Saturday, October 27, 2007

Interiors, Two.

Like all couples, my parents' married life was made of good and bad-- good because they had common goals and interests, and bad because Mom and Dad were not suited for one another.

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.


Anonymous said...

How can you leave a comment on that one? Sounds like my mom and dad, only they've stuck it out. 50 years next August. They've kind of become one person now. When one's sick the other takes care of them. When they're both healthy, they hop on a bus to a casino. When one can't reach something (my mom has turned into a peanut) the other can...or they wait for me to come over (because my dad has turned into a bit of a peanut too).

The Scarlet Pervygirl said...

I agree: some of the best reads are the ones about which you can't think of anything to say. This is an enthralling and gorgeous portrait that leaves me with dozens of feelings and questions. Thanks for writing it.