The plum suit. Cinched waist. Skinny belt. Seventeen years old. My high school graduation. I like the photo even though it's an outtake. There's quiet in the closed eyes, expressive hands, and the creep of overexposure in the corner.
Chuck took my best friend Linda and me to the Red Pump in Bayfield for lunch. In 1980, the restaurant was a gem. We started with Kir Royale. I knew how to read a table — the glasses and cutlery each had a purpose. It was the first time a waiter put a napkin in my lap. An intimacy that left me breathless. The food was terrific. It felt adult.
I was trying to hold it together. Wanting to leave the small town on Lake Huron where I'd spent my teen years. But where did I belong? Home was a memory. My dad had left a few months earlier, and soon after, my mother and sibling went west. Friends took me in so I could finish high school. Divorce can cause massive levels of self-absorption in the adults involved. My needs were not a consideration.
Chuck's departure wasn't a death. It was cold-blooded murder. When I told a tender-hearted therapist the whole story, they talked of shock and rage. My experience was validated. But that was much later.
At seventeen, I was sure if I could be better, the people I loved would not leave.
I'd missed a lot of the final act of the marriage due to drugs and alcohol. The weekend everything began to change; my parents had gone away. I had a party in our beautiful home on Wilson Street — the kind that gets too big real quick. I was elated and worried about the living room's glass-top tables and crushed velvet chairs. Two guys I didn't know parked on my dad's beloved front lawn. They tried to start a fight and then fishtailed their car on the way out. A sweet neighbour came to the front door in her dressing gown to complain about the noise. The cops arrived a while later. It didn't slow us down.
But the cigarette burn on the custom-made kitchen table and the torn-up front lawn barely got a mention, given what was going down between my parents on their return.
I idealized Chuck at that age. Bought his side of the story without question, for no good reason. My mother thought we were co-conspirators. I believed he'd made a big break. Got a better life. Thought he had the kind of freedom I felt after the third drink.
Then I grew up. My perspective broadened.
In some circles, I hear the expression, "they did the best they could with what they had." It's something people say to appear fixed. To bring painful life stuff to a neat conclusion. Often I want to call bullshit.
What was good for Chuck was what went down. Some endings are messy. And a pithy saying can't explain it away.
And 'what he had' is my inheritance. Destructive patterns don't disappear with a generation. Dealing with them takes consistent effort. I've come some ways.
I played the grooves off this album. I was still likely listening to it around the time the photo was taken.
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