Tag: family drama

Over the Threshold: The Mystery of My Dad’s Missing Love

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image via fitsnews.com
image via fitsnews.com

Baltimore writer Holly Morse-Ellington believes her newly divorced father has a super serious girlfriend–unfortunately, thanks to her dad’s close-lipped nature, her best information source is a tiny barking dog.

My parents’ divorce has been a long road for me. Maybe it’s not my road to travel. But that’s the thing about family. No matter how carsick their problems make you, you’re stuck in the backseat. Hands tugging at the child safety locks activated on the doors. Head hanging out the window and panting, “Are we there yet?”

Whit’s End: In-Law Trouble

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christmas-drama-3

Hi Whit,

When my husband and I were dating over 10 years ago, I introduced my friend to his brother and they eventually got married—and now they are getting divorced after having had two children who are now 5 and 7. The break-up was nasty and there are hard feelings, especially because my BIL accused my SIL of having had an affair, which she never did.

Recently, while they were separated, my (and her) FIL died and my BIL refused to let my SIL  (his wife) attend the funeral at the church with her children.  My SIL is very upset because she wants to be with her kids so that she can console them during a traumatic event.

Obviously my BIL wants to punish my SIL by excluding her from the funeral because that’s the kind of mean, vindictive person he is.  My SIL and I agree that the damage to the kids should be more important than getting revenge, but don’t know what to do about it.

My SIL wants me to talk to my husband to see if he can somehow persuade his brother to be reasonable. However, my husband says that he is going to stay out of it because it’s between his brother and his wife. What do you think I can do? Should I try to do anything at all?
Stuck in the Middle

The Story of Job: A Readers’ Quiz

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From A Child’s Bible, Lessons from the Prophets and Writings by Seymour Rossel.

1. “Oh, dry bones! God will breathe life into you,” said ______________.

If the prophet Ezekiel comes to my house I will show him my home mausoleum, located on top of the bookshelf in my living room. Look, Ezekiel, here’s my mother in the silver ice bucket that she won with my dad in the 1965 Husband and Wife Tournament at Hollywood Golf Club in Deal, New Jersey. I would have mixed a little of my father in there with her but robbers stole him, in his hermetically sealed brown plastic box, out of my mother’s jewelry drawer back in the ’80s.

I also have my first husband Tony and our stillborn son, whom we called PeeWee. Originally each was in a red covered urn with a cardiac shape, a big one and a little one, but PeeWee’s smashed when my second husband threw a ball for the dog. I tracked down the young potter, who was older by then, and he kindly made a replacement. It was much larger than the first, as if the ashes might have grown by age 17.

2. “All your children are dead,” said ________________.

All 10 of Job’s kids, seven boys and three girls, whom he worried about constantly, were having dinner at his oldest son’s house when it was hit by a tornado — that’s what the messenger told him. My friend Ellen was home when she got the call about the car accident on the way to the birthday party. Every day Ellen wakes up and gets this news again. Audrey’s dogs Mocha and Cookie are still waiting for her to walk in the door; it has only been three years.

None of my children are dead, except Peewee, and I have let him go. I could not hold on to a sadness that size for very long. Now it is absorbed in the bones and the fluids of my body. I have three other children who have survived their lives so far and I have my dachshund, who is exactly the size of a baby. In the morning when we are rolling around nosing each other, I say “I love you” over and over and he puts his paw, a big paw for such a short leg, a tawny paw with roughened pads and curved black nails, on my cheek as gently as if it were a hand.

3. “Do you still believe in God?” said ________________.

This was Job’s wife, a nudnik renegade at the end of her rope after watching her husband’s reaction to the loss of their children, their possessions and his livelihood. He just sat there on the floor, scratching his oozing sores with broken shards of pottery, something like the pieces of Peewee’s urn. What happened to her after that is not totally clear. It seems she stuck with him.  I have a tattoo of my ex-husband’s initials on my right shoulder blade. It turns out I made a bigger decision when I got those initials tattooed on me than I did when I married him. We were able to undo our marriage but I cannot undo this tattoo. It has been absorbed into the material of my body. After considering having layers of my skin removed by laser, or having the tattoo somewhat hidden by a much larger tattoo of something I chose only for its camouflage potential, I began an affair with my ex-husband.

4. “People should be happy when God punishes them for doing wrong,” said ________________.

Since I started having health problems and had to quit drinking, I have become more and more extravagant in my fantasies of indulgence. I want to stay up all night doing cocaine and drinking Veuve Clicquot. Or have carloads of OxyContin delivered from pharmacies in Canada and wash it down with hits of ecstasy and tumblers of gin and grapefruit juice. I think this is approximately what Job felt, although he expressed it somewhat differently, at least in the King James Version. But instead of being allowed to climb back up into his mother’s womb and sleep forever, or even wash himself clean with snow water, what he got was a parade of moronic friends like Elihu coming over to make insensitive comments, which just shows you how realistic the Bible can be.

