Saturday
Jan072012

« The Return of Eda +20 »

My old man and my step mom Eda separated on July 19, 1983. That was the first I knew of anything wrong, and by that time it was so wrong she had already left the house, in favor of staying down the street at a friend's place until other plans could be made. By that time Eda had been in my life since sometime in 1974; most of my nearly ten years on this earth. I called her mom. Even when she left in 1983 I was just over three years away from meeting my own mom for what functionally was the first time in my life. The animosity was not directly between them. I don't know of any time when they actually met. But as the story has come down to me, Eda was feeling threatened by my old man. She isn't a person of deceit nor even of exaggeration and hyperbole, and when she tells me the story, I believe her. And I've heard it a few times and every time it's the same: a threat from my old man that he'd hit her in the mouth so hard that no dentist could fix the damage. As she tells the story, she would quote my grandmother Virginia, a dear friend, who used to tell her "God got [her] out of there just in time."

Eda was 22 years older than my old man. She could have been his own mom if we are to consider age and biology alone. By the time she and my old man got together (they had known of each other for some time before), he was 29 and she was already in her early 50s; she was a menopausal woman who posed no risk for him as he no doubt felt quite upset about the fact he had a child with the "wrong" woman—my mom. Eda was not about to get pregnant, and she liked riding BMW motorcycles. She didn't own property or much of anything. She was mature but still able to enjoy some fun at travel and recreation. And she took to me well enough. Sometime in those early years for me, not knowing any differently (at least consciously speaking), I began calling Eda "mommy." She didn't want to take that for granted. I was not her own. So she reported this development and the old man went with it.

It was all rather a workable arrangement for my old man. He was in and out of jobs in their early years, but he had a house (have you heard about his house, yet? LOL!) In some ways, having greased the appropriate palms in the legal system he had me, he had his BMW-enjoying partner, and he had his house. It must have seemed like a big time in the mid 70s when they got married (Halloween 1977). Just that year he got a real job at Solar Turbines where he worked for 16 years. That was the life I knew him to lead for a lot of years. That was normal to me.

Breakup

Their breakup was rather surprising for me, but it fell into the shadows and was very much something I was sheltered from. Since I was uncontestably under his custody, there was no custody battle this time around. I slept in my bed the same as always. Whatever legal machinations that took place were behind the curtain, I just knew she was gone, and in her place I was given a little white hamster that supposedly was found on the sidewalk near the house. I called him (sorry, this is a very young 1980s suburban child's consciousness speaking) Whitey. He was an albino with beaty red eyes. Somehow this new critter was supposed to be a distraction, and maybe he was. I think I've written that my earliest days in drumming came from lessons that would be just the thing to keep my mind on things other than family matters.

a pencil written letter to the divorce judge that didn't seem to grasp the matter of divorce. I was 10 year old then.A note to the divorce judge, 1984I don't recall much emotion or drama around that time, at least not at home. I wasn't really offered the latest news nor did I seem to go in search of it. It was pretty much a cut and dried thing. Eda was just gone and I suspect I was given enough cause to believe she had left us for no real clear reason. It is hard for me to tell now that in response to her leaving, I attached to my old man in a big way. I guess I couldn't be expected to do otherwise. If there was more to it, I never knew much, and there wasn't the kind of pain and the displays thereof that you might expect from a kid. But you gotta remember, I already knew the loss of one mom. Here went one more. I wonder if I was in some kind of shutdown mode? Was this becoming something I ought to get used to?

I do recall the kids at my new school in fifth grade, with their confidence-eroding taunts that my mom left me because of something I did. Harsh. I do recall some school drama associated with that, as I do recall being in some fights that year. I also had a very cool male teacher named Clayt Wright who used to intervene for me and put those kids in their places. He seemed to understand what was at work for me and he offered some male presence both stern and compassionate.

