A Memory of Snails
I was struck by a sudden memory from my youth the other night, as I walked by two young girls and their cheap, fragile toys that had been scattered across a public sidewalk.
I was about six or seven, and forbidden to have a pet. Even then, my family was paranoid and antisocial, so we didn’t have any friends or social events, either. It was just my mom and dad, constantly fighting, and me dreaming up imaginary people and places. It was a beautiful spring day, and I’d collected snails from the bottom of our garden. Back then I lived in a posh house with a wonderful yard, and the firepit – intended to accommodate a large gathering, but abandoned by my parents – was a favorite for the snails. For a kid without friends or pets, it was always a thrill to capture some from the wild. Fireflies, slugs, snails, ladybugs, and hours upon hours cautiously feeding squirrels and chipmunks.
Snails didn’t do much, but I was a patient kid. I lined them all up on the back steps and had a little pageant. My dad was out in the backyard, avoiding my mom. Often, he’d just be drinking or smoking a little beyond the treeline, curled up beneath an old dogwood like the yellowed bones of some long dead animal. Effete fool that he was, he never did any yardwork. But her lunatic screams would always eventually convince him to return to the house for a vicious fight over some trivial shit. On this particular day that has burned into my mind, he came bounding up, crunching all my snails underfoot, not even noticing them or me. There was no pause as the snails cracked and shattered, and as I screamed out in horror and sympathetic pain.
Most of his life was spent in a grim little netherworld. Sometimes he would just stare vacantly at us, as if we weren’t real. The things that haunted that man were great and horrible…
I was crushed, of course. I took the death of all those snails on my soul. It was my fault they were there to begin with, after all. I remember blaming myself for their demise for years afterwards. And, that night, I was sullen and tearful, crying myself to sleep.
All, now, the product of a very obviously damaged psyche of a lonely little boy. And yet another nail in the old forgiveness coffin. It comes up now and again from my more weak-minded friends and acquaintances. More so in light of the Post article. Time to forgive your parents!
Why? Why forgive them? What’s the point? What do I gain if I forgive them?
I did tell my dad, in his last moments as he choked to death in a hospital bed over a year ago, that I forgave him. He died as soon as I said it, though the doctors said that he was effectively braindead six hours before. I lied to him. I don’t forgive him. I said it because, no matter how evil you are, or what crimes you’ve committed, you shouldn’t have to suffer and die alone. At least, not with a son standing over you hating you. That’s just wrong. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I’d cursed him. His death was the horrible endgame of a seven year struggle with emphysema and, believe me, it wasn’t pretty. I hope people lie to me when I die.
I see no reason to truly forgive my parents. They ravished my childhood… And my adulthood. Cleaning up mom’s estate involved almost two years of my life, battling the IRS and creditors. I spent six months after dad died being disgusted at his financial woes. I had to run away from his estate. Drop everything and let the creditors take it. I might have stuck it out if it wasn’t for brain surgery and massive change of life distracting me. But it would have been another two years of battle, with nothing to show for it. The house was a lost cause from the get-go, and all the money was gone. The stolen millions from our company business spent on emphysema (medical care, and even oxygen, was all paid cash only) and 20 years staying below the radar without employment. A large portion of the money, no doubt, was given over to the fundamentalist church that he belonged to.
And it’s there where the word forgiveness sticks. Because he told me, a few years ago when I went to confront him, why he did what he did. Why’d he leave us and take all the money? Why’d he leave us in the poorhouse? And his reply was that he “thought it would be best for you, son.”
Amazing. I’m to forgive that? He later went on to say that he had forgiven himself, thanks to the open arms of his welcoming non-denominational church who soaked him for hundred of thousands of dollars. Fuck them. Fuck them for even breeding the hope of forgiveness in a man who left his son high and dry.
Mom…well, I can understand abandoning her because, Jesus Christ, what a fruitcake. But me? I was 12. I was innocent. I had no part in whatever retarded shit haunted him, and I am owed. I am still owed, by both of them. And I’m not talking about money. I want a mom and dad. I want, at the very least, the memory of a mom and dad. That was all denied me. I know I’m not alone in this. I know others have had it worse. But, still, the next person who talks to me about forgiveness is going to get a pencil in their eye. I hope they’ll forgive me.