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Dark Knight

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There’s a fine and excruciating line between dreams and nightmares.

When I was 12 years old, I went to New York City for the first time. My Uncle Joe and his bride-to-be were deeply in love, and the whole family was coming from New Orleans to celebrate a joyful affair.

For weeks, I awaited the day when I would put down the compost bucket, board the plane solo, and arrive in the big city to reunite with my dad.

The trip was everything I dreamed of: the girl from the commune suddenly felt like a Princess at the fancy Helmsley Palace hotel, on the arm of her Prince, staring up at the big buildings that seemed to touch the sky.

The day before the wedding, Dad bought me a red Ralph Lauren dress and patent leather shoes – a much better choice than the thrift-store-special Gunne Sax I packed, that doubled occasionally as a nightgown.

The night before the wedding, a group of us ate at Patsy’s Italian restaurant, a family favorite, and saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Broadway. Afterwards, we hopped into a horse and buggy, and sang The Sound of Music, while Dad and Uncle Joe walked back to the hotel.

We arrived at The Palace still singing and excitedly anticipating the next day. Then Joe, along with his two daughters, his younger brother Mark and his new wife, all left for Joe’s house in Jersey.

The next thing I remember in the middle of the night was a pounding on the hotel room door and my dad, usually a heavy sleeper, jumping abruptly to answer the frantic voice on the other side, then slamming the door behind him.

Silence enveloped the room, except for the thumping of my heartbeat. Aunt Melanie eventually appeared and brought me into her room, where I slept through the night.

When I woke up, I found her sitting on the edge of my bed. She told me that Joe and my Uncle Mark’s newlywed wife took Joe’s Corvette out for a late night spin and never made it home. They were found hours later in the car, wrapped around a telephone poll. Mark’s wife was behind the wheel and killed on impact. Joe died later that night at the hospital.

Melanie soon excused herself to throw up in the bathroom, while I paced the hallway to avoid doing the same.

The only thing that calmed me was the thought of my dad soon returning with open arms to assure us all. I could hear him saying, “Sometimes terrible things happen in life…but we got to pull ourselves together and go see Dream Girls tonight.”

Of course my twelve-year-old interpretation of such a tragedy was naïve at best.

When the door was flung open, he stood there, red and wet, with an expression I hadn’t seen. He stumbled toward me, tackled me to the floor and wept.

Hours before, we were touring monuments, flying high above the city in a helicopter…and now I felt the heavy weight of my father’s body, crushing and crashing as it landed.

In that moment, I was initiated into the underworld of adult suffering, a world I would become evermore intimate with in the years to follow.

We came to New York for a wedding, and left for two funerals.

Following the accident, Dad hit a brick wall of depression. Soon after, his best friend died in a motorcycle accident and another friend drowned in a bathtub.

Night after night, I stayed up late with Dad as he played sad songs and talked in between:

“I saw his brains come out of his nose Deli…. Uncle Joe was more of a dad to me than Honey.”

 

 

“Ya’ know, Honey used play this game with Joe and me when we were kids. He’d poke us with needles in the butt, and he’d say the first one to say ‘Ouch’, didn’t love him. Before Honey even touched Joe, Joe would scream, ‘OUCH’!”

Taking a deep drag of his cigarette and another sip of scotch, he said, “But when he got to me, I would grind my teeth and take that needle in all the way.”

Then, looking deeply into my eyes, he said, “Last night I almost took a right hand turn off the Causeway bridge, but I didn’t…because of you.”

Another slow drag.

“Ya’ gonna’ miss me when I’m gone,” he said.

“Dad, please don’t say that. If you died, I would die,” I said through tears.

“Stop that,” he said softly. “You rememba’ to look at my example of what not to do.”

“Dad, we have so much to look forward to. Think about Fountainhead!” I’d say trying muster hope.

Despite my efforts, Dad soon turned to harder drugs and began ‘poking’ himself with needles. While he got his fix, I tried fixing the situation. I became his personal cheerleader, for if I could make him happy, even for a moment, maybe I’d get a glimpse of the soul I once knew.