Mostly Momless

What can be said is that Eda was gone physically from the middle of 1983 until January 6, 1992. But she wasn't totally gone from my life, thanks to a rather clandestine letter writing campaign of hers in the intervening years. I do recall some letters being handed to me from school administrators in the first couple years while I was at Longfellow elementary in 1983-85. I might have them still. I recall one Sunday in February 1986 when on one of our rather ordinary afternoons at Seaport Village on the harbor, I happened upon Eda and gleefully greeted her. It had been about two and a half years since I'd seen her. I did something maybe I shouldn't have and ran to announce her to my old man. I guess somehow I didn't realize what mixed feelings would be present. To me, it was just a matter of seeing my mom again. But the old man went over to her, banished me to one of the shops and gave her some kind of "get lost and don't talk to Ed anymore" kind of talk. After that, there were maybe two years before I got in touch with her nephew, Eddie. I always fancied him a cousin and he was happy to hear from me but somehow thought that I was tight with the old man. But I was trying to get in touch so I could do what felt I needed to do around that time of the end of the first big period of relations with my birth mother (the 1986-88 period). Reasserting that Eda was my mom was my effort to get back to "normal." Eddie somehow got me in touch with Eda once again, and during that time from about 1988-1991 my pastor Jerry allowed us to use his mailbox as a front. I have a lot of her letters from that era with the postmark and her address cut out, but they're clearly mailed to my pastor's address not too far from my own house.

Eda lived in the interior of Mexico for several years. In the time since her departure she had embraced a Baptist style fundamentalism and had lived with her son Rene in a town where she could do some ministering to alcoholics on the recovery path. When she was here during my childhood, she was not really religious but she was dabbling with more and more new age and alternative paths toward enlightenment. I'm sort of bummed she settled on what she settled on, but hey. All her letters were filled with love and a gushing heart for me. It wasn't hard for me to remember she loved me. There was a kind of warmth that emanated from her letters while she was gone and especially once I was essentially declaring relations with my own mom null and void. In fact, in my senior yearbook, I have a "senior memories" entry that openly declares (in limited characters like txt spk now) "EdaIsMyMum." Eda was indeed the one who should be there in my life. I even offered her an invitation to come to my graduation in 1991. She took it half seriously but decided it was not time yet. Not there. Not then. Not with so much chance to really mix up the event with drama. Okay.

Reunion

Easter sunday 2001 when I last saw Virginia alive. Eda and Rene were there though.Rene, Virginia, Eda, and me, Easter 2001, a week before Virginia diedI turned 18 some months after graduation and I was increasingly anxious for a chance to move beyond just writing to her. Being emancipated from my old man, at least legally speaking, I was chomping at the bit to see her again. I was still rather sure that he'd be opposed, so this was still an underground effort. My journal from February 6, 1992 indicates that I was bracing for a conflict should he find out that I'd been seeing Eda for a month up to that point.

Alright. Epiphany Day, 1992 was the day that finally brought us into the same room. Since my journals were being written and kept in the house where the old man might find them, I have to say I did myself a big disservice by being pretty vague and conciliatory. What I do recall is getting a call either at home or at my grandparents' place and being told to come down about a mile from their house to where Eda's friend Haydie lived. Haydie was a Cuban who I recalled from time before so it was like a reunion just seeing her and her daughter Amanda. I talked for a bit on the phone and then blew on down the hill on my bike to see Eda at long last. I got there in the late afternoon. It was darkening as I stayed there. We talked for some time, I guess. It was an odd experience though. Or as I said in my journal, which records the impressions I got from that first month back in contact:

Meeting with her was odd. Nine years changes us all, and somehow the change mystified me. Sometimes she was entertaining and told old stories that were still effective but other time she talks about which she is profoundly familiar but seems in a trance and glances around distractedly. I didn't speak much partly because she talked a lot, and partly because I had said so much through my letters, and she knew so much about so little that goes on in my life. She was well informed, but you aren't going to be because I'm not going any further. I don't know what direction I'll take with her from here.

Eda and me the saturday before the county was burned to the ground, 2003Eda and me the day before the 2003 wildfires in San Diego CountyThat is how it got back on track for us. In some ways, it was anticlimactic. That first week back in touch my calendar has coded marks that indicate five separate encounters. I guess that means she was staying at Haydie's place where it was rather easy to get to. I also have evidence I didn't even have to work those few weeks in early January, so I had the time to bike down and spend time, or however it went. Maybe we went out with my grandmother, or maybe Eda came up to see us at Quapaw. At any rate, that week ushered in a new era, and in some ways I got my mom back after all those years. In other ways I didn't really recognize her. All her God talk put me off a lot of the time. I'd just have to sort of zone out to get through it. But then sometimes she'd be telling earthy tales and we'd be laughing in hysterics, or wondering about life's mysteries and the weird winding paths we find ourselves on. More or less, this first week was the model for how our visits would unfold in most of the years to the present. Usually I would feel I could meet with her a handful of times each year, because each usually had this pattern and in some of the heavier years of other family drama, she'd indulge me my stories of angst which would often be met with God talk that I wasn't really interested in. After each meeting, she'd write a letter or send a card and some pictures that she invariably had taken; some posed too carefully and some rather embarrassingly candid after a meal at a restaurant. Conversations were meandering as she often made interjections and drew things in different directions or needed more backstory, etc. The times I introduced her to any girl friends (even a couple that weren't my dates, she sometimes made me rather embarrassed when she asked when we were getting married. Okay, typical mom stuff, but I was momless for a lot of years and so this was a bit stranger than if it had been an unbroken relationship.

