It’s taken me fifty eight years to write this story.
Fifty eight years of life experiences viewed from the perceptions of a child, a young man, and now an aged and hopefully wiser old man.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family it comes as no surprise to me remembrances of my father and mother are few.
But the one pivotal moment of my past I remember vividly, is when I was eight years old and my mother and father told my brother and I they were getting a divorce.
The night following the divorce my older brother, my father and I knelt at an alter of a Methodist church to pray.
I saw the pain and anguish on my father’s face.
I watched my father wail in grief, saw tears stream down his face and fall on the cushions of the alter.
I listened to him sob as he tried to comfort us although no one was there that night to comfort him.
At that point in my life I’d had some painful learning moments, but this was an emotional train wreck I wasn’t prepared for. After all, I had done this to him. I told myself if I hadn’t been such a rowdy, uncontrollable terror, if I’d minded my manners and been a better child, they would have stayed together.
That night I, along with my brother and father, tried to cope with the harsh fact Delores June had left us.
It wasn’t until four years later I quit blaming myself for the split. The problem was, although I’d stopped blaming myself I still didn’t understand why she left.
My father refused to discuss it, even refused to utter her name in front of my brother and I. At the time I just thought he was angry with her.
Later on I realized it was an entirely different emotion.
When my father remarried, I quickly realized I was going to be forced to cope with a completely different set of family experiences and stress.
The new wife was not at all like my mother.
She didn’t look like her, didn’t speak like her and for that matter, didn’t really know or care to know my brother’s special needs or cope with my overabundance of energy.
I understand now, when at the time it was impossible at my young age to comprehend, true love. This woman was supposed to be the replacement for Delores June, the one woman my father truly loved.
The marriage to “replacement mom” didn’t last very long. I was fifteen years old, my brother eighteen. We were at our grandparents on summer vacation when the news reached us. Our grandfather sat us down and told us she was gone.
Just like that.
When I turned eighteen I had no job prospects lined up and no money for college so the logical choice for me was a four year stint with everyone’s favorite uncle, Sam.
I told myself I would use all the wonderful programs offered to get a college degree.
But the college thing was just a lie of justification I fed everyone. What I really wanted to do was escape. Get away from my father’s anger and frustration, his constant search to replace Delores June. In my mind I knew staying would ultimately be the death of me. So I struck out on my own.
I cut the cord and left everyone behind. I did the very thing my mother did. I just walked away from it all.
But I didn’t walk away so far I couldn’t at least touch base with my father every now and then.
I was on furlough about a year after signing up and decided to give my father a call. Imagine my surprise when “replacement wife” number two answered. When I met her face to face I wasn’t at all surprised.
Again, this woman looked nothing like my mother. She didn’t speak like her, act like her and just like the replacement before her, didn’t really know or care to know much about my brother and I.
As far as she was concerned my brother and I were grown men and didn’t require anything from her.
Again, number two was a replacement for Delores June, the only woman my father ever loved.
Fifteen years passed and through the family grapevine which, in such a dysfunctional family as mine, only possessed a few twigs, I learned “replacement wife” number two was no longer part of the “family”.
Wasn’t the slightest bit surprised.
Which brings us to “replacement wife” number three. I never met the woman and frankly speaking had no desire to do so. After being witness to my father’s incessant search to find Delores June, it just didn’t seem to matter.
I knew he would never be any happier with “replacement wife” number three than the other two. From the time of Delores June’s departure my father’s mission became to search for and find her as he’d done one time in his life so many years ago.
It wasn’t until years after the death of my grandparents, my father and after hearing news of my mother’s death I was able to gather all the facts which led up to that moment my mother walked away.
Earlier in this piece I mentioned my brother had special needs. What child wouldn’t after tumbling out of a window two and half stories above the ground and landing on a concrete walkway?
He was one year and eight months old.
The story as it was related to me by friends of the family was he followed a tabby cat to the window sill to pet it. Both the cat and my brother were sitting in the window. My brother leaned back against the screen, but the screen wasn’t latched.
Somehow he survived the fall, but the left side of his body was completely paralyzed.
I was born a year and four months later.
I grew up, and grew used to, my brother and his special needs.
I also grew up with a grandmother who blamed my mother for my brother’s fall.
So much so, my grandmother wrested away any attempts my mother made to take care of my brother.
Instead of my mother, it was always my grandmother taking him to doctor visits, helping him learn to walk, to talk, to read and write.
My grandmother refused to let my mother near my brother and it tore at my mother’s heart.
Day after day after day, my grandmother proceeded to force herself between my father and mother. In essence giving my father an ultimatum — either love me, the one taking care of your son, or love the woman who by her own willful negligence let him fall.
It was choice which devastated my father. A choice no one should ever be forced to make.
In the end my grandmother won and Delores June had no choice but to walk away. In my heart I know she walked away because my father let her walk away. She wanted him to stop her, needed him to stand up to my Grandmother.
But he didn’t
And I know deep down how much he must have regretted his decision. From the moment Delores June left us my dad began his search for her. The “wife replacements” were many, but his one true love, his soulmate, had walked out of his life.
He spent the rest of his life searching.
He never found his Delores June again, the one woman he truly loved with all his heart and soul. Even though he tried to find that same love again through so many failed marriages my father died in much the same way he began his journey as a young man in the prime of his life.
In search of Delores June.
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© P.G. Barnett, 2020. All Rights Reserved.