 

 

He started to look skinny and began covering his arms, where he once rolled his sleeves above big biceps.

When I confronted him about the blood on his shirts, he told me he “cut” himself. I didn’t believe him…but I also didn’t believe he’d lie to me with such sincerity. I knew my dad had a tendency to lie, yet I tried ignoring the alarms sounding within me. Maybe he did cut himself…maybe I was seeing things.

I became better at distracting myself. By the time I reached my early twenties and traveled to Asia as an under-sized model, I hoped to forget about him and his problems.

One night, between trips to Tokyo, I went with some friends to a Seal concert in Berkeley. It was the first time I drank a martini (Dad’s favorite drink). At the end of the night, we went to a bar, where I sneaked outside to make a phone call.

“Dad! I just saw the most amazing concert and I thought of you the whole time. It was at the Greek Theater, you would LOVE this place! The sky was so clear, you could see all the stars and Seal was awesome Dad! I really wished you were there. Remember that time we saw Prince in Dallas and I jumped up and down the whole time? We should go to some concerts this summer! We have so much to look forward to…”

Slowing down to take a breath…

“I know I’ve been on your case a lot…”

My voice cracked open as I sank to the ground.

If you died, I would die.

If he had tried to speak then, I could hear nothing but heaving and howling echoes. Eventually I heard him say something about rehab, and that this time he would go.

I froze, listened, barely breathed…

“You promise? You really promise? Oh God Dad, that would mean the world! You really mean it? Dad, on my life do you promise?”

Then, with a big exhale, I said, “I’ll call you in the morning. Thank you Dad. Thank you so much! I love you too.”

In two days, he would’ve turned 45. But the next day he was found in his bed. The autopsy revealed “an acute mixed drug intoxication”.

 

 

Ever since I was a little girl, my biggest fear was losing him. But somehow, I didn’t believe it would really happen – even when I saw the track marks on his ankles, watched him hallucinate, and heard his promises over and over. The last thing he said to me on the phone was, “I’m going to be ok.” I believed him. I didn’t want to believe he’d ever leave.

All my life I had believed in him, and suddenly there was nothing left but grief and a recognition that I didn’t know how to believe in myself.

I felt as though I had lost the love of my life, and was suddenly out of a job. Where would I put my energy if not into him?

My wise Grandmother once said to me, “The only person you can save is yourself.”

The high-speed roller coaster ride left many scars in its wake and didn’t stop with his death.

The love I once felt turned to rage and resentment. What lies, what waste, what a selfish asshole!

My father, the “junkie”, is only part of the picture that makes a whole man. His mystery and dimensionality can’t be summed up, cleaned up or even understood – but he can be forgiven. He did the best he could with the hands he was dealt.

 

 

Despite his limitations, there will always be a little girl who sees him larger than life. Despite the scars left, I will always be wild with love and grateful until my end for the magic he brought.

 

 

He was right: I would miss him. Thankfully, I was wrong: I didn’t die with him. I’m still alive, waking up everyday to the truth of what I tried to instill in him: Life is a gift and peace is possible.

He’s not the only soul who has lost touch with the sun and made a bitter descent into the dark night. I have also joined him there.

Though my path is different from his, I will continue the brutal work required to heal a broken legacy, so that I may LIVE that which I asked and pleaded of him.

 

 

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
-Elizabeth Kubler Ross

30 Responses to "Dark Knight"
  1. Elaine Adel C. says:

    Thank you for shearing this part of your life Adele. You have tremendous courage!

  2. Audrey says:

    Oh Man~~~~~ I knew it would be devastating but not that much so. Holy moley Adele. I’m sending you a huge hug!

    • Adele says:

      Thank you Elaine and Audrey. Funny, after I posted this morning, and felt an unexpected exuberance. Of course there were tears while writing, but I was anticipating myself feeling heavy or fearful after exposing myself. But instead I felt more “alive” than I have in a while. In fact, on my way to a hand job, Genesis played on the radio THREE TIMES in a row -if there’s a sound I associate most with my dad, it’s that band in their early days. And that’s what was playing on the LA airwaves…can’t remember the last time I heard Genesis, much less a play list. The magic lives on.