Up Till Yesterday

This year, I have this Eda story to tell you, in addition to the story of another woman who changed the picture again for me ten years ago now: Kelli. (I just got done telling that one a few posts back.) It is interesting to note that each goes back a long way in my life. Each has been a beacon for me. These days though, Eda and I are rather unable to carry on a conversation for too long like we typically have over the years since 1992. It's been a little over two years since we were in the same place, and it has been testier. It used to be I just tolerated Eda's God talk. Heavenly Father this, God in Heaven that... But since about 2004-05, with our wedding and Kelli's professional advancement, it has gotten harder and harder to talk with Eda. Kelli and I are a bit unconventional you know. When Eda returned to the scene in 1992, she was nearly 70 years old. Now she's nearly 90. And as cousin Eddie has explained to me, she was really close to her mom, a Franco-American woman with a very Old World sensibility about roles for men and women. And if that wasn't enough, Eda has pretty much thoughtlessly adopted patriarchy's trophy bride: a narrow minded reading of Christianity. Having a wife that is educated like Kelli is a bit much; having her schooling come at the expense of "normal" marriage relations and family planning is a bit more concerning to her; being uppity enough to think that women belong in the pulpit? Now that's pushing it. But even since we met up last, Eda probably doesn't know that Kelli was ordained. It's all rather much for Eda.

Don't get me wrong. Eda is still sweet. But she doesn't have a critical mind for religion or politics and certainly Kelli and I have been keen on those things. Eda takes the right wing radio at its word. She laments the dire state of the national scene but doesn't see how her vote for a Republican ticket works to get us there and keep us there. She's into personal salvation and saving people in the standard conservative way; Kelli and I see that salvation is a social thing to work toward, working on the structural matters, and not just at the individual level. But this is all esoteric and nuanced beyond Eda's ability or willingness to grasp. And it isn't just her; the paradigm that is normal to Kelli and me is one that the more conservative churches really love to smear and disregard. But our background is firmly in the prophetic and social gospel tradition.

Similarly, in 2008 when all of California was in an uproar over Prop 8 and the "proper," so-called "biblical" family was a topic that seemed to be on everyone's lips, Eda chimed in thinking I'd be easy bait. She didn't realize I'd be on the "wrong" side of the issue. She rattled off her right wing anti-gay talking points that she adopted but that are really probably not her own. She quoted Genesis and the "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" bit. She did all that. I dared her to consider that I had heterosexual parents who couldn't make a marriage work and proceeded to make my life a battleground and left me on the field almost to die. I dared Eda to see that this silly notion of ideal and proper family is stupid and damaging. She hung up the phone after the discussion turned to matters of my reading the "wrong" Bible—anything but the King James Version. That day of her hanging up the phone put us in new territory altogether. I didn't talk to her for many months and even when I did come back around to tell her about how that made me feel, we ended up being at some odds. For a woman who can rattle off bible verses better than Kelli, she is like so many others: woefully unable to know what it all means. Sure, she might be able to recall Acts 2 verbatim, but she doesn't know what those words mean. And she doesn't know when her failure to know that does some hurt to someone sitting at the table with her. She can tell the story of the raging Spirit wind at Pentecost, but she isn't prepared to recognize that that raging, unbridled spirit of God might land upon her dinner guest, her son's wife, who has accepted a call to work for God and God's goals in the world. It's a shame. It's a waste of all that time reading the Bible if it doesn't open one's mind and heart. How can you read that book and come away with a smaller mind and heart? People do.

