“Lucky at love, well, maybe so There’s still a lot of things you’ll never know Like why each time the sky begins to snow, you cry You cry, ooh you don’t have to cry” – Dan Fogelberg
So, why did I write this book? I suppose writers get this question a lot. And often it is posed I think more to people like me, who, for reasons others don’t understand, put fingers to keyboard out of what they likely presume to be some deep internal and personal need to achieve catharsis of a sort through the sharing with complete strangers, a painful peek into the writer’s own private life–and by extension, as in many memoirs of course, into that of an entire family.
I’ve also even been asked to explain what it is that gives me the right to share so openly about anyone else in my family, particularly my parents, and to not confine or limit the story to my own experience? Am I exposing private memories in some attempt to heal an anguished inner child or gain some sort of vengeance at their expense by that exposure?
Well first, I’d say this book wasn’t written for complete strangers at all. Thinking that it is, implies it’s a story about a one-of-a-kind, troubled, nomadic family whose history is somehow so unique that to share it with anyone outside the walls of the innumerable roach-infested tenements, apartments, and houses where it had taken place while growing up in and around Boston, would be to expose them to a tale riddled with unspeakable realities to which they, or others they knew, could never relate; not only shocking them, but in the process making us appear freakish and them as our uncomfortable gawkers—left speechless, perhaps, at learning as though for the first time such awfulness could exist.
No. Too many others, I’m afraid, are not strangers at all to stories like this and a lot of what they’ll read about in this book. Many, maybe, came from large families like mine whose children struggled from their arbitrary place in the birth order to figure out how to grow up and survive an upbringing that they somehow suspected from an early age was different from most others’. Or, maybe some were only children who in many ways had it worse, with no place to hide in the brood, or others to lean on or deflect the worst of it from time to time.
We are not strangers at all, those of us who share a kinship that knows all too well some of the realities described in this book. Nor are we strangers to each other’s hearts and minds through our shared experience of the dangers of being raised by ill-equipped parents who created for us an unpredictable world marked by a constant uncertainty in all things. And not in the searing memories of our painful physical experiences as well, such as unearned and unpredictable beatings with a belt, or the nursing of a tooth so abscessed you had to press your cheek to a freezing window pane in a long-forgotten bedroom in the projects trying to do anything you could to ease the pain.
As far as sticking to my own experience, well isn’t my family precisely that? We all may be born into this world as what psychologists call a “tabula rasa,” or blank slate, but from the start it is our parents and family that begin to imprint upon us what becomes our perceptions that go on to shape our emotional disposition and attitudes, and determine the type of “locus of control” that we adopt and orient ourselves towards the world with. Do we make things happen on our own, through our own confidence, our own will? Or, is it that things just happen to us beyond our control? Are we going to go through life with a sense of internal self-destiny or are we restricted to being merely products of all that is external to ourselves and what serendipity brings across our helpless paths? And how or why is it that so many from the same family can turn out so very different in spite of sharing the same DNA and growing up experiences? This book is a lot about all of that.
And so no, this book is not a panacea or device intended to reach back in time to heal still infected wounds inflicted so long ago on a man some might suppose is still nurturing them. Nor is it intended to serve for me as the aforementioned cathartic effect. Perhaps like the one achieved by Matt Damon in that moment in the movie “Good Will Hunting,” when the psychiatrist portrayed by Robin Williams tells his character, Will, what he simply needed to hear all along, snapping the childhood chains that were holding him hostage by telling him; “It’s not your fault.”
I’ve known that about myself forever, and I’m all good with that. And this book is not about finding fault and placing blame anyway. Rather it is a lot about forgiving, although not maybe forgetting. It’s about learning that the way to break the spell anyone or any past that may still have a crippling hold on you is to just let go. Trite but true. Let go of things like any seething resentment, for example, as that is a type of sturdy padlock on the emotional chain that can bind us to the very thing or person from which we need to free ourselves. That letting go happens through true forgiveness, because that is the key that will loosen that chain.
I will confess that there are a couple of selfish motives in writing this book in terms of coming to some sort of closure on the past. The first relates to how I describe in the story my recollection of all those years growing up with so many constant moves and their ever-changing addresses and schools as sort of like an old slide show that should be sequential, but in my mind remained out of order. I could describe the difficulty in trying to see my past even further here to say it’s also as if I was looking through a blurry lens to take a clear picture. In its way, this book helped put some order to my memories and to wipe that foggy lens. I must also say that the memories in this book are just that and to the best of my recollection, and I often found the need to shuffle them around for true chronology and geographical accuracy during the writing.
And secondly I’d hoped to use this book to make a couple of humble requests to any who care to read it; family, friends, and strangers alike. Please, offer your prayers for all parents, living or dead, who did not or may not be raising their children in the way that they should. This might even include your own. And please offer extra special prayers for their children, or on your own behalf, for the grace needed to find the forgiveness for those parents, especially those who’ve passed away to a higher and harsher judgement. To forgive enough to pray for them, no matter the past, as so many of them lay elsewhere, mute, and perhaps in desperate need for God’s mercy, and beyond any ability to pray for themselves.
I think that’s wise, because our own judgement, when it will surely come, will take into account how well we forgave others and we very well might find ourselves trying, but unable, to cry out for forgiveness of our own. And its then, when we also just might see for ourselves that the forgiveness we’ll need only comes by way of others’ mercy.