This is Part Eight of my memoir, Face, which tells the story of my being hit by a car and severely injured as a five-year-old. You can read the book from the beginning here. In this excerpt, I talk about my dad.
July 11, 1961 - Surgeon’s notes: Dressing change is done under anesthesia to reduce trauma to the patient.
I am lying in my hospital crib. Dr. Kislov and several nurses surround me, and the doctor is peeling away the dressing on my cheek and eyelid. Gauze sticks to my cheek. He pries it, loosening it with water, slowly pulling it away, minute by minute. My skin holds tight. I want to cry, but the nurses hold my arms close to my chest and say: “It’s okay. It’s okay. Stay still, stay very still.” I do not want to stay still! I want to push them away from my face. But the nurses hold me tight. I cannot move. So I cry. But I cry with my mouth closed, my lips pursed and my breath held, because that is the way Dr. Kislov wants it. He is the surgeon, the chief revisionist, and I have no say in this restoration project.
When I found Dad’s list, I thought, This is so like my dad. Meticulous, careful to record every expense and include everything, down to my blood-soaked panties. Oddly, one thing is glaringly missing: my mangled bicycle. I can’t imagine that he would leave that off. Maybe some kind soul got rid of it so my parents wouldn’t have to confront it, and he just overlooked it when he was making his tally. Perhaps it was just too painful to consider. I don’t know. But today I wonder about it. About whether he considered the cost versus the emotional toll. Whether in some way ignoring the bike allowed him to cope. I don’t think he would have blamed himself. That wasn’t like my dad. But he may have overlooked it if someone discarded it in an act of kindness. And when he realized it was gone, he might have decided it was too late to include in an insurance claim.
The amount my parents had to pay overall—$2,086.48—was the equivalent of more than $16,076 today. It was a lot of money. They struggled to pay the hospital bills, despite the insurance payments. They were fortunate to have the security of the family business. Even so, with four children to feed, mounting medical bills were a burden. Perhaps, in intimate moments, my mom and dad talked about how they would make it through. How they would pay for the Catholic education they wanted for all their children, the uniforms, the schoolbooks. They did what they could to make it work.
Mom sewed a lot of our clothes, and Molly and I always wore hand-me-downs. Dad worked six days a week and Mom, who had an English degree, substituted at St. Joe’s to make extra money. I was oblivious to much of it. But as I got older, though no one ever said it, I began to understand at some level that the financial struggle was my fault.
Fortunately, the dry cleaning plant offered a steady – and over time, growing – income. Dad often left the house before 7 in the morning, and returned just before 6, when Mom would place dinner on the table.
When we were young, my dad’s job was to give Molly, Chuck and me baths after dinner while Cherie helped Mom clean up the kitchen. Bath time always meant lots of splashing, submarining and water on the floor. He loved to make us laugh. And he laughed just as heartily – until Mom would call up from downstairs and scold us for taking so long. He’d pull the towels off the racks and say, “Okay, out!” Once we were in our pajamas, he’d oversee our prayers and tuck us into bed.
When we were small, he’d snatch our noses and hold them behind his back, laughing as we pointed to his hidden arm. He would often get down on the floor in the living room and romp with us, laughing and letting us ride on his back. My mother would yell if things started to get out of hand. Then he would say: “Okay, kids. That’s enough. Go help your mother.” And we’d head off to the kitchen.
I have struggled to bring my dad to the page. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because he meant so much to me. He always was there, surrounding me with the sense that I mattered, that I was somebody worth loving. So many times since his death I’ve wished he was here to talk with, to discuss world events, or my job, or complain about one thing or another, to which he would always reply, “You have the power to choose how to see things, Marcia.”
He loved jelly beans, hard Christmas candies, and golf. He would stop on the street to pat the head of a stray dog. Would go out of his way to help an employee, lending money, advice, whatever was needed. He believed in God and Jesus and going to Mass every Sunday, and on that point he could be rigid.
He taught me to dance, though I could never get the hang of following his lead. To be honest, I never got the hang of following anyone’s lead, which some might regard as one of my many flaws.
He didn’t tolerate dishonesty. Once, when I was a teenager, he caught me in yet another lie about one thing or another. To my surprise, he told me to leave, to go away and not come back. We were standing in the driveway of our house near the lake, and I looked at him with disbelief. But then I realized he meant it. I turned, tears springing to my eyes, and I started to walk down the street away from the house. I had barely gotten a hundred feet away when I stopped and turned. He was standing in the driveway watching me. I ran back, sobbing: “Please let me stay. I promise I’ll never lie again.” He considered me for a moment, and finally said, “Okay.” I never told him an untruth again, until he was dying.
(To be continued...)