If you have just joined us, and you want to catch up (or refresh your memory - let's face it, it took me forever to get this done) here is an index of sorts:
Day 1 - I am briefly and frighteningly possessed by a junior high escapee. Vacation Officially Begins.
Day 2 - I regress linguistically, and find myself sounding like an extra from "Gone With The Wind". Or, Kelly ;)
Day 3 - Finally, finally, finally we are at my Mom's, and we find out that many things are not as they seem.
The Chronicles Begin: An introduction is required
Now that you have a bit of the backstory regarding The Stepdad, let's meet the major players in this little drama. Some of them you may already know:
The Wrench - Handsome, loving, hard-working husband of the author.
Twinkle, aka Twinks - effervescent, lovable and loving 12 year old. Daughter of the author.
Mom - Mother of the author, and maternal grandmother of the lovely Twinkle.
The Stepdad - That Guy that Mom Married After Daddy Died.
The Daughters of Doom and Gloom - Offspring of The Stepdad. They are relatively interchangeable, not unlike Lego pieces.
Old Buddy - The Stepdad's best friend since before Kindergarden. Has known The Stepdad for more than 75 years.
Old Biddy - Wife of Old Friend. Has known both The Stepdad, and Old Buddy for more than 70 years.
The Location - Florida, Atlantic coast. Sun, sand, Seniors and theme parks. "The Village" is the the "Retirement Community" where Mom and The Stepdad live.
So, finally we were here. Mom's apartment building. We were one floor down, and over a hallway, but we were here, and I hoped to spend the next week or so catching up with Mom and making sure that she was as OK as possible (given the circumstances).
It was The Day After Day 3, (yes, I know. That would make it DAY 4, but I'm tired of counting...) and we got up, got dressed, and took the stairs up to their apartment. The entire complex is self-contained within one huge building that curves alongside an inland lake. You can move from one area to another without ever leaving the interior of the building; additionally, the building has survived (intact) all of the hurricanes in the last twenty years. They are truly in a self-contained little community. There are generators to keep elevators working and lights on during a storm. There are huge storm shutters on all of the windows. The walls are 24 inches thick, and the roofs are doubled and reinforced. The kitchens and dining halls are also self-contained, and can operate for up to two weeks, feeding not only all of the occupants of the Village, but all of the employees, and their families too. The employees are notable for their neat, clean uniforms (Burgundy polo shirts, and khaki pants) and their bland, blank expressions.
The night before, as we were talking, I could not help but notice how dangerously depressed Mom seemed to be. I knew that it was likely because of all of the bad news she had just gotten from her doctor, but it frightened me to see her like that.
Now, the next morning, I could see the apartment in the daylight. It was still small, but at least it was full of the light and sunshine that Mom loves so much. Their view isn't much; mostly the parking lot we met them in last night, and one of the streets that meanders through The Village. They can see a bit of the gardens that are tended by some of the residents, and the "green break" that creates a visual barrier between The Village and the property next door.
We still couldn't talk freely yet - The Stepdad has a tendency to dominate any conversation that Mom and I try to have, so we have learned over the years to just wait until he is out of the room. Instead, we all talk about the trip we just completed, and the plans The Stepdad has made to entertain us.
Finally, The Stepdad goes for his morning walk around the grounds, and Mom and I can talk. We go straight to the topic of her health. We talk frankly about what she wants to do if she does have breast cancer. We talk about the strokes, and I discover that she is more afraid of those, than of the possibility of cancer. We cry a little bit more, and then I tell her that no matter what happens, I am not going to allow her to go through this alone. We talk about options, both extreme and realistic. I am trying to determine what my next move should be.
The next evening is a "formal dinner" at The Village. Twinks and I have packed only lightweight, summer play clothes - we were caught unprepared for this event. And so, the saga of The Wardrobe began.
The Stepdad seemed to be inordinately upset with the notion that we had arrived without "adequate" provisions for such an event. Mom and I pull together an outfit for Twinks, and after a hurried and fruitless shopping expedition, we forage through her closet to find something for me to wear. It isn't the most fashionable outfit I've ever worn - the word "serviceable" comes to mind - but it works.
The Wardrobe is an issue The Stepdad will keep harping on for the next several days.
That is, until he finds something *new* to talk about.
Fast forward three days. The Stepdad, Twinks, and I are out by the community pool. Aside from one other occupant, we have the pool to ourselves. I am sitting on the deck, under the shade of the cabana that runs the length of the pool. Twinks is hopping in and out of the pool, and is happily paddling about while the palm trees wave gently in the wind. The Stepdad is treading water near the edge of the pool; he and I are discussing Mom's health.
