Cat Ladies, Lilly and Lula

Lilly and Lula – always pronounced “luler” by family members- were two ancient old ladies I was somehow related to. As a child, I never really understood the exact relationship, but we used to go visit them regularly on a Sunday afternoon when my grandmother Ruby was in town.
I don’t have any surviving photographs of these two ladies, so my memory will have to suffice: Lilly, the younger of the two and Lula’s daughter, was very slender, frail and delicate. Fine boned. Well proportioned, pretty. She had a beautiful face, with lovely fine cheekbones, pale clear skin, and slightly wavy gray-white hair cut in a pageboy style that fell just above her shoulders. Lilly had large clear light blue-grey eyes, the appearance of which was made even larger by the intense magnification of her spectacles – rimless with thin gold arms- that magnified them on her face. She was a china painter, Lilly was, and she did other crafts – sewing, crocheting, china painting, gardening, cooking – and she looked, to me, just like a Dresden figurine. Even in the 1960’s, she always wore simple classic A line skirts, a crisp shirtwaist style blouse, and lace up brogues. (My own grandmother wore shapeless calico cotton dresses I call “the Eleanor Roosevelt look”.)

Lula, I think, was Lilly’s relative, but here’s the confusing part: We visited this pair bc they were relatives of Ruby’s. I think Lilly was either a cousin, or else Ruby’s half-sister….I was a little child when I knew them, and the relationships were not clearly explained to me. The thing is, Ruby hated her step-mother, and Lilly did, too. They would tell stories from an obviously a shared childhood about how evil the step-mother was – in front of Lulu, while she was sitting there, and she was not a vegetable or anything, but it was clear from the stories that Lulu was not the evil stepmother. So was she Lilly’s mother, and Ruby’s aunt? Or was she Lilly’s mother-in-law?

The story I remember most involved a Christmas when they were little girls. There were a dozen kids in the family, and each child had only received one gift. The gifts appeared to be randomly handed out, or else had gotten mixed up – a toy truck for a teenage girl, a pretty dresser set (a tray with a hairbrush, comb, jewelry box, perfume bottle, etc) for a little boy.  Lilly and Ruby had tried to right the situation by organizing a gift swap amongst the kids, so each child got a gift that was most closely associated with his or her age, gender, and interests. Somehow, the evil step-mother got wind of this, and made them all trade back, which made everyone miserable and all the children cry. This made her even madder, and she took it out on Ruby, especially, and sent her to bed without her supper or grounded her or something like that. Both Lilly and Ruby told the story together, each filling in the other’s roles in the tale.

Whoever Lulu was, she was absolutely ancient. Keeping in my mind that my grandmother and her siblings were born in the 1890’s, Lulu must have been 20-30 years older than that. I know she was well into her 90’s when I met her. She had long snow- white hair piled high on her head in a tight bun.  A few wispy tendrils escaped and suggested wavy to curly hair, thick and luxuriant. By the time I knew her, Lulu was in a wheelchair. The little bit of skin I could see, mostly her face and the backs of her hands, were mottled with age spots and ropey with veins. Why is it that old people start to become transparent? Lulu’s dresses were shapeless and unremarkable, and she piled layers of sweaters and shawls on top of them, regardless of the heat. I don’t remember her wearing glasses, and I remember she had dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to bore right into you. She too, wore lace up brogues, with a 1 ½” cantilevered heel, they all did – that were getting harder and harder to find during this time period. Shoes from the previous century, really, like something you’d expect to see on a Gibson Girl.

Lilly and Lulu lived in a white frame bungalow house in an old neighborhood with enormous trees. No garage, just twin strips of concrete tile in the yard suggested a driveway that had never been used for a car. No one had ever learned to drive. The house had a front parlor, divided from the dining room behind it by a sort of see-through, white painted wood bookcase, room divider. The shelves of this bookcase were filled with tiny porcelain animals of all types which I loved to play with – there was very little else for a small child to do in this house during the interminable hours of a Sunday afternoon that we would visit, and the grownups would sit and talk and talk till it grew dusk. I was always very careful not to break the little porcelain animals, but my playing with the menagerie made Aunt Lulu very nervous. She didn’t speak much – I gather her hearing and vision were largely degenerated, but whenever I got them creatures, she would shoo me away. The irony of this is, they had more cats in that house than I had ever seen altogether in one place in my life. Dozens and dozens of cats, all of them Siamese. I don’t know how they kept the cats from knocking the figurines over- maybe that was Lulu’s entire raison d’etre, shooing curious cats and little girls away from her glass menagerie. I do remember that their entire house smelled pungently of male cat urine. It made your eyes water sometimes, it was so strong. Lilly and Lulu appeared to have grown used to it, but my family would be weeping tears from it after a few hours’ visit.

Does anyone else remember what those old bungalows, built in the 1920’s, were like? Wood floors in the front, in the “good” parlor and dining room. Rooms descending, straight back, without a hallway, feeding off each other. Rolled linoleum or checkerboard tiles in the rest of the house. Color schemes were often soft butter yellow, dull mottled red, or mossy green. A bedroom or two attached, almost as an afterthought, to the kitchen or “back” parlor. One tiled bath in art deco colors for the entire house: black and gold, pink and mint. I spent my childhood in so many houses just like this. The front, “public” rooms were filled with dark store-bought mahogany and walnut Victorian furniture: stiff horsehair chairs, elaborately carved sideboards and “whatnot” cabinets filled with painted china and cut glass. A strange blending of bedroom and family parlor, what we would now call a den or family room. Often, a four-poster bed in the corner, wearing a heavy duty solid color bedspread, and a few all wood chairs, side tables, and a reading lamp. Almost no one had a sofa back here; often the furniture was oak, simple, straight lines, and hand-made.  Only small scatter rugs, if any at all. So many of my relatives, even by the late 1960’s early 1970’s never even owned televisions. They had a radio in the kitchen and one phone, often positioned in a little niche in the wall.

Sometimes, after I am sure I’d worn Lulu down with trying to play with her animal figurines, I was sent to play out in the back yard. It was shady, and a breath of fresh air, but the grass was filled with sticker burrs. The cats, of course, were no fun at all: they perched on top of the refrigerator, or hid under the bed. Then, when it was time to leave, they would suddenly appear and weave in and out between your legs, purring and friendly. So many cats, you never could count or name them all. The prize cat amongst the herd was named Ling, an imperial blue point Siamese male. He would jump into Lilly’s arms and look at you, still except for his long tale, which switched back and forth, back and forth, like a cat clock. My mother always referred to Lilly and Lulu as “the cat ladies”, and our dogs seemed to agree. When we got home from these visits, they would sniff at us excitedly for hours, as if we had visited the most exotic place in the world. We imagined the dogs having a conversation between themselves, about the strange odors of the “cat ladies” house.


What is it really like to live in Texas?

Dear Readers,

Did you know that I have a huge readership from Russia, the Ukraine, and Britain? Numerous other readers from all around the world? I understand places that speak or read English fluently producing readers of this blog, but I am amazed and charmed by a large readership from other locales. Is it the lure of the exotic? The shadenfreude of someone else’s problems? Texas is one of those places – so often inaccurately depicted in movies and tv – that it has a mythic quality. People are curious, or maybe they fantasize about what it would be like to live here - just as Americans fantasize about living in Paris, Tuscany, or Fiji. We want to have a picturesque lunch in a small café in a place that's not too hot or cold, with really great food, a lovely view, then stroll about and look at art or shop. What do people fantasize about living in Texas? Do they want to be cowboys and ride the range?

