The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.
— Elie Wiesel
I am going to visit my daughter tomorrow. She is a featured actor in ‘Evie’s Waltz’ – the fall play being performed at her college. It is an unpublished play previously performed off-Broadway and in select theatres. Her college is one of the first colleges in the country to have permission to perform it. My daughter plays the bitter and resentful mother of a school shooter and gets to fire off zingers like, “I want to smother him in his sleep” (referring to her ‘son.’) This is the closing weekend and I’ve heard that this play, technically considered a comedy intended to generate conversation about a difficult social issue, has audience members walking out of the theatre weeping. I’ve heard that my normally sunny and optimistic daughter has shocked audience members with her supposedly accurate portrayal of a selfish, caustic, alcohol dependant woman.
In the past, my daughter has explained to me that she successfully portrays characters when she finds something – whether a situation, a circumstance, a feeling – to connect with. So… where did she connect with this woman she is currently playing? What circumstances, situation or emotion does she identify with that has allowed her to so realistically portray this woman?
Well, she was with me when I found out all of our money had disappeared. She was in the grocery store with me when I was trying to buy bread and milk on my payday and had my debit card declined. She was standing there when I called her dad and asked if his card had been stolen. She was there when I called the police and then the bank only to find out we had not been robbed. She was there when the banker told me that her father had hidden credit cards, had not paid, had gone to court and had received a judgement that every account associated with his social security number be levied. She was there when her father shrugged it off and claimed to have simply ‘forgotten’ to tell me. She was there when he asserted we were not broke because he had $40 cash in his pocket.
This happened two weeks before she was to leave for her first year of college. Her father and I no longer had money to pay our portion of her college tuition. Determined to not allow these circumstances to alter her college and career plans or force her into more debt than she was comfortable having, she got to work.
Currently, she works as a speaking consultant assisting international students with their English, assisting professors with the presentation of new materials and helping other students with presentations and job interview skills. She is Pillar Head of Programs and Special Events for her college speaking center. She supervises other students, represents her college at national conferences and has helped her college speaking center become one of the few certified speaking centers in the country. She teaches two to four Freshman seminar classes per week on public speaking, teamwork, presentations, effective discussion, interviewing for jobs etc. She works as a Barista at a local coffee shop. And, she is a telephone phone solicitor working as a professional fund-raiser for a charity. (So, if you get a telephone solicitor, please remember that the person on the other end of the phone hates calling you just as much as you hate that they called. Remember that person has a story – usually not a happy one. You can still hang up but be kind when you do it. It just might be my daughter, his son, her grandmother, their mother…)
My daughter is also adamant that she have the private liberal arts college experience she always dreamed of – membership in a sorority, participation in campus life and officer positions in college clubs and organizations. She is committed to completing her degree in four years and in getting the most for her money. At her flat fee school, that means she has taken between 19 and 21 credits per semester and, because I am already sort of bragging and I promise there is a point to this, she is a straight A/B student. She is a delightful, sunny and generally happy, hardworking young woman.
She is also extremely angry at her father. She does not want to see him. She does not want him to come to campus. She does not want to talk with him. She does not want to talk about him. She couldn’t care less about seeing him on breaks and holidays. She does not open any packages or letters he sends her and she does not return his phone calls or text messages. I am also angry / disappointed by her father. But… to see your child living with this hatred, this devastation and pain? It isn’t right. And, no matter what he has done or not done to me, he is still her father. He still has a right to a relationship with her. And, I know he loves her.
I took her out for coffee, to a safe, neutral place with no memories, no allegiances. I told her I understood her anger. I told her it was okay to be angry. But I also told her that I knew her dad loved her and that I hoped she could forgive him. I reminded her that the things he had done were between him and me, not her and him. I encouraged her to see him, to talk with him. Her response broke my heart into a million pieces.
She said, “Really? My father loves me? The man who, when I was four and B——- (her brother) was two, when he was supposed to be taking care of us while you went to classes, instead left us alone in our apartment for up to two hours at a time? I know it was that much time because we would watch three to four Barney shows while he was gone. That man loves me?
