Thursday, May 8, 2014

Christmas with the Kranks

And within hours, with Blair Witch-like spookiness, Mom knows all. Has seen it in her crystal ball and is on her horse and riding (with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, no doubt.)

She rails against Charlotte like King Lear railed against the wind. Even as Charlotte boards a plane to leave the country for a family vacation while all of her boys take a break from school and career.

Of course, Mom has a predictable pattern. Bully Charlotte and make her feel like a Terrible Person. Also say outrageously insulting and horrifying things about me in the same breath to cast doubt as to why Charlotte would ever pay any attention at all to what her Wicked Sister has to say. And lie. Make up a fairy tale version of all that Charlotte has called her out on. As if saying it makes it so. Mom is the queen of gas lighting. If you listen long enough, you may even be convinced that you may have lived in someone else's house.

And as luck would have it, I am away for a weekend with my kids and some friends, enjoying a Winter wonderland in the little hamlet where Charlotte and Jack own a cottage. We've rented a ginormous one and are enjoying hot toddies as Mom hurls her incendiary texts and phone calls. Always so thoughtful, Mom is going to harass Charlotte until she is too miserable to enjoy her family vacation. So I step in.

And I let the hot toddy do the talking. Via text, where I can do all the yelling I want without interruption. Two can play that game, Estelle.

Of course I have to break up the 1000 word tome into 4 or 5 separate texts so they come through on her flip phone. I take a small measure of glee from the fact that she'll be billed by her phone service carrier for the individuals texts.

I remind her that she is doing exactly the manipulative, conniving, hateful things I accused her of several years back when she was, well, doing a lot of manipulative, conniving, hateful things.

I told her she'd ruined her last Christmas. I tell her, in case there is any ambiguity, that she is distinctly unwelcome in my home at Christmas. That she should spare herself the embarrassment of appearing at the door and being turned away. That there is nothing, and no one that would be on either side of the door that could pressure me to let her cross the threshold. I've watched enough vampire movies to know that inviting in the uninvited does nothing but suck the life right out of you.

Charlotte calls me within minutes. With unprecedented speed, Estelle has figured out that Charlotte and I are not only discussing, but have completely agreed on a plan of action. She is furious. Someone is supposed to side with her. Her success at getting invited to Christmas (a Christmas she will manipulate and interfere with to the point where it is charred and smouldering by day's end) depends upon her successfully dividing and conquering us. She needs one ally who will join her in thumbing her nose at the other of us. She wasn't prepared, evidently, for an uprising.

It is such a great parenting tactic. Create infighting to weaken resistance. She should have been a wartime general.

Charlotte is obviously very upset. Mom is chastising her and has accused us of bashing her. (Well, Estelle, if the shoe fits...) I tell Charlotte to put Mom out of her mind and not to respond to anything. Mom is winning the war by upsetting her. Let me rattle Mom's cage. I don't happen to give a hang if she's upset, and there isn't much she can say that will penetrate my armor at this point. I can block her. I can hang up. It's not like she is going to drive north to pull my hair.

It cracks me up that Mom accuses us of talking about her behind her back. Like we should be so ashamed. Of course we are, because we are no more ashamed than she is when she's trashing one of us to the other (OK, to be truthful, it is her trashing me to Charlotte 995 of the time.) Yet the pot reserves the right to call the kettle black, simply because she is the pot. A boiling, oozing, putrid pot of festering swill.

I text once again. I tell her not to dare contact Charlotte again. Her issue is with me. I accuse her of being a coward. I dare her to call and do battle with me. And I tell her that of course she's offended that Charlotte dished to me about all that she has said and done. Abusive people always want their victims to be silent.

Yep. I wrote it. I called her abusive.

Let the fur fly.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Joy? No. Hell.

I may have shared this before, but it is worth repeating: I remember when my mother was about 40 and she'd said, "I love being the age I am. I don't have to take any crap from anyone."

Let's be clear. Mom was never the type to take a lot of grief sitting down. Someone who chose to rattle her cage would only ever attempt it one time. Mom's obituary will not contain the words "shy and retiring." No shrinking violet, she.

Well, in her 40s, Mom was just revving her engines. In her 70s, Mom is a well-oiled machine.

Mom and I, if you remember, had exchanged little nasty-grams while I was off being a good citizen and serving on jury duty. My patience waning, I'd told her I had no interest in her particular brand of craziness and she should cease and desist any further contact. Especially the nasty variety. I can get my fill of nasty anywhere. Who needs it from my mother?

