Monster In Law

Mother’s Day, 2016.

Oh how I dread this day, and have for the 24 years I have been married to my husband.  I lost my mother to cancer in 1992.  She and I had a difficult relationship-in all honesty she was emotionally abusive to me for years.  I am trying to come to terms with writing about that struggle; however I find it hard to call my mother out on abuse that happened so many years ago.  I know that I can truly help others who have been through or are struggling with a narcissistic parent .  This pain rips you apart-and the years I have spent in therapy have taught me one thing: people make mistakes.  I am not one to blame my problems on my parents; been there, done that.  Once you pass the age of 40, you are accountable for your own actions.  Hurting people hurt others, or at least that’s what they say.  I don’t want to hurt anymore.

But today’s story only partly involves my mother, Mary Lou.  Today I want to discuss the most hideous of monsters-my mother in law.  I will never forget the day I met her.  You see, my in laws live directly across the street from us.  OH THE HORROR.  The unmitigated horror.

I was sitting on the grass beside the pond when I caught a glimpse of her walking up the street.  Dwain and I had a torrid love affair and had so far managed to avoid his parents’ judgment.  I had heard the stories.  She was a whirling dervish of criticism, hypocrisy and temper tantrums.  I truly wanted nothing to do with her, but how to avoid her?  Did I say my in laws live across the street?

“He loved her more than anything in this world.”  The first words my mother in law to be spoke.

“Who?  Who did Dwain love?”

“Why Kathy, of course.”Kathy was the woman who left Dwain with nothing.  The ex-wife who bolted and took everything with her, including the silverware, knowing he would have their son and her daughter every other weekend.  When I met Dwain we were both facing divorce, I left my first husband and took nothing but my clothes and old sketching.  Charcoal pictures of album covers-Elvis Costello, Jim Morrison, Joe Jackson- to name a few.  Kathy went as far as to charge Dwain with child abuse after her daughter woke him from a deep sleep and he swung his arms and hit her-by mistake, of course.  The state police were smarter than she, and never charged him with anything.  The fact that she had taken steps to crush the man, after he took her daughter and adopted her as his own, after they had a child together, after he received the bill for one of her abortions in the mail.  He didn’t know if he was indeed the father of his son as he caught her in the bushes with another man, his best friend, soon after they tied the not.

I had just put my family and friends through hell by walking away from a marriage that was one week old.  I couldn’t tell them the reason behind my departure.  My first husband had tried to strangle me on the honeymoon, and when I received the glorious news that my cervical cancer had not spread and remained in situ, he screamed, “You just didn’t want to have children!”  When you are 29 years old and dealing with cancer, you have no choice but to do what the doctor suggests: cryosurgery and a cervical biopsy.  It was in that moment that I learned I was not to have children.  The doctor told my husband that I couldn’t bare children-he just forgot to tell me.

And so, with those words hanging over my head like a toxic balloon, I made it a point to avoid her at all costs.  Why would she think I needed to hear that information?  It turned out she was bat shit crazy for her grandson-and nothing would stand in her way, not even her own son.

Over the years, she managed to treat me like a distasteful afterthought.  Dwain and I were party animals back in the day; on the weekends we didn’t have Brad, we jumped from bar to bar, along with our coke addled friends.  My mother in law was a born again Christian, and believed we were going to hell.  Dwain and I were abstinent on the weekends we had his son, and we took him to church faithfully, until the day it became obvious that no one was paying attention to the sermon.  Dwain’s parents and aunt were too busy fighting over how many cheerios the baby had, or who’s turn it was to hold him.  The circus atmosphere left a bitter taste in our mouths.

Flash back to September 11, the day that shook our nation to its very core.  We had spent much of the day watching the news coverage, thrilled to be home after working and together as a family.  My in laws came up to wish us a happy anniversary (September 12, 1992-that is the day we were married by our pond, one hundred people standing in mud and wet grass, just to see us tie the knot.)

