Wednesday, December 1, 2004

We interrupt this stroll down memory lane . . .

. . . for more timely news. While nostalgia has driven this blog for quite some time now, I am going to fast-forward to present day. I feel the need to record events as they are happening, and boy, are they happening.

As soon as I get the fan turned off, and all the shit cleaned off the walls, it will be business as usual.

For those of you that hate spoilers, there may be a few in these present-day postings. I will try to minimize that.

So, prepare for the lightspeed transition from 1997 to 2004. Can't be helped, I guess. Thank you drive through.

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My husband is one of those people that firmly believes that holidays suck. According to him, most of his holidays were spent sitting quietly at his aunt's house, waiting for his turn to open a gift, pretending to quietly enjoy "healthy" holiday dinner fare, and mostly just counting the minutes until he could go back home. His aunt is a lovely woman - she and I share the same birthday - but I have to admit that her home is a bit, ahem, sterile for my tastes. Hard to square that with my recollections of the maniacal Christmas mornings I remember.

Despite all of my family's shortcomings, the holidays were our time to shine. We all developed some kind of tryptophan-induced amnesia that carried us from Thanksgiving right through to Christmas. Our celebrations were all-out extravaganzas, filled with giggling children, great food, music, gifts, and fun. The few truly happy memories I have from my childhood years are all recollections of holidays.

So, in between wanting to recreate what I had and avoid what my husband experienced during his holidays, I feel quite a bit of pressure to deliver the goods for my kids. This year is going to be particularly challenging.

My parents, it my surprise you to hear, are still both alive, still fairly healthy, and still married. They still reside in the home that he built himself way back in 1969. He is 75 and she is 72 now. Longtime readers may recall a few early postings that detailed my dad's eccentricities and volatile temper. That hasn't changed a bit.

My long-suffering mother has been married to my father for 49 years this month. For as long as I can remember, she has talked about divorcing him. For as long as I can remember, I encouraged her to. She never did, never came close. Until now.

Let's back up a few weeks, shall we? My sister and I have spent the past month helping my mother prepare to leave my father. It has been an agonizing process. We have discussed her options, reviewed her finances, toured apartments, discussed her situation ad nauseum with her, trying to convince her that leaving is the right thing to do. It is, believe me.

My sister mentioned to me that she had been having these conversations with my mother for 35 years. That sort of stunned me . . .that couldn't be right, could it? Well, my sister is nearly 50, and I think she was being generous. The conversations may have been going on for closer to 40 years.

Why didn't she leave years ago? Well, she is from another generation, she comes from a home riddled with alcoholism and abuse, she always hoped things would get better, she stayed for us, and after we left, she stayed for him, even though he acted then and acts now as though he could care less whether she was there or not. If there was any doubt at all, it evaporated when he told her to "get the hell out" this past week. This followed an ultimatum of sorts on her part, and although I wasn't surprised by his reaction, evidently she was.

She had decided that the time had come for the two of them to sell their too-large house and find something smaller and closer to the children. Both of them are becoming less skilled at driving during the day, and neither should drive at night. My father has denied that he has diabetes for years, and the effects of that denial are surfacing - he uses a cane these days to get around, and he scoffed at the doctor's diagnosis of "diabetic neuropathy". He stopped sleeping in a regular bed last year, because he couldn't get himself out of it in the morning. He sleeps on a recliner, and when his legs hurt and he can't sleep, he watches The Gem Channel and buys all manner of trinkets and baubles . . . with her credit card.

He has always been a hoarder; their large basement is full to the rafters with "great buys" he has made at auctions. He feels sure that there is a fortune to be made on all of the lots that he buys, but he never can quite bring himself to part with any of it. That goes for cars, clothes, furniture . . . anything. He has an entire bedroom in the house that is also full of all manner of . . . God knows what. He keeps it locked, and no one is allowed in there. He is also quite paranoid of having things taken from him, even by members of his own family.

The house is in a state of disrepair, and even though he was a builder and an engineer, he hasn't really done anything to the house for years and years. The roof leaks, the appliances are old and on their last legs, the exterior has been untended, and for years now, he has just sat, working on his computer, watching stock channels, daytrading their savings away, and buying jewelry. Any time that my mother has attempted to hire workmen, he refuses to let them into the house, and screams obscenities at them, calling them all crooks. He begrudgingly lets my brother (the good one) make repairs, but he insists on working side by side with him, which is dangerous. He actually scaled a ladder and got on the roof a couple of months ago, and to everyone's horror, he began his descent, stumbling down the last couple of rungs and falling onto the deck.