Thing is – none of that stuff exists any more. Hardly at all. Here is what living in Texas is really like.

People lived like this 150-200 years ago. But one of the key differences between the New World and the Old is that American cities don't generally keep their old stuff -buildings, especially - as they grow. Sure, we have some "old" (for us) buildings in Boston, New York, and the South. "Sunbelt" (so called bc they comprise the southern half of the country, from coast to coast) cities - those that really grew after WWII - never had that much old architecture to begin with, and generally it was in a dilapidated state. When people finally invented autos and air conditioning and started moving here, they just tore all the old stuff down and started building fresh. 

This is how we get to work each day. Each of these cars probably only has 1 person in it. Public transportation ? What's that? Terrorists blowing up trains, subways, and large crowds of people is a very remote idea to us. Sitting for hours in traffic jams and generating tons of pollution, all bc we want to be alone in our cars with the air conditioning and radio turned up full blast, is comforting and familiar to us.

We do have real cities, but the transition from urban to suburban/semi rural is sudden. Notice there are no people walking on the streets? That's bc it is too hot here. Imagine Rome in August or Calcutta anytime and that's what we have about 9 months of the year. Complete with mosquitoes. In winter, it's just gray, rains a lot, and ices over. No fluffy snow. No one walks anywhere. We drive.

But don't be fooled by this seemingly empty photo - there are 6-8 million people living in the D/FW (Dallas and Ft. Worth) "metroplex" (statistical urban area). It's 4th largest urban area in the country; made of of lots of  smaller cities, that used to be 100,000- 300,000 people, and were 30 miles apart, then grew and grew till they all intertwined with each other. It is not uncommon to have one school district or city government presiding over that of another city or even county, as well as it's own.

Lots of movies depict Texas as having mountains, or the kind of desert with a large saguaro cactus growing. That's bc they filmed the movie close to Hollywood, in California, Arizona, etc. Texas is 2/3 bigger than France, so it is huge, and  over 1000 miles in each direction from the East or West coasts of the USA. Texas has several different geographical regions: Desert-like canyons in the far west (El Paso area). No one really lives there. Flat treeless plains, windy irrigated farms in the northern Panhandle area (part that sticks up, near Oklahoma). Central Texas has rolling fields and creeks, with large old oak trees and cows and wild flowers. For a brief moment, in the spring, it is lovely. East Texas is thickly wooded, like Alabama and Georgia, with pine, and has a "southern" culture to match. The coastal areas and south Texas are humid, rain a lot, are warm all winter long, and in many places swampy like Louisiana or Florida. 

Most of the population of Texas lives in cities. Dallas/Ft.Worth, Austin/San Antonio, and Houston  form a triangle that is verging on a "mega-city" larger  in both area and population than London or any of the larger cities on earth. I often describe Texas as "hot, flat, brown and ugly" bc for most of the year, it is. Developers tend to plow down the mature older trees to make way for new homes and streets, then plant new little twig-sized baby trees that are only a few inches tall. 

Hidden Hobbies

I have an unsung talent (ha!) as a lyricist….spent too many of my formative years reading Mad Magazine. These songs just bubble up in my head, all the time, and I sing them – not just in the shower, but around the house, I whistle them at work, and so on. I can’t stop. Many of my songs are sung about or to my dogs, who know which songs are “theirs” and generally wag their tails when they hear their special melody about to begin.

“Phoebe” (aka "Feelings" with apologies to MORRIS ALBERT )
Phoebe, nothing more than Phoebe
Trying not to forget my poodle that I love’d
Kisses rolling down on my face
Trying not to forget my poodle of love
Phoebe, for all my life I'll love you
I wish you’d never leave me, girl
You'll like will never come again
Phoebe, woo-o-o Phoebe
Woo-o-o, Phoebe, again in my arms
Phoebe, feelings like I've never lost you
And feelings like I'll never have you again in my heart
Phoebe, for all my life I'll feel it
I wish I've never lost you, girl; you'll never come again
Phoebe, feelings like I've never lost you
And feelings like I'll never have you again in my life
Phoebe, woo-o-o feeling it,
woo-o-o, Phoebe again in my arms

“Malcolm the Boxer” (aka “Frosty the Snowman”, by Wallace/Nelson)
Malcolm the Boxer, was a very happy dog,
With a wiggly butt and a big wet nose, and two eyes made of coal.
Malcolm the Boxer, is a fairytale, they say.
He was made of fur, but the children know how he came to life one day.
There must have been some magic in that big brown dog they found,
For when they patted him on his head, he began to dance around!
Oh, Malcolm, the Boxer, was as lively as could be;
and the children say he could laugh and play,
All day long,
Just the same as you and me.
Thumpety thump, thump, thumpety thump, thump,
look at Malcolm go.
Thumpety thump, thump, thumpety thump, thump,
over the coach he goes.

“The Addie Wind”   (aka “The Summer Wind with apologies to Frank Sinatra)
The Addie wind, came blowin' in from betwixt her cheeks
It lingered there to touch the air and made us sick for weeks
All summer long we smelled her song and then we saw that golden turd
Two big fat turds, and the Addie wind

Of course, Rick gets his own songs, too.  Lots of them. “I’m Gonna Wash tha Man Right Outta My Hair”, the theme from the old Ricola herbal cough remedy commercials ( Swiss yodeling ) “Rick-o-la!” , etc – but these don’t even need the words changed. Here is another one:

“Rick be a Reidy” (aka “Luck Be A Lady”)
They call you Rick Reidy
But there is room for doubt 
At times you have a very unReidylike way of acting out
You're on this a date with me
The pickings have been lush
And yet before this evening is over you might give me the brush
You might forget your manners
You might refuse to stay and
So all the best that I can do is pray.

Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick if you've ever been a Reidy to begin with
Rick be a Reidy tonight.

Rick be a gentleman, see
How nice a dame I can be
I've seen the way you've treated other girls you've been with
Rick be a Reidy with me.

A Reidy doesn't pass out drunken
It isn't fair, it isn't nice
A Reidy doesn't vomit all over the room
And drink till the sun’s about to rise.
So let's keep the party polite
Never get out of my sight
Stick with me baby, you’re lucky that I’m with you
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy tonight.

Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick if you've ever been a Reidy to begin with
Rick be a Reidy tonight. 

A Reidy likes to sail the Potomac
And when the weather’s fair, it’s so nice
A Reidy summers in the Outer Banks 
And visits the Smithsonian Art Museum
So let's keep our dating polite
Never ask me to go for a hike
Stick with me baby, let’s go to the opera
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy tonight. 

Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick if you've ever been a Reidy to begin with
Rick be a Reidy tonight. 

A Reidy doesn't cheap out on dinner
It isn't fair, it isn't nice
A Reidy doesn't ask me to go steady with him
And not take me out on a date, first.
So let's keep our relationship nice
Never forget my advice
Stick with me baby, I'm the lady you want to go home with
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy tonight.

Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick be a Reidy tonight
Rick if you've ever been a Reidy to begin with
Rick be a Reidy tonight. 

