Saturday, October 27, 2007
Those common goals, luckily for my sisters and me, included raising us well-- which Mom and Dad certainly did.
My parents were a united front. Never, ever, could you pit one against the other or manipulate one of them to arrive at a decision without the other's agreement. Example:
"Can I go over to Babs' tonight?" I would ask Mom.
"What does your father say?" she'd ask.
"He says no, because I got home after curfew the other night," I'd admit, scowling, because I knew my parents would not disagree with one another. Why am I trying? Stupid! I'd think to myself.
"I say 'no' too," answered Mom. "He's right. You were home past curfew," she'd say, sounding the subject's death knell.
All discussions about their life together, their money, and us girls must have taken place in their bedroom, as that was the only private place in our house, or well outside our earshot. I imagine Dad would have taken a hard line to arrive at a decision or mete out punishment for a child's wrongdoing. Mom would have agreed with him because her feelings on the subject would have been similar to his and yes, because it made life easier for her.
Dad was the deliverer of all bad news to us girls. Mom would only stand behind him and nod while he gave out a dose of punishment, tense-faced and laser-beam eyed. No wheeling or dealing. The "but.. I", "please, could you think about" were useless. The decision had been made and the lid was slammed shut on that particular discussion.
Dad was like that about everything, not just his girls. He would have been like that about neighbors, extended family, furniture arrangement, everything.
Mom and Dad had a very private relationship. Anything they displayed in public would have had to have been displayed on the largest scale imaginable-- like a movie theatre-- for them to show it to just us. To this day, I have no idea what they talked about, what they agreed upon.
They could be loving in "public", i.e., me sitting in the kitchen, when Dad came home from work and Mom would already be fixing dinner. They'd hug or kiss each other hello. However, I've never seen them just watching t.v. and holding hands. I've never seen Dad simply lay his head on Mom's lap. That kind of display between them was verboten.
Being mercurial, opinionated and obstinate, Dad would let days pass by without speaking to any of us. Our household revolved around his moods. Consequently, the other inmates of our home walked on eggshells, careful to leave his bubble of anger undisturbed. Mom made doubly sure she was always the same-- calm, relatively cheerful, and now I see, exhausted from the pressure of her husband who stalked around the house, silent and furious at some perceived slight or vague idea about something.
To make things even more confusing, Dad could snap out of his funk without warning. Inexplicably, he could transform into the most charming, gregarious and exciting person alive on the turn of a dime.
For Mom, this rollercoaster relationship could not have been easy. She worshiped my Father. She admired his intelligence, his creativity, his sense of humor. Any spontaneous affection and fun was largely withheld from her, until he popped out of his dark pit and showered her with laughter and smiles. I recall feeling a ridiculous sense of gratitude when the storm would once again pass us by.
In their late 40's and early 50's, Dad began to get antsy. He stopped smoking and starting running every day. He started his own business. He was happy and busy, and he looked amazing. Meanwhile, Mom was going through menopause, the weight gain, the flushing, all that stuff. She maintained her unruffled, calm exterior.
We would have friends and neighbors over to our house for Christmas Eve parties. During our last Christmas together as a family, Dad invited a ridiculous girl named Linda to the Christmas Eve party. He'd met Linda running in the park. She was young and tan, had long black hair, dressed inappropriately for the event and flirted with every man in the room. I nor anyone else liked her--except Dad, of course.
I soon realized Dad was planning to screw Linda five ways til Sunday. Now I'm fairly certain it hadn't happened at that point. It would soon, though.
A few months later, I came home from work and found Mom and Dad sitting in the living room watching T.V.
"What's up?" I asked them.
Dad didn't answer. Mom looked at Dad, and in an icy voice said, "Hal, are you going to tell her?"
"Tell me what?" I asked.
Long pause, then Dad mumbled, "I'm going on a trip."
"Oh!" I said. "To take pictures? Are you going camping?"
Silence from Dad. Then Mom:
"Hal, don't insult her intelligence. Tell her what you're doing."
I looked over at Dad, scared. He said, "I'm not coming back after this trip." Mom stared at him hard for a minute, then turned to me and said,
"T-Bone, your father is moving out. We're getting divorced."
The earth shifted under my feet.
To my Dad, I'm sure he was happy to be released from what he must have felt was a prison. He'd done his job raising us and helping provide a home. He was finished with this particular portion of his life and was ready to move on. To my Mom, she must have felt nothing but confusion and hurt.
I'll never know their feelings for sure, because 24 years later, neither of my parents have discussed any of this with me or my sisters. The circumstances surrounding their split are kept in their little safety deposit box marked "Hal and Mary", and only they have the key.