I am rather mixed of mind about how to go about talking to Eda. I did try to pay her a visit in the summer last year, to no avail. I didn't give her my present house address because I think she might have leaked the one prior to this. She tried to weasel out of coming to our wedding, and it took an emotional plea to get her to come. I have a hard time knowing if she's got my back anymore. She could say she has, but in another sentence she'd be denying Kelli's role as an ordained clergywoman. Or she'd be puzzling over our unconventional marriage roles. Who knows. I just don't feel as close to her as I once did. What I described in 1992 has become a pattern that makes it so that even when I do see her, it's for one day every several months. I have to get in the mood to do a day with Eda. It's all patterned on that kind of thing. At least until this matter with Kelli emerged a few years back. So now it's really nothing. I'm not happy with it. I'm not even happy without it.

I reviewed my last journal from when Eda and I talked in on the phone on September 27, 2009. It pretty much sums up how far things had come. Remember this is a year after the big phone hang up thing with talk about gay marriage and normal families. When this transpired, it was the final straw in the dying family chain of events after December 2006's epic time at the Calabrese Compound, and about a year later having things fall apart with mom once more. Seeing this unravel with Eda was crushing. At this point, essentially anyone once known as family to me was now such an overwhelming challenge to relate to, I had to tell myself they were all dead and gone.

Oh fuck this. I call to find out what this Willy card and email campaign is about and she tells me never to call again and that I am the one who needs help. Fuck that. I'm done with her now. She wants to talk about my not wanting to be a father because I am scared. I don't want to be a politician or a businessman or an astronaut and no one holds it against me. But as soon as I talk about not wanting to be a parent, people turn on me somehow. Call it freedom that the last of these crazy fucking people have fallen from my life.

Today

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, actually. While Kelli and I have periodically made talk about getting back in touch with Eda and chalking up her little -isms to the onset of confusion associated with her age, today was the first that we set a course for her place in La Mesa, took the dog (our other mission was a walk at the lake) and got out there to see her. Certainly on my mind was the 20 year date now upon us. She was still at the same complex but in a new apartment, now living with her son Rene and his partner Penny whom I'd never met. We spent a couple hours reconnecting after over two years. It comes back pretty naturally, but the obvious elephant in the room is the old man, so after we got through the pleasantries, we talked about him for a bit, and frankly why I've been out of that picture for five years. Apparently Eda and Co. have a bit more perspective on things from during those years, but my boundary still stands.

Time with Eda might not be all that much more. She's having problems at last with her hearing and sight, and worse, her ability to walk. As a person who never drove and always kept connected with people in person in the village a couple blocks away, that's going to be a game changer. But living with Rene and Penny will help smooth over the loss somewhat. After living alone for nearly 20 years, this is a new adventure. I want to make clear that I don't like estrangment. I don't like having to do all this divisive stuff. Eda in particular has been far better to me over the years than anyone else but maybe Virginia, and even that could be contested somewhat. So of course it was shocking to get to such a point as 2008-09. After years of her generally accepting my life and decisions but nudging a bit for the God program, those conversations were barbed and turned into black and white matters.

A mixed message I have always gotten from Eda is that she tells me not to live in the past. And yet, ever and always we've drawn a lot of material from it. Even today she had bought out a well kept photo album from my youth, and since she'd not need it anymore, with eyes clouding and all, she gave it to me. It is mostly redundant next to the other albums she made and that I've had all these years, but there were some things I'd not seen in ages. She and I had a overwhelmingly good past that was affected by other players. She and I never had drama to speak of until just a couple years ago, and that seems more like a matter related to my married life seeming quite at odds with the national right wing rhetoric than anything else. But that is the new reality. That is the present. That is what everyone says I should live in. The present includes that I am married to a "nice church girl" who happens to be qualified to preach in the pulpit. The present is that I've found my own way to relate to God and to understand Jesus and all that, but I don't obsess about it being my own salvation project. The present is that I don't want to have kids. It just happens to be the same as my past. But my conviction about it isn't the same as it once was. There are new ideas and insights grafted onto that.

Eda has always been a simple person, really. Advancing age is making her simpler still. I've had enough reunions with people not to think that one conversation puts it all right after some time away. And as she comes closer and closer to her own end, the conversations probably won't be so heavy as ones we've had. The irony is that the safe stuff to talk about is the good old days. The past. The old patterns. I might wonder aloud if she'd really want me to take her advice not to live in the past. Not doing the memory lane stuff would cut out a vast amount of conversational fodder. To discuss the present and who I am and what I stand for now would easily take us into past talk and controversial talk about my views on family, relationship, community, and more. Unless we agree only to talk about pink fluffy things, we're in a patterned relationship. I guess the irony is that in order to avoid our usual business, it helps to have Kelli in the room.

me and eda for the first time in two and a quarter years.

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