Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Middle Daughter continued

I saw her twice the first year after the marriage. Once she was with him, and once I saw her alone. Both times at my house. The second time she invited me to go with them to Jordan over the holidays. I was depressed at the time, as is usual during the holidays, and declined her invitation. I also thought I had no business going on a trip with her and her husband. The almost mother-in-law on the almost honeymoon? No.

When she and I were alone, I asked her about the husband and heard things that worried me. I listened to her words and the tone of her voice as she denied being bothered by his spending days and nights and days and nights at his studio. He was experiencing a burst of creativity and had a deadline. Okay. I will not pry. If she's okay with it, why shouldn't I be? I'm that kind of mother. If you're ready to talk, I'm ready to listen. But I will not pry.

The third time I saw them was a little more than a year ago. I was trying to find a way to have my daughters near and to get my teeth fixed. Both the youngest and the middle daughter have expressed interest in owning the front house. It would make it possible for me to live out my life in the little house while not having the burden of the main house to deal with--no more taxes, no more insurance, no more repairs. Plus a bit of income and security. I liked the idea, but in talking with the middle daughter with the husband present she seemed worried about my long term care. He brother was one of her partners. I had no problem with that, but I didn't know the husband that well, and I suspected that he would be a problem. I'm not sure why. It was then I asked him to install a programable thermostat in the main house. He took it, said he'd read the instructions and get back to me. I never heard from him again.

Then I got an invitation to my middle daughter's graduation for getting her Masters Degree two days before the event. It came during a mild case of agoraphobia. I didn't go. But I did send her $50. in cash in a happy graduation card. It was the least I could do, and I knew it wasn't half good enough. I'd have liked to send her roundtrip first class tickets to anywhere she wanted with the partner of her choice. But I couldn't. And in my shame of not being able to do my best, I didn't do enough.

Friday she called me. She sounded good. She was at work. She asked if she could drop by afterwork. I said, "Of course." When I hung up I began to panic. The day before, one of my girlfriends had asked about her. When I told her how long it had been since I'd seen her, we speculated about the possible failure of her marriage. I also worried about her health and then her parent's health. So I went into a cleaning frenzy. I shopped. I tried to throw together a meal I thought she might like. When the youngest daughter came home I told her I was nervous. She said, "Don't be nervous. She knows how you live." I thought that was a little insulting, but recognized it as the truth and said nothing.

Four came and went, then five. The phone rang. It was my friend Z who is a real mother of grown children. I told her about my anxiety, and she said, "We're already on our way." "Who are you coming with?" "Queen Esther and Ms Miller." Two other friends who are real mothers of grown children. I was so relieved. Backup. And backup that was at least a couple of hours away since Queen Esther is always late.

When my middle daughter arrived I was alone. The youngest had removed the lock from the gate, had turned the outside lights on and taken Roscoe in her house. So my middle daughter could walk back here unmolested without having to call for help with the lock. See? I have very sweet children. She arrived carrying dinner. Pita sandwiches of ground lamb and greens and herbs. A huge order of fries. We hugged. She sat on the couch and started moving things off the coffee table so we could get to eating. It was delicious. But I had the feeling we were just getting something out of the way so we could get to the something important.

She has been living with a secret sneaky alcoholic who sleeps all day and stays at his studio all night. He has stolen a large bottle of the oxycontin she takes to manage the pain she lives with. Huge street value, so we speculate as to his reason for the theft. To sell or to take, that is the question. She says she talked to her father about the marriage and he said, "Go and get him and bring him home." I groan. I look her in the eyes and say, "Oh god no." She says, "I feel so guilty," and starts to cry. I take her in my arms and say, "You have nothing to feel guilty about. Your father is speaking from his cultural tradition. It's a knee jerk reaction. What did your mother say?"

