Monday, September 24, 2012

It Ain't All Fairy Tales

I was just blundering through the Huffington Post, reading this and that while I wait for my husband to be done with a tele-meeting so we can drive out to Clifton for my latest round of x-rays (thoracic spine this time). While blundering, I came across a story about rekindled love. A sweet tale of a couple who fell in love as kids, drifted apart, only to be reunited 40 years later. Nice, huh?

Made me want to scream.

You see, my Mom found herself in a like situation. After being divorced for 36 years (and alone that whole time), she was contacted by an old flame. An old flame I didn't even know was an old flame. I had known Ned all my life, he'd been the father of playmates, the husband of Ellen (a wonderful lady who was never anything but kind to me). It turns out there was so much more to it than that.

Where to start? Many years ago (in 1950, to be precise), my Mother and Ned began dating. She was 16, he was 15, and one of them was desperately in love. It wasn't her. After months of playing couple, my mother stepped out with another guy. Ned was devastated. When that didn't work out, Ned pursued her again, and again, they were a couple. And again, she stepped out him. This time?

She got pregnant. Or at least that's how the story goes--she's changed that story repeatedly, and refuses to give anything solid enough for us to track down this mythic sibling she claims was adopted (sometimes by family members, sometimes by strangers, sometimes in Pennsylvania, sometimes in Florida). After the alleged birth of my alleged half-brother, she once again wound up with Ned, who was desperate to marry her. She took his ring, headed to Philadelphia for nursing school, and promptly married my dad. Who is not Ned.

Then comes the twisted, sad part. Or part of it, anyway. My Mom and Dad split up in 1976, after 17 years of marriage. I was 11. After that, my Mother and I spent every summer back on the east coast--renting a car, driving up as far as Maine or Nova Scotia, then spending a couple of weeks in our hometown--also Ned's hometown. I knew Ned--he was the husband of sweet Ellen, the dad of the kids I loved to play with. We would go over to their house and Ellen would feed us and so sincerely inquire about everything in our lives.

And she must have been terrified.

You see, Ned, years later, confessed that he married Ellen because he couldn't have what he wanted. He "settled," and always carried a torch for my mother. The really sad thing? He got the better woman with Ellen--by far! He got a woman true and loving, a woman able to really embrace and adore without a price. I don't mean to diss my Mom, because I do love her, but she is powerfully flawed. She is given to pettiness, meanness, and rank, inherent dishonesty. She's immature and wants so much for people to see her as impressive or noteworthy. Poor Ellen would smile and welcome us, feed us, care for us, and all the while she had to have known that he'd have left her in an instant, had my Mother said the word.

Poor Ellen. I had no idea. I never would have been party to that, had I known. My heart breaks for her still, and she's been dead for years now.

So, anyway, that's the past. Fast-forward 30 years. Ellen is dead, and Ned sends a Christmas card (as Ellen did every year). My Mom, on a whim, calls him. And it's ON! They start calling once, then twice, then four or more times a week. They exchange pictures of the kids and grandkids, he starts sending sad little gifts. My Mom starts ending phone calls with, "Love you, babe--can't wait to talk to you again!" Isn't that sweet? Isn't love grand?

No. No, it's not, because she didn't mean it. Any of it. She didn't love him, she wasn't hauling about some torch for him after nearly sixty years. No, she was just playing. Sadly, he wasn't.

After a few months of this, he started making "let's get together" noises. See, I think my Mom thought this game was safe because he was over 2,000 miles away. But Ned makes a good living, he can afford airfare. And, in fact, did. Now the phone calls were ending with, "Love you, babe--can't wait to see you!" Except, of course, she could wait. Forever. She was horrified that he was coming, and increasingly angry about it. He gave her months warning, and yet she never once said, "Ned, I don't feel good about this." No, she just strung him along.

A few weeks before he came out, she hung up with the customary, "Love you, Baby--so excited!" She then looked at me and said, "This is a terrible idea." I cried, "Are you kidding me? What are you doing? Cancel!" She started to blame Ned, but I cut her off, said, "Whoa, no way--you're giving him every reinforcing thing, you're telling him you want to see him, that you love him, that you're so excited you've wet yourself, and now you're mad at HIM because he can't tell YOU'RE a liar?" In a rare show of honesty, she admitted that she'd led him on because it was thrilling to be desired, to be adored. It was the last flash of honesty on the subject--after that, all of it, everything, was (according to her) Ned's fault.