5. “If you were really good, God would answer your prayers,” said ________________.

6. “You are being punished even less than you deserve,” said ________________.

7. “God’s justice is always straight,” said ________________.

You are being punished even less than you deserve? Bildad, Zophar, Eliphaz, what were you thinking? Not straight, not just, not God or good, that’s for sure; it sounds more like Old Testament S&M to me. Why do we always want to make people’s suffering their own fault? He was drinking. She was careless. He refused the operation. They were not wearing seatbelts. The door was not even locked. She used poor judgment, she did not listen, she wore a short skirt. Enough, Mr. Potato Head, find someone else to torture with your theories and your chit-chat. Job, did you think of getting a dog?

8. “I am nothing. Forgive me,” said ________________.

Said Job, of course, who would have said anything at that point.  Apparently it all worked out well for him. He got a new house, new kids, patched things up with the wife. His boils healed and he lived 140 more years. What I think is, he just could not hold on to a sadness that size. That is the one gift we have against all this trouble: our weakness. Things go wrong, people are dopes, your body is fragile, the ones you love can’t help, even your children are crushed in the unfeeling vise of time. But if you don’t kill yourself or become a hopeless addict or die some other way, you go on and more things happen. Eventually, some of them are good things. Ask the Jews. Ask anyone. Someday, when we are 140 years old, I will ask my friend Ellen.

 

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

Undercurrent: A Sex Scandal’s Sudden Impact

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I’d asked my brother one favor in my life—officiate my wedding. He could click a few icons on the internet and become ordained within the day. He laced his fingers and tucked them under his chin before responding.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said.

Months later he gave my fiancé, Bruce, and me an answer. He and his wife, and our parents, were visiting from out of town for the Thanksgiving weekend. Bruce and I expected to be under some pressure—it was our first time to host a family holiday. We labored over curried sweet potato soup and pear tarts. Bruce rotisseried the turkey since we’d overloaded the oven. Everyone had seconds. After dinner we squeezed into our galley kitchen to clean up. My sister-in-law and I sang along with the iPod while loading the dishwasher.

Just as I’d declared this to be one of my favorite family Thanksgivings, my brother wanted to see me and Bruce. He beckoned us to the basement. A principal summoning troublemakers to his office. Bruce and I squeezed beside each other on the loveseat. My brother alternated between sitting and standing in front of us.

“I’ve prayed long and hard on the question you asked me,” my brother said.

I’d heard this tone before. He’d come home early from college one night to find our house empty of parents and full of teenagers. He’d tell mom and dad on me if I didn’t.

“A marriage requires three relationships,” he was saying. “Each partner has a relationship with himself, with his partner, and with God.”

His gaze shifted like a finger wagging from my blue eyes to Bruce’s. I’d sat on the same pew with my brother from childhood through adolescence. I’d assumed he managed the long services the same way I did, by daydreaming. But there he stood, dispensing with chapters and verses as naturally as a seasoned preacher. Bruce, not as easily worn out by sermons, leaned forward on the edge of the couch.

“This isn’t easy for me to say,” my brother continued. “I can’t in good conscience vouch for you to God.”

Memories I’d dismissed in favor of keeping the peace resurfaced. My brother was absent for my 13th birthday party and for my high school, college, and law school graduation ceremonies. I never knew his reasons. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he hadn’t just told me in so many ways that for all these years he’d been disappointed with my lifestyle. That what I mistook as disinterest was really his aversion to the partying that accompanies me like a pet. I’d asked him to officiate my wedding to improve the bond we’d lately developed. I had, after all, attended and read a passage at his wedding.

He’d reconsider his decision if we attended church, preferably a Church of Christ, for an ample number of Sundays. He’d let us know when our relationship with God was satisfactory. The wedding was five months away.

“Don’t worry,” said Bruce. “This might do us some good.”

 Two weeks later, I was sat down again for a talk. Bruce spoke this time.

 “Your brother was arrested.”

 “What the hell?” I asked.

 Bruce rubbed his palm over his hair.

 “Your brother is in jail,” he said. “He’s a sex offender.”

My brother, a high school teacher, had sexual contact with a student. A relationship that was not among the trinity of sacred relationships he’d identified. He was charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and unlawful use of a minor in a sexual performance, a misdemeanor. Mom and dad scrambled in the middle of the night, maxing out ATM withdrawals and family generosity to post the $5,000 bail.

