My brain and father’s brain and what happens when people stop being polite and start being real (and getting diseases)
I fight with whether writing about this is distasteful, but that’s just a storm in my brain, and I have to at least try to weather this storm.
My dad in the above video is a white kid in 1970 arguing for black candidates to be able to run for office in South Carolina. This so encapsulates who he was — fighting loudly for the underdog, with rhetoric and speech-writing and speech-giving skills that he must have studied and learned from his preacher father as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. This kid became a man with a 13 year political career in the SC legislature, during which he was the only member to vote to allow women into The Citadel, was house majority leader for the tiny amount of time the Democrats led the house, and was the speaker of the house—now the last Democrat that was.
Everyone knew him. We would go to get a Christmas tree and the farmers knew his name. Shook his hand.
I knew he was a good man, and my baby head was filled with principles; to always help the poor, the hungry, to fight for rights for all human beings, and the importance of affordable education for all. To never think myself better than my neighbor and, above all, to love South Carolina despite its flaws. To love the shit out of that state and fight for progress where it was needed which was THERE.
One year, almost every single one of his colleagues in the legislature was busted for corruption involving money and drugs. My dad was devastated. He did not know. However, when reporters and authors tried to interview him, he said nothing. He would never speak about it. To me, it was out of integrity, and loyalty, to his friends, even though they had done something awful. He wouldn’t trash them.
Loyalty did not extend to his marriage to my mother, and with their break most definitely came a break with his children. This became the defining crux of his decline.
He retired from the legislature, citing loss fatigue as the Republicans painted the state red. He took up with a woman 20 years younger. My friend saw them out together, effectively traumatizing her, me, my mom, and all of us collectively; and I mean it, this trauma had ripple effects. It began somewhere inside him, somewhere so achy inside him, the ache of a depression he had always had, a depression that grew into some red, pulsating tissue with legs that reaches out of him like a spider. It touched all of us, and this huge, gaping wound became a trauma that dug its heels so firmly in space and time that none of us have ever been able to escape it. It lives in us constantly everyday, and has only morphed and taken new forms like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
My sister and brother have never been able to come back; the trauma flung them both so far that none of us can spot each other even on the horizon. My mother orbits as a distant moon, now happily remarried.
My dad married the woman, but she threw him out when he started having strokes and couldn’t speak correctly. I had my wedding shortly thereafter, which made a spectacle of my lack of a father-daughter dance or a father walking me down the aisle. Angry at the time, I finally realized I had to take him to the ER on October 20 when, upon being admitted, he answered "Who is the president?" with "George Bush." I spent the next five nights in the hospital with him. My husband was with me. No one else from my family, despite my pleas, came to help. I didn’t even realize how alone I was. My once-brilliant father had vascular dementia, Parkinson’s, aphasia, which stopped him from speaking, and no one else who gave a damn but me.