The Visit, Part 1

I only see Bud once every three or four years which is just how I like it. Twice or so in a decade is about all I have room for in my emotional baggage - more often than that and I'll be paying some hefty baggage fees. I knew months ago now that I live on the east coast again at some point I'd have to see him. We have family in the same city and Bud travels here with family from time to time. I realize that not everyone will understand this, but I wish that one day Bud will just come out and say, "I don't want to see you anymore." Then I'd have the pleasure to say, "Oh my gosh! I don't want to see you anymore either!" No such luck. Bud doesn't really want anything to do with me, not really. He doesn't make a genuine effort to have a relationship, just a few half-hearted attempts every ten months or so to insert himself in my life, a little pinch to make sure I'm not allowed to forget he exists. Its just enough, his random appearances, that I can't ever completely push him out of my mind. He's the sweater in the closet that feels more like a straight jacket.

Bud appeared at my door a different man than the picture I keep of him in my mind. I imagine him as the man I knew as a little girl. Bud has always been a short, thin man, and even though he's been a smoker for over fifty years, he's always been in good health. Time has been kind to his health but the rest of him has aged far beyond his 65 years. His hair is thinning and dull gray and his frame is unhealthily thin from too many years dining on canned sausages and pickled pigs feet. Since he had just left a funeral, he was dressed in a cheap, over-sized suit and after he took his jacket off, he removed his tie: cliiiick - his tie was a clip-on. His clothing was noticeably dirty and had an all too familiar stench. Ah, the smell of childhood. Bud's speech is hard to understand because he talks too fast and has a thick, muddled country accent like an old farmer I once knew. His dentures make an audible popping sound when he chews that sends my brain to an off-the-charts level of irritation. Bud is a sad looking man, a person whose life story is written all over his face.

I greeted him with as much enthusiasm and kindness as I could muster, gave him a quick uncomfortable hug, and welcomed him into my home without losing my lunch all over our wood floors. Bud easily took me up on an offer to feed him dinner and I couldn't help but cut my eyes at him from time to time, staring at him from across the kitchen table, listening to his dentures pop with every chew and thought, "How can I be someone's daughter and an orphan?" I could lie and say I wish he'd apologize to me for being such a terrible father, for causing so much hurt and I wish I could graciously let bygones be bygones, it would be a lie - at least right now. There is a very real part of me that hopes he never says he's sorry (not that I am in any danger of that happening). Bud is completely consumed in his own world, his own desires and cares, so out of touch with reality, that apologizing for my childhood... its just never going to happen. And if it did I would question his motives. If he really loved me, he would turn away and never contact me again. He would just let me go and stop pretending that we are father and daughter. We aren't.

Making small talk with Bud is no easy task. He has no hobbies, no friends, no career, no interests. I rack my brain trying to think of something we could share to talk about, and all the while I try to ignore the persistent, nagging background noise of quotes and memories and snapshots of my life with him. It reminds me of trying to talk on the phone when my four-year-old is pulling at my shirt, dancing around me, trying to get my attention. I silence the inner chatter just long enough to be polite. Its hard to do for long and requires concentrated self-discipline. No matter how well I think I'm doing Bud always manages to say or do something that makes my blood boil or churns my insides. On my wedding day, Bud boldly took Mike aside and asked if he would talk to me about my calling him "Bud" - apparently it hurts his feelings because he thinks I should call him "daddy." Just the thought of calling him that word repulses me... he doesn't know how lucky he was to even be invited to my wedding. Fortunately, Bud has learned to drop that particular issue over the years. I've come to expect these tiny shock waves, and this visit was no different. At one point in the evening Buddy and I made a small joke about something that happened when we were kids (the kind of memory that has roots in a sad place but it hurts less if you make light of it) and Bud was completely BLIND to the truth behind our meek laughter and commented, "Y'all sure had a lot of good times when you were kids, didn't you?" Uh, say what now? The man is certifiable. I just kept my eyes on the floor and maintained my calm composure. I should get some kind of award. He also (Wait. I can hardly stop rolling my eyes long enough to see how to type this)... he also said, "Well, I ain't put up a Christmas tree in five years but I guess now that yer home, Crystal, I need to go on and get one." Does he think I will spend Christmas with him? Does he really? HOW can he possibly think that?

My attitude towards my father is nothing short of complex. In one moment I despise him and think of him as a narcisistic leech, then in the next moment I pity him because he's disabled and lonely. And I say moments because that's the time spectrum this type of dysfunction operates in: my feelings and thoughts about Bud can change from one minute to the next. I have been programmed to feel sorry for him and make excuses for him to the point where I feel guilty when I am hard on him. Guilty. Oh, there are a thousand examples but let's take my birthday for one. My feelings used to really be hurt when Bud would not call me on my birthday (used to be). I know he can't afford to send me a gift, but it still hurt that he didn't acknowledge me at all. But no sooner as I'd be upset that he hadn't remembered me, I would start making excuses for him -- he doesn't have long distance, stamps cost money, he doesn't remember things because he's disabled, yakkity smakkity, so on and so on. I fall victim to the same dysfunctional thinking as the rest of the family. It doesn't help that making excuses for Bud is so easy. Sure, I can tell myself I'm simply giving him grace all day long, but that's not what it is. I have practically held his hands at times while supplying him with excuse after excuse for his bad behavior. The excuse is almost always because Bud doesn't have "good sense." I suppose it makes the hurt sting a little less if I attribute his lack of care and interest to stupidity instead of selfishness.

Seeing Bud was as tough this time as it has always been, though I am getting better at handling it. It used to be that an encounter with Bud was like getting emotional mono, now its more like getting a bad cold. I've only gotten two or three hours of sleep a night since he was here, but that won't last forever. I'll be processing my visit with him for weeks, but as the weeks pass I'll learn to put him out of my mind like so many times before. I get so fed up of spending time thinking of him, talking about him, dealing with my emotions and sifting through broken and charred debris. Its heavy for me - this part of my story, this current place that I am at in my recovery. Its a burden because the issue of Bud is ongoing. I have to deal with Bud because he's the part that won't go away. I want to close the door on that man so bad - to dissolve him completely from my mind and my life. So why can't I? Why can't I just let him go and never give him another thought?