The alleged crime occurred five days after my brother rejected us as the ideal candidates for marriage. We’d yet to discard all the containers of Thanksgiving leftovers. I’d yet to discard my resentment over the lecture. Bruce braced himself for my response, familiar with my tendency to yell instead of cry.

“Who does he think he is?” I screamed.

“I’m totally shocked,” Bruce said. “We’ve been emailing each other. He sends me Bible verses along with his reflections. No one’s ever cared to talk to me about this stuff before.”

Bruce slumped in the chair as if he’d been Tasered. I shouted until my throat tightened. I’d grown up wanting my brother’s approval. I’d brought my soon-to-be husband into the quest. How could my brother do this to us?

Somehow I moved past the legal charges. The 17-year-old girl had consented. Pursued even, depending on who you ask. The law even permits women her age to consent. If my brother hadn’t been a teacher, a person of authority, then no laws would have been broken. I pitted myself against his attorney for failing to mount what seemed like an obvious defense. My brother wasn’t her teacher. Wasn’t even her coach or advisor. He’d filed a complaint with the principal that she frequently loitered around his room.

It was one thing to save my brother from a stupid lapse in judgment. But I had no interest in saving our relationship from his hypocrisy. The man who implied that I was unfit to be a wife had cheated on his wife—a development achieved in fewer days than it took God to create Earth. He’d forced his credibility on us like a vapor trail in the sky. Now Bruce and I were left squinting, questioning whether it had ever been there.

For reasons concealed behind the curtain of marriage, my brother’s wife stayed. I admired her capacity for forgiveness. The only reason I spoke to my brother was in an effort to help his case. I unleashed my anger and disappointment through running and boxing. From the outside I was a regular bride-to-be getting in shape before the big day.

Weddings are one of the few times that women get a pass for being completely selfish.  My dad didn’t care one way or another, but Mom always had lofty aspirations of my brother and me becoming close. After heartwarming episodes of 1980’s family dramas like “Our House” she’d say, “I just wish you cared about one another like they do.” It was a nice fantasy that I hoped at least once in my life to make come true. With Mom crying every day, there was no better opportunity. But not enough time had passed for me to play the star sister. I was still too angry.

I told my brother we no longer needed him to officiate, just in case given his new circumstances he deemed us satisfactory marriage material. He’d offended me by expecting me to be perfect and now I’d returned the favor. I envied those brides whose temper tantrums were limited to flower arrangements and place cards. 

After shuffling the wedding party around, I transformed a bridesmaid into a minister overnight. It took those few clicks on the internet and a long hug. Almost what I’d imagined.

We weren’t sure if my brother could attend the wedding. There was the issue of whether he could travel out of state. Court proceedings had started. The prosecution had tacked on more charges, as prosecutors tend to do. Our family was uncertain about each day. I couldn’t ignore the possibility that mom might have to choose between providing her son moral support in the courtroom and providing her daughter words of wisdom before she walks down the aisle.

Only Bruce and my bridesmaids knew the family secret. It was rare enough among our friends and family that someone was arrested. A sex offense was inconceivable. Back home my family endured newspaper headlines, evening news updates, and trips to the grocery that were filled with insults and glares. I could have given Bruce’s family and our friends more credit for being compassionate, but I didn’t take the chance. I added “shield my family” to my to-do list. At least I could provide one weekend where they felt human enough to make eye contact.

Despite the situation, my wedding brought my best bonding milestone with my brother. We joked, convinced that Dad had stuttered while giving me away. We poked fun, concerned that uncoordinated dancing ran in the family. We posed for one family picture after another. An all-American bride in ivory lace with an all-American family surrounding her.

What I don’t see in the pictures, what I didn’t see that day, was a man who knew his fate. My brother had entered a plea agreement to spare the family from a highly-publicized trial. Behind his sheepish grin, his kisses with his wife, and his socializing with my friends was a man who knew he was going to prison. His ability to distance himself had been the ongoing source of pain between us. During my wedding weekend he maintained an emotional distance from the impending jail cell. It wasn’t the favor I’d asked for, or the skill I’d admired, but it was a sacrifice on behalf of sibling solidarity. He began his five-year sentence in a maximum security prison while Bruce and I were on our honeymoon.

His Thanksgiving speech and behavior drift in and out of my mind like dust particles. It’s easier now not to take it personally. Imparting his beliefs was his way of stepping into the older brother role he hadn’t filled. But it’s upsetting to think that maybe his doubts were instincts about his marriage, not mine. Doubts more likely about his relationship to himself, his wife, and God. Doubts about whether he was in a position to say, “Repeat after me.”

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