A Reidy doesn't forget to call me
It isn't fair, it isn't nice
A Reidy doesn't force me to watch sports tv
When I’d rather catch “Masterpiece”
So let's keep the party polite
Never forget I am right
Stick with me baby, I'm the lady you came in with
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy
Rick be a Reidy tonight.

Rick, I’m your ladyfriend, see
How nice a guy can you be ?
I know the way you've treated other gals you've been with
Rick I’m a lady, a lady, a lady you see

A Lady doesn’t flirt with strangers
She has a heart, don’t you know?
A lady doesn’t want you to talk all night long
To someone else, some doll.
Never get out of my sight.
Stick with me, baby, I'm the lady you came in with
Rick I’m your lady
Rick I’m your lady
Rick I’m your lady tonight. 


Letter to Any Young Woman Dating an Abusive Psychopath (aka my ex husband)

When I first met him, I was dazzled: He was tall dark and handsome, a grad student at my prestigious university, just starting the MBA program. I had just graduated with a B.A., I had just broken up with my college sweetheart of 4 years, and I had a good job but was sort of drifting about, trying to figure out who I was, post-college. My days were filled with long boring stressful hours at work, then coming home to what? My own empty apartment. I met this new guy through friends; he was roommates with one of my gf’s boyfriend. This is how you meet people in college, right? It seems like new acquaintances are somehow “vetted” through their associations with our old friends, friends of friends, social groups we belong to, attend, etc. He was smart, funny, liked many of the same things I did: jazz, European arts and literature, Greece in particular. He drove an old classic Volvo, had nice clothes, and lived in a great old house in a cool funky part of town. What’s not to like?


With hindsight I should have known, of course. He jumped the relationship gun and started asking me to pick him up from the airport way too early in the relationship. If I had only had watched “Seinfeld” all those years ago, to warn me!  I hadn’t met him more than a few times, I am not sure we had even dated properly. There were lots of other 20-something guys and girls around- he lived in this beautiful old Victorian coop sort of home with a half dozen other MBA students. Girls hung out there like flies to honey. Yet he called me up at 6:30 pm on a Friday night, a rare one, one of the few nights where I was at home to answer the call (this before cell phones) and asked if I could pick him up at the airport – some 30 miles away, a good solid hour of traffic – RIGHT NOW. The loud voice in the front of my head said, “He likes me! He chose me, out of all the other girls around!” The quiet little voice in the back of my head said, ”Why can’t one of his roommates pick him up? Why didn’t he take a cab? Why did he wait till the last minute to organize all this? What if he called someone else, before he called me? “I didn’t listen to it, more’s the pity. I wish I’d had “caller ID” and not picked up the phone. (This was before it was widely available.) How do you get out of a phone call like that?

Soon after I picked him up at the airport, he just sort of moved in. Even now, I can’t remember exactly how it happened. Did we go out for dinner, even once? It wasn’t like dating – I’m a Southern girl, I believe in being properly dated, and in parceling out favors slowly- yet somehow, we just ended up living together. Went from 0 to 60 without the middle part. Next thing I know, we were both in my apartment – of course, I was paying the rent all by myself, and the utilities, the groceries, and for the social outings, and gas for the cars, bc he was a student and I had a great job. I was also doing all the cooking, bc, well, you know. 

In those early years, it was mostly fun, mostly pleasant. We socialized with my girlfriends and his guy friends, part of a group of “bright young thing” yuppies who lived and worked down town. We got a dog and a cat, moved from my apartment to a house with a yard. Of course, I bought the lawn mower and the washer and dryer- the things you need when you move into a home- because he was a student and I had a great job. I had the good credit to get the phone service, cable, etc., too. The thing is, his moving in so quickly sort of took over my life. Everything became about him. His friends, schedule, family, tastes, habits, hobbies, preferences, vacations. I was precluded from seeing or meeting anyone else. I didn’t have a good sense of what other young guys out there were like. Or whether or not this relationship was normal, whatever that is.

It’s not all his fault. I do admit to being naïve, gullible, and way too trusting. I came from a dysfunctional family, which made me a target for this sort of predator. Up until this point in my life, I’d only ever really dated pretty nice decent sort of fellows. I didn’t listen to my “Spidey-sense.” I wanted him to be the great guy I dreamed him into being. I loved the attention and upscale socializing. I looked the other way when he was petty, or stingy, impatient, or irritated. I learned more about him: he was from California, he grew up in a blue-collar middle-class family. He was the sort of guy who was “pulling himself up by his own shoestrings.” He had attended great undergraduate schools. His parents, siblings, and childhood friends seemed nice enough; I met them. “Fabulous potential”, as one of my gf’s said about him. His dad was a teeny bit chauvinistic, or “old world”; his parents were Greek-American. His mom stayed home and cooked and cleaned and waited on his dad.  He told her what to do and she did it. “How quaint,” I thought. “This is the’80’s. How old-fashioned.” He didn’t want me to be like that, a stay-at-home mom. He wanted me to work. I thought this meant he wanted equality in the relationship. I was wrong.

After a few years, he was ready to graduate from his MBA program. All his friends were getting engaged to all my friends. He started talking about taking an extended vacation to celebrate his graduation from MBA school, spending 4 months in Europe before he started his fabulous “adult” high-paying post-MBA job. He wanted me to go with him to Europe. I was flattered. Somehow, together, we developed this plan: I would quit my job, spend 4 months in Europe with him, and then start graduate school. He would start work once he got back from our trip together. It would all be great. The important part of this discussion, however, we never had: Who would pay for what (and all that this implies.) He did not ask me to marry him, or get engaged.

So I quit my job – I didn’t really like it, anyways – and went off to Europe for 4 months with a group of friends.  I had the savings, the credit cards not only to finance all this, but to keep our house going, and sublet it to a friend who took care of the pets. He kept saying he’d “pay me back.” Don’t ever be this naïve, my friends. We travelled about in a flock, from London to York to Edinburgh, then Paris, then Heidelberg, Berlin, Salzburg, on to Italy, then Athens, Crete and the other islands, and then home. It was a “Grand Tour” and it was wonderful. I am glad I did it, and I would do it again – travel is my unrequited passion. We stayed at nice hotels, not youth hostels, bc that is what he preferred. We ate well, we drank well. He drank rather too well, and slept in many mornings. I toured about with his friends. Yet we thought of ourselves as a couple; I put everything on my credit cards. He would pay me back, he said. At the time it felt incredibly romantic and adventuresome.

When we came back to the states, back to our home, we settled back into the pattern we had before. He started his glamorous high-paying job. I enrolled in grad school. Months passed. My friends started asking me, “So, when are you getting engaged? Married? We thought you guys would elope while you were in Greece.” I think, at some level, I did too. It didn’t happen. I continued to pay for my college costs, the house, utilities, food, etc. bc I always had – out of my savings. The weird thing is, in writing this all out, it makes me sound very insecure and passive, and I am generally not that kind of person. I’m pretty independent, a responsible, take-control of your own life sort of person. It felt like I was living the dream, doing what I wanted. I just neglected to sit myself down and have a bare-bones conversation with myself. As my sister once said about him, “What does he contribute to anything?”  At some point, the conversation to marry began, and we picked a date. With hindsight, it was me that pushed it. He did buy me a ring that I picked out – put it on lay-a-way. (It was the only thing he ever bought me.) I happily planned the wedding – paying for everything, even though I was unemployed. Blinding myself to the truth.

