I was young. Had suffered very traumatic things as a teen. Primarily at the hands of an insane father. Unimaginable abuse (of which I no longer wallow in or feel the need to talk about thanks to two years of therapy). I will say, for the sake of this story, that life at home was downright scary. One never knew if the kind soft spoken Dr. Jekyll would be there. Or the brutally vicious Mr. Hyde. Literally walked on egg shells in order to stay alive. That’s the honest to goodness truth. Ironic that life didn’t get any better until an innocent man was killed.
Though he’d teetered on the brink of insanity for years, my father completely lost his mind in 1973. That August, he killed a young man on the campus of Phoenix Community College wounding eight others in the firestorm of bullets. As devastating as it was as it played out in real time, part of me knew I’d barely survived suffering the same fate. In truth, my father had already [nearly] killed me on three separate occasions.
In a flash of madness on that summers day, the intense fear I’d been living with for so long was suddenly out of my life. As my father was taken away in handcuffs, my stark reality was that a man’s life was lost … and mine spared. A wave of relief washed over me. My father was gone and I was safe. That sense of relief was a very heavy burden for me to carry. I was all of 16.
My father? He spent the next 28 years of his life in a prison cell dying there in August 2001. His punishment was justly deserved. He was never truly remorseful. He did, however, pay his debt to society. God rest his tormented soul.
For the next several years, my family and I were virtually numb. My mother, an amazing woman, was left alone to raise five children, ages nine to sixteen. Three daughters. Two sons. She did the very best she could. My beloved siblings and I did all we could do to make her life as easy as possible while she worked on an assembly line to put food on our table and a roof over our heads. Wounded children though we were, we worked to comfort and console each other through the tragic events we’d endured. That said, once our father had dramatically extricated himself from our lives, we never really talked about him. Lots of serious consequences as a result of not talking but that’s a subject for another time.
Needless to say, I was lost. But despite the emptiness I felt inside, I went through the motions and did the best I could do everyday.
Because of our situation at home I nearly didn’t finish high school. The emotional and financial burden weighed so heavily on my mother’s shoulders that she asked me to go to work to help support the family. Having lost a total of three semesters because of dad’s illness, I thought it might be the best answer for all of us. Besides, I struggled with the shame of having to look all my high school friends in the eye. In the end, I took a clerical job and managed to pull myself together enough to take a full load during the last half of my senior year and blessedly, finished school.
After graduation, I got a better job with a manufacturing company that helped ease the anguish that had become my constant companion. The work kept me from ruminating over the events of my destroyed childhood. I was working. Earning money. Living my life the best I could. Learning to fit in and become like other people. It was there at that job that I got one of the most powerful lessons of my life. One that changed my thinking forever.
One afternoon a man walked by my desk and in passing said, “How are you doing today?” Having become like many of my co-workers I quickly said, “I’m not doing well at all! I’ve got a terrible headache and frankly I don’t feel so good.” He stopped. Turned around. And said, “Let me tell you something, young lady. When people ask you ‘how you’re doing?’ they really don’t care. If you’ve got a headache, take an aspirin. Don’t burden others with your problems.” And with that, he turned around and walked away.
I sat there stunned. Mouth ajar. Felt like someone hit me with a baseball bat and it hurt like hell. But I was 21 … and if ever I needed someone to tell me the honest to God truth about how life worked, this was a most opportune time to deliver the message. It turned out to be the best darn advice anyone had ever given me.
As a result, I’m not one to complain. Why burden others with my problems? People have enough of their own pressing issues with which to deal. Besides, have you ever met anyone that spends their life whining and complaining about every single little annoying thing? From hangnails to headaches, it’s just too much. Would that someone put an end to their miserable habit of complaining by doling out this ‘take an aspirin’ advice. BTW, if you’re one of those complaining types … consider yourself served. 🙂
So, the lesson here is, whether I was dealing with the tragedy of child abuse, or financial devastation, or heart-breaking circumstances revolving around illness and death, I’ve found it best to take an aspirin … and then do the work necessary to make the best of the situation at hand.
Take an aspirin. One very powerful lesson that has served me for a lifetime. And one that made all the difference in how my life turned out.
As to the man who dealt out the stern but sage advice? I’m no fool. I married him.