This brings on more tears. "My mother had a heart attack. I had to fly home." Again I hug her and wait. "I left him with money to pay the bills before I left, I told him when to pay which bill. He didn't pay any of them. My mother's heart muscle was damaged. She will never be the same. You know she always smoked." Pregnant pause, arched eyebrow. "Yes, I know. She and I are alike in that." "They've moved into the new house. They finally got it built. And my Mom has to live in the garage because she can't live in her house." For a moment I'm confused. Which mom is she talking about and then I realize it's me. Then she tells me that the Palestinian women are so strong. When the women heard about her situation they said to divorce the bastard. And finally her father came around. But when she got back to Salt Lake she discovered that they are two months behind in the rent. He did not pay the bills. The prick she's married to has put her living space in jeopardy. The landlord is irate, but not crazy. She pays the back rent. She tries to get her fucked up husband to sit down and prepare taxes. It makes him anxious. But she does convince him to go to couples therapy. This surprises me.

The therapist tells him he must go to AA. He claims not to have a problem he can't control. He stole her fucking oxycontin. I'm thinking he should be prosecuted. He doesn't need help? So divorce him. Do it quickly. My middle daughter says, "I'm going to file the taxes and then I'm going to file for divorce." I think we're making progress here. She says he still comes and goes. I say, "Change the lock." "But his clothes are there." "Bag them and give him a call to tell him they will be in the entry." "I'm afraid he'll kill himself." "Has he threatened it?" "Not exactly, but he wrote me a poem and there was blood on it." "He's a blackmailing prick. It's a manipulation." He's a con. "He's self medicating, he works for days on end on an artistic endeavor. I'm thinking he might be bipolar." I always go there. If a child lived in the household I'd probably think he was a pedophile. I project male bad behavior to crazy, pathological men.

Then the "mothers" arrive. After the hugs and greetings, I give them the cliff's notes on middle daughter's marriage situation. And we settle in to examining this marriage. We want to give her the best advise possible. It is unanimous--the bastard must go. Then we talk about our own marital mistakes and how long it took us to admit the mistake we made in marrying at all. We call this time of staying, once you know you have no idea who the person you thought you'd married really is, the wasted years. My middle daughter has stayed with this man three years. She's done her best under the circumstances. Time to cut her losses.

Then we mothers entertain ourselves with stories of acid trips past. One story was told during this part of the evening that will turn itself into a short story soon. Someone was shot in Berlin at the Dead Goat. Trust me, it's hilarious.

The youngest and middle daughter made plans to get together, exchanged phone numbers and the middle daughter left around eleven. I think she's going to be fine. The next evening she called the youngest daughter to get together at a bar to meet a couple of male friends of middle daughter's. The daughters unite. There is work yet to do on getting disentangled from the bad husband. But she's now looking forward, not back at the mistake that started it all. I blame it all on the cultural notion that a woman must marry or she isn't complete. It is rooted in Religion and the universal suppression of the female that is at the heart of all religions, and that's political. Everything's political.

My Middle Daughter

I met my middle daughter at a party. Yes, darlings there was a time I was a sociable woman. It was summertime and the party was only a block away from my house in a neighbor's big back yard. One of my modeling friends and I walked over and within seconds of walking into the yard, I saw a young woman sitting at a table with a group of other lovely people, m0stly male. She and I made eye contact and I knew I liked her. I called out "Hello daughter, my Persian Princess." She answered, "Hi Mom." And that was it. We were instantly related. Later in the evening I went over to her table and met my new daughter who is not Persian, but Palestinian. I hugged her and have never smelled anyone who smelled better. We introduced ourselves and she introduced me to the crowd of gorgeous young men at her table. I gave her my phone number. She gave me hers.

I continued to see her at parties the rest of that summer. By the end of the sumer we had talked enough for me to know that she was a student with a job at the U. None of the rest of her family lived in Utah. I know I asked her "Why Utah?" but I can't remember the answer to that question. She has an older brother who lives in the Eastern US--maybe Michigan or Illinois, and two sisters in the Middle East. Her real mother and father live in Jordan.

She came to parties at my house, and always brought interesting men. She seemed to have a posse of great looking very fun gay men--mostly North African or Lebanese. All the people I met through her were multi-lingual, multi-cultural and charming. As I grew more and more reclusive over the years (bipolar disorder gets worse as you get older) she brought the party to me. And then I saw less and less of her.

