We all left the house that night. One by one we trickled out like water, spilling onto the street. A fractured family so broken that we didn’t even go together. It was winter time – that much I remember. I hadn’t grabbed a coat; I barely stopped to put on shoes. I jogged the eight blocks to my best friend’s house in the dead of night while the wind whipped at whatever was left inside my shell shocked form. A trepid knock upon her door and hysteria finally gripped me. She couldn’t understand what I was saying. I gasped out the story – one that was as fractured and confusing as my life.My father had always lost his temper. Swearing and cursing and destroying any inanimate object in sight. My first memory of him was the day he came and told us that "your mother doesn’t love me anymore”. She screamed at him and whipped him around to face her, “Don’t tell them that!” she yelled. He slapped her so hard she was deaf in one ear for two weeks. I was five. Over the years I’d seen plenty more violence erupt from his 6’1 inch frame. I’d seen him fly from our van, in a fit of rage, and brutally beat a stranger who allegedly kicked our vehicle. I’d witnessed him grip an aluminum bat and chase some teens down the road for insisting that he fight them. I guess you could say I was used to it.
On this night he turned that infamous temper upon us – his children. We were teenagers and were experts at avoiding his triggers. But my brother Greg refused to back down from an argument and my father advanced on him. To speak truthfully I cannot remember who he struck first, my oldest brother or my youngest.
Before I knew what to do, before I could break the freeze that created a statue from my form and react, my youngest brother stood quickly to prevent a fight. He incurred my father’s wrath. My father moved lightening quick and punched him in the face. They tumbled onto the couch, Jared put his arms up instinctively, and my father delivered blow after blow. Greg jumped in and on top of all of them. Grasping my father’s arm while Jared screamed, “Don’t hit him in the head, don’t hit dad in the head”.
And therein lies the true story – the compassion even in the midst of violence.
My father is brain injured. From the age of fourteen to eighteen he had numerous aneurysms erupt inside his head. Finally a diagnosis and brain surgery corrected the problem but the damage had been done. A part of his temporal lobe is forever atrophied. His skull is soft and one sharp blow in the right spot could kill him instantly.
“Don’t hit him in the head”
The temporal lobe regulates memory, hearing, language, learning and emotions. My father has real issues with all of these. Processing between the short term and long term memory is the most obvious. He cannot remember his grandchildren’s names a great majority of the time. The days pass one after the other with no real imprint upon his world – repetition is his saving grace.“Commonly, these individuals experience increased verbal and, more rarely, physical aggressiveness. In general, even those patients who do not become verbally abusive may still experience increased talkativeness with decreased empathy to how their comments may affect those within earshot.” source
My father embodies this definition wholly. Some things cannot be unsaid, some actions cannot be undone. But I love my father. He is a kind and gentle man when his emotions have not taken him by storm. Brain injury is an insidious and hidden devastation; one that has a ripple effect on everyone caught in its wake.
It’s much easier to judge than it is to understand and I too have been caught laying righteous opinion at his feet. It would be easier to be angry with him, to hate him, to demand better. But to what end? His brain cannot be fixed, his life will never be “normal”. He has had to learn how to adjust and how to function; and as his daughter, so must I.
Sometimes even difficult childhoods are marked with the greatest of lessons and mine was the ability to forgive.