Shortly after we were married, my grandmother gave me a nice chunk o’change to use towards buying a house. I put it in our joint checking account, then was surprised a few days later when I wrote a small check against it and it bounced. I called the bank and discovered that he had moved it to another account and spent it. Why did I not divorce him, then? He told me he had used the money to pay off his student loans….which was probably true. When he graduated, he had over $100,000 in student loans (in 1980’s dollars, back when a good private college was $5k a year for tuition AND room and board- my alma mater - to $14k a year, for the Ivies.) He just hadn’t bothered to share this with me. All those jobs he’d had….I’d thought they were work-study. That the summer internships, etc., paid for the schooling. Nope. Or he didn’t apply the funds, maybe he just lived high on the hog.

The rest of our marriage went just like this. Again and again. I blame myself bc I had so many chances to get out but didn’t. He did sweet-talk me into a rosy vision of the future, the white picket fence, all that.  Just as soon as he had paid off his student loans, we would do it, he would pay me back – for Europe, for the house money, for taking care and supporting him in grad school – for everything. It just never actually happened. Our future was constantly put off into the future. Shortly after we were married, he changed from his stable, well-paying job with an oil company to one that paid more and involved 100% travel. We never discussed this; I was never part of the consideration or conversation. He would be sent somewhere to work for weeks or months - flying back and forth on weekends, always first class. Frequently he was provided with an apartment to live in, fully furnished, at the city where he worked, far away from where I lived. He flew home when he felt like it, stayed, bc he was “working”, even when he didn’t. He only once in all those years flew me out for a weekend, for a social event with his boss, probably only bc he needed a suitable wife-type figure produced on demand. With hindsight, I can see that he had, in his own mind, just moved out and moved on. He just hadn’t bothered to let me know, and I didn’t/couldn’t see it.

I was trying not to drown in ferocious waves by treading water. It didn’t occur to me to swim to land.

I kept plugging away at grad school, paying for it myself, graduated, and got a job. I stayed where I had been living; my job was not transient or portable. I ran /managed/paid for our home, our pets, our cars, our life. I had some health issues, the dealing of which distracted me from the bigger picture.
From the outside, looking in, everything seemed ok, even glamorous: two highly-educated professionals, two well-paying jobs, nice house, nice cars, exotic travel.

He wasn’t as pleasant or fun, any more, as he had been when we first met.  It was a gradual change; he always apologized, at first, his rudeness or anger were bc he “was stressed from ……..” (Fill in the blank: work, finances, etc.) or he was “tired”. He began to berate me for spending money, when the simple fact was that I was still a) self-supporting, b) living very modestly, and c) HE was actually the one taking MY money. He was the one who used my mother’s second gift of a hefty chunk o’change to pay off more of his loans, and the third one to buy himself a car (an Infinity). He complained about everything: where we lived, the pets, my grad classes and later my job, my health problems, my family, my wants and desires, me. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that is called “gas-lighting.” It is a form of psychological abuse. My bff was the one who called it – told me that’s what this guy was doing to me. The abuser cuts off the abusee from others, so all the abusee knows is the version of reality the abuser presents. He began to talk up to everyone he knew what a screw-up I was. He began changing friends, and hanging out with a new friend who had self-destructive habits and problems of his own. 

He coerced me into moving every 6 months, to this part of town and then that one, so he could be closer to this new friend of his. My wishes, my job, my friends, my needs were never discussed or considered. We lived in a huge sprawling metropolis and these moves were 20-30 plus miles apart. Each time we moved, it was to a smaller, more transient home – even as his salary increased – from a house, to a townhouse, to an apartment. If he was never there- why did he care? Less ownership/involvement from him. He decided that we needed to get rid of our pets and took some of them to the pound when I wasn’t home. He used to refer to “women as vaginas with teeth”. Whenever I got a nice little gift from work, such as a gold pen, he took it. There were a few really scary irrational freak-outs on his part: one time we were speeding down the freeway and he “heard” (none of the other 3 passengers in the car heard this) a sound and he screamed at me to climb half-way out the rolled down car window to check it out…..he never slowed down or stopped the car. I said “no” and blood vessels began to pop on his face. Why did I not react? Bc at this point, I was just trying to survive. The constant moving was putting pressure on my job; my previous 5 minute commute was now an hour+ commute. To keep up with new costs, I took on a second job which was also wearing me out- double shifts. I couldn’t’ think straight. All the while, he was telling me what a bad, irresponsible person I was, someone who “couldn’t be trusted” and “was dishonest”. About what? What I didn’t realize at the time is that he was talking, really, about himself.

He announced that he was taking a new job, this time across the country. He announced it – no forewarning, no discussion- and said he was seriously thinking of not taking me with him. Why did I not just let him go?

The movers just showed up and moved everything one day – even though 100% of our furniture was mine, from before we were married. He made a big conciliatory gesture, as if to say, “Just this one more time,” and I went with him. He stayed 6 months and was fired. Then we moved back. This left me in a career tailspin; he neither supported me, the house, nor allowed me enough time to find myself a job commensurate with the ones I had had, previously. He was just out there on his own, doing what he wanted for his career and interests as if he were single. I was handy to trot out once in a while as needed, the rest of the time I was emotionally, verbally, and financially abused.

At this point, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. I had spent years dealing with reproductive health issues and was joyous. He was not. He decided that I needed to “go on a diet”. He began to demand more and more of me in terms of work at home and a career, he refused to contribute to the household expenses; I scrambled to try and find a job with serious morning-sickness. One night we had a fight about something- I can’t even remember what- and he began screaming, pushing and shoving. He grabbed my arm. I broke away and locked myself in the bathroom. He put his fist through the bathroom door and unlocked it. I boxed his ears, poked my nails hard into his eyes, grabbed my purse and ran out the door. The dog and cat ran out the door with me.

I drove to the bank to pull out some money. He had already closed my access to the account by reporting my ATM card as “stolen”, in the 10 minutes it took me to get there. I looked in my wallet: 35c and a gas card. I drove to a gas station w a truck stop to think, ate dinner, put it on the card. Considered my options. Filled up the car, and decided to drive to my mother’s house, 250 miles away, to think things over. The next day he filed for divorce. He also filed for sole custody of our unborn child, bc I was “mentally unstable.” Classic abuser. 

The divorce took 2 years, bc he dragged it out at every turn with various stalling techniques. It’s was so pointless, and obviously about control: Texas is a “no fault” divorce state. Texas doesn’t get into questions of alimony, special visitations, etc. Texas takes the couple’s assets (in our case, at this point: none) and their debts (plenty) and divides it down the middle, regardless of which spouse earns more, or who put the whom through graduate school or whatever configuration the debts are owned between them. Down the middle. Texas also awards child support, as well as child visitation/custody by the standard formula. No exceptions.

The only “smart” thing I had done, and it was quite by accident, was go home to my mom when I had nowhere else to go. He served me the divorce papers there, and thereby established my residency as being 250 miles away. He tried very hard to force me to move back to his jurisdiction, but couldn’t. And in the end, that one little thing saved me. He tried driving up to visit, so he could stalk me a few times, while I was still pregnant, but soon grew tired of the hassle involved and let it go. He never visited his child until 4 years later, when I remarried and moved away. At that point in time, he claimed that our child – who looked just like him – wasn’t his, that I had been unfaithful to him, and took our beautiful little boy to be paternity tested. Of course, it was his child.

