10. Rambling to Forgiveness

10. Rambling to Forgiveness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Rambling to Forgiveness

Fathers represent another way of looking at life—the possibility of an alternative dialogue.

~Louise J. Kaplan

I come from a family of tiny people. My mother was Irish, my father Italian, and at 5’2” I towered over both of them. Maybe that was why my father always seemed so angry—all those years of looking up at people, of feeling small, invisible. He had several brothers and sisters, most of whom he had stopped speaking to years before. Minor slights led to major rifts, so I only saw my aunts and uncles at funerals.

When someone passed away, he pushed all the vendettas and hurt feelings aside and marched us off to pay our respects. These gatherings always started out cordially, with the brothers tentatively approaching each other and talking quietly among themselves. By the end of the evening, back at the house, when we were polishing off the last of the cannoli, they were talking louder, standing taller, and slapping each other on the back. My aunts dabbed at their eyes with their silk hankies, wept over the deceased, and murmured about how long it had been since we had last seen each other.

It never lasted. By the week’s end the old resentments had resurfaced and we were back in enemy territory. I wouldn’t see any of those people again until the next funeral.

All this animosity was largely generated and nurtured by my father. I never knew the Italian side of the family, or what they had done to make him want nothing to do with them. But they were among the many people he never spoke to and refused to discuss. Not welcome in our home, they remained a mystery to me. Sitting alone in the living room, reading the nightly news, my father nursed his resentment like a tall, cool drink; quietly and continuously stirring the ice.

At sixteen I desperately wanted a car of my own, and I begged him to let me drive the old Rambler sitting in the garage next to our new station wagon. He didn’t trust my driving, and he didn’t particularly trust the boys he envisioned me driving around with. This struck me as absurd, in that I had never had a date, and his images of boys and me were just that, imaginary.

When I was a child he used to joke with me. “You are going to be so pretty when you grow up I’ll have to beat the boys off with a stick!” Little did I know he would practically do that. Dating for me was hopeless. When the phone rang, he leapt to answer it. If it was a boy calling for me, he’d yell, “She’s not home!” and hang up on him. So much for my social life. I raged and wept; he rattled his newspaper and went back to reading, his feet propped up in his favorite lounger.

I longed to get out, to literally drive away, to listen to my music on the radio, to be free, and yes to ride around with boys; big, tall, handsome teenage boys.

My father kept a wary eye on me from behind the headlines. I was perpetually angry with him.

So we rattled on and on; I was relentless, he resistant. We argued over the car until suddenly, unexpectedly, he agreed to let me drive it anytime I wanted. With one stipulation. He would do some work on it to make the Rambler safer for me.

I was amazed and thrilled. Fine with me. Fix it all you want; just let me drive it.

My father went out in the garage, shoved the driver’s seat up to within inches of the steering wheel and blowtorched it in place. Permanently. At five feet, he could drive this car. At 5’2” I could slip in behind the wheel and reach the gas and the brakes too.

But my tall, imaginary, boyfriends would never be able to get behind that wheel.

I was furious. What would all my friends think when I drove this car with my nose pressed up against the windshield? I’d look ridiculous. No one had a car like this. It was like some clown car in the circus, weird looking and stupid. How could he embarrass me like this?

But a car was a car, and although mortified, I grudgingly accepted it.

Later that year my best friend Mary was in a really bad auto accident. Her boyfriend took a turn too fast, spun out and rolled the car three times. She was a quiet girl, a good girl, an A student. Naturally she was attracted to a guy who was a little on the wild side, someone who “really knew how to drive.” The car was destroyed; they both made it out of the wreck, but just barely.

When I got home from school the day of the accident, my father was waiting for me in the driveway. He handed me the keys. “You drive; we’re going to the hospital.” For a reclusive man, this was completely out of character. I don’t remember him ever suggesting we visit anyone anywhere, in or out of the hospital. Other than funerals, we didn’t seem to socialize much.

My father sat next to me, silently gazing out the window, for once letting me drive without comment.

We found Mary in the ICU, her boyfriend still in surgery. As we stood by her bed, her mother joined us and gently stroked the tips of her fingers. Tears ran down her cheeks as she gazed at her daughter, so bruised and broken.

My father glanced at me. His dark eyes moist, as if he were about to weep. I had never seen him cry and I didn’t want to. Under the harsh hospital lights, the creases in my father’s face cut deeper than I had ever noticed before. On a face whose emotions were so often obscured by anger, I saw relief that it wasn’t me in that hospital bed, and fear that someday it might be.

He drove the Rambler home, sliding easily behind the wheel.

We didn’t speak on the way back. He stared straight ahead, following the speed limit, driving carefully.

I looked over at this man who had been so difficult to live with for so many years, and I forgave him, for everything.

~JoAnn Richi

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