Growing up, I didn’t have the best dad. And, by saying that, I mean he just wasn’t really around, and when he was there I walked on eggshells. His presence was large and frightening, so I tried my best to stay out of his way. I spent a lot of time in my room reading Francine Pascal, V.C. Andrews, Judy Blume and R.L. Stine, writing wistful poetry, listening to depressing music, watching Nick-at-Nite and eating Doritos and Pop-Tarts. Anything to self-soothe.
My parents never had a stable marriage. It was riddled with addictions, domestic violence, cheating, and well, all the awful stuff you see on Lifetime and Dateline. When I was nine, I vowed to never be in a relationship like theirs. And, we all know how promises like that turn out. I attracted every man who drank too much, shot himself up with steroids, punched me in the face, was married or lied just for the hell of it. And maybe, I even sought them out.
And then, when I was 24, I discovered my dad’s affair. Torn, but my mom being my best friend, I ratted him out. And, she torn as well – I’m sure – kicked him out, and then took him back. Dad was never mad at me, but I couldn’t handle it. I had interfered in my parents’ marriage. I had called my dad’s girlfriend. Maybe even threatened her, who can remember? And, I had broken my mom’s heart. Oh, and I had gone against my brother and sister’s wishes: they wanted me to keep the secret. I had caused major distress in our family.
So, I ran away.
Phoenix seemed like a plausible choice. I had family here: Uncle G, Aunt J and two cousins, S and B – both around my age. They would take me in and help me start a new life. Also, they weren’t fucked up, like my family. I could learn important life skills from them. Things I missed out on amidst the chaos.
And, I did. I learned how to host dinner parties, make small talk, carry myself like a lady, treat a man right, color block and accessorize, order a vodka soda and swill wine. But most importantly, as a lady, I learned how I should be treated.
After 45 years of marriage, G heavily doted on J. He would toss his arm around her shoulders, drop her off at the door when it was raining, buy her jewelry, lavish her with compliments and just overall spoil her. He was visibly and excessively in love with her. I loved watching it – mostly because it was so novel to me.
Over the years we all became very close. They treated me as their own. They were my people. I was over at G and J’s every weekend for family dinners and I spent holidays, birthdays and vacations with them. I was in on family jokes, family gossip, family secrets and family fights.
I felt particularly close to and was very fond of G. I slipped and called him ‘Dad.’
G was a real man. He co-founded a bank when he was young and became insanely successful and admired. G had a soft spot for dogs and horses and wept during sappy movies and sad stories. He wore an apron in the kitchen and the finest suits to work. He played golf at Firerock Country Club and had a voice that rivaled Tony Bennett. He had impeccable taste and loved taking us to places like Nobu, Binkley’s and The Italian Restaurant; yet knew how to enjoy a brat at a Diamondbacks game. He got manicures, wore a mustache and threw a more spectacular temper tantrum than a two-year-old getting his Legos taken away.
The Grand Canyon couldn’t contain G’s personality – or his generosity. The moment I’d walk through the front door, I’d get a whiff of his cologne. It made me smile, but his smile, when I’d tell him how good he smelled, made me smile more. There would always be a drink waiting for me and Norah Jones playing – he knew she was one of my favorites. But, before I’d even drive over to G and J’s house on Lakeview, I’d study the news because I’d want to have something topical in my arsenal, so we could banter. G was intimidatingly brilliant and had no qualms in showing off.
Last year, unexpectedly, G got very ill.
It was bizarre seeing him so weak, because he’d been such a force his whole life. G was in ICU for a few days before he passed away. He died a week before his 66th birthday. The devastation of his death was collective and overwhelming. G’s employees and friends were overcome with grief. And his family, his family was shattered and shocked. G was the patriarch of the family and without him, they felt lost.
Death does weird things to people. It causes them to act out in strange ways. This situation is not out of the ordinary. After the funeral, my aunt and cousins distanced themselves from me. I was excluded from things, from events, from grieving together. Not only had I lost G that month, but I lost the rest of my family, too. I was alone in the desert.
I wanted to run away, again. It would be the easy and natural thing to do. The emptiness was consuming and the aching relentless. So, I prepared to go to the only place I knew bigger than my heartache: Texas. My brother was there and I could purge my pain into the Rio Grande or maybe just coat it in queso.
I sold my condo in Old Town and rented an apartment in Midtown. My job was a contract position, so essentially I had no commitments. Nothing was tying me to Phoenix. But as much as I’ve snubbed commitment in the past, I quickly discovered how deeply I was committed to The Valley.
I didn’t want to move.
Arizona was home. I worked hard to create a life here and didn’t want to abandon it. I thought about everything keeping me here: my friends – whom I love greatly, the mountains I hike weekly, the kids at Chrysalis where I volunteer and the arts community I’m involved in. Even the monsoons, haboobs and driving in traffic when it’s raining hold a special place in my heart. And, I met someone. Someone eerily reminiscent of G. So a piece of me stayed for the unknown.
Ultimately, I’m home. Savoring old memories and creating new ones.