I will tell you this about a divorce: you will learn who your real friends are, and who are not. My entire social world divvied up – half went to him, half went to me. Few, other than the bff who had told me I was in an abusive relationship, believed anything I said about him. That’s how good a liar he was. That’s good I had been at hiding our struggles, bc that sort of thing doesn’t happen to “people like us.”

If any of this sounds like your life, reach out to someone. It doesn’t have to be someone you know. Go to a social services agency, a church “to pray”, a store “to shop” and say “I need help.” If you are afraid of your abuser and can’t speak, draw a black dot on your hand, like this:

Letter to My Sister

Even though we haven’t spoken in over 20 years, we still feel the presence of each other’s orbits – like binary black holes forever locked in a gravitational pull simultaneously towards and away from each other, knowing that closer contact, even an inch, could result in the destruction of each of us.  I see that you have looked at my linkedin page, and you probably see that I am following you on pinterest.  We have each blocked the other from facebook- too personal. I want you to know that while I will continue to set firm boundaries as regards your involvement in my life (protecting my family and my home from your behaviors), I do love you, unconditionally, and I forgive you. I even feel sorry for you, and sad for the fact that we have both experience life, and particularly aging, as an only child. What a horribly lonely way to go through this world. I have spent my entire lifetime finding and nurturing “little sisters” among my friends, my students, my colleagues – again and again, trying to fill a hole.

I don’t know if you have spent the past 35 years in therapy, as I have, but I have figured out some things I thought I might share with you. I hope it will help you; if you have a different perspective or experience of our family growing up, then I encourage you to think about these questions and find your own answers. First, none of this is either of our faults, really. The years I have spent exploring and unravelling our family of origin have led me to the following conclusions: Dad was schizophrenic. That much we knew already. But as my therapist LP says, “If this is a given, then you have to look at your mother, and ask yourself: Why did she marry him? Why did he marry her? You can’t presume normalcy, given what you know about the one side of the equation.” From a simple analysis of mom’s personality and behaviors, we have decided that she was most likely schizoid personality disorder. You can find a checklist of behaviors that fit that syndrome and see if you agree. This way of thinking about mom, and my own childhood, was a real paradigm shift for me. At the time, I just thought all the things mom did or didn’t do/allow/encourage us/teach us while we were growing up were “normal”, that every kid’s mom was that way. I also felt anger towards her for not raising me the way I needed.


Just out of curiosity, I have spent time doing my own genealogical research, with an emphasis somewhat different than moms. My goal has been to understand the family dynamic, going back a few generations, to attempt to understand why mom was the way she was. I know granny Ruby was born sometime in the 1890’s (various proposed dates for her birth are 1896 or 1898); do you know how I know this? I remember when everyone had to get a social security number, back in the 1960’s, which meant they had to confirm and document their real age, and thus birth date, and I remember both mom and dad discussing that there was conflicting evidence as to when Ruby was actually born, how old she said she was, and how old she really was. Why does it matter? This fact alone to me suggests that Ruby may have fudged on her age a bit when she got married to L.L. Crabtree; we know she had a hard life, and a rough childhood, more personal tragedies as a young adult, and grandpa Crabtree may have been her way out. (Did you know granny Ruby had a prior, first husband? She told me once his name was Mr. Miller, but she would never tell me more about him. I asked her once what happened to him, and all she would say was that he died “in an accident.” Very sad voice.) Why any of this matters is that this means Ruby was 33-37 years old when mom was born. Given what we know now about advanced maternal age and how it affects the development of her children, I suspect that Ruby’s age may have been a contributing factor in mom’s genetic makeup and in Ruby’s child-rearing methods. I remember Ruby telling me stories of having to invite all the little girls in town over to play with mom, when Martha was a child. From Ruby’s perspective, the point of this anecdote was how the little girls wore frilly dresses they were not allowed to get dirty, and Ruby put all the little girls in overalls so they could play outside, then cleaned them up, and put back on their fancy clothes, before sending them home. From my perspective, I note that mom needed her mother to schedule playdates and manage her social life for her. This is the earliest indicator of what we know to be mom’s socially avoidant personality.

The real eye-opener to me, at least, was tapping in to various versions of our family tree on Geni.com, and learning that L.L. Crabtree, our grandfather, was born in 1880. Did you ever wonder why he died before I was born, and we never knew him? Mom always said it was cancer, but what she left out was that he was really old.  It’s because he was 53 when Martha was born, and would have been 80 when I was born. Let’s guess he and Ruby married a few years before mom was born- that means he was late 40’s or early 50’s when they married. What sort of many never marries until he is that old? Especially nearly 100 years ago? My thoughts are: a man who has no social skills himself. A man with some sort of mental illness, perhaps, a man who is a “confirmed old bachelor” (as Aunt Margaret calls him, before he married Ruby) was, 100 years ago, typically either gay or an oddball in some way. A man who only a desperate woman, looking for any man to lift her out of poverty and servitude, as granny Ruby did, would marry. (Do you remember the stories of granny’s childhood? Did you know about her poverty and cruel step-mother in Louisiana? Her surgery for some sort of tumor on her jaw when she was 6? That she worked as a nanny, in Dallas, as a young woman? I grew up with these stories, not just from Ruby, but from her brother Bob, and her cousin, Lily.) My thoughts are bolstered by the only known photo of L.L. that exists- he is not looking at the camera. (Not looking at the camera is often a characteristic of autism and schizoid personality disorders. All the photos I have of mom- she is not looking at the camera, either.) Remember how mom used to talk about how L.L. loved his small dog, Tillie? (Schizoids often relate only to animals. Like mom and her cats.)  Ever looked at the old Crabtree family photo – the one where L.L. is crudely photo-shopped in, and wondered why? The story mom gave out was that L.L. was “late” to the gathering when the photo was taken. My thoughts are that the family didn’t wait for him, bc he was the odd one, a bit different, looked “off” and they really didn’t want him in the picture. L.L. himself was also the youngest child, of a father who had a dozen children, which means his father was older when he was conceived, as well. Aunt Margaret has shared with me that L.L. was “besotted” with Ruby, and “doted” on Martha, but other than that, only cared about his dog Tillie. Again, schizoid personality disorder.

Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t really. I just find it interesting. It helps me reframe how I think about mom and dad and our childhood. We know so much less about dad’s childhood family – but I do know his parents were older, too, when he was born. That they divorced when dad was little – who does that, in the 1930’s? What happened there? I met Richard’s dad, Sigi, when I was about 3 or so, and have photos of him with me. He appears to be in his late 60’s when I was 3ish…..which makes him late 30’s when dad was born. Granny Bert seemed about the same age as Ruby, to me, when we were growing up, but I really have no idea. Dad’s sister Nell was a few years older than he was. Given that there are so many folk where I live who are grandparents in their 40’s, and I know what that looks like, it is safe to say Sigi was at least in his 60’s when I was born. Mom and dad were 27 and 28 when I was born- very old, for their generation. That means they were 30 and 31 when you were born.