Pissed beyond redemption, she'd set her sites on Charlotte and had tried to turn her against me. Mom is a bully that way. I can almost hear her saying "I'll show you, you little pipsqueak. I'll ruin you. You may as well leave town."

And as they always do, while this verbal volleyball match of who said what to whom and why, and Who Shot John, and which person commmitted the worst foul against whom and is therefore most deserving of the gas chamber, the holidays roll around.

Joy of joys. Unprecedented awkward family togetherness on the horizon.

Or not.

Charlotte's intestines turn into a Jacob's Ladder of silly string at the mere mention of Christmas. She almost always hosts our Christmas Eve gathering. A carefully orchestrated collection of beloved family, family members we'd sooner choke than converse with, and friends to whom our family dynamics need no explaining and who will be holding a fresh drink and rolling their eyes with us at all the appropriate Kodak moments.

But this year is different. I am on Estelle's Shit List (which is longer than the Naughty List and the Nice List COMBINED)and she is on my Shoot On Sight list. Bill barely tolerates any of us on the best of days and within an hour of the commencement of the festivities will be ass-faced and slurring obscenities about me loudly enough for me to hear. Loudly enough for most of the residents of the Asian Pacific islands to hear. My brother Joe is persona non grata and has been for years. There may as well be an elephant in the room. Two elephants if he brings his shrew wife. Two elephants in coordinating corduroy Disney attire, most likely. And their unruly progeny. Get out the Clorox wipes.

But I have a solution.

What if I host Christmas Eve?

I have no moral or ethical issue with excluding my brother. The Blessed Mother herself could step from behind the ficus tree and petition my cooperation. I'd hold my ground.

Mom and I are not speaking. She's not even getting a Christmas card much less an invitation. And she won't give me the satisfaction of reaching out to say she'd like to come when she learns of the plan we've hatched. And it's not like Bill even wants to come. Excluding him plays right into his hands.

Charlotte's angst is in overdrive. What will Mom say? She'll know we are in collusion.

She'll know she's been outsmarted, that's what. That is the beauty of it.

I can practically hear Charlotte smile. Signed, sealed, delivered. Christmas Eve is at my house.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Writer's Block Unblocked

And so here it is, more than two weeks since my last entry - without a syllable in between. It will be interesting to see who may still be tuning.Re-reading. Composing a "Where the hell are you?" email in their heads.

I've been here. I just haven't been here.

The crime of it all is that I have so much to write and yet, with all this living going on, very little time to write it. Truly a Catch-22. A good one. I think.

My blog sprang to life just over 4 years ago. A PMS medication and chardonnay induced rant, memorialized in cyberspace on the advice of my constant supporter, my sister Charlotte, who thought my inflammatory, incendiary emails on every aspect of my life (which has a tendency to unravel at the most inopportune times) needed to be shared with the public.

I toyed with the idea. I needed one more commitment like I needed a frontal lobotomy. (No comments, smart asses!.) But there was something liberating about writing it all down and sending it out into the universe to be read or ignored. To inspire or deflate. To entertain or to annoy. Words have such power.

And now, all these years later...

Two jobs later.
Two villainous boyfriends later.
Two bad breakups later.
A bad haircut or two later.
An ill fated tattoo later.
A lot of bad dates later.
A lot of wonderful dates later.
A thousand miles on foot later.
Two middle school bullying issues, untold Lars conflicts, and a percolating family feud later.
Countless hilarious stories, outrageously fun Thelma and Louise road trips, bizarre encounters with society's outcasts, endless buffoonery, and a million moments that made me scratch my head (no matter what my hair color might be at the moment)later.

Here I am crying "Uncle!"

No, I am not abandoning Tang and Cigarettes. That would be nothing short of criminal. There aren't enough happy hours in the world to share all the stories that desperately scream to be retold. Someone needs to tell them.

But I do feel that Tang and Cigarettes will be stubbed out in the big orange plastic ashtray of Life if I don't do something.

So here is what I've decided.

I will write when I am inspired and only when I am inspired.

I will write when I should and not when I think I am expected to.

I will write with purpose, not for writing's sake.

And maybe, just maybe, if I let inspiration be my guide, this meandering story of my life will find itself going somewhere meaningful and the story will unfold before you. Wouldn't that be something to write about?

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Foot In The Door

I look around the house to make sure that it doesn’t look like we‘ve lived in squalor since Lars left. And we haven’t. It is just that sometimes I don’t vacuum as often as I’d like. And the cats think the world is their scratching post. Thank God I got rid of the leather furniture. The sofa looked like a carcass they’d clawed apart to avoid starvation.

