know, still alive, so I will not be mentioning her name. I will, however, mention that she wasn’t even born when WWII was going on. She was a mere 18-yo girl when I was born, just about six months after she and my father married. As later years would reiterate, my father liked them young.
Other than her age, another difference between my mother and father was that she would occasionally apologize for her actions. Her apologies would always be accompanied by attempts to shift the blame on someone else, but she would, sometimes, apologize.
My earliest memory of my father isn’t, as I hear from so many other people, of playing ball with him, or doing things around the house. My earliest memory is of him, out of the blue, asking one day if I wanted to go into town. I was eight or nine years old at the time, and I had already developed a healthy suspicion. My response was to ask him why. When I did that, he decided we didn’t really need to go into town after all. You see, by that time, I had already learned that when he offered something like that, without building up to it first, one of two things was going to happen: 1. the trip itself would be an occasion for some unpleasantness, or 2. I would spend the next week paying for his “kindness” in the form of various small indignities, extra “chores” to make up for the things we supposedly had not done while in town (things that had not been scheduled in the first place, but mentioning that was a good way to get a beating), etc. So, I already knew that by asking “why”, I would short-circuit the whole process before it got started.
My earliest memory of my mother, on the other hand, goes back to when I was seven. She was, for a short time, a Cub Scouts den mother. That lasted until one day after a den meeting - one in which one of my sisters had spent the entire meeting making faces at me through the living room window from the front porch. The sister in question was five and knew it all. After all, she was in KINDERGARTEN. I was tired of being tormented constantly. After the meeting ended, I did what a lot of kids that age would do. I stuck my tongue out at my sister. My mother, in the process of putting away the materials she had used for the meeting, saw the fateful tongue - and disowned me. That’s right, she disowned me, when I was seven years old. That started the pattern for the rest of my life.
When I was nine, I started having migraines, bad enough to drop my grades from straight As down to As on my good days, and Cs (or worse) on the days I had migraines. She and my father decided I had to be faking it, and started shopping for military schools to send me to, because I was no son of hers, and he wasn’t going to have a malingerer in his house.
When I was twelve, I forgot one day to drop hay in the horse stalls on my way out to catch the school bus. Once again, I was no son of hers, and if I wanted to live like a guest in her house, I should expect to have to pay for it.
When I was thirteen, she decided that a friend of mine (who has since grown up to be, the way I hear, a successful lawyer) was unsuitable, and I was given the choice of dropping the friend or being sent away to live with my father during the week in the city where he worked, where I would go to school away from my friend’s unsavory influence. And if I didn’t want to do that, I could just start looking for somewhere else to live, because I was no son of hers.
When I was fourteen, my parents split up and my mother began proceedings to divorce my father, because he threw a shoe at me, missed, and hit one of my sisters. Now, he’d been battering me my entire life, and she hadn’t so much as raised her voice in protest. But when he accidentally hit one of my sisters in the process of attempting to hit me, that was suddenly a whole new ball game - one that she wasn’t going to play.
My parents fought over custody of my sisters - in fact, the court proceedings were apparently quite nasty, because my sisters had all (from the one who was only 2 years younger than me, all the way down to the two who were only seven and eight) independently accused my father of attempting to molest them, and despite the court-appointed psychiatrist testifying that they had all been traumatized by his actions, his lawyer managed to get the psychiatrist’s report ruled inadmissible. Funny thing is, my father specifically said he didn’t want my custody, and my mother said she didn’t care where I went.
It continues in a similar vein: my mother hears a new rumor, or imagines she sees or hears something, and states that she is disowning me, frequently accompanied by ordering me out of the house to find somewhere else to live. Inevitably, until I left to go to college, she would relent and pretend the whole thing had never happened after she cooled down.
Things were pretty quiet while I was in the Air Force - there wasn’t much she could do, after all, when I was on the other side of the world (or, at least, stationed in a remote base in northern Michigan). But, once I got out, moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and started looking for work, things started in again. My wife and I (and her two children) would get visits from CPS every month and a half or so for nearly two years, due to anonymous reports they had received that claimed we were abusing and neglecting the children. The visits would always demonstrate that the girls were in fine shape, happy, etc., and we would have assumed it was a crank neighbor, except that my mother phoned once after the visits had been going on for over a year, and when she asked about the girls, expressed real shock and dismay that they were still in our custody. Suddenly, we had a suspicion about who the “anonymous” caller was.
