Tag Archives: family

Memories of a Life

Published / by Kim

My former stepfather, Stuart, died after a horrible car accident a few years ago. Stuart and I didn’t have a relationship after he and my mother divorced, but for much of my life he was my father. In fact, he was the only father I ever truly had. He was a complicated man, capable of sinking to very low lows but also capable of incredible kindness and caring. The stories of the lows are many, but since his death, I make an effort to focus on the good things, and those, too, were many.

Two days after Stuart passed away, I found myself sitting in my mother’s kitchen at 3am with my younger brother. We spent the night drinking tequila and talking about his dad. A memory I shared with him that night was one of my fondest, the memory of the first night I met Stuart. He and my mother were dating for a little while and she brought him home to meet me. I think I was about eight years old, maybe nine. What was supposed to happen was that I would come out of my room, be introduced and be charming, then disappear back into my room for the rest of the night. As is still typical of plans about me made without asking me, the plan went askew. When I went out to meet him, I showed Stuart one of the drawings I did that afternoon. He was so sweet, and seemed so interested, that when I went back into my room, instead of staying in there like a good girl, I immediately came back out with another drawing to show him. He expressed an interest in that one, too. And so the rest of my mom and Stuart’s date that night consisted of me popping in and out of my room with more and more drawings. I’m sure I must have shown him twenty pictures that night.

A lot of men would have lost interest after the first time, maybe the third if he liked kids, but Stuart stayed interested and kind throughout the whole thing. (Or at least was nice enough to act like that fifteenth cartoon drawing was fascinating.) The next day, my mother chastised me for being a ham, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was that Stuart was sweet to me, and to a little girl starved for paternal attention, that was a balm.

After my mother and Stuart moved in together and eventually married, there were the normal blended family growing pains. Things weren’t always happy and became less happy over time, but I will never forget that first meeting and how kind he was to a little girl who desperately needed kindness.

A Surreal Discovery

Published / by Kim

The last time I saw my father in person I was ten or eleven years old. I visited him during summers back then, sometimes in Ohio, sometimes North Dakota, and once in a while in Kentucky, where his wife’s family lived. This particular summer, the last summer, I was meant to stay in North Dakota with him, his wife, and their daughter for most of July and August. Through a combination of me not being able to connect well with his wife, their three-year-old daughter having problems with this older interloper calling her father “daddy,” and, most seriously, transgressions on my father’s part*, I ended up calling my mother and begging to come home early.

After that disastrous last visit, contact between us was sporadic at best. He rarely called, even for Christmases and birthdays. He didn’t send cards for those occasions, let alone gifts. He seemed content at that point to write me off as a failed experiment and move on with his second family. For the most part, I was alright with that** but I would be lying if I said I didn’t grow up with daddy issues. Inability to trust men, a certain “moral looseness,” desperate need to be liked, and on and on. A classic case, really; one from which it took me a long time to recover.

But recover I did***, and that’s why today when I found a link to my father’s blog while saying happy birthday to my uncle on Facebook, I didn’t fall apart as I probably would have fifteen years ago. Instead, now I find myself reading through it with a kind of sick fascination and I feel like I finally, finally, finally understand something I’ve known intellectually but not in my heart: there’s nothing wrong with me, but he is a complete screw up. He didn’t leave me and do the things he did because of me, he did them because he’s a total loser who even to this day, at the age of sixty-five, can’t take responsibility for anything that’s gone wrong in his life.

I have three failed marriages and four children(one who hates me, two that are totally indifferent to me and one that adores me because I have not disappointed her yet).

Guess which one I am? The thing is, at this point in my life, I don’t even hate him anymore. The only thing thinking about him makes me feel is tired and, now that I’ve read about his life, vindicated. Perhaps he actually has three indifferent children.  Reading through his pity party blog posts has, I think, left me with the ability to shed that last bit of clinging doubt that maybe it was my fault.

So thank you, Uncle G. It turns out that you gave me a gift for your birthday.

*That I won’t go into now but have done on the blog in the past, and may again in the future. But this isn’t about that.

**Because of the aforementioned transgressions.

***For the most part. I mean, I’m a functional human being, so that’s recovery. I’m still shy and don’t trust people easily, but I’m also not living in a shell anymore.

Rest In Peace, Tommy Bear

Published / by Kim

My mother’s brother was a man I didn’t really know very well. I remember he was quiet. I think he may have been shy. I remember he was sweet to me whenever he was around. There’s not much else, though. He was someone I never knew, but someone I always wished I could know better.

My one clear memory of him is of the Tommy Bear. My mom used to like to go down the shore* on summer weekends when I was little, and my favorite beach was always Point Pleasant. I always came away with splinters in my feet, but that was mostly okay, because the splinters meant boardwalk, and the boardwalk made the beach worth it. One weekend, Uncle Tommy came with us. This was a huge treat, because my mom wasn’t a big fan of rides and games. She went to the beach for the sand and sun, so the time I got to spend on rides and games was usually pretty limited. But the day Uncle Tommy came, he took me to the boardwalk for most of the day. It was like a dream.

