Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Trip to AZ, Part 1 of 2: Mom Clarifies Dad's, Tsar Bomba.

It is SOOO good to be back on the Internet again.  Between July 25 and August 2, I only had one hour of Internet access, and that was at a library, because my computer was packed up and I don't have a laptop.  Yet. 

Anyhow, where did I leave off from my last post?  Ah, yes...I was working as a stripper so that I could pay for my move to attend graduate school, and I had recently reconnected with my long-estranged biological father.

He and I got to hang out four times before my move from Wisconsin to Arizona, and I wasn't about to tell him that I was dancing, but an awkward conversation about my employment led to that fact kind of being squeezed out of me.  I have no problem telling people my own age about it, but my dad is 75, and like a lot of people his age, he's kinda grumpy, judgmental, and very conservative.  I'm 29 and don't really enjoy lectures about lust and sin and Jesus from rich old men, especially from ones who don't bother to listen to my reasons for dancing.  But upon hearing the news, Dad didn't give me a lecture--at first.  He waited a few days.

"I want to register my disapproval for what you're doing," he said.  "I think it's degrading to women.  I mean, you're going to do what you're going to do, but I just want to register my disapproval, to make it be known."

I shrugged.  "Fair enough."

Degrading to women.  I've heard that argument about stripping so many times and I've never understood it.  I truly do not see how getting paid top dollar to prance around in one's birthday suit is degrading.  Is it just the nakedness that outsiders find depraved?  Or is it the invalid notion of "selling one's body"?  All kinds of people sell their bodies without any stigma attached.  Models, athletes, singers, ballet dancers, actors, contortionists, yodelers, clowns, figure skaters, gymnasts, beauty pageant contestants, any and all entertainers, as well as people who donate plasma, sperm, eggs, or who are surrogate mothers or test subjects for medical research, all "sell their bodies" too.  People who make the argument that sex work is "wrong" because it involves "selling your body" just parrot that phrase without even thinking about what they're saying or what it means.  They just repeat the phrase because someone they have a crush on at church said it.  But if you believe that your body and your soul are not one in the same, that your body is just a shell that your soul lives in until it can return to Heaven (or outer space, or whatever), then what does it matter if you're selling (or renting) it or not?

Furthermore, when you work as a stripper, the vast majority of patrons treat you very respectfully.  Actually, they seem a little in awe of you and your confidence.  If you carry yourself well and act like a lady, your work day consists of being fawned over and constantly being told how beautiful, sexy, smart, classy, and lovely you are.  How other women find that degrading, I have no idea.  It seems to me that the only people who make that argument are people who have never even been to a strip club, who are uncomfortable with their own bodies, or who see anything sexual as dirty, nasty, and vulgar.  As an exotic dancer, you can sell the "products" of lust and desire the smutty way if you want, but you can also sell them as tender, gentle, and elegant.  It's all in the presentation.  Dancing is a lot of things--some of them unpleasant--but in my experience, "degrading" is not one of them.  So make any argument against stripping you want, but for heaven's sake, make a sound one that isn't dumbed out to the max.  And as Bob Dylan said, don't criticize what you don't understand.

Because you know what is the most degrading thing of all? 

Not having any money.

So yes, Dad.  You, sitting there in your Lexus, with your house out in the country, telling me about the trips you took through Europe with your girlfriend, while I was a fatherless child covered with lice and scabies and drinking powdered milk bought with food stamps.  I'd like to register my disapproval for that.  It's true that I would rather work a socially "iffy" job than be poor.  And unless you're going to help me out financially, then you really have nothing to say about my choice in income-generating activities.  You're the one who comes from a family of business owners and landowners.  Maybe if you'd have been present when I was a kid, maybe you could have given me career advice or financial advice as I grew up.  Maybe if you hadn't left me to the wolves to figure all this shit out on my own without any counsel or guidance whatsoever, maybe I would now have a job that would meet your approval.

But by your choice, you were not present.  Whether you felt scared, or guilty, or uncertain, or whatever, you submitted to that emotion instead of putting some effort into doing right by your child.  And I'd like to register my disapproval for that also.

So, no thanks to you, I had plenty of money to get myself to grad school.  To my other (two) readers, my earnings during the last two days at the club were phenomenal.  Along with some regular lap dances, I sold eleven champagne rooms.  Meaning that for eight days of work, I made a grand total of $3,985. 

My original goal was $2,700.

On July 25 I went to pick up my rental truck from Budget, which I had reserved two full months in advance.  Budget, however, considers reservations mere "customer suggestions," and they don't actually arrange for the truck you want to be available.  So instead of the little 10-foot cutie that I reserved, they gave me a massive 16-footer, which is longer, taller, wider, and overall more than two times larger.  