After that phone call, my mother began making a point of being a part of our lives again, visiting whenever she was in the state, phoning occasionally, etc. When I divorced my wife, it was during one of her periods of being out of touch, and when she found out about it later, she told me that she wished I had contacted her, because she would have happily testified about how, when she visited my wife on that base in northern Michigan, my wife had shown her the spot she and her lover used to meet in the woods outside the back fence of the base. She wished I had contacted her--conveniently forgetting that she had never once, in the entire time, given me her phone number, mailing address, or any other means of contacting her. As for what she claimed, I don’t know how real it is. I do know that neither of my first wife’s children carry my DNA, so she had to have been sleeping with at least two other people while I was in the Air Force. Whether she was stupid enough to show my mother her favorite meeting place with whoever she was cheating with at the time? It’s possible. Or my mother could have been imagining it, the same way she’s imagined so many other things throughout my life.
When I got married again, against the advice of everyone who knew the woman I married, my mother expressed her displeasure by disowning me again. I didn’t hear from her again until my wife’s children were taken into emergency custody after one of her lovers molested them. The only reason I heard from her then was that the county had decided, rather than calling the man who was paying child support as their adjudicated father, they would give them to this total stranger who claimed to be their grandmother. I didn’t even know what had happened until my mother called me--the county didn’t notify me until I received the notice of summons for the court date on the question of their custody. You ever notice how governments determine things based on how convenient it is for the government? For instance, when it came to paying child support, I was legally the father of my ex-wife’s children. When it came to taking custody of them, I was not their biological father, so I should have no rights in the matter. Consistency? Logic? Who needs that when you have courts and cops? Funny thing is, by the time the court date came along, my mother had already vanished from the picture again. The county had taken the girls from her and put them into foster care, and she was out of the picture entirely. Not even called to testify regarding their condition, family relations, etc.
After I left my second wife--with the help of a friend from another state who could no longer stand to sit by idly and watch me being abused--my mother suddenly decided to get in touch with me again, and offered me a place to live with her, while she built a house on property my sister had bought in New Mexico. Here’s a hint: If you aren’t stinking filthy rich, don’t buy a “ranchette” in New Mexico. It’s always twenty miles from nowhere, with no electricity, no phone, and no water. You have to pay to bring it all in. At a price of several hundred, to several thousand, dollars per foot. Unless you’re really lucky, and your neighbor brought in phone and power, you can count on paying that several hundred dollars per foot for a distance of several miles. As for water? Any reliable well is going to be over a thousand feet deep. And that’s not even getting into neighborhood association covenants, which any “ranchette” is going to have, because you’ll always be buying into a developer’s planned neighborhood when you buy one.
I was able to stay with my mother for less than six months before I couldn’t take the crazy any more (United Nations troops setting up camp in the next valley over, and the demons of the Apocalypse being set loose on the world, anyone? Those were the SANE ideas she was spouting.) and moved out, into a nice small apartment where I lived while I worked on putting together a Voc Rehab package that would get me into college. Yeah, I’m disabled: 300+ hours of exposure to concentrated CS (military tear gas, used in chemical warfare defense training) can do really NASTY things to your nervous system.
Things were relatively quiet, now that I was safely a couple hundred miles away, going to NMSU. At last, they were until I got too sick to continue school, and my niece decided to go to NMSU, too. That was when things took a sharp (I’m talking 160-degree) turn to the left. One day, I came home from buying groceries, to find a voice mail on my phone. It was from my mother, informing me that I had been disowned (how many times does this make it? I’ve lost count), and that I was hereby ordered (ORDERED, mind you!) to have absolutely ZERO contact with ANYONE in the family until I had pulled my head out of my ass and gotten my life turned around. (The caps are an attempt to show the way my mother emphasized things in the phone message.)
Now, other than the disability, I thought I’d finally gotten my life pretty much on track. I’d recently started seeing someone (who I am happy to say, I am with today, nearly ten years later, and plan to spend the rest of my life with), was getting my things packed to move to Florida, and was, in general, pretty happy with life. So, this phone call was like a blackjack to the base of my skull. After listening to it a couple more times, just to make sure I’d heard it correctly, I phoned my mother to ask WTF?!? As soon as she heard my voice, she hung up, and then took the phone off the hook so I couldn’t get through (where she lived at the time, there was no voice mail and no electricity for an answering machine). I tried my sister (the one whose kid was going to NMSU) and discovered I was call-blocked. I was boggled. But, I figured it was another one of my mother’s fits, and it would wear off in a few days, the way they always did.
