With divorce, the Etch-a-Sketch is turned upside and family life, as children know it, disappears.
The aluminum powder picture that re-emerges often casts dads in minor roles.
Sometimes, he’s left off the credits altogether.
It’s a tragedy Gen-Xers have been exposed to so long, we’re no longer shocked by it.
Many years ago, my brother, who was a single dad, told me a story about a house in Hollywood, California that was covered with purple hearts – one for each day the owner had not seen his son. Separated from his only child via a bitter custody battle, Christopher Robin, Sr. eventually painted more than 900 purple hearts on the house.
When my brother and I were living in Colorado Springs, the neighbors next door had an Apache pop up trailer. Every summer, they hitched it up and headed out of town to camp as a family. We were woefully envious.
Then we moved away.
We moved to West Texas and a family at the church my father pastored had an Apache pop up trailer. Every summer, they hitched it up and headed out of town to camp as a family. We were woefully envious.
Then we moved away.
In 2000, I drove out to California to see my brother. He told me he wanted to buy a camper and take his daughter to see all the national parks. Alas, it did not happen. The bitter weeds of custody battles too often choke out the most humble possibilities. The knobs on the Etch-a-Sketch twist hard and fast, and the dark gray lines of agenda make the truth indecipherable.
Just the other day, my brother, who is now 47 (my Gen X comrade), sent me an email with a link to a 1977 Apache trailer on Craig’s List. Later, we talked on the phone about the church camp in New Mexico we went to as kids. He talked about buying a camper and meeting up outside of Ruidoso every year – a tolerable destination between Oklahoma City and L.A.
Aren’t we all just chasing normal?
Once, when reflecting on his experience with fatherhood, Billy said that maybe he could have a relationship with my kids, and I said, of course, it will happen, Sully looks so much like you. A thousand memories filled the moment of silence that followed.
Pushing through the Drought
As I hung up the phone with Billy, I wondered if I should take $600 out of savings and send it to him. He could put $600 with it and buy our Apache trailer. Maybe his daughter, who is a young woman now, will join us one of these days.
I believe in pushing through the drought, planning for the harvest. This is what living in the Heartland for 25 years has taught me. As sure as there is a drought dramatically receding a lake from its shore, torrential downpours over a period of hours can crest it far above normal.
Wichita Wildlife Refuge
After my divorce 10 years ago, I spent many weekends hiking in the Wichita Wildlife Refuge near Lawton. Somehow, being alone on a prairie with a bunch of Buffalo and an occasional wasp (you could hear me scream for miles) made nights alone in my house without my daughter not seem nearly as bad.
Sometimes, I’d go the long way just to pass through Anadarko. There was a house I’d spotted once – a small white bungalow on the main street – and I liked to drive by it. It was nothing special, but it inspired me. It reminded me how nothing in the world dulls the shine of worldly possessions like loneliness. And, it reminded me of how much I was willing to give up just to sit on that porch at night with someone I loved who loved me and my daughter back.
This is why the 1977 Apache will always be big enough.
At least once a year, I make the trek to the Wichita Wildlife Refuge. So much can change in 10 years. Robert is beside me reminding me that Teddy Roosevelt made all this happen for me. And, I have my Sully and my Bridgy, and my firstborn who made me a mother, my Juliette. I haven’t driven by that house in Anadarko in ages. I think it’s a part of normal I don’t have to chase anymore because I carry it with me all the time.