Do you ever get the feeling the Universe is trying to test you?
The Planned Parenthood shooting was an hour away from my home. 40 minutes if there’s no traffic. Today, a friend texted me while I was knee deep in work–just coming up for air–to tell me my Daddy’s hometown was the site of the 3rd worst mass shooting in American history.
I immediately texted back, “Is it San Bernardino county or San Bernardino itself?” The latter, he responded. I then finally noticed my home phone had six missed calls from a California number I didn’t recognize. On any other day, I would have dismissed them as overzealous telemarketers or perhaps old candidates trying to inquire about my former employer.
But as soon as I heard about the shooting, I knew who it was. I grabbed my phone and called.
“Are you okay? I just heard.”
“We’re fine. The girls were home sick.”
“I would’ve been picking them up around that time had they gone to school, though. I don’t understand this.”
“I don’t either. I’m still working, but just wanted to check-in. Give them big hugs for me, okay?”
“I will, dear. Take care, alright.”
Technically, my father’s hometown was Ottumwa, Iowa. Farm country. But they later moved to Oklahoma–where he got his Okie accent–and then settled in Southern California. In Rialto. Back then, it was a sleepy community just east of LA, not far from Big Bear and Palm Springs. After WWII, my father–a young sailor–got a house in San Bernardino with his then-wife and raised a family. He eventually messed it up, as he always did, and then left to wander the US and met my mother.
The two of them lived in Rialto briefly, while my grandfather was alive–before I was born. My mother was full of stories about the area. About the grandfather I never met. About Palm Springs. It was beautiful and peaceful. I have a shoebox filled with beautiful photos of my dad’s ex wife on beaches with their baby. There are photos of my stately grandpa –so tall and dignified. For my mother, it was home during a time when she had no home. And I guess it was my father’s too. It was where my namesake grandmother was buried.
I’ve never been to that house. I’ve thought of visiting–actually planned a trip, roughly, for after the move. To try to wrap my head around my father’s life before me. Around that place that started the downward spiral. I was surprised to see how urban it seemed now. Surprised that Yucca Valley–this place my Mama referred to often–was some kind of desert oasis where people went for meditation retreats.
I don’t have much family left, on either side of my family tree, but this place houses a few of them. My Dad’s ex wife and my deceased half-siblings’ children. They’re adopted. So, technically, I’m the last of my father on this planet. I didn’t meet my half-siblings until later in life. Both of them passed away way too young and tragically. I only met them a few times. I don’t have much of a relationship with my dad’s side of the family…mostly because I don’t know them very well and my dad’s choices often provided roadblocks to us connecting. It’s hard to connect with people who actively hate your father and say horrible things about him. But I’m mostly on good terms with his ex. She was a friend to my mother. We are kind and pleasant to one another–realizing he inflicted pain and torment on all of us. And now, after therapy, I wonder if what they said is true. It’s not for me to judge, really. I just remember the father I had. Which wasn’t the man they knew. But I can’t say it’s not true anymore mostly because I’m not even sure what’s true for me anymore. Just that I love him and forgive him for whatever he did–even if I don’t remember.
Sometimes, I feel like the Universe tests me…tests to see if I’m really healed…if I really believe the things I believe. And December is my ultimate teacher.
Feel alright about life? Well, hold on there, Alma. Here’s a hoop to jump through. Here’s some goddawful horrible thing to digest. Still happy? Still alright? It never fails. I suspect this won’t be the first test.
A defiant part of me wants to scream and give December the finger. To rage back and protest by hating the world and hating the holidays and the blind idiocy of my fellow human.
It would be so easy. And I’ll admit, in past years, every little death–every tragedy in my life–even if peripheral…became a log on my downward spiral fire.
But they didn’t go to school today. They are in bed watching cartoons, with pigtails and pink cheeks. And the ultimate fuck you to assholes who shoot innocent people is to be grateful they exist because they reminded you that healing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I can call my truce with December even if horrible people make the world dark and cold. There’s still light here. If anything, it’s just building my resolve to love more and fight more for a world worthy of those little girls.