Thursday, June 5, 2014

Oh Canada!

I loved that house.   Four bedrooms upstairs, two living rooms downstairs, it was spacious, old, and charming, with hardwood floors and twelve-foot ceilings.  It was on a corner lot in a beautiful neighborhood with lots of trees and a nearby park for the children.  This was worlds away from my parents' garage, and it seemed our troubles were over.  Bob had a job and I was able to stay home with the boys because I wasn't included on Bob's work visa.  I met my friend Cherry, and began writing short stories.  Life was good, and I wanted another baby.  In fact, I wanted a baby so badly we were trying to get pregnant and adopt another child simultaneously.  I did become pregnant, but because of immigration restrictions we were unable to adopt a baby from Haiti as we’d hoped.  I'm glad now that plan came to naught, but it does indicate how much I wanted to be a mother.  Saskia was born in 1976, and if she hadn't been a girl, I might well have tried for another child.  Tanner was six, Dabbs nearly three, and Saskia slid into the family without a ripple.  She was, like Tanner and unlike Dabbs, an easy baby, and I was willing to be as poor as a churchmouse in order to stay home with her.  Having failed to breastfeed Tanner, I was determined to make it work this time and, in fact, nursed Saskia until she was three, but by then we'd had to leave Canada precipitously, and hard times returned with a vengeance.  

I realize now that I married Bob for the wrong reasons (fear), adopted Dabbs for the wrong reasons (guilt), that in fact I was growing disconnected from my life.  I've always felt a step out of sync with what I've perceived to be “normal” people, which is to say, middle-class, college-educated people who generate families and establish careers, go to church on Sunday, contribute to worthy causes, read the local newspaper and are less tolerant than they think they are.  Our years in Canada were a kind of idyll.  I was happy, and what's more I knew I was happy.  I treasured those years and remember them with fondness to this day, but in many ways it was a Potemkin village.  Bob had a job, but it paid miserably, and I could barely make his salary stretch to feeding and clothing us.  I lived in Canada for over four years and was never able to afford a pair of boots for myself.  We lived in a beautiful house in a great, kid-friendly neighborhood, but it belonged to someone else.  Even the beds we slept in were not our own.  Bob continued drinking heavily; my parents expressed their concern, but I refused to listen to them.  Bob drank, we had no  money, but at least I was at home with my children. 

 At one point, after Bob had stayed out all night, drinking at a friend's house, leaving me frantic with worry that he'd had a heart attack and died in a snow drift, I did write him a letter, telling him how destructive his drinking was.  I was concerned that as the boys got older they would begin to realize what was happening with their father, and I begged Bob to quit or at least cut back.  I put the letter in a drawer, intending to bring it out if things ever got too bad, but I never gave it to him.  I was afraid of what he might say or do.  Yet again I let the opportunity for a cleansing confrontation go by.  
We left Canada virtually overnight, after two very serious immigration officers showed up at our door and asked to speak to my husband.  Our attempts to get landed-immigrant status had gone nowhere, and our time was up.  A week after that knock at the door, we were back in my parents' garage—this time with three children in tow.  The last time we'd gone through this routine I'd gotten a teaching job that supported us but required me to be away from Tanner for long hours.  Perhaps I was spoiled by my life in Canada, but this time I was going to stay home with baby Saskia, even if it meant going on welfare (something I never seriously considered, though there would be times when I'm sure I could have qualified). I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but I believe I was growing stronger.  Who knows what psychological processes were going on beneath my awareness, but when Saskia was born I finally felt complete.  Perhaps because she was a girl I didn’t associate her with the loss of my male son, and she brought a light into our family that held us together for a long time.  
It was such a plunge from my happy life in Canada to our precarious situation in my parents' garage with the washer and dryer and the furnace going on and off all through the night.  When my parents built their house, they constructed the adjoining garage in such a way that it could be turned into a private space for my grandmother should she ever need to live with us, but she died before that came to pass.  The garage had a carpet and a handsome antique bed, and we achieved some privacy by strategically placing some dressers between our sleeping area and the laundry equipment, but it was a garage, and it felt like one.   

I'd had some depression while I was in college, but I always attributed my lows to the stresses of growing into adulthood and certainly never thought of myself as anything other than rather moody with poetic inclinations.  I had found happiness in Canada.  I'd put the past behind me and become immersed in my family and believed I'd never be so happy again in my life.  I was determined to make the most of these years with my kids, and my days and nights were mostly untroubled, until our hasty departure.  Leaving Guelph like a thief in the night was a heavy blow, and I became very depressed and withdrawn.  I was not incapacitated and did everything I could to attend to my children, but I began to resent Bob and his failure to secure a stable life for us.   I determined to wait him out and not rush to the rescue as I had in the past.  I endured the same way I had when I was pregnant with David: I froze over and went numb.  

Tanner finished second grade in Greencastle and was miserable.  His Canadian school was open-plan and less structured than the traditional classroom in his new school, where he was expected to sit still and do what he was told.  He missed his friends, which I could understand, as I'd been pretty miserable myself when we'd moved from Pennsylvania to Indiana when I was nine.  But in typical Tanner fashion, he never complained, was never demanding and was, as always, a most pleasant child. 

 Dabbs went to a morning pre-school and became more and more unmanageable.  His rages were titanic, and we were at a loss to deal with what he was going through.  Far too late I realized the damage his abandonment and adoption had done to him.  He was a bright child, and he knew something was very wrong with his world, but he had no means of expressing it or making it better.  He was a casualty twice over, first of war, then of adoption.  The focus of the entire family became keeping Dabbs on an even keel.  Bob looked for jobs, I went through the days like a sleep-walker, and Tanner retreated further into himself.  Only little Saskia seemed truly content.