Dreaming the past
Before I met my in-laws for the first time I knew something was off. I hadn’t ever talked to them but while dating their son for the first few months, he would often have to go back to the house he lived in with them and would take me with him. The whole family only had one (crappy) car that they shared so sometimes it was that we were picking up, other times he wanted to change or grab some cash from his bedroom. Every time we went there after dark he would invite me inside, saying that his parents were already in bed and sound asleep, but, even though I wouldn’t have to meet them I always refused, choosing to sit outside on the front porch and wait for him instead. There was something not cool about going into their house in the night before meeting them in person. I was worried they’d wake up and come down and we’d start off on the wrong foot in some awkward exchange that I could never do over again. Also, I had a weird, creepy kind of dread that crawled around my belly when I was there, although I had no idea why at that point.
The day came when I was invited for dinner to meet the family. It was far too big an affair for my liking as the two sisters came with their partners for the occasion. The younger one still lived at home too but the eldest sister was living with her boyfriend one town over. They were all sat on the couch, grinning at me as I walked in for the first time. Well, the eldest sister’s boyfriend just looked bored and then looked at my tits for the rest of the visit. He was a creepy dude, that guy but, strangely, I ended up liking him more than any other of the family members after getting to know them all.
“Oh Harry…” the future mother in law beamed at her youngest son. “I think she’s really pretty! I love her hair and her pretty eyes…..I really think I like her!” She commented, several times, as if I weren’t standing right in front of her.
She reached out and fingered my hair. “So pretty!” she said again and I began to wonder if she was much more simple than he had described.
“My family is crazy.” he had warned, many times before I met them. I thought no one could possibly be as bad as mine so dismissed the idea as he said it.
“Well come in then.” Said my future father in law, beer belly swelling so far beyond his pants it looked like the belt he wore had the sole purpose of holding it up. He sat on a recliner in the living room with doilies on the arm rests and patted his lap. “Since my son thinks you will be the girl he marries you might as well join the family! Come sit on daddy’s lap, new daughter.”
I think I physically retched and definitely moved quickly to the opposite side of the room mock-laughing while violently shaking my head no. He looked disappointed then annoyed. I wondered if he had been serious. There were several beer cans at his feet so I thought (hoped) he was just drunk….on a Tuesday evening….at 430 pm. He made several off-colour comments that evening but I followed the rest of the family and ignored him when he did.
I made it through the evening and the dinner, trying to be friendly and open while entirely avoiding being anywhere near Harry’s father. It astounded me that no one said anything but I was too new to feel okay with jumping in.
Things only went downhill from there.
Fast forward a year and a bit and I found myself engaged to Harry. I’m still not sure why I said yes. Harry was very much like his father in all the worst ways but I was young and stupid and thought everything would just be okay because I wanted it to be. Harry actually proposed to me over a dirty table in my crappy townhouse kitchen after the most awkward Christmas dinner I’ve ever had. I had just started talking to my foster family again and they all decided to come for Christmas that year….my mother, sister, brother, along with my father and his new wife. Awkward doesn’t even half describe how tense that room was. Then, along comes Harry with a box and a poem he wrote and, after reading it aloud I opened the box to find a tiny diamond ring bought from a pawn shop. He had traded in some very expensive and meaningful jewelry I had given him as a gift to get a diamond chip ring. I wasn’t ungrateful though….I cried, said yes, hugged him, was happy. Anyway…his folks were over the moon ecstatic because the mother loved me and the father wanted to get his hands on me and, once family, I was expected to go over there for dinner at least twice a week. Ugh.
As the years rolled by the mother in law seemed to lose her way more often. The family thought she was drinking because she would go somewhere (to the bathroom or run to the store for fresh roll for dinner) and come back 20 minutes later stumbling and acting drunk. You could never smell it on her but she was often unable to remain upright. Her words would slur and she’s start making strange accusations.
“I know it was you Grainne. I know it! You’re the one who keeps sneaking in here at night to steal my canned goods! It makes me so mad I want to kill you!” She would spit, out of nowhere.
Often she would accuse me of stealing dollar coins from her coin jar in her bedroom. I would dismiss her like the rest of the family but always tried to be kinder than they were. Even if she was drinking, I could clearly see the reasons why.
Every Sunday she would make a huge dinner for the family. We would have a roast beef, roasted veggies, scratch yorkshire pudding and fresh dinner rolls. There was always a nice salad, side plates of pickles and beets, and a homemade desert of some kind. Her food was delicious and always felt like home. Even though this was true, the husband was horrible to her. He would critique her meal bite by bite and would spit out nasty insults along the way. 8 nights out of 10 she would end up sobbing silently at the table, hands folded in her lap, food untouched except for the tears that fell from her chin onto her plate.