And soon enough, Lars is in the doorway, awkwardly knocking on the door of the place he called his home for 7 years. I almost pity him. There are at least a thousand people I’ve never been married to and who have never lived here who would be perfectly comfortable just opening the door and walking in. And they’d be welcome to do so. I guess when you sue someone for divorce and try to take all of their money and destroy their happiness, all of that goes out the window.

He awkwardly steps into the foyer, barely inside the door. I can tell he’s uncomfortable and does not know what to do. He nervously pets the kitten and speaks to her even though he is morbidly allergic to cats of all kinds. Thankfully the kids come out to greet him. Or at least Hil does. Pat is more reluctant. I am not really clear on the reasons why.

“How’s your foot doing?” he says when Hil has picked up the kitten and walked out of toxic range.

“Well, it’s seen better days, that’s for sure,” I say, feeling a little awkward myself.

“Want me to look at it?” The question sounds so formal and estranged. You’d never imagine that we ever saw each other naked.

I extend my foot out a bit and hike up the pant leg just a little. He squats to take a better look.

“It actually doesn’t look too bad,” he says. “I mean there is no doubt that it is infected but I was expecting much worse. It doesn’t even look that swollen.”

I am somewhat relieved as he starts to stand again. But then he quickly squats again and says. “Let me see it next to your other foot.”

I put the two together, pleased that my pedicure is still looking fresh. I pull up both pant legs so the feet and ankles are in full view.

He sort of snorts a little chuckle. “Oh, yeah. It’s pretty swollen. I forgot how skinny your ankles are.”

Is it just a comment? An observation? An insult? Or is it a simple memory of familiarity that time and distance has allowed to be pleasant? Like when you look at your teenager and remember the night she projectile vomited and blew out diapers for 6 hours straight the night before your big interview, and can find the zany humor in it now that it is locked away in the corner of your mind?

I decide to look at it as a sign of peace. We’d each taken a step toward each other. Finally. I asked a question that gave him credibility and he demonstrated kindness that I’d not anticipated. And made a little inside joke in doing so. Perhaps my humbling experiences with my job and with Scott have made me less monster and more human than he once recognized. And maybe his life with Liza has finally filled him with enough joy that he doesn’t have to take away mine.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Game On

I have worked all day.

I have fretted for an hour at the doctors office.

I have had my pig-roasted-over-spit foot poked, drained, scraped, turned in every direction (hello, hip replacement) doused with God-only-knows-what and then bandaged. And jammed back into a fuzzy black sock and a shoe, thank you.

I look like Hell. I feel like I have just returned from Hell.

And now I get to see Lars. My nemesis. The man who would relish every minute I spend in pain and suffering. The man who privately rejoices my every bout with economic frailty, who turns a cartwheel every time a man exits my life, who plays the lottery every time the Homeownership Gremlins leave my basement filled with water, my toilet in disrepair or a gutter dangling at a right angle from the roof. Yippee.

I decide that I have had enough of my Limping Nun outfit. I take the stairs two at a time to go upstairs to change. I put on freshly laundered pajamas and a hoodie. No one needs to see me braless in my PJs. I sweep my hair into a clip, brush my teeth, freshen my face with a little powder and gloss, and then yes, wash the black fuzzies off my feet and put lotion on them so I don't actually appear to be disintegrating.

And why do I care what Lars thinks of my feet? Or how I look? I ran screaming from our marriage without a glance in the rear view mirror and have regretted nothing about leaving. Ever. For one second. Why on Earth would his impression of me now matter? Why is it important?

I guess it is this: As much as he has relished every successful attempt to destroy, belittle, marginalize and humiliate me, I have rallied to stand tall, succeed, take things in stride and to rise to every challenge.

Divorce at the age of 42? So what? Lose weight, get in shape, look like a million bucks and buy all new clothes that announce that I have returned to glory and I am bringing sexy back with me!

His friends take his side and turn their backs on me? I find new friends everywhere I look. Friends who would never be the kind of people who just walk away from a lifetime of friendship. And the tried and true friends have stepped up their game, too.

Boyfriend dumps me? Find a new one. A better looking one with a house at the beach and a body that won't quit. Who is younger than Lars.

Lose my job? Get a better one. A dream job. One that the kids are proud of.

So now, just because I am having a problem, I don't want to show my cards and look like I don't actually have my shit in a nice neat pile. I want to keep up appearances. I want to look like "Blister, schmister. I have better things to do than worry about a little old gangrene."

And here he comes up the stairs to my front door. Game time.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Who Is This, Please

Understand that for the past 7 years, while my marriage actively unraveled and my tenuous relationship with Lars deteriorated into full on belligerence toward one another, I have never given him the satisfaction of actually asking him a question.

