I am, of course, talking about Time. (I want to add that this post contains a topic that might be really, really offensive to readers. Sorry in advance.)
I woke this morning at 3:38 AM and Instagram ping-ed me and told me that people were updating. Of course I immediately wondered, what are you people doing up at this hour and what are you doing on Instagram, for Christ’s sake? But I looked at the posts and was sadly reminded that today is the 1st anniversary of Tom Petty’s death.
For me, the saddest part of Tom Petty’s death is that he left behind a wife, children, grandchildren, and really close friends. One of the things I saw on Instagram was a photo one of his daughter’s had posted. He’s much younger in the photo and the lullaby he wrote for her many years ago when she was a baby is posted there (a really beautiful song – one of my favorites) and I thought, okay, can this BE more painful at 3:38 AM, as I lie here in bed in the dark?
And I thought, it must be so sad to lose your father when he’s relatively young. And then, with a sense of complete astonishment, I realized that I had lost my(biological) father when he was relatively young. I was 38 and he was 53. Lots younger than Tom Petty was. What a feeling of disconnection, that I could forget something like that about my own life.
I’m now 5 years older than my dad was when he died, and I find this barreling-forward of Time just incomprehensible.
The hardest part to accept is that he’s now been dead for nearly 20 years, and that I actually knew him for 10 years, and that means that the 28 really painful years of my life that I didn’t know him are now superseded by these 2 other facts. How can that possibly be? Where did the Time go?
From the time I was 5 years old up until what felt like forever, my biological father was the most important person in my world. I’m not over-stating it when I say that finding him was the most important thing for me about being alive. I have one of those really sad birth certificates that says “Father Unknown,” and my mother steadfastly refused to ever tell anybody who my father was. So the odds of me ever having found him were so not in my favor, that the only thing on my side was God. And luckily God is usually all you need. God & faith in God. And when it came right down to it, my father actually found me. (My novella, Ribbon of Darkness, is about 98% nonfiction. It comes really close to documenting what actually happened.)
Long-time readers of my erotic writings (life) know by now that I’m a hardcore submissive with seriously complicated daddy-issues. I’m okay with this, and I’ve written a lot about it over the years. I’ve sort of untangled a lot of my own questions about it and I can accept this about myself. It’s who I am.
But probably the hardest thing about my dad and I finding each other (I was 28, he was 43) is that we fell in love and got extremely close to becoming incestuous. And that’s when “daddy-issues” get amazingly complicated and overwhelming. I would have done anything he wanted to do; anything. Luckily, he had a sense of integrity that was not to be believed.
He had been career-Navy. A Navy SEAL in Vietnam, from 1965 until Saigon fell in 1975 . And even though Vietnam left him a boundless alcoholic, being career-military gave his character really strong underpinnings of knowing right from wrong.
Our most harrowing moment: We were sitting at his kitchen table in his trailer in the middle of the Nevada desert; drinking, smoking, the only 2 people left alive on Earth – or so it felt. We were so in love. And it kept getting later and things kept getting deeper, until I finally said, “It’s okay if you want to sleep with me.” Even though, with every fiber of my being, I did not want to say that. It came out anyway, and the world just stopped, you know? We just looked at each other. As they say, I was all-in; my cards were on the table. I didn’t regret saying it, really, but I did regret the position I had then put him in. It was so difficult. Just so fucking difficult. And he said, “No, it’s actually not okay if I want to sleep with you – you’re my daughter.”
The last really meaningful conversation my dad and I had, in the late summer of 1989, was heart-wrenching. We were on the phone – he in his trailer outside Reno, me in my tenement apartment in NYC. It was god-awful hot, a huge harvest moon – the kind where the moon just glows and seems unimaginably enormous, and so close to the Earth. And my dad was crying and he told me he was in love with me, that he wanted to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me but that he knew this was impossible, and he knew that I needed to be with some other man eventually and that he couldn’t stand the thought of me being with anyone else, and that he didn’t know how he was going to survive it.
I had no way of handling that conversation. I felt so terrible. He wound up going out and getting mind-numbingly drunk, got a DUI and spent quite a number of days in jail. And all that time we had spent being just so joyfully in love, though not having ever had sex – well, it was as if the life-line to all that was severed and just sent drifting out into nothingness; un-claimable. Eternally.
After he got out of jail, he was basically more angry than anything, really. Our relationship changed. When I told him I wanted to write about him (non-erotically) because he truly had had a remarkable life, he told me that if I ever wrote about him, he would stop speaking to me. Because he was really, really private. And the things he’d told me about himself, his life, he felt he’d told me in confidence.
I agreed not to write about him, and put all my notes away – for good. When he got sick with cancer (from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam), he stopped speaking to me anyway. He didn’t tell me he was sick. He didn’t tell me he was dying. He went to live with one of my step-sisters, whom I despised (if only because he had raised her and hadn’t raised me. I was so envious of her and her sister and brother – all of whom I just detested and they didn’t like me at all, either). Still, my dad chose her as the daughter who was going to be there for him in his final months on Earth. (Under it all, though, I got the feeling he didn’t want me to know that he wasn’t larger than life; didn’t want me to see him as simply a human being; one that was being devoured by cancer.)
Regardless, my step-siblings didn’t even tell me that he had died. And after he was cremated, his ashes scattered over the desert; when my uncle (whom I’d never met) went to Nevada to go through my father’s things, he found a whole stack of stuff I’d given my dad that my step-siblings were going to throw away. At that point, my uncle found out that no one had told me that my dad had died, or that he’d even been sick. He found a publicity photo in among the stack of stuff I’d given my dad, and my uncle called my publicist in New York City. How fucking wonderful, right? To get a call from my publicist. “Marilyn, I hate to tell you this, but your dad is dead.”
My publicist, for Christ’s sake. My step-sister had my fucking phone number and my address.
Once my dad died, and died in this way that was so far removed from me, I felt that all bets were off, and I chose to write about him. And am still writing about him, obviously. And will write about him again in my memoirs.
But this morning, thinking about Tom Petty and how sad his daughter was, and all that; what came back to me was how deeply and desperately obsessed I was with my dad when I was 12 years old. He was the center of my world and I had no clue who he was. At the time, the Beach Boys had a hit song on the radio, called California Saga. For some inexplicable reason, whenever I heard this song on the radio, when the Beach Boys would sing the lyric “have you ever been south of Monterey?” it made me think of my phantom father and I would start to cry. Literally, I would sob. I would sit alone in my 12-year-old, white & pink bedroom and sob.
Years later, when I finally met my dad, I found out that back when I was 12, he and his 2nd wife (who had died before I met him – the mother of those 3 step-siblings I hated because he had raised them), were living around Monterey, CA. (You have to listen to the song to get this part.) Jesus. You know? He split his time back then between Monterey and Midway Island, because he was still career-Navy.
And in another odd twist, he gave me a photo of himself from that very year of the Beach Boys’ song, when he was on Midway Island, but living around Monterey. The irony was just so spooky.
I never told him about the Beach Boys song, or what it did to me when I was 12 whenever I heard the song on the radio.
But this morning, at 3:38 AM, when all of this came back to me, all these intense years later, I knew that, as difficult as so much of it became, God had answered a 12-year-old girl’s prayer in spades.
I found my father, and he fell in love with me. I’m going to just forget everything else that came after that.