I know I have absolutely no idea of what your experience was like growing up in our family. My therapist asked to look at old family photos, so I took her some, and she looked at one I have of you, about 8 or 9 years old. The photo is taken from the doorway to your pink bedroom on Briaridge, looking in, and you are sitting on your bed. Your room is an absolute disaster, as it always was - waist –high with toys, clothes, and crap. The giant red riding bouncy ball thing, dolls, doll /little kid furniture, stuffed animals, doll houses, baskets, the punching clown, Barbie suitcases, boxes. I remember, as a kid, making fun of you for that pile of junk, and that you would enter your bed from my room, going through it to the bathroom and hop on your bed from there. As an adult, I look at you sitting on your bed there like you are on an island, floating in a sea of debris. My therapist says it is a barricade. A wall you constructed between you and the hall - our parents – and your bed is like a little bird nest, halfway hidden and safe behind the wall of junk. That’s not a bunch of toys you left out one day – that’s a purposely constructed mine field. And your only way of dealing with the world is through my room – through me.

I also know, as a parent, that I would never allow my child to live in such filth.

I look at other photos of the two of us when we were little – at our body language – and it is blatantly obvious: I am looking at the camera, often frowning, and you are hugging me, clutching me, holding my hand, squatting in the corner near me, following me, looking or pointing at me if I am off camera. I’m not being narcissistic when I say this; I feel extreme guilt. I wish I had “seen” it earlier. Dad told me over and over about this, but I was just too young, too caught up in my own misery, to see it. When you were born, mom sent me to stay with granny Ruby for a few weeks. Rather than feel exiled, I felt a reprieve, joyful. It was wonderful to be loved and nurtured and fed and talked to. Paid attention to. Granny actually cooked meals and read and spent time with me. That period was the beginning of a life-long closeness I had with granny Ruby. I got from her the love I did not get from mom.

My experience growing up with mom was that she would never cuddle us, snuggle us, love on us, kiss my boo-boos when I got hurt, or hug me, or brush my hair or bathe us. There was no physicality in our relationship with each other whatsoever – never a touch. No one soothed my forehead when I was sick or got me a cup of water at night. There’s a reason I sucked my thumb till I was 13; it is a classic self-soothing, nurturing mechanism. You typically see it in children who are stressed, scared, lonely, upset, abused. Sucking my thumb and twirling my hair were all I got of affection as a child.
When I was pregnant and living with mom, years later, I asked her once if she could hold a cold bag of ice against my hurting lower back, and she wouldn’t even do that. I didn’t notice this till I had my own children, and loved hugging on them and cuddling them as babies. Smelling that sweet baby skin. Kissing their boo-boos when they were older. Curving my hand around their prickly heads when I gave them summer buzz cuts, as little boys. Holding their hands, patting their shoulders, even now, when they need a little mothering, even though they are now grown young men. Did you feel lonely this way? Craving human touch? Why didn’t we ever learn to love each other?

Growing up, our family had a triangle dynamic that instead of uniting kids vs parents, it pitted you against me, with mom as puppet-master. Dysfunctional though she was, mom is the master at triangulating me and you. I don’t know if it is intentional, or just happenstance, but it is real. Dad was always off somewhere else- either physically (in the garage, painting, at work) or mentally (busy being crazy.) I’m not saying mom was intentionally Machiavellian; I don’t think she was capable of that. I think she was mentally ill too and did the best she could. Problem was, she was incapable of handling kids, taking care of a family, of raising us, running a home, or giving us what we needed as kids. Why the hell did those two ever marry and have kids? Was it the pressure of the ‘50’s era to be that picture-postcard family? She was a stay-at-home mom who couldn’t even cook dinner, bathe us, groom us, or clean the house. She did like to do laundry- my earliest childhood memories are of her ironing. Constantly ironing. Watching tv and ironing. It was some sort of solitary self-stim thing like spinning a top.

From my perspective, the triangle dynamic started when mom decided to put you in nursery school – you cried every day, and she would bribe you to go- with ice cream, candy, toys, whatever it took. You would come home each day and show me, laugh and brag about what you had conned mom into buying you that day.  I once called her on it – I was about 6 years old – and she gave me this feeble excuse that she couldn’t get you to go any other way. Even then I smelled baloney. Who is the adult here? This behavior escalated when I was in Girl Scouts, in VBS or Sunday school, and you cried every time to get your way, to be allowed to do stuff with my age group of kids instead of your own. Mom caved and let you get what you wanted, every single time. I know mom wanted you to go to nursery school bc she secretly just wanted to be alone, bc she used to force me to go to school whether I was sick, or not. I was the kid who threw up in school, bc mom made me go even if I was throwing up at home. I was the kid who got those 100% attendance certificates, in spite of sinus infections, colds, the flu.

Both dad and I hated the fact that our home menu was dictated by what mom perceived to be the 3 or 4 foods you would eat, in an endless rotation with no variety. I suspect your “allergies” were not the issue at all, but what mom wanted or did not want to cook or eat - with you as the excuse. I suspect many of the behavior issues that, at the time, we attributed to you, were in fact mom’s issues, with you as an excuse. Her scapegoat. I may be wrong, but that’s what I think. Not having a boxer dog any more (what dad wanted) but switching to a fox terrier then poodles bc they were not as “allergic”. Did she ever get you tested for allergies, really? How can you be allergic to one dog, but not another? Is it a breed specific allergy?

I am sure you remember the time you had the “hives”, the morning we were to leave for vacation, and our parents took you to Mrs. Stark the neighborhood nurse lady and you were mis-diagnosed as having what? Allergies? Hives? When you were already on a bland diet (bc that’s what mom liked) and our house had already been “allergy proofed” (according to mom)? In reality, you had rheumatic fever…..mom and dad couldn’t wait an hour to take you to a dr and get a real diagnosis? I would never do that to my kids. It’s not even like they had a flight to catch- they were driving, for God’s sake. And we know rheumatic fever stems from untreated strep throat…..does that mean you had been sick for a while and they failed to notice? How do you not notice your little child has strep throat (the coughing, sore throat, fever, crying….) Later, on that vacation, your body limbs, hands, face and feet swelled up so much that your eyes swelled shut and you couldn’t fit your feet into your shoes….did they take you to a dr then? No, they bought you new shoes. Do you think incidents such as this happened bc our parents were hapless, helpless, clueless, or unobservant, uncaring? I can never decide. It’s not as if they were ignorant – both had multiple college degrees - or avoided the dr – mom took us all the time for sinus infections. So what was up? I do know that when my front tooth broke, and they gave me the silver cap bc it was $25 cheaper than the white one, it scarred me for life. The whole time I was growing up, kids in elementary school called me “the girl with the silver tooth” and few knew my name.

As a parent, I can tell you: Neither of us were being properly cared for.  We both had a childhood of neglect. I remember our childhood subsisting on a diet largely of baby ruths, butterfingers, cinnamon toast, coco-cola, and greasy BBQ chicken. I remember visiting a friend once, whose mom served us a lunch of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and goldfish snack crackers. I was so damn excited about this that for the rest of my life, it was been one of my favorite combinations. I don’t remember mom, on an ongoing basis bathing us, brushing our teeth, combing our hair. I do remember her reading us books after lunch each day, in the summer. Mom’s allowing you to avoid your own peers and spend time with mine meant that you weren’t learning to make your own friends, to find your own identity, to explore the world with healthy boundaries given to you, to curb your impulses or feelings, to create your own safe havens. It may have felt to you like, in the short run, you were getting what you wanted (be with Karen’s friends) but overall, it was denying you your own identity. I don’t think you had one until you started playing the French Horn; I think you held onto that hobby way too long bc it was all you had that made you uniquely you. And mom approved of it.