So not only was this rickety, huge, lumbering truck going to eat up way more gas, but it was harder to maneuver, it took up two full parking spaces, and it couldn't go through any drive-thrus.  And I was trying to go through roundabouts with this thing, and make lane changes in heavy, high-speed traffic with just these two dinky little side mirrors, and taking out the bottom branches almost every tree I drove under.  It was scary!  I was positive this beast would never make it through the mountains, or that I'd break down in the middle of nowhere.  Like western Kansas.   

So on that day, the 25th, after I had run a last few errands (including submitting my absentee ballot for the August 9 recall elections), loaded up my truck, and cleaned my old apartment from top to bottom (I did this all by myself), it was 2am on the 26th. There was no way I was going to begin my trip at that hour, so earlier in the day I had arranged to park the loaded truck at my mom's and crash at her place for the night.  Now, she doesn't have a guest room or anything, so I slept on her living room floor, 'cause my body is still young enough to take that kind of abuse.  Right, body?  And I was actually sleeping soundly until 5am, when I was roused from my deep slumber by what felt like someone boring flashlights in my pupils. 

"Why is it so bright in here?" I grumbled, throwing my arm over my eyes.

Mom had opened all her blackout curtains to reveal the bright, beautiful summer morning.  "I like to let the daylight in," she said.

"Well, it woke me up!"

"I can close 'em back up, if you want."

I sighed.  "No, I'm already awake now."

"Oh.  Well.  Your dad dropped off a letter for you the other day.  It's on the table there."

"Yeah.  He said he would.  We've hung out a few times in the past couple weeks," I said, wrapping a sheet around myself against the blasting floor fans.

"How did that go?" she asked.

I thought of Dad's impassioned rants against Harley riders, the government, and atheists, and of his consistent use of ethnic slurs, like "chink."  I thought of how he once told me that "nigger" is okay because it comes from the word "negro," which means black, and how during a recent conversation we had about divorce rates, he said, "...a nappy might have a different view, or African American, or whatever they're calling themselves these days."

"Mehh...I dunno," I answered my mother's question.  "Okay, I guess.  He's nice to me, but he seems very intolerant of other people.  I'd even use the word 'hateful.'  You know what he told me?  He said he's responsible for Edward's mother's death!"

"Well, yeah.  He shot her," Mom said.

"He shot her?  What, like, in the face?"

"Well, I don't know if it was in the face or whatever, but he drove with the body back [almost 2,000 miles] and buried her in his mother's basement."

"Are you shittin' me?  Why??"

"I guess [Edward's mother made him angry], and your dad has such a temper on him.  When he'd get mad, his face would get really red.  He was going to kill himself too, after he did it, but he told me he didn't want to leave Edward all alone.  'Cause Edward was just a little boy at the time.  So your dad drove back here and gave Edward to [Edward's grandmother], and she raised him."

"Well--did he go to prison??"

"Ya.  He went back [out west] and turned himself in.  He was in prison in [western city]."

"For how long?"

"I don't know. That happened in the '60s, and he got out in...'79, I think. But it was on the news and everything when it first happened."

"And you didn't recognize his face or his name when you had met him?" 

"No, I'd forgotten all about it."

"Mom!  And you dated this guy for five years??"

"He was on parole when I met him, but he didn't tell me that.  He didn't tell me about any of that stuff until after we were really involved."

"And you didn't take that as a sign of his fundamental character?"

"Well, I figured he had served his time and that was that.  I knew he'd never hurt me."

"How did you know that?"

"Just a gut feeling that he would never hurt me.  And he's been with Shirley for what, 20 years now?  He didn't want to go back to prison."

"And it didn't bother you that you were dating someone with that kind of history of violence?"

"No, not really."


"I just knew he would never hurt me.  And he never did.  But if he told you he's responsible for her death, then he should have told you the whole story."

"I know--that's what I said!  But he was all like, 'I want to wait, I want to wait.'  But that would explain why he's so religious now."

"He is?"  Mom was a little surprised.

"Yeah.  Like hardcore," I said.

"He told me once that he knew he was going to Hell."

"Well, he's getting old, and if he has this on his conscience," I said.  "Sheesh.  I can see why he'd be afraid.  And it explains why Edward and his wife don't really want to have anything to do with him now.  Why would they!"

"Yeah, I suppose," Mom said, reaching for the remote.  "Well, I guess I can turn on the TV now.  Oh no, look, the infomercials are still on.  Jiminy Crickets."

"So...what's for breakfast?" I said.

"Well, there's cereal, and I've got granola bars, and there's some melon in the fridge that I just cut up."

"Will you make me some scrambled eggs please, Mama?"

