Acts of rebellion

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 4, 2015

I am standing on floor 26 of 666 Fifth Avenue circa 1982 in a corner office that belongs to my boss, a middle-aged woman who has pulled herself up from the secretarial pool to VP status in one of the largest publishing houses in Manhattan. She is out to lunch and I, one of her minions, am on the phone, looking down at the tiny people milling below, as I speak with my mother who has promised to send me some cash, maybe $50, which was a lot of money for me back then.

She does this on the sly, without my father knowing, because, though I’ve done the impossible, which is to move to New York City to find work in publishing, I’m always broke. I make about $9,500 a year (publishing is an industry notorious for abysmal wages) and pay nearly $500 a month for my precious apartment in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side, that has a bath in the kitchen and a toilet down the hall. I penny pinch with groceries, attend free events and make my own dresses.

My father has been against the move to New York from the get-go. He doesn’t believe I will do it until he himself is standing on a platform at the Seattle train station, seeing me off on a six-day trans-Canada trip, suitcase in hand, on a journey that will land me at Grand Central Station.

When I quit the job in publishing after two years, my boss sees fit to tell me why I don’t have the stuff to rise through the ranks as she did. I rebel against publishing and find a job in a sweet little advertising firm and set my sights on copywriting, which turns out to be too much a man’s world even in the ‘80s; but, still, I last two more years before dropping out and heading West.

At this point, my father, who has never wanted me in New York in the first place, is against my moving away. He does not at all like the sound of the words “alternative lifestyle,” or the idea of scrabbling for jobs that have no merit in a town he has never heard of, pretty postcards aside. When I land in Telluride and have a series of ultra-innocuous adventures, probably none of which should have been revealed, the conservative, protective, ex-colonel with doctor-lawyer expectations for his youngest daughter cannot cope. He excommunicates me from the family.

My name is not spoken in the house. I lose contact with my older siblings. All conversations with my mother are done secretly, infrequently and with plenty of unspoken anguish on the line. I’m not a drug addict or a criminal, I’m something worse: a person with wasted potential who has fallen by the wayside. Someone who cannot be rehabilitated.

A couple of years later, my mother calls to tell me dad is dying and that I, along with the other children, need to come home. It’s uncomfortable, but the brave part of me kicks in, acting as if nothing has really happened, however much this emaciated version of my father cannot really look me in the eye. I’m unable to say how painful it has been, and certainly unable to receive or give the love we both need. And though I, along with the other children, am handed a gift from his sickbed — a charm bracelet of my grandmother’s — I can only stare at it, thank-you smile pasted on my face, thinking it is the most painful present I have ever received.

Before he dies, I write him a letter telling him I’ll probably marry the man I have found and live with — the one he hasn’t and won’t ask about. I write that I think he would probably like him and tell him why. My daughter, his eighth grandchild, born eight years after his death, is the only one of them he will never have a relationship with — but she is the spitting image of him as an infant.

Two years after she is born, I finally have a dream about my father in which there is a certain peace, wholeness, forgiveness and healing. Some years later, a psychic friend tells me that my father’s message for me is this: “I had it all wrong.”

“Does that make sense?” she asks me. Well, of course it does. Because of course he did.

Over the years I have had to ask myself to what extent my rebellion against my father was necessary for me to forge ahead in a way that made sense to me. Was all that pain and suffering really necessary?

What I came up with — and what I’ve come up with since, in other devastating situations in my life — is this: all the healing from suffering has been and is necessary. Every last speck of it.

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