Put out the dog, grab a frosty beverage, and settle in. This is long one, kids. Maybe a record-breaker.
Nearly four weeks have passed since Mom called.
My Mom has been living here with us.
The Stepdad is still living Two Hours East.
And while they have "talked" every day, nothing is getting resolved. The Stepdad is losing ground quickly, and every day her resolve grows a bit stronger to simply stay here. With us.
Let's step into the Wayback Machine, and set the dial for 1993, three years after my father died.
Mom was beginning to feel really lonely. We tried back then to get her to come and live with us, but at the time, she flatly refused. She kept saying that we needed our privacy, and our time together as a couple. She was worried she would "interfere" in our lives. She wanted a companion closer to her age - someone who had the same cultural and generational references as she did.
So, she happened to pick up a local singles publication, and while idly flipping through it one afternoon found an advertisement from a gentleman who was about 10 years her senior. On paper, he seemed to be nearly ideal, and after several long phone calls, they arranged to meet.
Once they met, the relationship progressed nicely. It was weird for me, sure, but as long as my Mom was happy, I tried to keep my mouth firmly shut. He had been married before - twice, he told us. His first wife left him, and his second wife died of cancer at about the same time that my Dad had died.
He seemed just completely enchanted by Mom. And, also a bit possessive, but I convinced myself that I was just being paranoid - that I didn't want to accept him, because it felt like I was being a traitor to Daddy somehow. I ignored that persistent little voice that said that this guy was trouble, with a capital T.
I should have paid better attention to that little voice inside me.
The first hints of trouble came very, very early on. The night that Mom brought the (soon-to-be) Stepdad by our little house down in the Greater Metro, I knew then that he and I would likely never get along. The first clue was in his attitude; he treated both The Wrench and I with a great deal of suspicion, and some outright hostility. That first meeting was more interrogation than genial greeting, and when it was done and they were pulling out of the driveway, The Wrench turned to me and said softly, "Wow. What the Hell did we do to him?"
From the start, The Stepdad was antagonistic towards us. We felt as though we had somehow pissed him off - but couldn't figure out what we had done, other than simply *exist*. The very fact that we were... alive seemed to be enough to set him off.
After a just a short while, The Stepdad had begun to pressure Mom to move in with him - Two Hours East. They were both tired of the long-distance thing, and they seemed so genuinely happy together that it made sense to us, even if TW & I didn't care for The Stepdad. Most of the time, Mom went Two Hours East to visit him, and spend the weekend; he rarely came here. The inference always was that his house was somehow "better". It was indeed newer. It was also quite dramatic, with soaring glass walls that looked over an urban forest from it's hilltop vantage point. By this time, we knew that we were pregnant with Baby Twinks, and everyone on both sides of our families were on pins and needles, waiting to see if we would lose this baby as we had lost our first two babies. The Stepdad, seemingly oblivious to all of the tension and drama, calmly made arrangements for the moving company to come and pack Mom's things for the move Two Hours East.
I was about halfway through the pregnancy when the move was accomplished. The Wrench and I promptly put our little house down in The Greater Metro on the market, and moved out to Mom and Dad's "old" house. The plan was that we were going to do a rent-to-own with Mom once the baby was born; she didn't really want to sell the house outright at that point, and we were glad to have a little break on the rent until our other house sold.
One week to the day after we moved in, The Stepdad began "agitating" with us. Why weren't we paying rent? Why didn't we just get a bridge loan, or a better realtor, or ... The obvious implication was that we were screwing Mom on the deal. Never mind the fact that the whole thing had been her idea; we were the bad guys.
Mom told him gently but firmly that it was none of his business, and to leave us alone about it. He did so, but only when Mom was around. If we found ourselves alone in a room with The Stepdad, snarky little remarks would be thrown our way like verbal darts. It was now clear to The Wrench and I that not only did The Stepdad not like us, he seemed to actively hate us.
They were married several months after Twinks was born, at Mom's insistence. She refused to "live in sin" for any longer. He didn't want to get married - said it was just a stupid scrap of paper. The only time (until four weeks ago) in their relationship that she put her foot down was the day she told him that she would either be married - or gone.
