I have been begging my father as long as I remember to tell me our story. Who my parents were as children. What they liked to do. What I liked to do. About my Dziadkowi (grandparents). My father's Dziadkowi. Where different people were born or lived. About his cousins, his aunts, anyone. Why we left Poland.
The same answer hits me every time.
My father smiles at me, loses eye contact after a moment, and says "Not today, maybe tomorrow."
30 years of tomorrows have gone by and I have begun pieces our story together myself. And there are gigantic holes. The sort of holes that leave me feeling like maybe there is a giant monster eating it all, figuratively.
It took me this long to realize my father's character completely. My brother thinks my father pushes people away, shuts himself off from the world. My mother felt the same way. They aren't wrong.
But it goes deeper than that. My father isn't cold. He is very loving. Not the sort of loving like in the movies. But the sort of loving where I could tell him any sort of thought I had, no matter how preposterous it was and he would help me nurture it into knowledge. Questions I would have regarding politics, history, religion, social behaviour... What? You never had these sorts of conversations with your parents? Well, my father would ask me questions back, give me books to read, tell me about what he knew, and I gobbled it all up. It was knowledge. What I would never learn in school.
That monster eating it all away was the culmination of all our story was filled with. Death, loss, separation, sorrow, more death, hunger. There is a word for it but I won't utter it because I won't allow it to win.
What do you do to deal with that? I can tell you what my father has done. What my brother does. What I have always done. Thrown ourselves headfirst into work. Not one of us has ever worked less than a 45 hour work week. More likely 50-70 hours. Without thought. I worked a bit less but I had housework to throw myself into as well. Meals to cook, corners to scrub on my hands and knees because the mop doesn't do the trick on drowning out that monster.
Now I have kids to care for, writing to be done, research to do to claim my children's Polish citizenships, volunteer hours at the school, baking for the nursing home, story times, and it goes on and on and on.
When I would talk to my father about WWII, he always told me he didn't want me to hate others. Not to judge others for what some monsters did.
In Wroclaw once, I wanted to take a picture of a memorial of some students who were killed by the Soviets while protesting against the Communist government and he blocked my camera. He shook his head and said, "No, it's too sad." He began to walk away very quickly. My Wujek was around all these memories daily, living in Poland. My father, in the USA. Where the saddest memory was of a favorite store closing or some other event that affects nothing in life.
Yesterday, I asked my father again. "Tato, I need your parents places of birth."
He didn't answer like always before. Instead, he said "I don't remember."
"Daddy! Then, what are your grandparents names?"
"I don't remember."
I start to lecture him on this and what it means to me.
He interrupts me, "Ges (Goose), it's been so long, I just don't remember. Sorry."
He doesn't have Alzheimer's or anything. Time has passed. It's been too long.
Now I know why we left Poland. So that someone would not have to remember. It's not the people, it's the memories and the emotions along with it all. He needed to let it all go.
I am now alone in this. I don't want to forget. But I have less to remember.