“Oh sweet Jesus, Dolly,” I cried.  “The families and friends of these poor victims.  The first responders and fire fighters, how will they make it home tonight?”  I was hysterical, and my husband in shock.

I know where I’m going,” she smiled smugly.

And that, my friends, is the most hateful sentence ever spoken.

Jesus in Disguise

I admit it.   I am a hermit.  I like my own company, and enjoy hiking with my golden, Jesse.  I rarely go out in the evenings, and my PTSD and depression have put the kibosh to socializing.  I was a party animal when I drank, but the party never stopped, and the mornings after involved stories from my husband and friends about my antics.  I quickly acquired a reputation for getting blasted-cocaine helped for awhile, but eventually even that couldn’t keep me straight.

Don’t get me wrong, I have amazing friends.  (See Won’t You Come Over Valerie.) We do lunch and breakfast and hikes-but they are rare.  Everyone is so busy, and most of my peeps are employed.   I suffer from a litany of disorders, from OCD to PTSD.  I have ADHD, and severe anxiety.  I am a recovering alcoholic who was addicted to opioids as well.  After being given Vicodin for a bad tooth for a year, I developed one hell of an addiction.  I now take Suboxyne, which saved my life but is very, very hard to quit. I have a doctor who, while he is one heck of a good man, has no business prescribing the drug.  He has no idea what the withdrawals are like, and, while weaning me off of the drug, skipped two steps in the process.  Weeks and weeks of lethargy, depression and stomach upset (to name a few) followed.  I am now on the lowest dose possible, and actually feel grateful that I skipped the higher doses.  In the Rooms, they say if you get through one day without a drink-well, it’s a miracle.  I have learned to be kinder to myself, and life is good.  I am unable to work for others, but I own a floral shop called The Vintage Rose.  As I had not one customer last year, I have made it a point to advertise, work hard, and prepare for the end of May, when I will reopen my shop-will this year be any different?  I like to think so.

What is my reason for optimism?  Jesus.  You see, God has given us free will to make choices on our own.  The one mitigating factor that was missing last year? Prayer.  I have a Reiki Master who has shown me what true spiritual healing can do for one’s life.  I am in a completely different place than I was last year at this time. I have a positive outlook and believe that good things are coming. The last time I worked,  I was doing private duty nursing and the husband of the woman I cared for was boorish, abusive and at times, downright cruel.  I quit at Christmas, only to have his power of attorney beg me to come back.  There were other issues as well:  the schizophrenic daughter whose malicious intentions became evident the day she knocked me into the washing machine  and almost dislocated my shoulder.  She would hide the pine sol or put sanitary napkins in the laundry, and even though there were two other nurses employed at the home, the finger was always pointed at me.  I walked out the day the husband scolded me in front of the new cleaning lady.

“We have a few bones to pick with you.  We found a sanitary napkin in the laundry basket, and we know it was you.  Mommy’s Christmas pajamas are missing, and frankly, who else could have taken them?” I found said pajamas in the pajama drawer, and, if it hadn’t been for my foul mood, almost laughed when I heard them say, “Maybe we should ask her where the pajama drawer is?”  I took care of his wife and daughter for a year and a half.  I baked, cleaned, cooked, accompanied them on doctor’s appointments and did their grocery shopping on occasion. It was very, very difficult for me to leave the wife, as I believe she was abused and only responded to me, who treated her like she deserved to be treated-with dignity, love and respect.

Today I pulled into the Turkey Hill to fill my gas tank.  I had just come from weeding the gardens at my church.  I looked like a poor soul as I walked in to pay.  As I handed the cashier the cash, I heard a small voice beside me.

“Your boots are untied.  You don’t want to trip.”  I looked down to find a complete stranger tying my boots.

“Oh my word, you don’t have to do that,” I stammered.

Not only did she tie my one boot, she retied my other.  Overcome by emotion, I began to cry.  The world is a scary place at times, and I am rarely on the receiving end of random acts of kindness.  She took one look at me, grabbed me by the shoulder and steered me outside.

