6:43 PM - Sat 01.16.16
So, where was I...?
Chuck talked to Tony, Tony talked to me, Chuck and me texted back and forth, and eventually, I was on the phone, talking to Chuck for the first time.
We talked for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
He's three years older than me - Mom had him, Craig, and me, in pretty quick succession - and the first thing I focused on was his voice (Which is a little higher than mine, and has a definite "stoner" quality - As an actor, I couldn't help but think, "I've gotta work on getting that voice down...!").
But there was a bigger novelty for me beyond the sound of my brother Chuck's voice...
With my background? When I talk to people and the subject turns to "childhood"? 99.9-times-out-of-100, I win the "My Childhood Was Worse Than Yours" Sweepstakes.
But not this time.
We didn't get heavily or super-specifically into the abuse he suffered in foster care, how many placements he ended up in, etc, though it seems clear he got it worse than I did in that department (But we didn't have some kind of "misery pissing-contest" - He needed to talk about his deal more than I needed to talk about mine, which was, frankly, another novelty, and which was fine by me).
From my perspective, what was toughest to imagine, with Chuck's story, was being old enough to remember our mother, and our brother Craig, then being tossed into the gaping maw of the foster-care system.
How does a five-year-old possibly "process" such a thing? Even if someone tries to explain things to you - and I am very doubtful that, in West Virginia in the early 1960's, anyone did - how are you not deeply traumatized, and scarred by what's happened to you?
So Chuck has a very different "perspective" on our mother than I do (To me, until four years ago, she was basically just a "void"), or that Tony does (To Tony she was "a good mother", till his Dad died when he was a young teen, she fell off the wagon, and decided that whoever she came home from the bar with mattered more than he did).
He repeated the story Tony had told me about getting out of the trailer with Craig that fateful day (And it makes sense that's a story he would want to tell people - In comic-book terms, it's basically his "origin story").
He also told me about something I knew about from my own "case file" - the fact that Craig, as a young child, had fallen out a window and had been "cross-eyed" as a result (I'm guessing because someone wasn't watching him).
He's very angry at "Betty" - Our biological mother - because "she loved booze and men more than her kids", because she's never told him who his father is ("If she doesn't know, why doesn't she just tell me?", he said during our conversation, and again when we talked for a 2nd time Thursday night), because she doesn't want to meet his kids and their kids (Her grand-children and great-grandchildren), which nobody understands, and because she presented him with a "family tree" some years back, and I wasn't on it.
(I don't understand that last part at all - what's the "end-game" in withholding that piece of knowledge from him? He knew Craig, and he found out about Tony when Craig died, so why was my existence a big secret?)
In short, Chuck has grievances.
And from where I'm sitting, they're pretty fucking legit.
The belief from some people in Chuck's life is that "Betty" hasn't told him who his father is, because she just doesn't know.
And that's certainly possible - He could very easily have been the result of some drunken tryst with a guy she never saw again.
But again, from my vantage point, she knew who my father was, and let me believe a lie for decades.
She let Tony believe he was an only child until he met Chuck, on the occasion of Craig's death (And still never told him about me - Tony didn't know I existed till I wrote him years back).
She didn't want a relationship back when I contacted her when I was 30 or so, because her husband didn't know about me, "And I'd like to keep it that way - Sorry, that's just the way I feel".
So she might be embarrassed because she doesn't know who Chuck's father is...or she might be embarrassed because she remembers exactly who Chuck's father is - To me, either theory is equally plausible.
But the three of us - Me, Chuck, and Tony - all agree, at this point, "the cat's is officially out of the fucking bag".
She wanted to not confront her past, she wanted to not tell anyone anything but here we are, we basically know just about everything anyway, so what is she "protecting" anymore?
(As Chuck said, in that stoner voice of his, "The truth will set you free, Man...")
So Chuck is hurt, and angry.
And Tony is having to deal with the fact that his Mom was, as the two of us joked together ruefully, "A Drunken Skank-Whore".
So what's Jim's deal?
How do I feel personally about all this?
It's upsetting to find out the truth of my mother is uglier and more complicated than I thought - She wasn't just a passive victim of her own life. As both Chuck and Tony said in our separate conversations, she "made decisions" (A "boatload of bad decisions", to quote Tony), and those decisions hurt, and continue to hurt, a lot of people.
As I connect with relatives now, it strikes me that "I could have had brothers, I could have had nieces, nephews, in some cases for most of my life, instead of being alone. And they could have had me".
She took that from me, and she took that from all of us - Tony, Chuck, Gregg, their kids - and we can never get that time back.
I don't know, as I write this, if I was genuinely convinced my mother was "passively neglectful", too busy being abused to take care of her children, or if that's just what I needed to convince myself of in order to not be "angry" or "sad" or even emotionally "needy" when I met her (She did not want to meet me, remember - She had to be cajoled, then basically forced into it by me and Tony and his wife Lori. So I knew that "coming on strong" would just make her shut down, even more than she clearly already was).
But Griggs Hoffmaster (Craig's father, my father, and maybe Chuck's father) wasn't around when Chuck and Craig made their naked breakout from the trailer.
And Ray James (Tony's father) was out of the picture when Mom crawled back into a bottle, and brought men home who beat the shit out of Tony so often that he left home at 15.
(As a matter of fact, one of Tony's vivid childhood memories, when his father was still alive, is of the time our mother bashed his father's head open with an ashtray - "There was blood everywhere. It was like Wrestlemania" Tony told me when we talked.)
I don't know what to do with all this information. It doesn't really change anything - as I said before, nothing is ever going to make up for what was lost - and I don't imagine I'll ever say anything to her myself. If she hasn't opened up at this point - as she perhaps starts a slide into senility - it's hard to imagine she ever will.
What would I do? Yell at her? Curse her name?
What would I gain?
But it's quite a story, isn't it?
(More to come...)
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