If they had to do it, then he wanted City Hall, or a Justice of the Peace. She wanted her Church, or a wedding chapel at the very least. They compromised, and got married at a lovely little private chapel in the woods, not far from their home. Once the decision was made, they were able to get a date within the week. The Stepdad had a very short "to do list" with only one item: he was supposed to call and tell us.
My mother was devastated when I didn't attend her wedding.
I was devastated to find out that she had gotten married, and we hadn't been invited.
The Stepdad shrugged it off.
He told Mom that I was being "too sensitive".
Fast forward a couple of years. Toddler Twinks is finally walking, and completely charms everyone who meets her. About once a month, weather permitting, we make the drive Two Hours East to see Mom and The Stepdad. I have tried remain civil to The Stepdad, reminding myself that he is her husband now, and that I don't have to like him, I only have to treat him with the same respect I wish to be treated with. Fair enough, right?
To give him credit where credit is due, The Stepdad has been an excellent grandfather to Twinks, ever since she was born. He adores her, and even though he is (technically) her step-grandfather, he couldn't be more proud of her if she was truly his own grandchild. He seems to loathe me - but tells strangers and friends what a marvelous grandchild he has, and is the first to show off pictures of her, and brag of every accomplishment.
His own grandchildren - he won't give the time of day to them.
One bright, crisp spring morning after we arrive Two Hours East for a visit, Mom nervously tells us that they are going to move. East again. More east - to live by the ocean, on a bay where dolphins dance on the waves, and huge sea turtles paddle lazily along. The beach is clean, and private, with silky white sand, and all sorts of lovely seashells. The house that will be built will face the sea; Mom will have a suite of rooms on the top floor that overlooks the bay, and the ocean beyond. It is her dream come true, courtesy of The Stepdad.
I try to be happy for her. After all, as long as this is what she wants, then it is what I want for her too. And while I can't imagine my Mom living so far away, I know that we will still be best friends.
After the house by the ocean is built, I take toddler Twinks to visit. Twinks and I have our own suite of rooms on the first floor, with a private entrance. When we fly in, we must rent a car, and travel another three hours (including a ferry boat ride) to just to get there. We are expected to be "at table" on time for meals, not "bother" Mom, (and especially not bother The Stepdad) and generally stay out of his way. After about the second day, our very presence obviously bothers him; he asks when we will be leaving at every meal. Mom tells me to just ignore him, however, it becomes increasingly difficult with each day that passes.
They live in the house by the ocean for about five years. We try to visit at least twice a year, and Twinks carries home buckets of seashells and sand after every trip. I carry home an image of my Mom, clearly unhappy, and me, unable to do anything about it.
One day, the call comes from Mom; they will be selling the lovely house by the ocean, and moving inland - to the Baltimore/DC area.
They settle on a place far enough out of the cities that it is quiet, with a small-town feel, but close enough that everything (including BWI airport) is within a 90 minute drive.
This house is also custom-built, and it overlooks a valley where the lights of the town twinkle below at night, and the sun sets beyond the mountains. Again, we have a suite of rooms on the main floor, however there is no private entrance this time; we use the front door. The "rules" remain the same, as does the uncomfortable feeling I have everytime I am around The Stepdad. In fact, things seem to be deteriorating, despite my attempts to remain civil.
At this house, the trouble begins on our first visit. I have not even carried the suitcases in from the car, and The Stepdad pulls me aside to ask "exactly how long it is that you will be staying" and to firmly admonish me that "next time you should consider just calling, because it upsets your mother so much when you visit".
I am in shock - despite his obviously hostile attitude in the past, Mom and I have always managed to enjoy ourselves, and we have long ago agreed to just ignore his childish, selfish behavior.
I wait, I bide my time, and after The Stepdad has retired to his study for the evening, I ask Mom point-blank if she would prefer that we not come to visit at all. If it really does bother her. If she wants us to leave in the morning.
Mom is shocked - and very upset. And for the first time since they married, she confesses; tells me that she isn't really happy, and hasn't been for years. That she had begged him to return home, here to our little corner of The Greater Metro. That she wants to live near us, so that she can go to Twinks school events, and attend her home Church, and watch her grow up, and spend time with us - her family.
His response to her was that he would never, ever again step foot in our home state - let alone our home town. And then he refused to discuss it with her again.