I've consulted his opinion on something and promptly overridden it.

I've consulted his opinion on something and have experienced the powerlessness of shared custody with a bully.

I've asked for flexibility with our custody schedule and sometimes been granted it. I have never benefited in return from flexibility shown to Lars. Time I give him is just forfeited. Time he gives me has to be returned in kind. I swear he keeps a spreadsheet.

Mostly I just tell him things. In deadpan straightforward directness.

"I am traveling. That is all you need to know."

"I will be away that weekend." Omitting the details about where, who I'll be with and how and if I can be reached.'

"I am not paying for that." Trust me, I have my reasons. I can not begin to waste my breath explaining them to you.

"No. I do not agree." For reasons too numerous to text. "No" is all you need to know.

And I have certainly never given him the satisfaction of asking him a professional question.

First of all, I don't think he's all that smart when it really comes down to it. I think he's a good test taker. He could probably pass the NASA Space Flight Exam if he could get the physical clearance to sit for it. I struggle that he asked once if Hil's damaged kidney would grow back. I am sure the doctor was thinking, "Suuuuuurre! If we could figure out how to grow a kidney do you really think we'd need all these organ donors?"

But in this case, with an amputation to actively avoid, I have a simple medication question.

"Lars, I got a blah blah blah dose of whatever antibiotic. The label reads that I should take 2 doses a day. If you were me, would you take one now and then get the second dose in before bed?"

He seems delighted that I've asked, know-it-all that I am. "Definitely. Get the first dose started right away. That's a really high dose. Make sure you eat something. You may not feel all that great."

What? What is this thing that looks like kindness? I tell him I will and that the kids were nice enough to save me some pizza. "Are you worried?" he asks.

Concern for your children's mother? Where has THAT been hiding? "Maybe a little. I never expected this to be something so big. I almost choked when they wanted to admit me. I was thinking it was just a bad blister."

"I can imagine," he says. "Well, if you want me to look at it when I come get Pat, I can."

I thank him and tell him I'll see him in a minute.

And suddenly I feel weird about all of it.

Lars has not crossed the threshold to our marital dwelling since he left 7 years ago. Has stood outside in the wicked cold and all manner of elements rather than come inside. We've occupied the same car exactly one time in all that time. He has not physically touched me since shaking my hand during the ironically named "kiss of peace" at Mass during one of the kids' sacraments.

And now he's going to examine my foot?

Why am I in a flop sweat?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pharmacy Follies

With my cartoonishly large caricature foot throbbing to the point of actually making sound, I get into the car and motor to the CVS to fill the prescription. While I wait, I eyeball the 4-point canes with the jazzy Lilly Pulitzer knock off handle covers. I seriously consider buying one. It will make a nice accessory to my prosthetic foot once this one shrivels up and falls off.

The pharmacist is a little concerned about my dose and calls the doctor. Perhaps that dose is reserved only for those in the acute stages of leprosy? The pharmacist looks at me curiously while she is on the phone. I can tell she is wondering where the outward signs of disease will appear. Will my ear fall off and land on the counter with a thud?

I self consciously wait while the prescription is dispensed and my name is bellowed from the loudspeaker (though I am standing right there, impatiently tapping my good foot). I want to strangle the pharmacy tech. Does everyone need to know I am getting a prescription? Does everyone get to imagine what hidden diseases I am harboring? Can't I just limp out anonymously?

Apparently not.

I run into a former co-worker. She wants to know all about my new job.

I run into a neighbor. She wants to know why my car was at the curb all Summer.

I run into an old babysitter. She wants to see pictures of Hil and Pat all grown into teenagers.

I am losing steam. I am running out of good will. I am fresh out of patience. I look like death warmed over. I am forcing an unconvincing smile to my miserable face.

Please leave me alone.

I drive the last two blocks home. I usually would make this trip on foot. Not tonight. Surely I'd be found dead on someone's lawn between my house and the CVS. I greet the kids while I multitask opening the prescription, which is sealed as though it may have to circumvent the moon in deep space.

"Two pills a day" it reads. It's 7:30.

I call Lars.

"Hey --- I am home. The kids have eaten. If you need to pick up Pat you can."

He is morbidly curious about my doctor's appointment. I secretly want to scramble his brainwaves and tell him it was an obstetrical visit. But I don't. I tell him the whole story now that I have been sprung from captivity.

He has loads of questions. He must be bored. I have never met a man more unnaturally lacking in curiosity than Lars.

But I go along with it. I need him for something. I have a question, too.

"Lars, can I ask you something?"

It is such a rare question for him that he is stunned into silence.