  3. gena says:

    Deli. Once again. U conjure up feelings and meories from long ago.I remember bearing about the accident and. Being so. Stunned. The n when ur dad died. All. I thought of was. You all and aunt adele..losing two children.again it reminds me of the wonderful time peter an d I spent together.he was always my fav cousin and our time at. College. Onded us.I’m so giad u. Deal. With all. Of this. I didn’t realize how hard it must hve been but u and frankie..

  4. I agree with the other comments that to become this vulnerable in your writing is truly courageous. Thank you for taking me to this brave, outer limit. Fathers, we want them to be a knight, a crusader that saves us from the ills of society and ourselves. Unfortunately as children, we are blind to the realities of tarnished armor and an ineffectual chivalry. Only through experiences of our own, do we realize how difficult it is to be an adult, much less a champion. Yes, as we have so often spoken, parents do the best they can…even when they are the most limited.

    Now, my friend, as Elizabeth Kubler Ross would certain add if she could, can the next blog be about hand jobs, Olivia Newton John…or things that makes us feel stupid? ; )

    • Adele says:

      Mind, your comments often have a way to putting into perspective what I’m trying to articulate on a deeper level (underneath my remaining armor). So beautifully put…yet again. And yes, I promise to lighten up next time – though as far as feeling ‘stupid’ as we know it, it’ll likely take more time and less armor to share that story 😉

  5. nancy says:

    i am all choked up and cried my way through that blog adele. my body is shaking and i am so proud of you for sharing your story, that part of your life, as honestly and openly as you did. there are so many of us out here sending you love and light. we have all had our struggles and i know i can relate to yours through my own. that doesn’t seem to make things easier, though. i hope you never stop writing in one way or another. thank you do much. i am sending love and healing out to you. nancy

  6. linda gravatt says:

    deli – i am crying! that is so beautiful – good job girl . you are getting better and better. love binker

  7. TC says:

    This is all so personal for me in so many ways. You write beautifully, bravely, and from the soul. Your Dad did have moments of magic and madness but the sum total was a very awesome human being. He was loved by so many; too bad that the distortion and insanity of drugs robbed so many of us from his unique, loving soul. Gone way too soon, but the pain he suffered has hopefully become total peace and bliss. My love for you is HUGE. Thanks for loving me, too.

    • Adele says:

      Beautifully said TC -He was the sum of many parts, making up a sensitive, creative and complex soul. Drugs can surely distort and destroy… But the man’s magic lives on in loving memory.

  8. Sarah T. says:

    Sweet Adele, through your blog, you paint a compassionate picture of yourself and your family in all their multi faceted glory. To understand where we came from helps us understand who we are. Your beautiful self expression in your blog helps all of us in understanding ourselves in particular and human beings in general. We are all uniquely and wonderfully flawed, leaving behind gifts we may not even have realized. Your father’s legacy leaves us with an amazing soul like you to tell these stories. Thanks, Peter! (he’s up there smiling and proud I bet!) xox

  9. Monika Eads! says:

    Adele,
    This has been the most amazing post yet. My heart is aching and I am tearful. Although I did not have the same experience “father-wise” as you did I feel like I identify with this piece so much. Let’s start with my laughter that burst when I read “but we got to pull ourselves together and go se Dream Girls.” OH, MY, GAWD, that is so how I always thought as a young girl!!! I guess that was using “distractions” or trying to make light of things, move on, or wanting to get the other person to “happy” immediately!! It really punched me in the chest when your dad said “you’ll miss me when I’m gone” because G’s dad would say that crap to him all the time and I feel like that is such a selfish mind game. I know how much that has contributed to G’s struggle with the father material. It seems that was his way of keeping a tighter grip on you being in service to him. And finally, “did he ever see me?” that just made so much bubble up for me in all of my parental relationships. Thank you Adele, thank you for sharing your experience with us even deeper than ever.