As the child of a single mother, I always envied all the kids I’d see at carnivals and fairs with their fathers. Their dads would take them on rides and laugh as they played games to win big prizes. My mother did a little of that with me, but the best prize we usually walked away with was a suffocating goldfish in a bag. Don’t get me wrong; I treasure the memories of sitting next to my mother on a torn up stool, both of us shooting water into the mouth of a clown, trying to be the first to pop that balloon. But it always seemed like the kids whose dads were playing those games with them walked away smugly, carrying giant stuffed animals. So when Uncle Tommy took me to the boardwalk, it was an exciting day.

And he didn’t disappoint. He won me a teddy bear so huge I could barely carry it. This thing was way bigger than I was at the time. I promptly named it my Tommy Bear. Surely a man who had achieved such a feat deserved to be memorialized by having his name given to the bear. At that moment, I was sure my Uncle Tommy was the greatest man who ever lived.

The Tommy Bear stayed with me for many years, and I continued to sleep with it until its untimely demise when I was in 6th grade. It rolled off the bed and onto a space heater in the middle of the night, where it never actually caught fire but instead smoldered as the heat worked its way deep into the bear’s plastic bead stuffing. The entire apartment filled with a noxious black smoke that took days to clear. That was the end of the Tommy Bear.

For years after that day on the boardwalk, Uncle Tommy was an inconstant presence in our lives. Always welcome when he showed up, but showing up increasingly less often. Eventually, some time in my early twenties, he stopped showing up completely and we lost touch with him. We would talk about him now and then and wonder what happened to him. I tried searching for him or his twin children online. My mother tried too, and sometimes toyed with the idea of hiring a private investigator.

Recently, she was finally able to find his daughter, Amber, on Facebook. We learned that Uncle Tommy died 3 years ago, on his birthday. It’s so sad to know it, but I think what I feel the most is closure. We know. We finally know for sure. That doesn’t bring much comfort, but it does bring a little peace.

Rest in peace, Uncle Tommy.

*That’s a Jersey thang. We don’t “go to the beach.” We “go down the shore.”

In Which I Begin Planning For My Future

Published / by Kim / 2 Comments on In Which I Begin Planning For My Future

A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend who never had children. It was probably rude of me to ask*, but I asked him whether he and his wife were childfree by choice or childless by nature. The reason I asked is that I’m trying to begin to see what a life without children will look like. While we do still plan to adopt an older child once we buy a home later this year, we all know how well my plans for parenthood have worked out thus far. So I need a backup plan.

This friend of mine replied that he and his wife were childfree by choice. As soon as he said it, I started, in my head, to dismiss the conversation. After all, the experiences of the childfree aren’t the same as the experiences of the childless. The childfree are happy with not having children, while those of us who are childless aren’t. Right?

Well, no, not exactly. Because as soon as I started thinking of moving on to other topics, he said, “But I’ll tell you, we’re really regretting the hell out of it now.” I’d found a kindred spirit after all. Having found some common ground, we started talking about things people with children probably never think about. Things like “When we die, what will happen to our mementos? Who will remember the life we built together?” and also, inevitably, “Who’s going to wipe my ass when I’m old?”

My friend’s solution to this problem is to bribe his nieces and nephews. He told them all that whichever one of them wipes his ass when he’s old will get his entire estate. That’s a pretty good deal, because, as I understand it, his estate isn’t insignificant. I’m sure he could pay someone to perform such functions for him, but it’s nice to know family has your back. Or at least that they have your backside.

The more I thought about it, the more I began to think my friend is on to something. So on my recent visit to my mother’s in Georgia, I decided to spring the concept on my 11-year-old nephew, Miles. We don’t get to see each other very often, so I didn’t think it was appropriate to open with ass-wiping, but when the talk turned to what we’d like done with us after we die**, it seemed like a natural opening.

“Well,” I told him, “When I die, I want to be cremated and then have the ashes turned into a diamond. They can do that, you know.”

He was suitably impressed.

“Yeah, a diamond. And then I want them to make me into an engagement ring and you can give it to your fiancée when you decide to get married.”

This took him aback a little. He asked, understandably, why he would want to give his fiancée a ring made out of me instead of out of his own mother.

“Because,” I said. “Because, I’ll put it in my will that if you do that, you’ll get everything. My money, cars, jewelry, house, all of it.”

Not to be left out, Scott added that he wanted to be made into pencils. They can do that, you know. And he wanted Miles to use him to take his SAT if Uncle Scott died before it was time to take the exam. We eventually decided this plan wouldn’t work, because we’re pretty sure you can’t have your ashes made into number 2 pencils. We wouldn’t want the kid to fail just because Uncle Scott turned into the wrong kind of pencil.

But back to the engagement ring, Miles jumped on board once I brought up the will, so I think we’re good to go on that. He did express one tiny reservation, however. What would happen, he wanted to know, if he and his wife ever broke up? I told him he’d have to insist she take his Aunt Kim off her finger and give me back. He decided it would have to be in the pre-nup.

Maybe next time we can talk about how he and his wife are going to have to take care of me in my dotage in order to get that diamond.

*But if you can’t speak to your friends about this stuff, who can you speak to about it?

**It may sound a weird thing to have come up with an 11-year-old, but my family is nothing if not weird. In most families, such topics might seem grisly, but we’re talking about a kid who, along with his sister Marley, was in a low-budget zombie movie. This is a kid who sees movies like this with his dad. Topics like this are the norm.