There was a trick to ironing the crease in the pants of his dress uniform – wax paper – it set the straight line that started just above the tip of the mirror polished black boots and ended at the waistband of the blue then green standard air force issue. Mom ironed everything else in the house; sheets, dresses, shirts, blouses, aprons, the rain or shine laundry every Monday washing away the previous week. Every Tuesday creaking up the ironing board, pressing heavily, hotly down on cotton shirts and pleated skirts, a damp cloth to erase unwanted lines and tame our clothes, and hopefully us, into a kind of submission.
But never Dad’s uniforms. Ever. They had to be just so and he had learned to do them right in basic training, a wild young man tamed in every way into the straight, straight lines he lived/s by ever since those early days I only faintly heard of.
‘There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything’, was something of a code for him. And every wrong way a deliberate act against the right, and inevitably against him.
I hate being melodramatic. My memories are just that – mine and memories – filtered through my admittedly hazy reflections. I cannot and do not speak for anyone else in my family. I need to be very clear about that. They have their own stories and I will not – no – I cannot be their voice. They will find their own.
What I do know is that I had a foolish boldness that couldn’t be suppressed; a need to have my opinion heard in the face of what I never seemed to learn was an uncommon rage that I interpreted to be directed at me. I also had/have a gift for losing myself constantly in a dream world, ‘Wendy would do better at school if she would pay attention’ – ‘She should be tested to see if she is capable of academics’ (general surprise all around when the testing revealed a high IQ) coupled with the audacity to at least verbally leap headlong into the constant ‘walking on eggshells’ situations – it led me into SO. MUCH. TROUBLE. ‘Don’t upset your Dad’ was (is) the soundtrack for my life, in all its various incarnations.
Oh yes – and park your emotions at the door ‘Wendy, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve’, and no hugging ‘We’re not that kind of family’, two other important rules although there were a thousand more. These are only blurred scenes – faint and fading memories – I’ve spent a lifetime of my own Mondays trying to scrub away the deluge that has re-emerged lately.
Stripping the house bare, handing over the shell to someone else, it’s dredging through those hidden places again, at least for me. But I think for all of us because we’re all angry in our own way – and we are all taking apart these pieces of our selves, of our own lives as we dismantle the visible expressions of his.
The great fading is occurring for him now, the straight lines of his world collapsing. We talk about the weather, the birdhouses outside the window, the World Cup. I answer the same questions he poses, two or three times, ‘How are the kids? What are they doing now? What grade is Molly in?’ He is perpetually surprised that she is in university. A shocking truth that newly amazes him during the hour or so we are with him. I have learned never to ask about Mom, never to ask how he is doing. He has developed his own story, told in simmering indignation that fits where truth has no place. I want to ask a hundred things, I want there to be transparency, and a kind of open-ended, borderless love. No lines, no disgust, no conditions. When we leave, I feel sad.
And I know that what I’m really asking, after all these years of feeling the press of the iron to ‘straighten up’ my life, what I’m still trying to say – will you see me – when will it be enough for you – can’t you just put the iron away.