“The man who, when I made him a bookmark in school, grunted, said ‘Why did you give me something with glitter? I don’t even know what this is.’ and threw it in the garbage? That man loves me?
“The man who, when I asked him to take me to friends’ houses said, ‘I’m too busy, ask your mother?’ That man loves me?
“The man who, when you were in the hospital, left us at Grandma’s house and only came to eat dinner before leaving? The man who never talked with us about what was happening, who yelled at us when we asked about you, who never gave us a hug or offered to take us to see you? That man loves me?
“The man who, when I was making films refused to take me to shoots or production meetings? The man who said my films were all just girl stuff and that they made him uncomfortable? That man loves me?
(My daughter began directing, producing and editing social justice films at age 8. She began working with a nonprofit organization that met and completed their work at a well-known art college. She had several pieces screen in galleries and film festivals internationally and couple pieces commissioned. You can even check one of her films out of the local library. And at 15, she filmed a pilot TV show and guest blogged film reviews for the local modern art museum. She does not ‘do film’ any more, though. She does theatre – acting, directing, playwriting, play festival organization etc. Anyhoo…)
“The man who never came to a speech or debate tournament, who laughed when he was asked to volunteer for my things, who didn’t want anything to do with me unless we were doing things he likes to do? That man loves me?
“The man who has come to fewer plays and performances than my grandparents who live an hour away? The man who has never hugged me? The man who spends as much time with my brother as he can? The man who has never said ‘I love you’? Do you really, truly think that man loves me?”
I was speechless, stunned, devastated for her as she continued.
“You know, he almost did something nice for me once. Do you remember when I was thinking about biking across the country to call attention to human trafficking issues? Do you remember he sold one of his guns, his favorite gun, and he gave the money to me to put towards a new bike. He even drove me to the bike shop. We picked out this beautiful, amazing bike.”
I told her I remembered. After all, it had sat in the entryway of our house for two years, too special to be relegated to the garage or basement, but entirely untouched, never used.
“I hated that bike.” She explained. “I utterly despised it. As we were leaving the store, he told me that we were now even. I had talked to him a few weeks earlier about how hurt I was that he spent so much time, energy and money hunting and fishing with B——- and rarely even asked me how my day was. He didn’t say much at the time but as we were loading that bike in his truck to bring it home, he told me he had sold his gun to make up for all the time he hadn’t spent with me. He told me that now that I had that bike, I should be happy, that now I could go ride my bike when he was hanging out with my brother, and that now I had no right to complain. I wanted it kept in the entryway because every day I wanted him to see that and remember what he said to me. I don’t ride it because I hate what it was supposed to mean. You cannot possibly tell me that man loves me.
“That man told me I was not allowed to call you from college unless I also called him. That man told me that I owed it to him to treat him fairly. That man made jokes in front of my friends that suggested I was someone who would ‘entertain’ the entire football team. Don’t ever, ever try to tell me that man knows me. Don’t you dare even hint that he loves me. He isn’t capable of it. He is only capable of loving himself.”
So… how do you respond to a speech like this? How can you possibly tell your child, your child who has lived this out, how can you possibly tell her she is wrong?
And yesterday, perusing the blogs of my neighbors, when I ran across Confessions of a Ginger, this whole conversation came back to me.
And I remember, I know where the hatred, the bitterness and the resentfulness she displays when acting the part of a mother who hates her child comes from. I know the source of her inspiration (devastation.)
And, my heart is still broken in a million pieces.
For my daughter.
For the author of Confessions of a Ginger.
For the author of Graduate of Life Lessons.
For an Opinionated Man. (Yes, I’ve read your back story. I haven’t lived it but I get it.)
At the same time, when I see fathers (an Opinionated Man and JudahBloom and others) blogging about their families, publicly enraptured with their little girls, delighting in the person they are each becoming, I am devastated because my daughter never got to feel treasured and valued by a man she looked up to. At the same time, I am hopeful and grateful because there are at least two other little girls who will never, ever have to feel that way.
I am so sorry this got long. If you read this far, I really, really appreciate you sticking with it. It is just life.
It is part of my story, part of my daughter’s story.
It is my heart.
And, tomorrow, to some degree, I will get to watch it played out on stage.