A Half-Century of Hell
Marriage, It Ain’t All That
In the spring of 1989 my parents, (The Naturals vs The Chosens) were preparing to mark a milestone, the 50th anniversary of the date they were married, in normal families; a cause for celebration, family togetherness, some wine, some stories, a cake. Some families go even further and throw a really big bash, invite ALL their friends perhaps with the vague, haunted, idea that flaunting the longevity of their union in a very public manner gives it more merit than it may in fact warrant or actually possess.
But I digress, cynical, most likely a projection from my vantage point as the final and late-in-life child of this misfit union
In all my years in this family, I never saw anything resembling a partnership no less a loving, cohesive, nurturing, pairing of the minds no less bodies. As the mother once so succinctly put it to me; “I lived a 55 year loveless marriage, it’s a miracle you’re even here.” More on that in a following chapter: “My 40th Birthday Surprise!”
Instead, they picked and pecked and verbally jousted their way through life making all around them if not at least uncomfortable then definitely cowed and battered and emotionally bruised. I can’t begin to quantify the times I hid behind the furnace, fingers plugged into my 10yo ears, desperate to blot out the sobbing accusations and screamed retorts. I believe this was the impetus for my beginning my quest into out of body experiences, both metaphysical and chemical, in the years to come. I desperately wanted to levitate out of my life more than I wanted to remain in my home.
But back to the party.
I was living in California, ecstatically, and working in a career I loved, travelling, accomplishing, partying…being 30 something in every sense of the 80’s version of Thirtysomething. I had a tenuous connection to the parents by now, having escaped to the West Coast the day I graduated from college and never returned. The thought of donning the masque of merriment required for this, in my mind, somber occasion, was just too daunting and fraught with potential Jack Daniels and cocaine fueled meltdowns to even be considered
Add to the already toxic mess was my hideously uber-religious sister and her family, fresh from their Appalachia-tent-revival of a town and, frighteningly, in charge of the whole affair. It is no small coincidence that they had been married twenty-five years earlier at almost the same moment so the stakes were now raised even higher on the Hideous Scale (in my family, The Hideous Scale equates to the Richter Scale in that the greater the import of the occasion, the great the magnitude of the explosive power that lies beneath).
I would not be in attendance.
The sister decided that this fabulous fete would be held at the very same establishment that hosted her rehearsal dinner before their wedding, a rambling, multi-storied, old plantation home out in the countryside.
Multi-storied is key here.
The lack of an elevator also has a star turn in this drama.
My father was 6’6”, #250………and in a wheelchair. (another supporting appliance nomination for the wheelchair).
What part of this plan was a good one?
The part where I would not be in attendance.
Well, according to sources that were there, the denouement went something like this:
After dinner (there was no mention in the after-story of how they got the father UP to their private dining room), the guests, all family (Hideous Factor = Red Alert), were winding their way down the graciously proportioned plantation-style staircase to their cars for the hour long drive through the darkened countryside to their respective homes
The mother, impatient, no doubt, to serve as a receiving line of one at the end of the night and be awarded her share of the night’s attention (read: ALL the attention); in her mind all completely deserved for having put up with the bastard in the chair all these years, was in her normal rush to be the first, and the father/chair were an unnecessary impediment in the way of her awaiting accolades. Think Blood Red Carpet runway.
Now the sister and the mother have always had a relationship that can only be described as a contentious at best; a daddy’s girl, first born, and now as an adult, a female of “standing” in a family where the mother’s own femininity was always an issue (again, see “My 40th Birthday Surprise”) The brother-in-law, another voluble, whipped, impotent, male in a family of women-of-strength (a kind turn of phrase), seized upon every opportunity to insert his own diminished maleness, at top volume, into any family contretemps he could, if only to measure his true effect in the feminine whirling dervish-ness that was his world.
Return; the cameo by that steely co-star, the wheelchair.
The brother-in-law being the only able bodied male large enough to hoist the father down the curving, elegant, staircase, took charge (allegedly, again, this is all hearsay from my vantage, 3,000 miles away). What happened next, fortunately, both for the legal and the moral implications, took place before the era of security cams so we rely here on the sister’s recanting of the tale over the phone the next day.
The mother, toe-tapping her impatience at the top of the stairs and unable to swoop past the offending father in the more offensive wheelchair (and the Oscar goes to…….) as he was being bumpily thumped, step by ungainly step, downward, tried to push past and get to the front of that red carpet-worthy crowd awaiting her descension.
A kerfuffle ensued.
The brother-in-law, the mother, the sister, the chair….no mention was EVER made of the father in all of the re-tellings, a bit player at best, yet, like the ersatz wife of the loony tune on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, the motive to the motion.
Allegedly, perception and perspective and point of view being keys here, according to the sister’s frantic and frenetic recounting the next day, the mother tried to intentionally push the father down the stairs in the, by now Co-Starring, wheelchair!
Murder She Wrote!
So incensed was the sister that in the hour it took the feckless brother-in-law to drive the sister and their three hideous young female spawn back to the parent’s house, she had managed to foment a hurricane of righteous indignation so large that the storm surge had it’s own Fujitsu-scale numeration and the sirens were screaming for all to get out of the path of the oncoming Tsunami.
The bags were hastily thrown into the family station wagon at the parents. Angry glares, sullen silences, veiled threats were thrown. (No china though, they all coveted to antique pattern too much). A quick screech down the lane to the aunt’s where the hideous spawn were housed. Another hurricane of haste to toss the sleep-deprived children into a pile in the car and off they fled into the night for the 8-hour drive back to the safety of their own Appalachian Appomattox.
Like all great tales, this one took on a life of it’s own in the recounting.
The sister likened it to Attempted Murder; long suspected in its genesis and exactly what the mother had always wished would come about.
The aunts would only frown and allude to something of an unpleasant nature happening; “you know your mother………and your sister”.
The Pollyanna cousins would not comment, even with an offer of witness protection.
The uncles would only roll their eyes, sigh at the mention of the father and snarl at the mention of the mother, and choke on their words at the mention of the sister.
3,000 miles away, my eyebrows arched, briefly, before I resumed my sunny days in California, safe in the knowledge that I would not be called to testify and confident that no one involved would ask me to even be a character witness, for either side.