  10. amy says:

    This post is so brave because if you are dealing with someone with addiction you feel that you are betraying them in some way by talking about it, but you have balanced the beauty of the man against his demons with grace. I commend you for talking about this, and sharing what a lovely father he was, despite his flaws. I also think it’s important for the other victims of addiction (the loved ones) to have a voice, so many times we don’t think we deserve our own pain, because the other person is suffering so deeply, but we are also in pain. I really can’t say enough that you have accomplished something very powerful here. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Adele says:

      Amy, thank you so much for this important point. Everything you just shared is exactly what I needed to hear. For a long time I’ve struggled with fear of ‘betraying’, always there to ‘protect’ him, fearing that people would only see the addict and not the WHOLE person who I loved so deeply. I would never want to harm anyone, and I’ve found being silent didn’t help him, me or anyone. Thank you sweet Amy xo

  11. Dr. Nicki Monti says:

    An exquisite description of an important journey.

  12. TC says:

    Your words are golden! Never be afraid of the truth because what else is there in this crazy life we live in. I will probably read this a hundred times because in spite of all the pain you share there is this beautiful love and forgiveness. You have suffered so much and enough; it goes by too fast so start appreciating the wonderfulness of who YOU are.

    • Adele says:

      Tears in my eyes, thank you TC. And you Nicki, Nancy, Linda, Gena, Monika…everyone. Love and healing to you all xo

  13. Lynn says:

    RAW, DEEP, GUT WRENCHING!!! Sweet young Adele who came forward and touch us with her loving heart. You go girl, just keep putting it out – your Dad would have wanted it that way:) xoxoxo

  14. Dawn says:

    Adele,
    Your honesty and vulnerability is inspiring. With tears in my eyes, I could not stop reading and wanted to embrace that little you! The little girl that is still inside you shows herself through this blog and she is beautiful and brave and full of love and light! Love you!

    Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
    Buddha

    Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.
    Winston Churchill

  15. arichan says:

    Adele, your post really moved me. I felt compelled to share my own process with overcoming my fears and my black holes.

    I’ve had my struggles with addiction, that really took their hold after high school was over. I became a black-out drunk. I was the free spirit, who always got naked at parties…and slept around with anything that moved. I had a good run…and took my alcoholic/pot-head self to Japan twice to live, and traveled Southeast Asia for a few weeks, too. No matter how far around the world nor to which small corner I could manage to travel to…there I was. As were my bullshit problems. Just like Winnie the Pooh says, “wherever you go, there you are.” And so the merry went round and round, and the weird carnival-esque crazy music never stopped.

    Anyhow, I’ve been sober for almost 8 years now. Thanks to AA. And being willing to be vulnerable and willing to change. Willing be honest, and free myself from what people might think. Addiction has taken on many hats for me…pot, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, cable TV, spending, sugar…and I think when I finally got to the place of desperation and being so uncomfortable in my own skin, I’ve been willing to change.

    I’m sorry your dad didn’t find recovery. I’m so glad that you are finding solace in sharing with all of us the joy that your father brought you. It’s such an incredible eulogy and celebration of the love you have for him. And I’m especially glad that you didn’t die with him, that you have been able to find the phoenix within you. Rise, girl, rise.
    🙂

    • Adele says:

      Arichan, thank you for reaching out in such a beautiful way. Seems a few of us are finding the phoenix 😉 I’m so glad to hear you’re sober now and working your process while getting support. What a journey you’ve made! Blessings on your continued healing.

  16. tara says:

    everything you write resonates with me and heals me in some way – thank you for sharing your soul with all of us

  17. Kelly says:

    I don’t know how I missed seeing this post, Adele. Thank you for trusting your readers with your vulnerability. I know that this isn’t an easy thing to do but you definitely touched me with your pain and the love you have for your father. And from all the comments, I’m not alone in this feeling.

