My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

Latch Key Child, Heal Thyself

2005-01-12
One thing I neglected to mention in my last 2004-round-up post was that my husband and I celebrated our 10th anniversary last June, two days after Red was born which might explain the omission. Otherwise, Iím not sure what this says about me that I forgot to mention such a thing. Mainly, we have never been big cards-and-flowers people. We acknowledge the day and go on. But, last year, because I knew Redís arrival would pretty much wipe out the month of June, and because ten years is pretty significant, we held a party in May to celebrate all our various milestones: 10 years of marriage, the impending disruption of life known as a New Baby, the final year of student loan payments (I AM FREE!!), etc.

Ten years of marriage is a big deal to me because for a long time I figured Iíd just skip the whole marriage thing and go straight to the children. Because, in my mind, for many years, marriage could only lead to two things, neither of which appeal to me: death of spouse or divorce. Actually, Iíd rather suffer widowhood than divorce. Death is finite. The repercussions of divorce live on forever.

My parents divorced in 1979 (my father left shortly after my sisterís birthday in 1978). They had been seeing a counselor and came home on a day my sister and I were actually getting along Ė playing Shoe Store in the living room Ė rather than fighting. He said he wouldnít be living with us any more. This was about as unimaginable a thing as being told that weíd be climbing up a bean pole tomorrow and living in the clouds with a giant. A giant who ate little children.

Do you have a defining moment in your life? Did it feel like a tear? A warp in the earth caused by an earthquake? Did you stand on the edge of the divide and look across the open space at the other side? Did everyone look happy back there? Was the sun shining? And when you turned and looked behind you, in the new land, did you see only darkness and sadness, poverty and a Reagan-era block of free cheese? My parentsí divorce was that moment, that tear, that earthquake. It felt like someone had been recording my fairly uneventful life in a well-made leather bound notebook and, in January 1978, theyíd reached the last line of the last page and had to start a new book. But the author only had enough money to buy, from Dollar Tree, a crappy, cheap lined notebook in which the pages were attached to the spine with that mucilage glue in the brown see-through bottle and the slitted opening in the rubber tip. The pages kept falling out and someone had forgotten to number them so events and emotions got confusing and scrambled.

What got me thinking about all this (again) was that, while spending time at my dadís over the holidays, I still donít know my step-mother. She is a very nice, interesting person with lots of talent (she made a wonderful ABC activity book for Dusty on her computer) but I still donít know anything about her. Sheís inscrutable. And, I still donít trust her. Sometimes I feel like the minute I let my guard down, Iíll get burned.

My father and step-mother worked in the same office and had been having an affair for some time. Both were married and both had to get a divorce in order to marry each other. My step-mother was married to a hippy guy named Ed who made guitars. I had already met her a number of times before realizing her significance. My father actually took my me and my sister to the apartment she shared with Ed. She made us the worst undercooked hamburgers Iíve ever attempted to eat and we got to see Edís guitar workshop in their spare bedroom.

At the time, I thought nothing of it. Because I didnít understand what was going on here. Children often seemed to be pulled through life by their parents like a tugboat pulls smaller boats behind in its wake. We ride the waves created by our parentsí motions and have no clue where weíre being led. Sometimes, if the wake is too rough, we fall out. I find it incredibly strange that my father took us to see his paramour and her husband. It boggles the mind. I canít imagine the circumstances under which I would subject my children to the same thing. Was that sentence grammatically correct?

Before this, she and Ed had attended my parentsí New Yearís Eve party. This was the first time Iíd met her. She looked down at me and said, ďIíve never really like children.Ē To my face. I must have been ten and remember thinking how obnoxious it was to say that to me, like I wasnít really a living person and wouldnít be offended by such a statement. I was. Obviously, since itís stuck with me all these years.

When I eventually discovered that this was the woman responsible for taking my father away and, essentially, tossing us into a slippery vat of poverty, I thought back to this rude statement and was afraid.

Granted, this was all a long time ago. More than 25 years ago. Theyíve been married longer than my parents were. They have two daughters (my wonderful, intelligent younger sisters) and sheís considerably mellowed and changed. But still.

Sometimes I wonder if she ever considered what harm was done to us, particularly when she became a parent herself. My family is not a letís-explore-our-feelings kind of family and my father and step-mother have never talked to me about any of this so I can only hope that they regret certain things done and said to me and my sister in the early years of our new family configuration. Iím sure it was not easy for her to marry into an already established family, to have to always share my dad with his past. But, donít expect me to appreciate when you try to discipline me or make me eat all my vegetables. I already have a mother and she never made me clean my plate.

My fatherís philosophy tends to be ďif I ignore it, itíll go away,Ē and I gave up trying to get answers out of him long ago. I still donít think I could ever confront my step-mother with decades-old questions, it all being water under the bridge and all. So I guess Iíll never know many things. Thatís life. Iíve got more to say Ė not all of it negative Ė but itíll keep Ďtil next time.

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2:25 p.m. ::
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