He stopped working altogether at 55, pretty much unannounced and with no discussion. He basically burned his last bridge, getting into a heated screaming match with his manager, and he was let go. That had happened over and over, and pretty soon, he was unable to land contracts. The aerospace contract world is a small one, and word gets around. When the phone stopped ringing, he never attempted to do any other kind of work. He just gave up pretty much, even though they were in no way financially prepared for his early "retirement".

She worked full time until she finally retired 2 years ago at 70, so she and he weren't under each other's feet 24 hours a day until recently. While she was working, she was able to tolerate his angry tirades for a couple hours in the evenings; she usually just went back to her bedroom after dinner and read or watched tv, while he stayed in the den. A lonely existence in anyone's book. Once she was home day and night, things deteriorated quickly.

SO . . . back to the unceremonious kick-out: She wrote a letter to him and gave it to him last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, 2 days after their 49th anniversary (neither of them acknowledged the date to the other). It was pretty lengthy, 5 pages or more. She was trying one last time to explain to him that she couldn't live with him under the current conditions, that they could no longer maintain the house physically or financially, that he desperately needed medical care and that she wasn't willing to tolerate his yelling and screaming anymore. She advised him that she had found a place to go, and that she was ready to go alone if he was unwilling to concede. He wasn't willing, not by a longshot.

As a matter of fact, upon learning that her plans to go were in place, he took off for hurricane-damaged Florida, hoping to strike gold by selling some of the tons of aging construction materials he has hoarded in the basement. He feels sure that the storm victims will be lining up to pay him top dollar for his stuff, even though we all told him that Orlando is closed to anyone except licensed contractors, FEMA workers, property owners, and police. He listened to that as much as he ever listens to anything, just a muttering of "Bullshit!" as he tottered about the house, packing a bag.

We have all known that he was crazy for quite a long time, but she could never bring herself to admit it. He was always "brilliant" or "eccentric" or "unique". Now well into his "golden years", he views his future through the same murky glass of unrealistic, self-centered lunacy that he views his cheap baubles and trinkets. Let me assure you that everything that glitters certainly ISN'T gold, and the way-too-bright glimmers from his fake reality shine back onto his face just like the cheap gold-plated crap he has become entranced by. The reflection isn't at all warm, glowing or comforting, it is stark and cold and brightly illuminates one truth for all of us looking on: He isn't eccentric, he is just plain ol' crazy.

Of course we all panicked . . . he had no business getting a rental car, or driving any long distance. We tried to stop him, and he told us all to leave him alone and mind our own business. We tried to convince him to fly down to Florida, but he wouldn't hear of it. We tried to call the state patrol, but with a clean driving record, he is within his rights to go. I was willing to have him committed, but no one else was, and it takes 2 signatures to make it stick.

In some ways, his leaving makes her move easier - we will be able to get all of her things next Saturday in one trip. The place where she is going is brand new, light and bright, convenient to her doctors, shopping, and 3 miles from my house, with lots of nice men and women close to her age, still healthy, still active, trying to enjoy their health and their lives, and everyone we talked to seems to love living there. Despite how great the place is, she is scared to death, and I can't believe how proud I am of her.

She tries to think positive. She is holding on to the hope that maybe he will come home to the empty house and have a change of heart. Maybe he will visit her at her new complex and see how nice it is and decide to allow the sale of the house. When she gets to this point, though, she adds that he would have to get his own apartment; she is still unwilling to live with him. Can't blame her there.

As for him, it's not surprising that he left - he spent most of their married life "on the road". I guess that's how the marriage lasted as long as it did. If they had lived together full-time, I feel sure that they would have split decades ago. Somehow, the marriage would hit the rocks, and he would leave for 2-3 years, coming home on weekends, and the marriage would survive. I don't think the marriage is going to survive this trip. And as much as I hate to say it, I have my doubts whether he will, either.

I know that the move and the finances are going to be rough for them both. I committed to helping them both a bit each month, even though both protested. I was able to see my way clear to do that, until yesterday. Out of nowhere, my contract was pulled. The contract has been solid as a rock, and up until Monday, there wasn't any hint that things were wrapping up. That's the life of a contractor, but what shitty timing! Thank God I Christmas shopped for the kids early this year.

So, while other people are out shopping for Christmas gifts, I am looking for an apartment-sized dinette for my mom. While others are looking forward to time off, I am panicking about where my next job will come from. Instead of being a port in the storm for my aging, battling parents, I am adrift at sea again.

Maybe hubby is right . . .

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