  18. Joni allen says:

    Sweet woman. Friend…you took us from ‘the packed Gunne Sax that doubles as a night gown’ back in time to the tragedies that were your reality…I’m there all over again. Yet somehow with a much more sobering impact. This really happened to you? To your family?
    I just…it’s all…so sad. He loved you so much. You loved him so much…maybe time is the only way to bring sense to certain situations. And distance. You are a very precious gift. A beautiful working model who doubles as a writer and healer. Goodness gracious thank you so much for having the generosity to share such a painful family history with the world. I do believe this is how we all heal.

    • Adele says:

      Yes Joni, all of that really happened in NY. As an adult looking back, it’s harder for me to believe the tragic timing of it all. Thank you for your beautiful words. I love what you say ‘healing’…exactly my hope.

  19. Your words are like an angel’s fingers plucking on my heartstrings. I took an extended trip to hell recently and my daughter’s sparkling spirit was a major lifeline helping me crawl back to a state resembling sanity, albeit with considerable help from my wife, mother, and a coven of other female angels incarnate on earth who lend their light to the healing process. My breakdown was sparked when the political choices of my family, friends, and neighbors forced us to close our phenomenal private school despite droves of families lined up on doorstep for all 14 years we ran it and the fact that we helped dozens of children completely transform their lives after years of torment in gov’t schools. (Gov’t schools serve most kids from fairly well to great; many of our students had unique gifts and challenges that made it impossible for the existing gov’t structure to meet their needs). The great news is that I learned to forgive society, for I realize that the onslaught was rooted in ignorance, rather than malice.

    The angels taught me in the womb that we are all brothers and sisters on the planet, literally composed of the same billion year old recycled stardust as we hurtle through the boondocks of the firmament travelling our separate paths together on this tiny, precious orb. The throb of one heart and the fire of one breath animate the entire universe. Our heart is a muscle, one that thrives on being used. The purpose of grief, like joy, etc., is to evoke emotion; we can allow ourselves to be carried along mindlessly in their storms or learn to tune our heart and allow the emotions to consciously vibrate through it like the musical instrument that it is, thus joining the universal choir. We do not have to die – as we master the sacred kundalini and become conscious of our angelhood, time and space become, as Schopenhauer taught, tools for us to manipulate, ingredients in our creative activity of filming the movie of our lives with every breath in this eternal, live, improv called life. The Quantum physicists are now beginning to grasp the math that explains how men like Christ performed the “miracles” He did. They were only “miracles” because earthlings did not grasp the spiritual technology He wielded. The apostles had a hard time grasping the smart phones and personal flight devices He used. We are beginning to realize that while Quantum physics totally transcends the Newtonian physics of the “normal” 4-D spacetime continuums (opening up a world of worm holes, bilocation, time travel, etc.) it does not negate that level of reality; Jesus could raise the dead or show the apostles how to use the astral and etheric planes of consciousness but the Grand Canyon would remain relatively unchanged.

    Most humans seek communion. As our churches lost the living spirit, a generation of Americans turned to smoking grass, dropping acid, and listening to the Grateful Dead. It worked for me, but I realized that it is possible to get just as high in a church, meditation group, writing, reading, teaching children, and just “being,” especially with my earthly family (though I still love the Dead!) as we prepare for the next stage of our incarnations. Joni Mitchell explores the her relationships with the men in her life, presumable both father and lovers, in this great concert from 1970 – allow your heart to soar, break, and reforge itself in the eternal furnace of love here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5XToHSITH4

    • Adele says:

      Brian, thanks so much for sharing all this…and for the great footage on Joni Mitchell! I have tears in my eyes, recalling a time of poets and sensitive souls… No matter what day/age, she moves me, so deeply. I’m glad you’re finding your way back from your recent dark night. Beautiful music like this certainly helps transport me to the “eternal furnace of love” as you say 🙂

  20. beachmama says:

    tears . . . lost my dad at 51 to alcohol . . . my story was not too different than yours. Thanks so much for having the courage to share it with us . . . xxoo

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