But he delighted in telling me - every time that we visited, every time I spoke to him on the phone, every single time... that *they* would never, ever move home again. That Mom didn't want to live near us. And that if the opportunity ever presented itself, he would move both of them as far from me as he possibly could.
And after about 5 years in that house, he very nearly succeed when he moved them off to Florida.
We all remember The Chronicles of Florida, right?
There is more to this tale than what I can relate here - much, much more. So much more that I will simply have to tell you this:
The Stepdad has spent the last fourteen or fifteen years actively trying to separate my Mom and I. We have learned (from his own children, The Daughters of Doom and Gloom, no less) that he did the same thing with his previous wife - he tried to keep her all to himself, and eventually cut her off completely from friends and family, not unlike what he has been doing with my Mom.
His previous wife - the one he told us died of cancer - finally committed suicide she was so unhappy.
When Mom finally called me nearly a month ago, she was ill. Very ill. Physically, she had some kind of stomach virus that had left her dangerously dehydrated, and unable to keep any food in her at all. She was scared to eat, because it just came right back out again - and she was so weak and tired that she could barely toilet herself. Her medications were all messed up - somehow she had multiple bottles of three prescriptions, and thought she was supposed to take a dose from each. Other prescriptions clearly indicated on the labels that they should not be taken together; one prescription she was known to be allergic to, but she had valiantly tried to take the medicine anyway because The Stepdad told her she wasn't "really allergic, she was just being a wimp".
She was so dehydrated by the time I arrived that she could produce no urine, no sweat, no tears, no saliva. I was shocked, and horrified. As always, I had thrown a cooler into the minivan, filled with bottled water, juice and pop. I bundled her into the minivan, handed her a bottle of water, and as she began to drink the water, we drove straight home. I called our family physician on my cell phone, explained what was going on, and set up an emergency appointment for the next morning. I briefly considered taking her straight to the E.R. , but decided this time to listen to my gut. I knew what she needed, and it wasn't just water. It was also to be home again.
About two hours later, she was safely here - home - and I started counting. There were more than 30 bottles. Early the next morning, we went to see our doctor, and he calmly and patiently worked his way through the pile of prescription bottles. When he was done, she had five bottles of medicine. Two more have been set aside for the moment until she is healthier and stronger. The rest are either duplicates, or are contraindicated with the other medications that she is taking. There is also that one infamous bottle that she really is allergic to.
Just getting the medication straightened out made her feel better, and a little bit in control. Within twelve hours of arriving home again, she was rehydrating nicely, and had begun to eat soft solids.
She began sleeping at night again; her insomnia disappeared the instant her head hit the pillow.
In less than a week, she was strong enough to take her meals at the table. She began to laugh again (for the first time in months) and she began to get out - into the fresh air and sunshine - and live like a normal person again. She ate pizza, and watched movies, and slept late. She got her hair cut the way she wanted it to be, and she bought new make-up.
After two weeks, she told us that we had rescued her - had saved her life, and that she was so glad to be *home* again. Here, with her family. She wants to stay here. She wants to live with here with us, for the rest of her life. We are all (yes, all three of us, including TW) thrilled at the prospect. There has been a Mom-shaped hole in our world, and to think that she might stay here with us forever makes me so happy.
All the people I love in the world under one roof.
Happy Happy Happy!
Yesterday, she told us that she knows for sure that she doesn't want to be married to The Stepdad any more. That she doesn't love him like a wife should love a husband. That she is tired of being bullied, and emotionally and verbally abused. That his possessiveness is suffocating her. That she can't live as she has - isolated and cut off from friends and family, essentially a prisoner in her own home. That she has been so depressed and unhappy for the last several years that she just wanted to stop... living.
This weekend, we have to go Two Hours East, to take Mom over to get some personal things, and she will confront The Stepdad (something she has only done once in fourteen years).
He is going to try and persuade her to stay. He will use every ounce of charm that he can muster to try and convince her to stay. He will make promises that he has no intention of keeping in order to "save face" in front of us. He will beg and plead - and probably cry, too.
She will have to be strong. She will have to remember why she wants the divorce, why she wants to live here with us. She will have to face her greatest fears, and tell him that she isn't coming back to live with him. Ever again.
We'll be right there with her, supporting her, and protecting her. But until it's over...
We will all be dancing on pins and needles.