Tuesday, September 7, 2010
We Must Find the Strength
It was hard not to cry in front of my sister. Still, as angry and disgusted and genuinely sad as I was, I managed it. It wasn’t my father’s words that pulled at my emotions; I’ve seen and heard enough nonsense from that man during my life that his juvenile declarations cause me none but the most passing of anxieties.
What bothered me was the effect it had on my mother. For all her nagging, for all her rigid discipline and obsessive catalogue of often-pointless chores, she didn’t deserve that kind of pain.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she gasped, her beautiful face contorted by sobs. Black drops of moisture flowed down from her eyes and left twin trails of charcoal on her cheeks. “After all these years.”
“You made me do this,” came my father’s reply. He was surveying the bedroom as coolly as if he were trying to determine what to watch on television that evening.
“No,” my mother gritted in reply. “This was your decision.”
My sister, meanwhile, was sitting hysterical between the couple who’d just been unilaterally split after seventeen years of marriage.
I really don’t think that my mother, even with all the frustration she’d been harboring and all the bitterness she was giving vent to, seriously expected my father to take her up on her suggestion that he leave.
She was calm when she came downstairs to get Pie, saying that my sister was needed for a talk they were having. It was only a few minutes later that a seven-year-old girl’s shriek of anguish and disbelief summoned Thomas and me from the first floor to see what had happened.
“It’s okay,” my father was saying as he stroked Pie’s back. “Mommy and Daddy both still love you. I’m going to be nearby, too, so I can visit all the time.”
My mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her head in her hands, looking like a person in total shock. She’s a strong and often august person, a woman whose hard chilliness can sometimes make her seem completely emotionless, and for those reasons her rare show of distress was unnerving.
The last time I’d seen her so distraught was when her mother died six years ago.
I’m actually of the opinion, along with Beautiful Cousin, that divorce would be a good thing for Our Family. Both of my parents have faults that would test the patience of most reasonable people, but my father, with a decades-long addiction to prescription medication, a persistent tendency to drunkenness, a history of physical and verbal abuse toward his children, an innately selfish character, and an unstable personality marked by hubristic highs and suicidal lows, is undoubtedly the more trying of the two.
The current marital crisis has its roots in these long-term factors, which have been enhanced in recent months by my father’s business successes and his most elaborate affected identity yet.
Ever since I can remember, my father has assumed stereotypical personalities and reworked himself to fit their confines. When I was a small child, he was the slick salesman; when we moved to rural Beautiful Town, he was a country man; now, in Southern State, he’s decided to be a biker.
He and my mother purchased their motorcycles years ago for recreational riding, but in recent months he’s taken this persona to the limit, attiring himself in leather, indulging in absurd tattoos (include a Confederate flag emblazoned with the term “Infidel,” which he explains is a reference to Muslim savagery), spouting off racist and chauvinistic babble, and generally conducting himself like a perfect ass.
The hollowness of this particular charade is revealed in the wild discrepancy between our economic status and that of his new “friends;” they’re as often as not thunderstruck when they come here, yet he maddeningly continues to denigrate himself by imitating their behavior and pretending to be their social equal.
This new trend has coincided with the explosive success and expansion of his company to make him intolerable. My father’s patterns are predictable: when wanting for money, he is humble and either subordinate to or resentful of my mother; when buttressed by a plentiful income, he grows increasingly arrogant and cocksure.
My mother, shattered, spent last night bewailing her own weakness.
“I feel like a baby,” she blubbered on as Beautiful Cousin and I wiped her face, patted her back, and stroked her hair. “I can’t stop crying. It just hurts so bad.”
Then she doubled up and seized herself as if she were about to implode.
“Mom, it’s okay,” I comforted her. “Really it is. The day is going to come when you’ll see this as a blessing.”
“BB, you don’t understand,” she said. “I’ve been with him since I was nineteen years old. I don’t even know how to be with anyone else.”
“But you can do so much better than him,” Beautiful Cousin chimed in. “Marie, you’re beautiful, especially for your age.”
My mother nodded, acknowledgement without pride of the glaring fact that her striking appearance remains unblemished as she approaches forty. She is without exaggeration one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen, but her ruthlessly straightforward nature makes her too practical for vanity.
All the same, she won’t deny the obvious; there’s a reason that men have marveled for years at my father’s good fortune.
“Plus, you have a great career,” I added. “And a great personality. You’ve achieved so much.”
She shook her head.
“Your father makes me feel like I have a terrible personality,” she lamented. “He says I’m no fun at all. I’m sorry, but I don’t want his biker friends hanging out at our house and sleeping in tents on our lawn. Am I wrong for that?”
“No,” I assured her. “Not at all. We don’t know those people.”
“Exactly,” my mother said. “And I don’t know what they would do to my little girl.”
My father behaved in an infuriatingly cavalier manner during all of this.
In much the same way that he used to laugh uproariously while his children sat in bed at seven o’clock, punished for imaginary crimes, he strutted about the kitchen calling cheerfully for one of our dogs while my mother attempted to regain her composure in the basement.
“Mom,” I counseled. “All of this has been going on for years. Do you really want to be with a man who treats you this way? Do you really want to have to continue to monitor his medication and deal with him humiliating you?”
That question opened a fresh wound; just Sunday evening, he informed the attendees of our Labor Day party that he was leaving my mother. She only learned of it when one kind couple came up to her and said that they were there if she needed anything.
“He made our business public,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe he did that. You just don’t do that.”
He’s gotten worse in other ways, too; just yesterday he promised to “knock [me] the fuck out” if I didn’t speak to him in a more respectful manner.
“If you ever hit me again, I’ll have you taken out of here,” was my immediate retort. “So fuck you. Get up and punch me. It would make my day to have you arrested.”
They’re gone right now, off taking a drive so they can speak in private. When they return, we’re to have a family discussion. My earnest hope is that this discussion ends with my father’s departure, for now he seems to be doubling back on his vow to move out.
If that’s the case, it would mean that his announcement to my sister, and the resulting torment it caused her, was nothing more than a ploy to strike at my mother.
I just want him to leave.