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February 20, 2018

No Harm Intended

By Dr. Richard Boyum

I discovered years later that they were just frightened kids. He was on leave from the war, a child of an alcoholic father and divorced parents. She was a naive farm girl of strict German parents. She unashamedly gave for her country. Her unplanned and unwanted pregnancy resulted in a "have to marriage" and me. It was the right thing to do and besides, no harm was intended.

They tried their best in those early years, he getting the first and only college degree in his family. She quickly became the mother of two small children, later to become three. From the outside they seemed to play their roles well. They both had good intentions and each did the best they could. But the burdens of their family curses were too much.

His father's alcoholism caught him early. It came like the fog setting in on the family with thickening, sickening intensity. She enabled, coping at first but then her fear, anger, fatigue and panic, called loss of control, set in.

I blamed and shamed myself in those early years. I know now that I just "picked lousy parents". I resented and raged at the fog. The yelling was the worst, but softer words with barbs hurt too. "You're just like your mother, or your father, we don't know what will become of you." They hurt much more than the wooden spoon or the slapping. The uncomfortable silences at the dinner table (the no talk rule) and the sibling rivalry that competed for what little love there was, left me with a feeling of wanting to run. I did once, but as both family hero and scapegoat there was no escape. There was also my fear and confusion. This was the result of so many experiences coming in no particular order. He not remembering, not coming home or even wanting to, and then when he did, vomiting blood. She overdosing on valium, threatening me with guilt and shame, becoming hysterical and accusing him of behaviors I could not comprehend (and later did myself) and then asking me for advice on what to do.

Afraid that they did not love me, I left. First in spirit, then in body. I went in search of approval. In retrospect I was repeating the curse. I too, set out with good intentions, but like an infected animal, I spread the curse. I ended up confusing love with infatuation, sex with intimacy and found myself isolated and alone.

They both died young, before I ever got a chance to really know them. She died for a disease, a cellular level synonymous with loss of control, called cancer. He died of a disease synonymous with a broken heart called a heart attack. Predictably, my emotions were mixed.

The years have passed, I have struggled to accept that I was more like them than I would like to believe. In my fear-denial-rationalization-desperation, I too, have brought pain to myself and others. In learning to love, accept and forgive myself I have learned that I intended no harm to others. I have learned to hold myself accountable. I am making amends. In this process I have learned to love and forgive my parents. Strangely, in the forgiving, new and special memories of them unfold. Memories of their strength; she baked wondrous things and read me stories and shared her love of the country with me. He took me to baseball games and to his place of work and came to my track meets and paid for my education. There was so much more they both did but I did not see it then. I do see it now. I have accepted it. Many of the good things I am are the function of what they gave me. My living in the country is in part of her doing. My service to those less fortunate than I is, in part, his doing. It took me a long time to see that many of my joys have sprung from their goodness.

Now that my life is better, I wish that they were here. They would only be in their mid-sixties, I miss them, simply because I gently love them, and because in their own way they must have loved me and because I now know that no harm was intended.