And this was the last conversation I had before beginning my solitary 1,780-mile drive across the country.  I was still stressing out over whether this big truck full of all my worldly possessions would break down in a place with no cell phone reception, far away from any help, or whether I'd get into an accident because I'm not used to driving a vehicle with such significant blind spots.  So I wasn't sure what to do with this information about my father or how to process it.  After I got settled in my new apartment (more about that in part 2) and unpacked my computer, though, a quick Google search of my dad's name brought up an archived article from [a local newspaper] dated Sunday, February 2, 1964.  Here's the article in full, with some of the names removed:

Murdered Wife's Funeral Is Scheduled 

[my hometown] (AP) --  Private funeral services will be held Monday for GGG DDD DDD, 26, whose bullet riddled body was found entombed in the basement of her husband's family home Thursday night. 

Meanwhile, the husband, Specialist [my dad], 27, an Army dental technician, who . . . authorities say has admitted killing her, remained in the military stockade at the post where he was stationed in [another western city].

Body Removed
Army sources said . . . authorities will return [my dad] to [western city] at an "undetermined date this week."

The body of Mrs. DDD was removed Friday from the makeshift grave at the home of [my dad's] stepfather and mother, Mr. and Mrs. WWW WWW. 

Authorities . . . say [my dad] told them he killed his wife at [western city] last Oct. 12 then drove her body in the trunk of his car to [my hometown] and buried it in the basement of the WWW home. 

After the slaying, according to authorities, [my dad] filed suit for divorce in [my hometown], charging desertion, and seeking custody of their son, Edward, 6, who had been brought here from [western city].

Shot Nine Times
Winnebago county coroner Art C. Miller said the autopsy showed nine bullet holes in Mrs. DDD's head.  The shots were fired from a .22 calibre pistol or revolver at point blank range.  The coroner said the makeshift grave in which the body was found was about 5 feet deep and was sealed by alternate layers of dirt and concrete.

Mrs. DDDs father, JJJ JJJ of Oshkosh, provided dental records which enabled identification of his daughter's body.  He said the blouse and blue jeans in which she was clad were the same clothes worn when she was last seen.

The WWWs remained in seclusion Saturday.

And there it was, in black and white, the sickness glowing all over my computer screen.  A 26-year-old woman, nine shots to the head, the basement grave.  My father's name, my grandmother's name, my brother's name.  Mom wasn't being fanciful or embellishing anything. 

I pulled the collar of my shirt up over my eyes and wept.

That poor woman.  Her poor family.  Poor Edward!  God, can you imagine?  How could one of my close relatives do something so terrible?  What was my dad thinking?  What kind of rage did it take to pump nine bullets into the skull of the mother of his child, the woman he took a solemn vow to love and protect?  And then to pack her rotting body into a trunk, with his kid in the front seat, and drive several days across the country with it?  Stopping to get food and use the bathroom, with little Edward no doubt asking for his mother?  According to the article, it doesn't sound like Dad turned himself in, or that he drove Edward back to my hometown in order to give him to Grandma.  Why he made that drive at all, I don't know.  But his wife's body was in the basement for over three months, all during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, while my dad filed divorce papers, pretending like she had just abandoned the family.  It sounds like the body was found by someone else, and then my dad admitted to the murder when pressed.

My father's mother and stepfather are long dead, but I would also like to know how my father was able to drag a human cadaver into their house, dig a 5-foot hole, and pour and let cure layers of concrete without anyone noticing.  Like, Gosh, what is all that noise down there?  I mean, were they out of town or what?

Poor, poor Edward.  You poor soul.  My heart goes out to you, brother.  Would it be weird if I tried to contact you?  I want to talk to you.  But you don't even know you have a sister, and you haven't talked to Dad in years.  Maybe I'll just leave you alone and not disturb your peace.  I don't know yet.

When my dad dropped that little crumb about being responsible for a death a few weeks ago, I had just figured he had been involved in a drunk driving accident or some freak table saw accident or something.  I didn't want to be one of those melodramatic people who lets their imagination run away with them and jumps to all kinds of false and sensational conclusions.  But I don't think my imagination could have conjured up any stranger story than this.  It far exceeded my guesses as to what had happened to my dad's first wife.  This was no accident.  It was a deliberate, prolonged homicide.  That newspaper article made me sick.  The fact that my Dad kept pictures of their wedding and then showed them to me, and then refused to answer any questions I had about his first wife, I think, is a little fucked up.  If he didn't want me asking questions, he shouldn't have shown me the pictures.

I've been in Arizona for a week now, and have mostly settled into my new apartment.  The last time I saw my Dad two weeks ago, I told him I'd write to him when I got here.  I should do that.  But what to say?  He doesn't know that I know he's a convicted felon.  How to navigate this mess?

Stay tuned for part 2...