“Why are you crying?”

I went on to explain that people, in general, suck.  I had no idea I was harboring these feelings, and I was shocked by the words I spoke next.

“People can be cruel.  You don’t know what could happen these days, it’s such a cold, cruel world. And you took the time out of your day to tie my BOOTS?  Who are you?”

She went on to say her name was Kim.  I took a good look at her, and what I saw almost pushed me over the edge, into a full blown melt down.  She was older, unkempt, dried blood on her fingers, her clothing ragged and torn.  She may have walked there, as I didn’t see a vehicle.  She was the kind of person I pity, one of the lost souls I see on a daily basis. I handed her my business card and thanked her again for her kindness.

“Just look at this stunning card.  I am sure you have a lovely shop.  And  look at you, why you are beautiful, just beautiful.”

And just like that she vanished.  You can call yourself Kim, or Tim, or whatever name you fancy, I thought to myself.  I know who you are.  And from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.  Kind words from a stranger?  Or Jesus in disguise?

 

 

 

Hijinkery

I am in the mood for hijinks!  What, you ask, is holding me back?   Someone to play along.  I grew up in a household of practical jokers.  My siblings (my sister Courtney and my brother Craig) and I scared the bejesus out of each other on a daily basis, but I have to admit, I ruled the house in a reign of terror that left my brother an almost emotional cripple.

My earliest memory of scaring my brother is the day I decided to mess with his Sesame Street puppets.  Poor Ernie.  It takes a pretty sick mind to come up with the prank, but this was just one in a line of many, many horrific frights, leaving him paranoid, emotional and let’s just say pissed.  It was so out of hand that my mother screamed at me, more than once:

“Are you trying to commit your brother to a mental institution?”

No, but I sure as hell delighted in watching him scream.  So, one night he is in the shower and I grab hold of Ernie.  I manufactured a little sign to put in his hand, it read:

Help Me!

I lay underneath my brother’s bed and awaited his doom.  It seemed like hours, and the thought of my father, just feet away at the living room bar, made it even harder to contain my laughter.  Finally, he opens the bedroom door.

“Aaaaarghh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The thing is-he didn’t stop screaming.  It was one continuous scream.  I had to do something, so I stood up.  That may not have been the best move, as his scream turned into a shrill siren’s call to people everywhere who have been the victim of tomfoolery.

Craig!!!!!  It’s me, Michele, calm down.”

But he didn’t.  Not one iota.  And the louder he screamed, the louder my father’s laughter became.  Needless to say, I chilled out for a bit, I loved my brother.  I loved seeing him frightened even more, but nevertheless.

One night my best friend, Denise, slept over.  My sister had been given a wicker mirror for Christmas, and the box remained in my father’s work shop for weeks.  Craig’s bedroom was downstairs, next to the shop.  I talked poor Denise into waiting, in the box, for 2 hours.  I though his return was imminent, but he had been working a shift at Victoria Station, and came very close to putting the kibosh to our fun.  When I heard the cellar door open, (my parents were away for the evening) I warned her that he was coming.

“Why would he come in here?” Denise blurted.  “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I demanded.

“Hello?  I heard a noise, is someone down here?”  My poor brother.  It is my opinion that he was never the same after seeing The Exorcist.  My mother would NEVER have let him go, so he snuck to the theatre with a few of his dimwitted friends.  My sister and a few neighbors  had gathered out in my front yard when it happened.  Craig came barreling out of the house, as if Linda Blair had popped out of nowhere with a cross in her back and murder on her mind.  “SOMETHING IS IN THE HOUSE,” Craig bellowed.  It took a good two hours for us to calm him down, insisting it was just the wind.

So, back to the night at 202 Riverview Road.

“I hear something, is anyone here?????”  Denise and I,  trapped like sardines in a can, held perfectly still.  My brother approached the box.  What happened next is seared in my memory forever.  This time, there was little, if any sound emitting from his weary body.  It was a silent scream, if you will.  Convinced I had really done it this time, I moved away from the box to apologize, but instead we crumpled in laughter on the floor of dad’s shop, hopelessly breathless.

