Friday, May 15, 2015

On Saturday Afternoons in 1963

image from The Zirkus Lenormand
It’s taken me almost as long to recover from having guests as it took me to have them. It may end up taking longer. “Getting” your groove back and “got” it are not the same, and I’m still in the category of “getting.”

I have no fresh, eye-opening insights about the trial of guests coming to stay. It’s hard, and that’s all. When the guests are family, it’s even more of a trial. When one is your parent and the other thinks she is your parent — that’s the worst of all. 

My father and I, as you already know if you go back a while with this blog, have not been on good terms for most of my life; so to have that relationship Mostly Functioning, even after an event like this, is a triumph and a miracle. Sure, it would have been easier to spend the same amount of time with him if we could have spread it out over a couple of months — but that’s not an option for us anymore. Gone are the days when we could meet for lunch and go our separate ways. We have entered the era where any visit amounts to a Home Invasion.

Of course parents never stop being your parents, even when you are in your fifties and thought you had attained, at long last, a hard-won Independence. It’s worse when you have a basically submissive personality, as I do whenever I am not sitting at the word-processor keyboard.

For a solid week I walked around feeling four feet tall, feeling like I had no authority in my own house. Dad alone I could have handled: but his wife is an out-of-control, runaway steam engine, and the two of them together completely overwhelmed me. 

On her own terms and turf, she is who she is and that is fine. I accept her as my father’s wife, as someone who is important to him; but there is a line that cannot be crossed, and I will not accept her as my “step-anything.” I had one mother. She was enough. This woman’s position as my Dad’s wife buys my respect for her in that position… and that is all.

So to have this steam-engine, this whirlwind, swoop into my life and begin "fixing" everything from my upstairs toilet to my home mortgage was a mind-numbing-event, an imposition of staggering proportions. 

“That’s just the way she is,” Dad says, in the process putting up with behavior that he would not have tolerated for an instant from my mother. “You just have to take her as she is.”

She is a woman who has clearly never asked herself the question, “How would I feel if a guest came to my house and behaved as I am behaving?” This is a woman who has never heard of the Golden Rule and would brush it aside if anyone confronted her with it. 

On their first night, as we passed the bathroom, I showed them the towel rack. I said, quite clearly: “This is the hand towel. That hanging over the shower is my towel that I dried off with this afternoon. These hanging here are clean towels for you.

They weren’t listening to me. I could tell. And the next morning, sure enough, the two towels they had used to shower with were the hand towel and mine. The two nice clean towels I had set out for them were ignored. It’s just perfectly symbolic of the whole week: they didn’t think they had to listen to me about anything.

She re-arranged my refrigerator, so that I couldn’t find my milk or my eggs. When I put it all back the way that I wanted it, she re-arranged the fucking thing again.

She roared through my gardens and imposed her cyclonic will upon them, not stopping at ripping up trees that I had planted with my own two hands. I am trying to cultivate a gothic look: this was not part of her agenda, and not to be respected.

She “fixed” my upstairs toilet (although I am pleased to say that this was a failure: it’s as bad now as it ever was) and re-caulked my bathroom tub. 

The food that I bought to feed us all for a week is now sitting in the freezer, because she made it impossible for me to plan a single meal: she doesn’t like the way I cook things, which is as they should be cooked. I use real butter, not margarine (which even microbes don’t recognize as food), and sea-salt — a substance forbidden in her house. I cook things in the oven and on the grill and in pots and pans. She cooks absolutely everything in the fucking microwave — even meat. My hero Gordon Ramsay would take her apart in nothing flat, and I desperately needed Gordo to swing by the house and yell at her.

She left coffee mugs and spoons and shit sitting out in my cooking space, and then used the area meant to handle the run-off from drying dishes as her cooking space. My cats walk there. It’s not a sanitary cooking space. But you can’t tell this woman anything. Try to tell this woman anything and she will yammer you to death in her high-pitched pigeon English.

She even tried to re-arrange my basic finances, by proposing to buy my mortgage from the bank — and then giving me just 24 hours to make the decision. 

I’m a person who can’t decide what to have for dinner in that amount of time. In the end, out of sheer frustration at not being given enough time to think about it, I turned her down: and only now, more than a week later, do I appreciate the wisdom of that decision. 

I could not work, on anything, the whole time that they were here. I could not even meditate to clear my head or emotions. Technically, I had the time  to do the latter: but only at the end of the day, when I was too shagged out and emotionally exhausted to do anything more than check my email and then drag myself to bed. 

Tougher than any of this was having to watch the two of them together. Nothing is simple with them: even the smallest decisions they make have to be negotiated. I saw a different man from the one I grew up with. I saw him being careful and considerate and affectionate. He never treated my mother with even the tiniest fraction of respect that accords this woman. Seeing this side of him now, and knowing that he broke my mother’s heart, that he turned her into what she became… I had to turn away to hide my tears. 

They literally drove me to drink. As soon as they left on Saturday morning, I went to the stupor-market and bought myself a big bottle of vodka. It turned out not to be as bad a lapse as it could have been, because at some point I was able to say to myself: “Don’t let them do this to you. Don’t let them have this effect on you. You have work to do. Get on with it.” And so — a little the worse for wear, I did.

It wasn’t all bad. Dad and I were able to “make some memories.” I enjoyed much of the time that I was able to spend with him. We did some things together, we talked a lot, we had some fun. It’s a reminder, I guess, that nothing good comes cheap.

— Frede

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