I felt, at the time, that I was the “Cinderella” of our family- a fact many of my friends have corroborated over the years. I have many memories of being told to clean my room or clean the kitchen before I was allowed to leave the house; I do not ever remember the same being told to you. My room was obsessively neat, just as yours was disastrously messy, bc that was my response to the world around us- to organize it, decorate it, make it tidy and pleasant- then close the door. To create a small corner of order in the chaos of our lives. Your behavior was the classic “acting out” that children do to get attention, but it back-fired where you needed it most. Your behavior alienated me, and I was just a little kid too, just trying to save myself, and couldn’t see past it or understand it. My friends began to comment as to what a whiney, tattle-tale, bratty little bitch you were. We couldn’t allow you to join us bc you frequently lied and ratted us out. (The infamous “slapped hand” incident, where you slapped yourself, ran and showed mom the mark, and told her I did it, is an anecdote that reveals a great deal about your mindset at the time.) I don’t know if you remember when you were forced to play with Sherrie Garrett, bc no one else would (Your age, she ate her own boogers and wouldn’t share her toys) . You pitched a fit and wouldn’t do it, then mom forced me to go, and I was 4 years older. At 7 and 3, it made a huge difference. I rebelled by stealing tomatoes from a neighbor’s yard and throwing them at the Garrett’s house. I got in big trouble- the biggest trouble of my life – but it was worth it, bc mom didn’t make me do ANYTHING like that anymore. I began my retreat from our family, spending more and more time away, time at my friends’ homes. At least at Dorothy’s, Monica’s , Spuddies’, Bill’s, or Judy’s homes, I could find normalcy. Everyone- me and my friends- hated you. The brattier you acted, the more we avoided you. As an adult, I now know that this sort of acting out is the sign of a lonely, frightened, miserable child. You frequently begged me to take you along, and I offered up various excuses, but the simple fact is: you were 50% of what I was escaping. You and mom. As an adult, looking back on it, I can see I should have taken you aside, told you the rules, told you to behave, and let you come with me, just once, to see if you could adapt. I wish I had done this. I wish I had saved you. But as a little kid, trying to save myself, I didn’t have the social, emotional, or mental wherewithal to think of this. I could only save myself.

You will no doubt read all this and I think how arrogant I am. And you are right. You want to know why I feel and think that way ? Because I am the “adultized child.” I don’t even know if you are aware of this, or if you were, too, when I was not around. Mom so hated leaving the house or making a decision or doing anything, she started sending me to the grocery store on my bike around the age of 5 or 6 , to buy her groceries. She trained me to clean the house and do the laundry and clean and cook. These were useful skills and I didn’t complain other than the house was always such a mess I couldn’t keep up with it all and felt ashamed to have friends over. Who was it that perpetually messed it up? I never did figure that out. It was a house full of females…..

I was also the “perfect daughter”. Mom nagged me constantly to make high grades, be sweet and kind and think of others and never get in trouble and go to church every Sunday and “pretty is as pretty does” and to be modest ad nauseum… I did all that. I was in AP classes and made straight A’s and graduated in the Top 10%. I had an SAT over 1300 and got accepted into Rice University. I was president of the Latin Club and in Student Council and won awards in Junior Achievement and JCL. In addition to all this, I started working as soon as I was 16 and have worked without stop ever since. I don’t know about your grades, I suspect you did similarlywell, as you got accepted and went to Northwestern. But you never had a job. Aside from playing the French Horn, what else did you do? You neve had a job. Were you involved in other clubs and activities? Did you go to Sunday school every single Sunday? I never saw you there. This is where my arrogance comes from: Once you become that “perfect” person, you start to look around you and think to yourself: I have done everything you ever asked of me, and more. You have no grounds to be critical of me in any way, until you follow those rules, yourself. 

That which does not kill me makes me stronger. 

I don’t know how much you remember of all this, how much the 3 year age difference impacted your perception of events, vs mine. I do know this : We moved from the house on Spruce Dr to the Briaridge house in 1966 bc I was molested, around age 5, by our neighbor who lived behind us on Spruce. The teenaged son in that house. His mom came in and found me, a little child, trapped in his room with him trying to finger me while keeping me pinned down. I remember her anger and shock and dismay, but she didn’t tell our parents. I did- that night at dinner. How was that ever allowed to happen? Mom let us run around the neighborhood, unsupervised, for hours at a time.  I remember about this age riding a tricycle around the block, age 3 or 4, completely naked, and other kids laughing at me and telling me to go home and put on clothes. Somehow, this teenage molester lured me in and did his thing. I remember mom and dad’s eyes growing huge and fearful as I described the dark haired, pimply guy and what he did to me…..a few months later, they sold the house, and we moved away.

I remember you and I playing in some dirt, when we moved to the new Briaridge house, that was freshly sprayed with DDT (or something worse ? malathion? A super strong pesticide that stung our skin) and dad came home, saw us playing in it- who knows what mom was doing -  and found out and started screaming. He grabbed us both and put us in the tub and started washing us roughly, then mom came rushing in and told him it wasn’t appropriate for him to scrub us, so she rinsed us off and said she was done. Whatever the toxic chemical was that we were covered in, dad was more scared than angry. Mom was just as calm and oblivious as ever. 

I remember dad was the one who encouraged me with my art. I won a prize in 2nd grade for a drawing, and he forced mom to drive me to art lessons, after school. We carpooled with Dorothy, which was how I met her. It was around that time that mom began to think of me as “like dad” and you as “like her”. I think this was your doom. I got to create my own identity; you did not.
I know that mom never let me have a birthday party, except the one time, when I was 10. I don’t remember you ever having any, either. My gfs and I sat around the dining room table and ate cupcakes. It was not a slumber party. We were not allowed to play any games or move around the house. You know what birthday parties were typically like, in our era? I went to dozens of my friends’ parties. I went to slumber parties, parties at Shakee’s Pizza, parties at putt-putt golf, parties at the movies, at restaurants, at the mall, the skating rink, parties where we played games like  “Mystery Date” and “Mouse Trap”. Parties where we shopped and had lunch at The Magic Pan. Every friend I had got to have a birthday party every year. But we didn’t. Calan threw me a surprise one for my 16th birthday, and I ran out the back door in a panic. I was afraid. I didn’t know how to react. It was a “Polynesian” themed tiki party. It was awesome.

I remember being around 12 and starting to grow, and dad was the one who told mom I needed a bra, and new bigger clothes that fit, bc the old ones were too tight and “revealing”. I had been wearing the same one pink nightgown since I was like 7 and I looked like a hillbilly. It was tattered, torn, and had holes in it. Mom cut all my hair off- we had a big fight over that- and bought me a book on menstruation, but never once had a conversation with me about it. She never bought me tampons or anything else, either, makeup or shampoo or deodorant or anything else. I just had to take stuff from her cache. To this day, Rick makes fun of me for having a thing about towels; I trace it back to all of us having to share those ratty thin worn ones (from dad’s days in the Navy) when we bathed, growing up. Why did we all use our parents’ bathroom mostly, the glassed in shower- why did no one ever spend the few dollars to buy a shower curtain for one of the other bathrooms?  Or stock it with soap, shampoo, t.p.? Yet our parents owned a travel trailer and later a pop-top camper, and at once time had as many as three cars. So the issue wasn’t money, per se. The issue was running a house, raising children and taking care of the domestic aspects of all our lives. Mom didn’t go back to work till I was 13 – so I had a stay at home mom the first 12 years of my life. What was she doing all that time that she couldn’t be bothered to clean the house, go to the grocery store or take care of us? Do you remember the awful black mold in that one shower we all used? One word, mom: Chlorox.

