Gifts of Cliff
I was my grandmother’s first grandchild. Her favorite. She was good to me. Grandma was proud of how smart of I was. She was also nosy and mean as shit to my mother. She always asked me questions about what my mother was doing and with whom. Sometimes I answered, most times I avoided until the abuse by my mother’s various men began many years later. Ever since I was very young my grandmother would tell me that the only good thing I got from my father was his brains because I sure didn’t get them from my mother, and that otherwise my father was dirt. I was grateful for the brains and curious about the father.
My father, I was told my many was the valedictorian of his class. He was quite smart. Tall over 6 feet, slim, dark hair. He was of Scottish and American Indian (North Dakota Sioux) descent. He was an alcoholic genius bordering on insanity. All genius teeters on the fence of insanity. It is a necessary dance to entertain all possibilities.
So I am left with all of the gifts of Cliff, my father. I’m very bright – enough so that it enabled me to escape the damning circle of welfare. I’m also a bit insane. And I’m a boomer, menopausal, empty-nester. I’m told I’m too old to listen to the latest young videos, dance, smoke pot, and feel like I can still fly. The world tells me this again and again. My family tells me this in their gentle and then directs ways – “mom, you’ve got to calm down”, my husband “Kathleen, sit still please” or “promise me you won’t ….. ”
I am the only girl that is tall and dark haired like my father (until the gray came in – voila, highlights). Where is my father? Where is my mother? They are dead. Ugh. They are dead, and I know little about both so I’m an orphan. My mother had left my father after he picked up our cat and threw it against the apartment door – a metal “fire” door which broke the cat’s back immediately. This was her “breaking point” but Cliff had done many other violent things; he shot our dog while I was in the playpen…which I actually remember …. because the dog growled at me and went to snip at me….shot the dog dead right there with a shotgun. Cliff became violent one night screaming, yelling and hitting my mother; the police were called by a neighbor. When the police arrived, he menaced them with a knife; I do not know what happened with Cliff and the police because I remember my mother handing me to the neighbors out of the window, over the fire escape…and through the neighbor’s apartment we went out onto the Long Beach boardwalk in the dark of night. My mother and I slept under the boardwalk on the sand that night; we went home in the morning, and Cliff was not there.
We moved back home with her mother – my grandmother – for about 8 months. I went to school in Wantagh, Long Island in my grandmother’s town until we moved to Long Beach, Long Island. I saw my father once after that and only because I woke up in the night to go to the bathroom. I was maybe 6. He was standing in the living room looking tall and talking to my mother. He barely acknowledged me. We never had a long goodbye. I’m not entirely sure of the date he died – the Nassau County Family Court says 1974 and the Florida Death Records says 1990’s. Whatever. I sure have his mark on me. I guess you take the good with the bad.
I became an orphan, a Ward of the Court in Nassau County, Long Island in 1976 when my mother died. I was in second period class when a call came over the loudspeaker asking me to come to the Principal’s Office. I was trying to act relaxed in front of the class but I was freaked and had no clue what it was. The ashen face guidance counselor handed me a phone without speaking. It was my 16 month younger sister (Irish
twins) Colleen, “Kathy, can you come home, I think mommy’s dead?”