The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Bad Apple June 28, 2011

Apparently my near ex finds this blog an unhealthy mess. A forum for self-pity in which I exploit my child, as well as his other three.  Threatens to take legal action of some sort if I don’t retract certain things. Gotta say, that doesn’t feel great. But today I am rather done with being bullied. The self-righteous way in which he wields his power seems the unhealthy mess here.

I have had some revelations in my solitude. For nearly the past quarter century I’ve been too enmeshed in this person’s life to gain any meaningful perspective. Lately, it’s occurred to me (only lately?, some might wonder) that given the way in which my near ex was raised, his behavior is not entirely shocking. When our news became known to folks, quite a few felt the freedom to finally express their true feelings on the man. There is a consensus among these opinions; he is a talented motherfucker, a hard worker, and he can appear as sweet as you please – yet there’s a frighteningly chilly side to this worldly, successful musician that shows up real quick when you no longer serve his agenda.  Was he fired from his last band as he pleads in his divorce statements in order to show hardship, or did he quit in order to boldly strike out on his own, as he purports to the Chicago Tribune? Two stories, one narrator. He amends his story as needed. Yes, he’s a whole bunch of stuff, but he’s not stupid.

My near ex is an only child and has never wanted for much. He’s enjoyed the world on his own terms for all of his life. His parents have enjoyed the same. Immigrants of the 50s who came here to attend college, their story is at first romantic and inspiring. They created wealth and success in their new adoptive country. They had one child, and brought him up in a household of culture, learning, travel – and top-shelf dysfunction. I oughta know.

To this day his father sleeps on top of a desk in a windowless basement office in a cement-block building on the outskirts of the campus from which he is a retired professor. His amenities include a hotplate and a dorm-sized fridge. Don’t know how or where he performs his toilet. We always used to wonder. He virtually lives in his overcoat – something which has appeared endearing at times – yet it does smack of a certain cluelessness. However he lives or dresses, this man has certainly accomplished a lot in his life, and honestly, there’s no other person I know who has the magic touch as he does when it comes to acquiring permits or having bank fees waived. He’s got a certain thing – I will handily give him that. But that he owns property which might afford him a fine standard of living, yet he lives like a homeless stowaway – that I’ve never really understood. In the end it never really mattered. He was always there for his son – and til now, his daughter in law. He coached, offered advice – and he was never, ever without a solution. I can hear him now, in his soft Pakistani accent, “Elizabeth, one could simply just….” Every problem was met with a “one could simply just ____” Easy to say when you have several Mexican laborers living in your basement and ready to jump at any task for $7 an hour. Yeah, if I had that resource there are a lot of things I could “simply just”. !

Last year he and my mother in law came here to visit us in New York. He told me he had a “mystery” he needed to solve and that he needed to put on his “Sherlock Holmes hat”. He leaned in, as if to whisper to me, and said in an almost rhetorical tone “I cannot figure out why you would want to move here, to New York“. We had just ended an awkward, yet somewhat sweet visit with both of them and my parents (after all we’d all been family for twenty years in spite of the crazy events), and I thought it was rather evident why I was here, and especially so because my parents lived right next door to me. Regardless of how obvious it all seemed, I spelled it out for him. In retrospect, I wish I’d played the teacher card and turned it around: “I don’t know, why do you think I moved to New York?”. That I had to answer – that the question was even in his mind – proved that he was only able to see the world from his private epicenter. His son is much the same. In their eyes, I left Dekalb for selfish reasons. (If self-preservation equals selfish, well then, I agree.)

My mother in law is another character whose personal description might fill an entire post. She is well past 80 and continues to dye her hair a fire engine red using ‘congo red’, a laboratory stain she gets through her husband’s business. It saves her the cost of box color. Years ago she was diagnosed with a latent form of what doctors term “high-functioning schizophrenia”. When the stress in her life reaches a critical level, her symptoms begin to manifest. And I tell you, life has a dreamlike quality to it when you’re searching under the floorboards in her basement apartment bathroom (no, they don’t live together and haven’t in twenty years) for gobs of bills and gold stored in ziplock bags and must retrieve them for her silently, stealthily, so as not to be picked up on the cameras which were placed inside her home by the government.

I know a number of folks with schizophrenia, some whose lives have been horribly changed, some not so much. It’s nothing to joke about, yet it’s also not something to deny and avoid. And yet we all did, for two decades. We’d dance around her, her temper, her stress threshold, with her husband confiding in me every few years that this time he was serving her with divorce papers, but I was not to tell anyone. Time and time again he would end our talks: “Elizabeth, this conversation never happened.” I was jockeyed about between all three of them, keeping lies, disclosing what was advantageous for a currently needed solution – oh I was knee-deep in crap. I played the game right along with em. But it was how we all lived. There my husband was, adored and revered in public, but privately he was twisted up in a tangle of half-truths and intimate deception.

And I guess I didn’t do much to stop it. Sometimes I tried. When I did, I was told not to rock the boat. If we wanted their help. And with that big Evanston home, we needed help. So I admit, I found it easier to shut up and deal with it than to expose the dysfunction and point to the huge elephant sitting in our living room. What good would it have done? We had our home, and they were living as they chose. We each had our thing in place. They always had drama, and we always had to dance around it. It was a drag of a way to live, but it worked. They greased the wheel, so we kept on rolling…

I don’t want to deny my parents in law all the wonderful things they’ve given me. I’ve traveled the world with them, learned about other cultures from the inside, learned how to cook new kinds of food, learned things from the metaphysical to the mundane. I have truly learned a lot from them, and for this I give them my love and my gratitude. But no more will I give them my deference.

I had thought perhaps, in this new era of babies, families and moving on that it might be time to lay our cards down and reassess our old methods. Perhaps it was time for truth. This is in part why I began to write this blog – I was exhausted from keeping so much in and for so many years.  I recently wrote a letter to all three – mother, father, son, in which I did indeed point out the enormous and unrecognized guest in the room. I laid it all out. My near ex claims it has had the opposite affect of the one I intended. Well, maybe not. I’m kinda screwed here no matter what. I just meant to get shit out in the open so I could finally breathe free and clear. I guess I’d thought they would rally to my aid in some way given the blatant inequity of the situation, that my father in law would take up his “one could simply just” mantra, but no. He hasn’t even responded to my emails. That’s never happened before. Clearly, the sides are chosen, the era of my compliance has ended, and with it, my membership in the club.

It seems the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

 

One Response to “Bad Apple”

  1. Dayna Says:

    Dear Elizabeth… this is your life. this is your story. nobody can take that away from you. there is no defamation where there is truth. Stand tall. Stand firm.


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