Sunday, December 06, 2009

What Lies Beneath

I know my grandfather’s name was John Edward Peters and my grandmother married him because he was a good dancer. He liked to party, but he had a dark side too, a side that remains a mystery. He, like many, lost a large fortune after the stock market crash of ’29; he married my grandmother not long after. My grandfather never recovered from the loss, and his black moods and drinking increased until finally my grandmother threw him out; she eventually divorced him when my mother was five or six years old.

She married her second husband in 1941, and he went off to the war in Europe. My grandfather served in Europe as well. We don’t know much about his service except that he saw action in Germany and returned with “combat fatigue” for which he received no treatment; it was his second major breakdown. There may have been more, I’m not sure. I'm also not sure why they let him in the service in the first place with his history of mental trouble.

He returned to Baltimore after the war, and though my mother and her older brother rarely saw him, he did send her spending money--$10 a month or so—while she attended the University of Maryland, from which she graduated in 1955. My mother tells me that he would occasionally turn up in her neighborhood around this time, that he followed her and tried to catch glimpses of her. These days you would call it stalking, I guess, but back then it was just considered creepy. My mom says he once made some inappropriate comments to her, and that she doesn’t remember seeing him after that. He died some years later.

Is this where the darkness and despair come from? Do my own mood swings and depression and self-destructive behavior come from the Peters side? And what if they do? Does this change anything, or is it just an excuse? I don’t know. I just know that I need to know more about this mysterious, malevolent figure whom his own children rarely saw. I don’t know if I believe in the concept of closure or not; I just know that there’s a part of me that belongs to him, and I cannot rest without knowing more.

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