After that, I was pretty much under my mother’s direct supervision.  But I remember the laughter, even if it was at Craig’s expense.

 

Kennedy

I will never forget the morning my sister phoned me, hysterical.  It is usually the other way around, and I was stunned to hear the mania in her voice.

“I can’t do it.  I am physically and emotionally drained.  What was I thinking?”

To be fair, my sister was always the strong sibling.  She spent years listening to me on the phone, often slurring my words.  She became so unhinged at my drunken ramblings, that she asked that I not phone her after 3 p.m.  She told me she was busy with the kids at that time, and I believed her: somewhere in the deepest corners of my mind I knew.  I don’t remember what I said while drinking and dialing; but my sister was suffering at my hands, so I obeyed the curfew.

Back to Kennedy.  A pit bull mix the family had adopted from a local Humane League, he was full of piss, vinegar and the ungodly energy of a pup.  I had never imagined her having a dog, as she had seen first hand how I handled the passing of one of my dogs, and she had her hands full raising three precious children.  But to say my sister gave it her all would be a discredit to sisters everywhere:  she lived and breathed and trained (and retrained) the dog who was to be the love of her life.  Kennedy was his own man, he didn’t like other dogs, and we assume he had a bad experience before the adoption.  I remember our first meeting:  he hadn’t entered doggy school yet, and to be honest, I was a tad intimidated.

“Come on up,” my sister yelled from the girls’ bedroom.  “He’s up here.”

I have been taking care of dogs my entire life.  My father bought my mother a golden retriever puppy the week I came home from the hospital.  Chipper shared my bassinette, and when I went to kindergarten he broke through the screen window on my very first day.  She was my childhood dog, and she was the best.  She did everything with us: from sledding to fort building to board games, Chipper was our right hand gal pal extraordinaire.  I then went on to have four more dogs, and I was the pet sitter of the neighborhood.  I remember one Summer, both dogs I took care of were about to give birth.  Their owners, when told that I believed they were mothers to be, shook their heads and laughed – silly girl, what do you know?

I can tell you that I knew better than they, and both families came home to litters of puppies.  I recall our neighbors dog, an Irish Setter, who never looked healthy, always skin and bones.  I would sneak out of the house and over to the Robinson’s to feed and play with the dog-often at night so no one would see me.  I have raised an English Setter mix, Jesse; her son, a  Dalmatian-and two golden retrievers.  I had a chow-Labrador mix, Chipper II, with my first husband.  I had no idea what we were in for, and I adopted him because he looked like a small bear cub.  He terrorized us, our home and our friends-so I was prepared to meet Kennedy-not so much prepared for what happened next.

I sat down on the floor, my sister next to me with the pup on a leash.  In one fell swoop he had me down on the floor, kissing and biting and licking.  “I give….I give…..” My sister collapsed on the floor laughing.  For the next few years she worked with Kennedy on a number of issues: the most serious-his propulsion to eat anything and everything in his sight.  Eyeglasses, dog dirt, rocks, trash………you couldn’t trust him for a moment.  When he was sick (prone to stomach problems)  Courtney would sleep on the couch, so he wouldn’t be alone.  Many nights were sleepless, and that combined with raising kids – I don’t know how she did it.  She took him on daily walks-even though she was basically risking her life, as Kennedy could find trouble at the drop of the proverbial hat.  No matter what they did, he would not warm up to other animals, but he was an amazingly loving, funny and outright stoic dog.  His favorite toy, the tennis ball, kept him amused for hours on end.  My husband loved to rough house with him, and we grew hopelessly in love with his antics.

Kennedy lost his battle with cancer on May 1, 2016.  As the tears flow down my cheeks, I feel the need to tell the world that he was truly loved, truly treasured……and at the end of the day, that’s all a canine can ask for.

Rest in peace dear Kennedy.  You will be missed.