One day the doorbell rang and when I answered the door, there stood a woman who looked familiar standing with two men I knew through my daughter. When the woman spoke I realized it was my daughter. The changes in her appearance were the result of Cushing's Disease. I knew nothing about Cushing's Disease, but over the years of her life with Cushing's Disease have come to know a great deal about it. She was getting ready for her first surgery at the Mayo Clinic at that time.

The next time I saw her she showed me her scars and she looked like someone who'd had open heart surgery and a hysterectomy or appendectomy or a C Section. The scars started at the base of her neck and ended at her pelvic girdle. I have never seen scars like that. But she was beginning to look like herself again. The physical beauty was returning. She was now taking all the drugs her missing endocrine system was supposed to produce if working properly.

I was still modeling throughout this time. Tom and I were still friendly, though he was living in Costa Rica. I was living alone in the big house and was renting the cottage to a female friend. One day I got a call from my daughter asking me if she could rent my spare room. I said, "Of course." She insisted on paying rent, and for almost a year we lived together. She has always been more sociable than I, so we had a few parties, but I would often hang out in my rooms reading. It was one of the times in the cycles of my illness that I was teetering on the brink of a big depression. So when not actually working, I read. My daughter comes from a culture where family members have roles that they perform seamlessly as is their duty. I lived with a daughter dealing with a life-threatening illness who went to school, worked, had a social life, cooked and cleaned, while I worked once or twice a week and read. I like it cool in the house and she was always cold. I lived with a dog and a cat in the house and she comes from a culture where animals are not invited into the house and especially not to sleep with you on your bed. One day she came home especially tired and hungry and I was lying in bed reading. The house was not spotless and nothing was in the oven. It is possible to leave ones culture behind, to liberate oneself from the strictures of a lifetime of one's families expectations. Like I said, I'm a mother who neither expects nor responds to strictures of duty or obligation. If asked, I will probably say yes, and I will probably haul my ass out of bed and comply. But without the request, I will not realize that I'm not living up to your expectations. I'm not the world's best mother, but I will never invade your life. If you ask for something and it is within my power to give it to you, I will. It's wasn't long before she moved into an apartment.

Over the years I have met her real parents many times. I adore them. I feel related to them. The call me her American Mom. She calls me Mom. Sometimes we go years and do not talk, but if she calls me and wants anything I'm capable of providing, I comply, happily. One day she called and told me she was getting married, and wanted to have her wedding at my house. I asked when, and she said in a date not far off in February. That is the ugliest time of the year here and I have a lovely big yard. I suggested May. She said, "No, the date is set, and everyone is coming for February." Fine. Done.

By this time my youngest daughter, Ms M is living with me. So we grew excited about having a traditional Palestinian wedding in my house. My middle daughter's best friend was taking care of the planning. All I had to do was provide the location. Middle daughter had family coming from all over. It was very exciting. But I had not met the groom. I met him once before the wedding, briefly, and was very surprised by her choice. He was a man from a Mormon background who had left the Mormon Church when he was in his late twenties. His parents were assisting with the preparation. This is all I knew of the groom: His late rejection of his religious heritage, his interest in the Middle East, his travels there, his leaning of Arabic, and last, but not least he was an artist--he does metal sculpture and has a studio. I asked my daughter if he made a living as an artist and was told he supplemented his income by doing construction work. If she loved him, who am I to tell her I have misgivings? I'm her American Mom. Maybe I should have told her, but the wedding preparations were in full swing. It's too late to throw cold water on her happiness. Her real parents have met him and haven't objected, so who am I to object?

We had live music. We had a Palestinian religious leader called a Sheikh. We had much ululation and dancing. The food was great. The bride was gorgeous in a traditional Western style wedding dress. The groom wore a kilt and played bagpipes. It was gorgeous and very moving.

Everyone smokes in Palestinian culture, so the men stood outside into the night in the middle of my Slat Lake neighborhood and smoked, laughed, and gossiped in Arabic. The women smoked in the house. One of the striking things about Palestinian women is their style and beauty. They go all out--hair, make-up, jewelry and gorgeous clothes. The men wear suits and ties and nice shoes. They all have lovely manners and are charming. They know how to party.

To be continued...