High School should be a time of joy, but I've rarely heard that it truly is. Rather, it's a time of uncomfortable growth, adjustment and change. All of those tend to be uncomfortable. For me, it seemed, it was worse than all that. It was a time of tragedy, guilt, and unbearable sadness.
We left our friends behind and traveled across the country, again to be the new kids in class. This time, though, the community wasn't filled with military, where there were many new families. We were the oddities. We also left behind our oldest brother Patrick, in his second year at West Point, who would find it much more difficult to visit on his rare weekends, and it would be years before the great kinship would blossom between us again. I thank God for that now.
The first year was a struggle, but a good year all in all. I had my great teacher, Mr. Holmes, and my life was filled with learning to write and heading toward the top of my class. I joined clubs and cautiously made friends, trying to trust in the knowledge that we would be really staying in one place. Everything looked pretty good that November night, just a year after moving into our home in Simi Valley. I was to have been doing the dishes, but had gotten a phone call. My Junior year had just started, and I was fifteen years old. It was my first phone call from a boy asking for a date. I was beyond excited. He had called to ask me to go to the basketball game with him. Our team was in the State Finals, and this was to be the first game.
Daddy walked into the room, saw that the dishes weren't done, and I was on the phone. He walked over and took the phone from me. He addressed my caller and said, "Kathleen Louise hasn't finished her chores, and she's not allowed on the phone. She's not going anywhere." Then he hung up the phone. I, of course, burst into tears and promptly told him that he didn't understand, didn't love me, and didn't know how to be a proper father. He just looked at me, went into the kitchen and mixed himself a cup of soda water, drank it down and went into the bedroom to lie down.
I finished the dishes and went into my own bedroom, where I cried myself to sleep. A few hours later my sister came in to wake me up, tearfully telling me that Daddy had died. He'd had a massive heart attack and died shortly after our fight, while I cried myself to sleep. It was many years before I believed that my cruel words hadn't killed him.
I've rarely admitted to anyone what I said to him that night. I remember standing against the kitchen wall as neighbors came and talked to us, and medical people came and went. Each time someone gave me sympathy, I wondered if they could tell that I had killed him. I went a little nuts after that. In some ways, we all did. Some of us could only remember the good memories of Daddy. There were so many. Some of us could only remember the bad. Being human, there was enough of that as well. Having been my own judge and jury, I had to work through all of that to the point where I remember both, accept both, see both in myself as well.
Would I go back to youth? No. I'll take the lines and wrinkles, the extra pounds, and the inconveniences of aging. I'll take the ability to sit on the pity pot and remember to flush when I'm done. I'll take now.