His father abandoned him time and time again, but Brian Bowers has found his own path to peace and acceptance.
I remember when I felt the weightlessness of abandonment for the first time. That unmistakable feeling of being disposed and dispossessed. It was winter. I was standing in the doorway waiting for my father to come home as the glow of dusk descended beyond the tree tops. I must have stood there for 2 hours, just waiting.
We lived on 10 great acres out in Texas. From underground wells we hand-pumped water for bathing, washing, and drinking. Nature’s delicate innocence and endless hope unveiled. It was pure, clear, and crisp—it sustained us. We didn’t have plumbing or running water. But, with a skillful and gentle legato, we were connected with life itself. For all we lacked materially, we possessed abundance in the natural world, creating an eerie paradise.
That day as I waited for him to come, I remember how heavy his absence felt. It wasn’t because he worked all the time or because he was too busy. On the contrary, while my mother slaved at the local store to provide for me, my brother, my father, and my grandmother, my dad found himself on adventures of intrigue and mystery. In truth, he was lost and in pain, leaving us impoverished in more ways than one.
I remember my grandmother coming behind me, touching my shoulder saying, “Don’t worry baby, Daddy is going to come home. I don’t know why he does this to you.” I believed her. Our collective faith swelled in my chest into a flame that burned brighter than the sun as it splashed into pool of darkness. My faith in him illuminated the uncertain darkness 10 feet in front of me. Then, the encroaching absence of light advanced on me. Eight feet. Five feet. One foot. Soon, it was all dark and darkness covered me. Even as the darkness continued to fall steady with the slow trot of tears too reluctant to acknowledge themselves, I knew he would come home.
My dad was a mixed bag. I now joke that he had one foot made of bronze and one made of clay. Depending on the day of the week, he’d come hobbling in on the clay foot tracking a muddy mess everywhere he landed. Another day, he’d come kicking ass and saving the world in shining armor. He thrilled us all. He frightened us too.
But I loved him, terribly. I was his buddy. My dad possessed a beautiful baritone voice and contagious smile. When family members found out I could sing, they remarked that I “got my singing from my father” and smiled “just like my daddy.” Somewhat ironically, I used my supposed inheritance to escape the cyclone of abuse and madness he would create in our lives. Art and music became my refuge as a child. Whether writing, singing, or dancing, it was one of the only things that kept me alive—literally.
As I stood in the doorway that day, I was defiant as eternity passed me by. I told myself that no matter how many times he had promised to be there before, he was going to come—this time. There were no drugs, no women, no obsessions, and no pain that was going to keep him from his boy. His friend. The person who saw him cry when no one else did, who held his pain for him and watched his sadness when he was alone and felt like he had no one else. I had been there. We had been there.
I screamed and shouted as I stomped my feet. I tried to shake earth. I ran back and forth in the yard yelling and swirling with the dark before I finally went back inside and collapsed upon myself. My defeat was a thunderous, roaring pain. I look back now and marvel at my brokenness. I marvel because that scene replayed itself over, and over again, yet I survived. From one year to the next. Birthdays, holidays, roadtrips, fishing trips, lunches, and dinners all put on hold and left in complete uncertainty. He was always fighting his demons. He tells me now, “I was living in the fast lane, and didn’t know how to slow down.”
Eventually he did come home, but not for long.One minute he’d be there, the next he’d be gone. Sometimes smiling, sometimes yelling. Somewhere in between his disappearing acts he’d reach a holding pattern, but my mother had grown tired over the years. Me and brother were old enough to take care of ourselves, and she had to leave. I’ll never forget lying next to him as he cried, saying, “Your mother is leaving me today.”
There was something painfully ironic about my father’s words at that moment. My mother had never left him. To be fair he left us. For drugs, for affairs, for whatever the vice might have been, we all fought his demons with him. We fought them sometimes harder than he did. Fought them when they became his friends, and even when they became his family.
“Do you think this is why you try to figure out where you stand all the time?” a friend asked me with tears in her eyes. “Maybe you don’t get too close to people and want to know what is going on, because you are afraid of getting hurt, or experiencing that type of disappointment again. I experienced that and I do the same thing.”
The thing about abandonment is that I’m not sure ‘the abandoned’ ever stop loving or caring for those who abandoned them. I think we spend a fair amount of our time subconsciously replaying the exact moment of our wound and recreating it in new relationships.
Too ashamed to admit the pain of neglect we carry within us, turning us into an empty calabash waiting to be filled with the love we never received. We do these things, perhaps because we are trying to reconnect the fragmented pieces scattered throughout our psyches and lives when they come scratching their way to the surface. No race, no color, no gender, no class, no orientation, and no division is greater or more important than the universal human need for love, for understanding, for connection, and for visibility. In our crises of consciousness, we seek that connection and shared vulnerability in ways that are sometimes misguided.
I, like many others, have found myself with unfamiliar faces bearing familiar pain in the form of difficult lessons. Pain that reaches so far back it nearly snaps our necks when we recover from the dramatic whiplash of the crash of something that seemed so secure. We know this place. We act out the same roles time and time again, searching for completion.
This morning, I came in from the gym and slid underwater to soak my sore body. I sat there for about an hour or two meditating, quieting the madness to which my mind had succumbed over the past couple of months. I felt myself slowly letting go. One finger at a time. The tension and release accompanied by the aching pain of attachment to a heaviness that had long outgrown its value, ceasing to serve my highest good.
I thought about a friend who said to me, “You have done a lot of great work to better yourself. But God has a funny sense of humor, you know. You are getting the chance to heal from a very deep and painful wound in the most unlikely way. Find gratefulness, even in that.”
As I finished soaking, I sat in absolute darkness, feeling undone. Realizing the path of my life will require much lighter travel, and that it has become unbearable to continue carrying the weight of a disappointment that was no fault of my own, or of anyone else. It is life. The complicated, complex, mystery we are all searching through in an endless pursuit of happiness and joy. Father, mothers, spouses, lovers, all just people, in search of the same thing, maybe by a different name.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I thought, tears streaming down my face. Before I could accept that declaration, something with in me quipped, “Yes you can.” And I realized, I will—eventually. And here I go wandering down that marvelous path, the winding road of hopes and dreams unfurled.
Once I finished, I gently said to myself “I am loved. I am worthy. I always was. I am safe. I am secure. I am at peace. I am never alone.”
I wish I would have said those words sooner. I actually believe them now. I reflect on Tagore’s beautiful words in Gitanjali, reminding me that through time and space, we are never really “left” at any time and that we are continually surrounded. Our greatest obstacle is to recognize that truth in our conscious minds.
“They who are near to me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are.
They who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken words.
They who crowd in my path do not know I am walking alone with you.
They who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart.”–From Tagore, Gitanjali
Photo: Flickr/Tanti Ruwani