As he often does, The Stepdad tells me things "in confidence". Quite often, these things that are so "important" are either obvious downright lies, complete fabrications, or as in this case, wishful thinking run amok.
Enter The Liar.
The Stepdad tries to sell me a bill of goods that even my blind grandma could tell was a load of shit with her bad eye. He tells me that Mom doesn't want to move home again - that in fact, it was her idea to move to The Village. He tells me that every time they have moved (four times in the last thirteen years) it has been *her* idea, and that he just wants to go back to his old hometown Two Hours East of our house.
There is more - all of it is untrue. Much of it is him trying to shift blame or focus from his own actions to someone else, in this case Mom. I believe that he is genuinely scared by her current health crisis, and perhaps is seeking to insure that I don't blame him later for the outcome. As I sit there and listen to what he is saying, I realize that he is trying to lay the groundwork for something; what it is I can't yet discern.
What The Stepdad doesn't know (and to hear him tell it, he knows *everything*) is that after every one of our "confidential conversations" Mom and I have a debriefing session. We have been doing this since shortly after they were married when The Stepdad tried to convince me that Mom would prefer it if I just stayed at home and never visited - because it made her so sad when we left! He even told me that Mom asked him to speak to me, and that if I didn't want to upset her further, I should not ever mention it. I was so upset by that conversation that I went directly and privately to Mom, to find out if it were true (and of course it wasn't) and since then, she and I have made it a point to always compare notes after these little "chats".
As is usual, almost all of what The Stepdad has said is malarkey; Mom and I sort out the truth, and I remind her that since I cannot trust The Stepdad to tell me the truth about anything, she needs to keep good lines of communication open with me during this whole health crisis.
The Liar resurfaces several more times before we leave for home; he is a recurring character in each of our visits with Mom.
I wish he would learn to trust me, but I believe he never will. I am the Enemy Sworn; I am the one person in this world who Mom would leave The Stepdad for. And he knows it. He knows that if I called her, and begged her - if she had to choose between The Stepdad, and me... she would choose me. Every time.
It drives him crazy.
Finally, the day before we are set to leave, the truth begins to come to light. The bits and pieces of the groundwork that The Stepdad threw down out at the pool come together.
The Daughters of Doom and Gloom are lobbying for their daddy to come home. To live Two Hours East again. Bring That Woman You Married if you must, daddy dear, but come home where we can keep an eye on you...
...and your money.
Amazingly, The Stepdad is seriously considering moving back to Two Hours East.
I have to restrain myself from jumping up and down, and yelling with glee. This is *good* news - because for the first time in 10 years, they would be living just Two Hours East, instead of a three to four day car trip, or an all-day airline/rental car extravaganza. Mom prods him to finally admit that the reason they are moving is because they are both so unhappy at The Village. Nothing is as they thought it would be, and they are both ready to move - anywhere. Mom wants to come home - to The Greater Metro, to live just down the street from us if at all possible - but The Stepdad flatly refuses to move anywhere near us. Mom's face tightens when he says that; it is the first time he has ever actually said those words in her presence. She knows that he has told me this before; he refuses to live anywhere close to us, because he believes that we would "meddle" in their lives, and that we would be "underfoot" too much. But until this moment, he has never said this to her directly.
Never mind the fact that they will be living just *minutes* from The Daughters of Gloom and Doom. Who knows? Maybe he really does want to forge a connection of some sort with his children before he dies. I personally hope he does - I think it would be terribly sad for all of them if he were to pass away without reaching out to them at least once more.
It is during this same conversation when The Stepdad made another mistake - the one that I fear may ultimately end their marriage.
He actually asked me to cover the loss that they will incur if they were to move back to Two Hours East. He even named a figure: $31,000.
His meaning was clear to everyone in the room: "If you want your Mom closer, here's the price".
Mom blanched at this - and sharply told him that it is not my responsibility to make up for his mistake. He leaves the room, telling us he is going for a walk. And for the first time ever, my Mom talks with me about leaving The Stepdad. About divorce. She decides she will do nothing for now, but I can see that her resolve is forming, becoming stronger. She is tired of all of the crap. Tired of moving every three to four years. Tired of him trying to force a wedge between her and her family. Tired of feeling like a bird in a gilded cage.
All I can do is tell her that she always will have a place with us - for as long as she wants. The Wrench, Twinks and myself all three would happily make room for her. Hells Bells, we would even make room for The Stepdad, too. We just want Mom home. We all miss her so much.