To this day, Mom has never said a mean word about Dad, nor has Dad said anything about my Mom except good things, true things. Whatever happened between them remains between them, and will always stay there.
Thing is, Mom and Dad still love and admire one another. What one is, the other is not. What one lacks, the other has in spades. In that respect, they were beautifully suited for one another.
But it's not enough to stay married.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
They were born on the same day in 1932, during those dark years of the Depression. Dad was brought up on a small farm in the Detroit area and Mom in Springfield, Illinois, in a bungalow on a tree-lined street. Dad's childhood was a hardscrabble one, while Mom's was one of a sort of low-level gentility. Both lost their fathers at the age of four; Dad's to abandonment and divorce, Mom's to a heart attack. Grandmother Louise managed to raise Mom on her own, while Grandmother Esther soon fell in love with a taciturn Englishman named Fred, and married him shortly after her first husband high-tailed it from their farm.
Here Mom and Dad's similar circumstances begin to move in opposite directions-- that is, until they meet at the age of 24.
Dad does not often speak of his childhood. When we were children, we'd beg him to tell us stories about the trouble he, his brother and their neighborhood friends would get themselves into. Dad would sometimes indulge us with a rare story, but he had to be in the right mood to relate the hair-raising tales in which someone inevitably fell off of a barn, fell through some ice, fell out of a tree, or ran into Esther's house bleeding. With his stories, he painted a picture of a pack of devil-may-care neighborhood boys conjuring mischief. Years later, looking through photographs left to him by my Grandmother, I realized how modest and (in my opinion) dark their lives were.
Knowing my father and his artistic temperament, I now understand that he must have longed to escape that place in order to discover a life of beautiful, important and elevated things. Dad's first escape route was the Air Force, enlisting during the Korean War. Finally he was able to pursue those far-off places and meet people from all over the world. Fortified with the encouragement of his high school art teacher Helen, he also started to paint and draw in earnest.
Meanwhile Mom had been carefully raised by my Grandmother Louise and her sister, my Aunt Jeanette. Grandma made certain Mom went to church on Sundays and all that implies. A circle of adoring aunts and uncles surrounded Mom and treated her as an adult. Mom was Grandma's constant companion. They took trips to the East Coast and out west to California and Colorado. There were D.A.R. and Rainbow Girls. Grandma stressed to Mom it was important a woman should be able to make her own way in the world-- a hard lesson Grandma had certainly learned and decades prior to the feminist movement. Mom took these lessons my Grandmother taught very seriously, and she went off to college to earn a teaching degree.
Several years passed. The Korean War "ended" and Dad returned to Detroit, working at GM and hanging out with a posse of unsavory characters. Mom graduated from college with a teaching degree and moved to Pontiac to teach in their school district.
One day, a fellow teacher and friend named Helen invited Mom to a party.
The story is this: Dad (a former student of Helen's) was in his cups when my Mother arrived at the party in her convertible Chevy. Mom walked into Helen's house. Dad spied her-- a tall, impossibly slender, perfectly-dressed brunette-- and drunkenly declared, "WHAT A WAIST!"
He always has had a thing for tall, slender brunettes.
These two young people, so different from one another, started dating. They soon fell in love and got married.
Quickly enough, the Brunette, the Redhead and I entered the scene.
Here, my parents' life together retreated into an unfathomable privacy.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Good morning (T-Bone), Sorry I haven't gotten back to you yet; I don't want you to think it has anything to do with you or your blog. I was very busy yesterday, but of course I could have responded with a quick note but I was reluctant to do so. It would be unfair of me to continue seeing you as I am not emotionally ready apparently, for a relationship (again). I was near panicky deciding what I could say realizing this; of course I couldn't just say nothing, that would be rude and I have hated being treated that way myself. Nor could I continue to see you under any false pretense,which would be selfish and mean of me. I'm so sorry (T-Bone) if this angers or hurts you, I really am sorry. Sincerely, Steve
**Thanks to Jezebel, which regularly features "Crap email From a Dude" on their site, for this inspiration.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
The first time was twenty years ago. I was driving home late at night from a friend's house, when I yawned. After yawning, I realized my mouth wouldn't close. My jaw was stuck open, like an entrance to some crazy carnival ride.
I pulled into my driveway and sprinted into the house. Roommate Rich sat on the sofa, reading the evening paper. He didn't look up.
"Hey. Howyadoin'," he asked.
"guh," I answered, going into my bedroom to survey the damage in the mirror.
