14.9.09

RIP Patrick. You'll always be Darry to me.

Patrick Swayze died today. While we're somewhat accustomed to celebrity deaths after an endless barrage over the past few months, this one hits me in a quiet, vulnerable place.

Patrick was the first man in my life who showed what it meant to live up to your responsibilities, to take care of your own, and to sacrifice your own desires for the greater good. It was 1986. My mother had just "rescued" my sister and I from a horrible vacation spent visiting my father and his family in San Francisco.

My father was strung out and spent barely any time around my sisters and I, leaving us to our Grandmother -- a woman with her own demons who wasn't prepared for three needy girls with abandonment issues. Things exploded one night and my aunt called my mother demanding that she find a way to send us back. That we -- more specifically, that I -- wasn't welcome there anymore.

My father did nothing to stand up for me. To understand the mistakes I'd made and the reasons I made them. He gave me the same disgusted looks as my aunt and then disappeared into the night to tend to his own concerns. My grandmother escorted us to the airport the next day.

My father's continual abandonment, his ability to simply not care about whether I was hurt or if there was some underlying reason for my decisions, stung me to my core. I'd always known that he didn't want to be around, that he had a life that didn't include us. But I think that was the visit when I realized it wasn't that we didn't fit into his life, it was that he didn't want us to. He was perfectly happy to wash his hands of me and he walked away without looking back.

I hadn't been home for very long when my mother brought The Outsiders home for us to watch. Every Friday she'd order pizza and rent a movie so that we could all relax in our small apartment in the projects without any of the normal workday stress. I was eating my pizza in the frustration-inducing way I always did then: Pile the toppings on one side, eat the bread and crust, then eat the cheese and toppings. She was yelling at me to stop playing with my food when the movie started.

And that's when I phased her out and focused on the screen. The lives that unfolded resembled mine in a way I'd never seen before. Here were these poor kids with their unfortunate names just like mine. (They were Pony Boy and Soda Pop. I was Quinones.) Here was the struggle between being good and being rich. Here were these endearing, heartbreaking characters and they could've been my brothers or my neighbors.

They were just like me. And I knew that if they knew me, they'd never wash their hands of me. They'd shelter and protect me. Rumble til the death for me. I'd be one of them forever.

No character more embodied that protectionism, that acceptance, that love, than Darry. Patrick Swayze made him strong and sensitive. He brought a depth and believability to the character that made me daydream about what my life would be like if I had him waiting for me at home. His other characters were touching -- and Johnny Castle defined my idea of romance and lust -- but it was Darry who shaped my vision of the perfect father.

I didn't have a very good father. In fact, I would argue that I had no father at all -- and even my father says he prefers to be considered an older brother. But I had Swayze's creation of Darry and that's the stick by which I measured any man who came close to fathering my children.

I don't think many people think of Darry Curtis when they think of Patrick Swayze, but I always have and I always will. I will treasure that Swayze breathed his own spirit into the character long before I ever read the book (which became one of my favorites). I will forever treasure that because of this man, my children have the most amazing father who will never walk away from them.

Rest in peace, Patrick. You will always be Darry to me.

3 comments:

  • Caroline Ross

    I'm glad I read this Kelly. It is very touching.

  • Laura

    wow, now I have to rent this cause of course I have major daddy issues myself lol very touching

  • Cheryl

    I'm so happy to know that someone else in the world thinks of Darry (my blog post about Patrick Swayze was "Stay Gold"). That movie is one that stays with you for life; it's so underrated and underplayed. TFS this!

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