THEN, I discovered that my mother had, somehow, managed to get her hands on the phone number for the charity my girlfriend volunteered for, and phoned them, demanding to know how to contact my girlfriend, and demanding that they warn her about how I was a child molester and she was in danger if I got near her. This struck the people at the charity as so utterly batshit crazy that they warned my girlfriend--about the crazy woman who was trying to get her phone number.
It wasn’t until nearly five years later that I got an answer as to what had happened. It seems that the sister whose daughter was attending NMSU had somehow gotten it into her mind that my expressions of “God damn, girl! Here’s a salad! EAT! EAT” translated as “I want to screw my hot and sexy niece until her brain bugs out.” Needless to say, when I finally got that explanation, I wanted to vomit. Aside from the fact that she was my niece, I got over the “ana is sexy” idea when Karen Carpenter died. All I saw when I looked at my niece was future medical problems, not to mention the current emotional problems that had to be driving her apparent anorexia.
When my sister told my mother what she thought, my mother, as she has done my entire life, did not consider the source (a woman with a traumatic brain injury who had a history of delusional behavior because of it), nor did she so much as call me to ask if it was true. She immediately leaped to the worst possible conclusion and acted on it, not only messing with my life, but attempting to mess with the life of my girlfriend, AND freaking out the other volunteers at her charity, who were apparently actually afraid this crazy woman might attempt to contact them in a more direct way than by phone.
I learned about the reason for the crazy in a letter I got from my mother, five years after the fact, in which she apologized for what she did by blaming all of her actions on my sister. Some apology, huh? When I wrote a letter in reply that called her on it, pointing out that this was only the latest in a long line of similar acts, going all the way back to my very first memory of her, her response was, a ten page litany that she herself summed up on the last page with, “Get over it. Your father was abusing me, too.” There’s this look I get, that my girlfriend calls my “baroo?” face. It’s kind of like the expression a dog gets when they’re looking at you, wondering why you did such an insanely human thing. Apparently, I spent the next day or two with that expression on my face. “Get over it. Your father was abusing me, too.” Baroo? This is supposed to excuse repeatedly disowning your child, until he ends up believing he has no inherent worth, and so it’s OK for any woman he’s in a relationship with to abuse him as she sees fit? This is supposed to excuse teaching your son that any behavior is acceptable, as long as a woman does it? This is supposed to excuse teaching your son that he is worthless trash, who can be sacrificed to his father’s brutality, but that a daughter is so precious that even an accidental blow is enough to justify tearing apart the family she had claimed was inviolate, holy, and undefiled before that accident? Baroo?
Once I got over that, I did the only thing that seemed right. I wrote to her, informed her that, due to her past history of disowning me whenever she got a bug up her ass, and due to her past abusive behavior toward me, I was disowning her. I wanted no further contact with her, in any way. Period. No apology, no groveling for forgiveness, no admission that I was wrong for not seeing her actions in the best possible light. After 45 years, I couldn’t take it any more, and I finally cut the cord.
Things are a lot better now, except during May and June.
Mother’s Day is obvious.
Father’s Day . . . let’s just say that, when my therapist analyzed my family history when I was undergoing therapy as part of dealing with surviving an abusive marriage (when he looked at letters my second wife had written me after our separation, he told me that if a man had written them to a woman, he would be in jail), my therapist told me that it seemed to him that my father had used our family as his own personal POW camp, except in his case, he was the commander, instead of the Japanese.
I guess that’s proof that understanding something does not imply forgiving it, and that a good explanation is not a good excuse. My father spent the years from when he was 21 to when he was 25 exposed to actions that (until the American occupation of Iraq) were considered torture, sufficient to justify war crimes trials of those who committed them. While he was smart enough to not duplicate the war crimes he had witnessed, he did duplicate the rigid and inconsistent rules, harsh punishments, inconsistent doling out of favors and scapegoats, etc., that he had often described when talking about his years in the camp. It took an outside observer to make me understand it.
Just because I understand why my father was so messed up does not mean I forgive him for what he did to me and my sisters. Some people may think this makes me a lesser person. I don’t care. Evil should never be forgiven. You may understand it and its reasons, but you can never forgive it. What my father did to us was evil. It can not be forgiven, any more than I can forgive what my mother did when she attempted to destroy my life, my girlfriend’s life, and the lives of the people in the charity my girlfriend volunteered for. (No, I’m not going to name the charity. They get enough shit from insane parents as it is. They don’t need more.)
So, thank you Mom, and thank you Dad, for teaching me that a good reason does not make a good excuse, that evil should never be forgiven, and that May and June are two months that should be stricken from the calendar. Or, at least, two particular days should be.