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Monday, May 30

Memorial Day

I have been really angry lately. May be it is all the pressure on me to study and retake the Bar in July. May be it is the war, President Bush, the Senate. May be it is every time I look at television someone else says something incredibly stupid. (Note to Tom Cruise. Leave Brooke Shields alone.) I am so pissed that I am pissed!

Anne Lamott's new book Plan B is a must. No, it won't help you with your anger, but at least you won't be alone with your anger. She is really angry, too.

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Memorial Day. When my dad went to work for himself and couldn't afford health insurance, I had a come to Jesus with him about his service to his country. Dad was eligible for V.A. benefits.

When he was in his early twenties, he had a friend at the draft board who told him he was going to be drafted and sent to either Korea or Southeast Asia and that he should join the National Guard. So he did. President Kennedy then called my dad's unit to active duty for the Berlin Wall Crisis and then the Cuban Missile Crisis. My parents had just bought a new house and new furniture and found that they were going to have me. My dad lost his job, they lost the house and furniture but the Army paid for me.

So, I convinced my dad to get to the V.A. for his health care because, while he considered it charity, I told him I thought it was pay back for his sacrifice. Our sacrifice.

It is difficult for me to remember my dad's status as a veteran. I can't really sympathize with it. He never really talked about his experiences, except to tell me that even though I had two college degrees in political science and foreign service, I didn't know anything about war. Even though I had studied the Cold War in the Soviet Union in 1983, that I was just ignorant about war. Once because my dad was angry with me over my voiced opposition to our conflict of the month in Panama, before my husband could stop him, he beat me in my own home, after he kicked in my locked bedroom door. That wasn't the first time, but it was the last and I remember it more vividly than the other incidents. And there were more than I can recall. My marriage, my college degrees, my integrity as another human being were no match for his military training and his untreated rage at his horrific childhood.

When the police got to my and my husband's home, my father told them that I had been seeing a psychiatrist and was on medication. The cop told him, "I don't care if she is certifiable, you have no right to hit her. Ever."

Somehow the fact that I was trying to cope with his rage gave him, in his mind, the ability to beat me with no shame. He confessed to the police that he was beating me because I was getting treated for depression?

His parents stole money from him when he was a boy that he raised selling seeds for a school project and allowed the school to tell him he would go to jail. They abandoned him and his younger brothers in a house until an older brother defied his father and went back for them. The floors in his childhood homes were dirt and he washed and ironed and rotated his two shirts so he would have clean clothes for school.

He told me about those things, but not how he felt about them. He beat me regularly and never once apologized for the rage or how I triggered it.

I didn't want for anything material as a child. Just safety from the fear of him threatening me in front of my friends, beating me for not picking up my toys when I was eighteen months old, the migraines I had at five because I was so afraid. Afraid that I would get in trouble at school and he would beat me when I got home. Afraid of going to school because he beat me the night before. Afraid of my mother going to work because I told her he had choked me when she left me with him.

This Memorial Day, I wish I could talk to my father about how the V.A. could help him with his anger. When he got cancer, he went to therapy groups, and he even makes public speeches about his survival. But he never sought help for his cancerous rage. We kept it a secret and told no one.

I now wonder how I survived him. I never thought about surviving him then. I just never knew when it was going to happen. May be I sneezed and the mucus through my fingers before I could grab a tissue would set him off. May be I didn't sweep the grass off the sidewalk right. There are times now, even when I know that he is eight hours by car away from me, I think I see him when I am out and about living my life. He haunts me. I see him. And then I realize that it isn't him, just a man that looks like him. And sometimes it doesn't even really look like him.

A few days ago, when the local paper reported that a man was sentenced to prison for beating his daughter to death with his belt, I disassociated for several hours. My psychologist once asked me if I was aware that my dad could have killed me. I said no. I didn't know that he could. I really wasn't present for the beatings. I told my doctor of how when I was small I was playing with some children and I imagined that I was a dog. I took my dad's belt off the door nob on his bedroom door and bit it and shook it. I was two and I was trying to kill that evil snake.

He took one of my dogs away one day. I don't know what triggered that episode, but the dog was so afraid of him, he urinated every time my dad touched him. I can't let a stray animal alone now. I can't go in pet stores without wanting to bring them all home with me.

Today, on this Memorial Day, I am thinking of my mother's brother's wife's brother. My mother's brother in law. His body was found in a parked car on a construction site in California a few weeks ago. We are still awaiting the tox report, we don't know what killed him. He was a Viet Nam vet. He wasn't ever comfortable after the war. I wish I was one of those people who could say that he is comfortable now. But I am not. He is just dead. He died alone.

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