By the time Ned arrived, my Mom was in an utter tizzy. I'd had a good friend do her hair for her, really gotten on her to bathe (which has been a problem for years), and even arranged a small trip for them--up to Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, a rodeo, etc. Just to give them something to do, something other than sitting together in her house and staring uncomfortably. Also to give her the opportunity to sort of play western tour guide to his eastern boy, since she so likes to show off and seem knowledgeable. I still can't believe I bothered.

From the moment my sister and Mom picked Ned up at the airport, she was sullen and silent. My sister had to carry the conversation all the way home. Ned was jovial and boisterous, my mother withdrawn and near-surly. The mini-vacation? An utter flop. She wouldn't talk, so he, sensing her discomfort, talked more loudly, more boisterously, and more intimately. You know, reaching back 60 years for "inside" jokes and the like. He didn't want to travel--he just wanted to be with her, mapping out their life together.

Oh, what a mess!

When they came back, she shuffled him off to stay with my sister. That poor man. She would come over for dinner ONLY because we insisted--she was not going to leave him sitting at my sister's for a week without seeing him! What did he do? He tried to be helpful around my sister's place, he cried a lot, though he tried to hide it, and he was amazingly kind to me, my husband and son, and my sister and her kids. That poor man.

Within moments of his boarding his plane, my Mom did exactly what I knew she would--she piled every ounce of blame for everything onto him. How did I know? Because it's what she's done all her life. Within a day, he was no longer Ned, he was "that prick." He tried to call, and she refused to pick up the phone. The one time she did, she was so distant and nasty that he never called back. Eventually, he wrote her a heartfelt (and barely legible) letter, saying, in effect, that he wasn't sure what had happened, but that she was just not at all what he thought she would be, she didn't even seem to be the same person he remembered or the woman who had been so affectionate on the phone. He said that he was sorry if something he had said or done had caused her to behave that way.

She exploded. That bastard! That asshole!

And me? I exploded right back. I chewed her to a nub, I told her that I would never, ever tolerate listening to her tear him down again. Period.

I admit, it wasn't just about Ned (though that was most of it). It was also about the possibility of getting her into a situation where she's loved, taken care of, and financially secure. She was teetering on the brink when Ned came out. My husband and I were paying half her property taxes and buying all her groceries, and yet she was still faltering. She was so deep in debt, it was unbailable. She had cashed out her retirement (they forced her to retire at 75 because, as a nurse, her skills were slipping along with her hygiene, which made her dangerous), paid down most of her credit cards, and then proceeded to max them all again within a year. Her pension isn't great, but between that and her Social Security, she's got around $2,500 a month. Not bad for a woman whose mortgage is only $500 a month. But she craves entertainment, and, for her, that means taking my sister and her kids out to eat restaurant meals three or more times a week. There goes almost six hundred bucks a month. This went on for years as she collapsed into financial ruin, and no amount of pleading with her or with my sister would put a stop to it. She wouldn't stop because she's old and spoiled and doesn't really "get" things, and my sister wouldn't stop because--well, because why stop a good thing? Life with Ned would have solved it all. She could have sold that rattrap house, paid off her bills (or at least most of them), moved in with Ned in her hometown, and lived the life she wants. See, Ned goes out for breakfast most mornings, likes to have a nice dinner out a few nights a week, and a few times a year he heads down to Atlantic City for a nice gambling weekend. He spends his days doing puzzles and watching MASH and taking long drives. In other words, he's the man of her dreams.

Not long after the heartbreaking Ned fiasco, my mother filed for bankruptcy. Any dream she may have had of living out her last years comfortably is gone. Any dream she may have had about moving back to her hometown is gone. She is broke, in a falling-to-bits house, with a car that is disintegrating. She is sad, bitter, and knows that she blew her last hope. Yes, she knows it, she's not stupid. She's may be unreasonable, and she's definitely petty and immature, but she's not stupid. And my heart?

Oh, it breaks for her. I cried and cried when we moved away. That was a year ago, and I still cry. I call her three or four times a week, have my boy call her twice a week, and my sister does see her pretty much every day, takes her shopping (and out for those damnable meals she still can't afford), but fact is, at the end of the day, she is alone. She didn't have to be, but she is. She's going to die that way. So is Ned, for that matter.

It's really not all fairy tales. If it were, the happy endings wouldn't be worthy of Huff Po human interest pieces, huh?

No comments:

Post a Comment