The primary reason that Mom and The Stepdad are now living at The Village was because Old Buddy moved here several years ago. Old Buddy had talked incessantly with The Stepdad about The Village. About how wonderful it was. About how great the food was, the weather was, and how much fun they would all have if The Stepdad and Mom would just move on down to Florida. In the interim, Old Buddy married Old Biddy. Old Buddy and Old Biddy are the reigning "King and Queen" of The Village. They sit at the "head table" in the dining room, and hold court from start to finish at each meal. I have known Old Buddy since Mom and The Stepdad got married; our families all spent one rather memorable summer Up North At The Lake Cabins during which I learned that Old Buddy cheats like a madman at Gin Rummy, and has a stash of Cubans that Fidel himself would be proud of. Old Buddy is a great old guy - who just happens to be married to a real Witch.
When Mom and The Stepdad first arrived at The Village, things were great with Old Buddy & Biddy. However, as the weeks passed, Mom noticed that rumors had begun circulating about her health. Other women would come up to her, and tell her that they hoped she would be alright, and that she shouldn't worry because there would be no shortage of people to help The Stepdad. (Remember, this is a "retirement community, and the number of available, vertical men is nearly zero. When one does become "available" there is a whole cadre of old women that instantly seeks to "comfort" or "care" for him.) When Mom finally tracked down the source of the rumors, it was... Old Biddy. Over the course of the next month or so, things began to deterioate between The Stepdad and Old Buddy. Finally, Old Buddy told The Stepdad that Old Biddy "didn't like them anymore" and that he hoped they would understand, but Old Biddy just wasn't comfortable around them. The Stepdad and Old Buddy are still friends - but Old Biddy tries to keep them apart, so they meet twice a week for billiards and cigars downstairs. No Girls Allowed.
Needless to say, The Stepdad and Mom are upset about this turn of events; moving to The Village was supposed to mean that Old Buddy and The Stepdad would get to spend their "sunset years" together. Old Biddy continues to spread rumors about Mom - the latest one she started while I was there was that Mom had Alzheimers, and The Stepdad was going to divorce her. This has resulted in a twittering flock of blue-haired ladies following The Stepdad about, everywhere he goes, each one ready and able to "help him out" just as soon as they can move Mom over to the Alzheimers Unit and call in the attorneys.
Mom = sharp as a tack.
Old Biddy = The Witch.
Old Biddy, by the way, *hates* children. Loathes them. Despises them. Absolutely, positively, completely. So it was with much glee that on our last night at Dinner, Twinks and I stopped by their table, to throw our arms around "Uncle Old Buddy" and cover him with kisses, and tell him to be sure to come and visit us soon. "Uncle Old Buddy" laughed, and hugged and kissed us in return, telling us to be sure to visit again soon. The Old Biddy Witch recoiled in horror as Twinks moved towards her, and then visibly relaxed when Twinks turned back around the other way to give Uncle Old Buddy one last "smackerooni" good-bye. I know it was silly, and we probably shouldn't have done it, but it gave us all a big laugh when we were back up in Mom and The Stepdad's apartment!
The worst part of leaving for me is knowing that I'll be so far away from Mom. That if something does happen to her, there is 30 hours of driving time, or a full day of airports and rental car counters between us.
I have done all I can do here at The Village. Mom is between specialists, and we are all still waiting for more news. The only good thing that we have heard during our visit is that the doctors office has managed to find the last mammogram that Mom had before they moved here, and it is on the way for comparison purposes. To help prevent any more strokes, she is taking a couple of additional prescriptions; at least I have the small comfort of knowing that her medication is hopefully working to help protect her.
I hate this nagging feeling that I can't fully trust The Stepdad when he tells me that he is going to take good care of Mom. Because I know him to be selfish, and I know that he resents my presence in their life. So when I leave, there is always an uneasy feeling within me; I want more than anything to just scoop Mom up, and bring her home so that I know she is safe and healthy.
But I can't. It's her decision to make - and because he treats her so well, and he loves her so much, and (ironically) he never seems to lie to *her* - she stays with him. For the time being, at least. As I have said before, I don't meddle in other peoples marriages.
Now it's time to go, and we stood in the muggy morning light, the heat already rebounding from the asphalt in the parking lot. Mom promised to call me with the results from the next round of doctors visits.
I promised to call her every day until she told me to stop.
The Stepdad hugged us, and told us to be safe - and then Mom and I were hugging and crying in the parking lot again, only this time because we were leaving. I didn't want to let go; I didn't want to leave not knowing if everything was going to be OK.
They stood in the parking lot, waving until we turned the corner.
I cried all the way north to Orlando.
Next, finally: Home