“You are such a fucking bitch. You make my entire life a living hell, you know that woman? Your roast is over cooked, the veggies are under cooked and you put fucking no-name pickles out? What are we, on fucking welfare!? I can’t wait until tomorrow comes so I can go back to work to get away from your ugly face!” He would hiss at her. A constant flow of hurtful, nasty words.
Like normal, no one would speak. No one would stand up for her and no one would tell him to shut the hell up. I would try to counter act some of the damage by telling her that I was enjoying my meal, that I loved overdone meat and crunchy veggies. I’d smile and compliment her lipstick or mascara. I’d jump up and meet her in the kitchen when she went to get something and give her a huge hug, telling her I loved her and not to let him hurt her so. She always blew it off but she took my hugs and returned them tightly.
One day he was being particularly nasty and she started sobbing so hard she didn’t seem to be able to breathe. The father in law reached out and shoved her full plate into her lap.
“There! Now you’re good for something. Go clean that up. You shouldn’t be eating anyway you fat cow. You were so small when I married you and now look at you?! You’re a fucking cow! Ugly, fat, good for nothing cow of a woman. Maybe I’ll go to the country and find myself a cow that is at least pretty.” He said.
She just cried harder.
“Oh for crying out loud that is ENOUGH!” I said. Loud enough to make the entire table of family jump.
He was livid as he turned his hateful eyes to me. “Oh is now?” He challenged.
I stood. “Yes. Give it a rest old man.” Were my chosen words.
I thought he was going to come over the table at me. The two sisters and their partners were all staring at me with their mouths hanging open. Harry looked annoyed but I didn’t care. I think I would have actually hit him had he said a single word. Dinner slowly continued as I sat back down, the silence deafening suddenly. The mother in law stopped crying and began to eat too and we all finished our meals in silence.
After Harry and I were married the abuse started to leak into my own life (stories for a different time. Harry was exactly like his dad, in the end, only bolder and more immature). The father in law would come over when I was home alone and talk to me about his problems with his wife, sexual and all. I would tell him constantly (from the other side of the room) that it was totally inappropriate and entirely unwanted conversation to me. I told him over and over that she needed help; she needed care and medication and for someone to love her without torturing her emotionally. He said that if he ever forced her to go to the hospital for help she would never forgive him and he couldn’t live with that. I told him he was a selfish asshole. He stopped talking to me about his problems eventually.
Harry and I split somewhere in our second year of marriage and it was my call. After a particularly humiliating and abusive night out with friends I hit my boiling point and called the whole thing off. He told his mom everything…that he hit me, lied to me, accused me of cheating constantly, wouldn’t let me do anything without him. He told her about how he raped me the last night I ever stayed in that house, trying to get me pregnant so I wouldn’t leave him. She was so mad and hurt and disappointed that she told him to stay away from her for a while. The break up came on the tail end of some other family tragedies so it was particularly stressful. Her eldest son had just been arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting several minors in a different province, her eldest daughter who was married and had a child with her husband had just been attacked by a gang of men whom the husband owed a great sum of money for a cocaine habit he hadn’t told her about. They tried to burn her house down one night while she and the baby were home alone, sleeping. The final straw was me telling her that her youngest was just like her asshat of a husband. The end went like this: She didn’t work outside the home and her husband would call her on his breaks to say hello, berate her and ask what was for dinner. One day he called on his first break and she did not answer. She always answered. He called on his lunch and same again, no answer. He called two of the kids and asked them to go over to the house. They were busy though, so refused. Third break he called again and there was no answer so he decided not to wait any longer and left work early to go check on her. All of the lights were off at the townhouse and the blinds and curtains were drawn. The house was dark and he could hear the dog barking from the basement…..they never put the dog down there so he opened the door for him to let him out. He went around the house opening curtains and blinds but couldn’t find her. Eventually, he grabbed a beer and sat down in his recliner to think for a moment when he noticed her foot sticking out from under the solid wood coffee table. He pulled her out and could tell immediately that she was dead. A bottle of booze and three empty pill bottles were under there with her and a suicide note that he had missed was sitting on the kitchen table. She was only 52.
I was gone from the family before she ended her life so wasn’t able to attend her funeral but I have always carried a piece of her in my heart. None of the things she went through were her fault. She was a loving, caring woman who had lots of problems, the biggest of which she was unfortunately married to.
I miss her. She hated me in the end for hurting her family by leaving but I think underneath she understood. How could she not? She was living the same life as me, just ahead by 20 years or so.
I just don’t seem to have much luck with mothers.