If I speak with the voices of men and angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a tinkling symbol. And if I prophecy and know all knowledge and mysteries and have faith to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
So my prayer practice continues.
When I was four or five, my parents and I moved from the city to the suburbs. My mother didn’t want me to go to city schools. My preschool was integrated, and I really haven’t known my mother to be prejudice about any group, so I think it was the quality of the education that concerned her. My parents rented a house from a man who lived in part of the house.
I’ve previously written most of what I remember from that time regarding my father. He was very sick. He died in that living room. He spent lots of time laying on the couch. He had cirrhosis of the liver and “wet brain” (alcoholic dementia) symptoms of not knowing who I was or where he was. I was in first grade.
I had adjusted OK to school, but I had terrible separation anxiety. My first day of kindergarten I asked my mother not to leave, but to stay in the parking lot and wait for me. I remember being taken care of by my grandmother and asking her again and again, “What’s my mommy doing now?” She would supply likely details of my mother driving to school, being in class, and coming back to get me. One time at my grandparents’ summer house on a lake, I approached my grandmother and asked her if she would take care of me and be my mother if my mother died. The way she described it, she asked me where my mother was, and I indicated she was swimming across the lake in the back. I remember following my mother from the shore as she swam in the ocean, certain she would drown. I don’t know what I expected to do if that had happened. Another time I protested in a panic when my father tried to leave me with my grandmother. She was old (so I thought), and likely to die while caring for me.
We don’t need Freud to tell us that my sick father made me anxious about my mother leaving and dying. I remember being older, ten or eleven, in the hospital after surgery. Construction delayed my mother’s after work visit, and before cell phones, I had no idea where she was. I was panicked and crying, but I told the nurses that it was pain that was making me cry. When my mother got there she made them give me more pain medicine, saying it was ridiculous they let me suffer so.
So halfway through first grade, I lost my father to alcohol. This made me different in very real ways. I had no father, I had no siblings. This was 1968 suburbia, and I think it’s safe to say that no one in my classes shared those characteristics with me. I was different, and not in a good way.