When I was three years old, the day after the last happy Christmas I ever remember, the world went black. It was bright and brisk and my father stood in his gray tweed winter coat, off to get groceries. I was the outcasted baby. “Daddy, they won’t let me play with the track set!!” His eyes twinkled. “Aw come on guys, let the little one play!” He gave me a snuggle and off he went to do my mother’s bidding. That was the last time I would ever see my father upright.
My older brother and sister continued playing with an incredibly cool racing car set; cutting edge for 1964. Why were there only 2 cars??? I went up to my parents room. My mother was not such an ally. Concentrating on her paperwork as I lamented the injustices that an almost four year old, youngest child must face, she basically ignored me. Suddenly, my brother, ashen faced, came running up the stairs and my mother was down the steps in a sprint. If words were exchanged, they eluded me, but even a three year old can understand urgency.
Downstairs, in our foyer, on a mustard plaid tufted couch, that I would kill to find on craigslist today, lay my sweet, crumpled father. I stood in the doorway with my sister as we watched my mother kneeling beside him, not quite sure what she was doing. I could hear my terrified 12 year old brother as he fumbled with a rotary phone, desperately trying to reach the operator to get an ambulance. I felt bad for my car hogging brother. “Is he going to die?” I whispered to my sister. The words left my lips, even though I had no idea what they meant.
My father’s relatives came; stoic stern figures, nothing like my always jolly, playful, daddy. My mother was whisked away in a white ambulance. Dusk had turned to night. It was as if my father took the glow of day with him, forever, and I was left with these odd, cold, people who had apparently hosted us 24 hours previously. Us three kids were in our rooms, sent to bed. In my crib, I heard hushed tones in the hall outside my room. It was dark, it was bad. I fell into a fitful sleep and never slept a dreamless peaceful night again.
Five months later, it was spring. I heard the mail slot clink and ran to pick up a pile of letters.. I brought them excitedly to my mother. I am not sure what was in that pile, perhaps a hospital bill, or a Social Security check, maybe nothing, but something made me ask “when is Daddy coming home?” My mother was shocked. I supposed she had told me already, that he died that night, the day after the best Christmas ever. If she did, I didn’t remember. Somehow, in some sort of brain glitch, for many years my mind believed that in that pile of papers lay the horrible truth that my father was gone forever.
It’s funny what kids think when they don’t know the truth about anything; trying to piece the world together from snippets of random information. Years later I found out we weren’t told till after the funeral that my father had had a stroke; not particularly fair for my 12 year old brother, and not particularly enlightened for my Dr. Spock reading mother.The word “closure” was not not in use yet, but I am reasonably certain that we didn’t get any. And so, that is basically how my life began.
Twenty years of therapy unearthed the notion that maybe, just maybe, this is when my horrific sleeping problems started. I can pretty safely say that in the middle of the 1960’s when I lost my dear sweet father so suddenly, who I would never truly know, my complex – ptsd began. But no such thing existed back then. If a mental “wound” develops before we know what it is – is it sort of like when a tree falls in the woods?
Hello C-ptsd – I wish I never met you.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Atlantic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Counseling