I tried manipulating my jawbone, pushing it back and forth with my fingers. With the palm of my hand, I tried hitting the underside of my chin hoping to snap my jaw shut. It was in vain. My jaw was set as if made of cement. Drool ran out of my mouth.
Bracing myself against Rich's inevitable horrified laughter and finger-pointing, I walked out into the livingroom, where he sat with the paper in front of his face.
"kkuh," I said.
"Hey. What's up?"
After emitting some strange clicking and gagging sounds from my throat, I poked the paper with my finger. Rich lowered the page and looked at the glory that was me.
"Jesus Christ!" he screeched. Predictably, he laughed. "Is your jaw locked open?" he asked.
I nodded, drooling.
He threw his paper aside. "Well," he pronounced, "Looks like we're going to the hospital!"
At the hospital (drool towel covering my mouth), we waited and waited. Tears ran down my face. It was excruciating.
Finally a nurse took me back to a bed, where she drew the curtain for privacy and ignored me for a couple of hours. After waiting in agony for an hour, I began picking up random items within my reach and throwing them, missile-like, across the ER. Not knowing what else to do with unruly and violent me, the nurses shot me full of sedatives and I passed out.
Waking, my jaw was back in place. Rich drove me home.
Fast forward to 2004, New Years' Day, 1:30 a.m. The Redhead, Bingo, Gant and I were in Utah. Bingo and I had been drinking scotch and champagne. They all went to bed and I stayed up to watch the Sex and The City marathon on HBO. Settled back against my pillows, I was very comfortable and sleepy.
Until I yawned.
Yes, it happened again.
This time, I didn't even attempt to move my jaw back into place. Panic sobered me up very quickly. I grabbed a pen and hotel notepaper and ventured into the Redhead's room. I poked her on the shoulder.
"What?" she asked drowsily, turning over to look at me. She gasped, "Oh no... not again! Are you serious?"
I nodded, drooling.
She got up and took me by the arm out into the hall.
She whispered, "What do we do?"
I scratched with the pen:
"hosp. drugs. ????"
"Oh, shit," breathed the Redhead.
In a crisis? The best person to have with you is the Redhead. She quickly ascertained where the nearest ER was, called to alert them that we were coming, got our coats, and drove me to the hospital.
She sat with me while we were waiting for the doctor. "Does it hurt a lot?" asked the Redhead fearfully.
I nodded, drool tissue in place. Tears ran out of my eyes.
The nurse came in with medical background paperwork to fill out. "Please answer these questions as honestly as you can," said the nurse.
"Could you give T-Bone something for her pain? She's in a lot of pain," said the Redhead.
"Sure-- we can give her some morphine. But we need the paperwork filled out first."
Weight: 150 (yeah, about five years ago).
Have you ingested any alcohol or drugs within the last 24 hours? If so, please list: 3 glasses champagne (and some beer, and erm... lots of scotch).
"You have to be honest, T-Bone," encouraged the Redhead.
"huh uh," I grunted.
Finally, the nurse gave me 10 ccs of morphine. A few minutes later, she asked, "Did that shot help at all?"
I shook my head.
"Okay. We'll give you some more."
Twenty ccs later, I was finally able to relax. In came the handsome young ER doctor.
"What have we got here? Oh! That's no problem. Just lean forward." He climbed onto the examining table behind me and reached around to my mouth, inserting his fingers inside and pressing on the sides of my face with his thumbs. Gingerly, he manipulated my jaw back into place.
Crying, I said, "Oh, thank you! I'm sooooo sorry you had to do this on New Years' Eve! I'm so sorry," I blubbered, all stoned and drunk.
"Oh, it's no problem!" said the handsome young doctor. "You should go home and sleep off this morphine. No solid food for three days. Just liquids. Here's some Tylenol in case you get a headache from the jaw trauma," he said. Then, "You have any questions?"
"Yeah-- are you married?" I said blearily.
He laughed. "Ah, yes. I am married."
"Well, go home to your wife. Thanks again. Happy New Year."
Late that morning, I woke up. On my nightstand was a glass of water with a straw. the Redhead had been to the local grocery store and the fridge was stocked with apple sauce, yogurt, juice.
After drinking and eating everything that vaguely qualified as liquid and laid on the couch to watch t.v. I greeted my family when they returned from a hike.
"I'm hungry," I announced. "I need food. Pizza."
"The doctor said no solid food for three days, T-Bone," said Bingo.
"I don't care. I'm really hungry."
So we went to the local pizza joint, where I dined on pepperoni pizza and salad.
Gant asked me, "So, when do we get to laugh about this?"
"Shouldn't be too long, G. Pretty soon, I'm thinking."
"Good," he said with a smile. "Because it really is funny."