So, the topic of the meeting might have been “Fear.” Or it might have been “Responsibility.” I couldn’t really figure it out by listening to the chairperson so I came up w/ my own hybrid topic: “Fear of Responsibility.” I could relate to that idea.
I mean, I haven’t been afraid of responsibility my whole life. When I was a kid, the oldest of four, mom piled it on. I had no time to think about how I felt about it, whether I wanted it or not, was afraid of it or not, it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was Mom said I was responsible for doing whatever she told me to do…and, by the time I was nine or ten, she was having me do a lot. I mean, it was the usual cleaning stuff around the house, vacuuming floors, scrubbing dishes and folding clothes. But the hardest job, the one that took up all my time was taking care of my baby brother. Walking him, carrying him on my shoulders, feeding him, changing his diapers, washing out those diapers and taking him everywhere I went. When my sister was born a few years later. I was in charge of her care from the minute I came home from school till whenever mom came home from work and The Old Man stumbled in from the bar.
Oh, yeah, I was still technically in charge of my baby brother but, really, by the time he was 5 years old, he wasn’t listening to me. He was pretty much doing whatever the hell he wanted to do at home and in the neighborhood. My other brother, the guy just a year and half younger than me, preferred the company of other families and wasn’t around much. And that was okay coz Mom said the house and kids were my responsibility, not his. So, I accepted responsibility and didn’t take much time to think about it coz, when I did, all I thought was, “This is never going to end.” And all I felt was a heavy sadness and an overwhelming rage at myself for failing Mom each and every night she came home tired and on edge.
She was tired from work and on edge coz she knew The Old Man would be home soon. He’d be home soon drunk, ready and willin’ to set the hell hounds of 3am (anguish and chaos) loose upon our already trashed house.
An already trashed house coz I was only 12 years old and to keep the house clean while tending to the every need of a baby, screaming at a 5 year old who was screaming at me, feeding him, getting him inside the house at a decent hour, making him take a bath and settle down for the night was an impossible task. So, every night around 8, I gave up on trying to wash dishes and clean the house. I couldn’t do it even if I wanted. Even though I knew Mom would go batshit beserk , I gave up on the house. I couldn’t stop her craziness. And she was crazy every night when she came home and surveyed the dirty dishes, the mess of toys on the front room floor, the soaked towels and water on the bathroom floor.
“I leave you in charge and this happens,” she’d say. Then she’d start pulling her hair, picking up toys and other stuff up from the floor only to throw them down. Sometimes she’d break the dirty dishes, turn over furniture and ask, “Dear God, what did I do to deserve this? Why are my kids so sluthern?”
That’s right, “Sluthern.” I’m guessin’ Mom meant “slothful” or “slovenly” when she said, “…sluthern…” It wasn’t like she was illiterate or stupid, she just had her own vocabulary sometimes, especially when she was crazy mad. Sometimes, when she was crazy mad, she left no doubt bout what she meant. Some times she’d state flat out, “You kids are such pigs.” I knew what she meant when she said that. And I knew she didn’t mean it most of the time. And I knew she meant it enough times that I believed it…about me.
I mean, who was the guy Mom made responsible? And who was the guy who let Mom down?
Now, after Mom threw her fit every night, every night she’d calm down and tearfully apologize to us for her behavior. Then she’d go to her room and not come out till The Old Man barged in slipping on the toys in front room, looking for his “Hearty and Hellish” Clancy Brothers’ album so he could play it full blast on the console waking us all up (we hadn’t really had time to fall asleep) and make us “dance a jig w/” him.
We’d all get out of bed eventually and start dancin’ till Mom came ragin’ out of her bedroom screamin’ “You’re going to wake up the entire neighborhood.”
That’s when the real fun started. The Old Man would lunge at Mom and, depending on whether one of us boys got between our parents, his fist would either miss or make contact somewhere between her face and belly causing her to run back to her bedroom and lock the door. And we’d, my brothers and I, would take The Old Man to the kitchen, sit him down at the table and fix him up a huge plate of scrambled eggs. He’d pour hot sauce all over the eggs and make a poor attempt to eat them before he’d slide to the floor and pass out. We would always cover him with a blanket before we went to bed for an hour or two of fitful sleep before we had to get up to go to school.
Three years later, I started drinkin’ myself.
And, for over a decade, I let everybody know just exactly what I had done for them…and what they had done to me.
Talk about Pay Back.