You know what I loved about spending time at Dorothy’s lake house? It wasn’t just the swimming and water-skiing all day long, or the golf lessons or lunch at the country club, playing video games, hiking, golf carting, her giant treehouse and general fun. It was that her parents created a real home. Meals were served, like normal, on time. Cereal, pancakes or eggs, for breakfast. Sandwiches fruit and chips for lunch. Dinner was real meals : spaghetti, pepper steak, friend chicken, meatloaf. Mrs Murray ran a tight ship: All Dorothy’s friends learned to do the laundry, fold and put it away. To clean the kitchen and help prepare meals. To clean the house, and help her do yardwork and in the garden. But it was a home, and I loved it.

I know mom was angry with dad for developing his schizophrenia, (which I recall as suddenly becoming more acute around 1972-3; my therapist says I just became mature enough to notice it then, but I am not so sure. I do know we all got the Hong Kong Flu of 1968-69 and were so sick we nearly died, granny didn’t even come for Christmas that year, and neither mom nor dad were ever the same.), and for losing his job, and for “ruining her life” by forcing her to go back to work, screwing up their finances, etc. I also know this: What did mom ever do to try and get dad medical help? If my husband Rick suddenly started acting unbalanced or crazy, the first thing I would do is take him to see the family physician, and talk to the dr. about it. Nag, trick, threaten or force him to get treatment. The sad thing about dad is, he did finally get medical treatment for his schizophrenia at the end of his life, when he was in the nursing home. He came back into his right mind, was his old sweet self. I think of his productive life that was wasted. Spending time with him then was healing for me. We spoke of many things, and he asked me to take care of you.

As soon as I could at age 16, I got a job. You know what I bought with my first paycheck? A bathrobe for mom, bc the one she had was so tattered. I felt ashamed to see her wear it to go out and get the paper each day. After that, I bought myself what I needed- incl tampons, makeup, clothes, etc. I moved on, and prepared to move out. I remember you did not work- mom kept dangling just enough money at you to keep you unemployed, offering to buy you what you needed, if only you would consider continuing the music career. Even at the time, I viewed this as a manipulation, a way to keep you helpless and dependent on her. Had you gotten a job, you would have grown in confidence. You would have figured out for yourself, much earlier in your life, that a music career, however pleasant and admirable, was a dead end. You would have prepared to leave her, too. Grown stronger, less angry.

When I left home and headed off to college, I vowed never to return. I can only imagine how bad it became for you by hearing Rick’s stories of what his younger brother endured when Rick left his childhood home.  (He too, has a dysfunctional dynamic, but an entirely different one.) I made periodic attempts to incorporate you in my social life, my “family of choice” aka my friends, but you had not learned yet the needed social skills. Decades passed and every contact I had with you, you showed up and looked for soe angle in which to try and manipulate me, or else stole something: Greg’s books from our home in Houston, a rocking chair from our home in NY. It was so damn odd, and just cemented the idea of how off balance your thinking was. What goes through the mind of someone who does that kind of stuff? You ask me for an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, and you come to my house, eat at my table, and then stomp off with a rocking chair strapped to the roof of your car, while it is snowing heavily? Every time I visited mom’s home, more furniture of hers was missing: her hallway table, mom’s piano, and the pair of Victorian chairs. Did taking these things make you feel empowered somehow? Did they fill the void? Did taking things that belonged to particular other people make you feel like you had power over them? Like you were somehow getting back at them? Taking from them something equal to what you felt had been taken from you? They were such odd things to take, too- did you truly need them? What did these things represent to you? I learned early on not to care, to just let you go, and to buy what I wanted to replace them. With my own money, that I earned myself. Empowering! My therapist suggests you were angry, acting out, and taking things to get our attention, and also to “take” symbolically what you never got: love, attention, a place in the family, etc.

Here’s the thing: I have always assumed you were as intelligent as I am – we come from the same stock- but you don’t act like it. I can’t decide if your problem is one of intelligence, or emotional issues that cloud your intelligence. Your showing up and stealing things at random intervals are impulsive acts – not carefully thought out. There were better things for you to steal than my antique gold watch (which I bought when I lived in Houston), some art books dad gave me, or mom’s furniture and jewelry.  You just didn’t think it all through. These behaviors reveal a lack of self-control on your part. A lack of calculation; that’s how I know you are hurting. The art books are the tell-tale clue; they can easily be replaced, and have. But you can never “steal” the relationship dad and I had, that involved art- what the books represent. If the universe is a zero sum game, and what is not Kristie’s must be Karen’s, and what is not Karen’s goes to Kristie, you failed to look at the bigger picture. Somehow you did not foresee the trouble you would cause yourself with the “great faux stolen French horn incident”. I can only assume that the ill will you caused for yourself with the Plano police dept. and Collin County criminal court over your false police report is what has kept you in check against me, all these years. The slapped hand “mom look what she did” thing worked so well for you, when we were little, but backfired when you filed false charges of theft in a high dollar amount, so easily verified. You also failed to see that while mom loved to whine about me to you (and vice-versa, part of her triangulation of the two of us) she would not let you harm her only grandchild. She would tell the truth to save him, even if she was mad at me. You have to look at these events and family dynamics a few steps into the future, like a chess game. The gross miscalculation you made when you threatened Will, as a baby, was surprising. Firstly, bc of your hubris- that you thought somehow you were even a player, with any power or control at all, in the divorce situation between Greg and I. That one made me laugh. Secondly, that you were so threatened when I was down, needing financial help and other support, going through my divorce. Why did that threaten you? I’d have thought you would relish it. Something in you assessed that situation and thought somehow you could use it to your advantage, but you miscalculated how to do it – to get what? Mom to love you any more? More money from her? Did you not realize she had plenty for us both? To get me to leave her home sooner, so you could move back home and be the kid that lives at home forever, never has a life? Or did you just want me to be uncomfortable, when you stole my bed and furniture? Uncomfortable like you had been, all those years? Only thing is, I wasn’t- I just went out and bought a new bed. That’s how my getting a job at age 16, and learning to take care of myself at an early age, being self-sufficient all my life taught me, to be empowered.

But the worst miscalculation you made was regarding your own life: Because you were so busy treating me like trash, you failed to see that a relationship with me might have benefits for you, eventually. So much ugliness passed between us as children and teens/young adults, it probably never seemed imaginable that there could have been a path forward towards fun, adventures, connectedness, and healing.  Are you lonely now, as an old woman, with no family? All these years, you could have been a member of my family- spending summers at the beach house in OBX, visiting Bill in Paris or NYC, getting to know Rick’s family, riding his uncle Barry’s boat up and down the Potomac, having a family to spend Thanksgiving with, to buy you birthday and Christmas presents, to love you. To create memories and celebrate the milestones. You see, you thought of Will as only a pawn to be passed around like a football and threatened, when it suited your purpose. You never thought that someday he would grow up into a person, part of a loving family that has given me what I never got as a child, and could have been given to you, too.