I had lunch with a fellow attorney this week. As we chatted, we slipped into sharing skeletons from our own families’ closets. We had agreed, being family lawyers, that there are no “normal families.” We all have closet skeletons, don’t we?
I have no problem sharing my family’s skeletons—I can talk ad nauseum about my own marital travails. I’ve written before about my father, an alcoholic womanizer who is now gone. Lest you believe I am idly speaking ill of the dead, let me just say this: I loved my father—love and miss him still—but things are what they are. There’s not a soul who knew him who would deny the characterization I have just given him. Even he, who would deny the alcoholism (I guess he just chose to get slobbering, pants-wetting drunk) would admit, proudly, of the womanizing.
My friend was a bit more reticent, but here’s the story that came out.
There are five siblings, of which she is the least. When she was a high-school senior, her parents divorced, amicably. They remain friends. Neither has remarried. Although she did not say so, I fill in blanks to determine that another man was involved. My friend, we’ll call her “Sharon” for convenience, said that as the years went by, “Joe” became a sort of fixture in her mother’s life. The affair lasted nearly another twenty years.
All knew that Joe was married with a family at home. Sharon says that half -way through the years, all knew that the Wife had found out. She didn’t say how, only that Wife knew of Sharon’s mother. If there was ever altercation about it, Sharon did not mention it.
According to Sharon, her mother was the beautiful, well-cosmeticed-coifed mistress. She entertained Joe some week nights, some weekends. They traveled some together. He showed her a good time; Sharon’s Mom was arm candy. According to Joe, his wife was lackluster in all regards. But he always went home to her and he always spent the “real” holidays with her and his family.
Sharon related one conversation that she had with her Mother, admitting that even now it pains her because of its sadness. Mom had said to Sharon that Joe had never seen her without her face made up and she presentably dressed. When Sharon challenged her on this (how can you travel with a man and him not see you early mornings?), her mother replied quite sincerely and even proudly: “I always make absolutely sure that I am awake and out of the bed first. By the time Joe wakes, I have showered, put on my make up, fixed my hair and dressed. He loves it—remarks on how dreary it is to wake to his wife in her old bathrobe.”
Can you spell:
Reminds me of Geishas…must exist to please the man…
Sharon railed at her mother about the evils of trifling with a married man. As Sharon and her siblings married and began their own families, Joe tried to insert himself in grandfatherly roles, providing Christmas gifts. Sharon and two of her sisters always—always—returned them, vowing not to model for their children that it was okay to carry on as Sharon’s mom and Joe were doing. It was a strain: showing disapproval while still, yet, wanting relationship with Mom.
Then she came to the real point of her story. Joe was a smoker. He developed lung cancer. Even before he reached the debilitation he knew was in his future, he took an early retirement and “went home.” His wife tended to him. He stayed at home. Almost immediately after his diagnosis and retirement, Sharon’s Mom just quit hearing from him. No phone calls. No notes. No nothing. He just disappeared.
Sharon’s mother was in love with Joe. She had always dreamed of his leaving the wife—sort of their mutual enemy—and marrying her, after which they would spend their latter years together. The loss of his companionship, erratic though it was, was a loss of something she had come to count on.
Furthermore, the thought of the man she loved suffering without her being able to attend him was excruciating. It wounded her deeply. She desperately reached out, calling his home for the first time ever, only to be told by the Wife that Joe did not want to hear from her. It must have been so, because he certainly never dialed her number. Not once since he had left his job to go home and await death.
As Joe became critically ill, one of his daughters had pity for Sharon’s Mom and called to let her know that Joe was at the end. But the mistress was not invited to his bedside. No good-byes for her. His “real” family gathered there, mourning him as he passed.
Sharon received a call from the compassionate daughter, telling her of Joe’s passing after the funeral. Sharon had no chance to even pay respects. No one would have wanted her there, she knew. Of course, the obituary listed his entire family, down to grandkids. Sharon’s Mom had no place there, either. She had no place, really, in Joe’s life.
Joe was quite a businessman, had built wealth and took great care of all his legal and financial matters. It was no surprise that he had a will and that it specified, down to the very last detail, how his estate was to be divided. The Wife, of course, received the largest largesse. The children were given generous shares in their own right and each was given specific items which Joe associated with them, a loving touch.
Sharon’s mother knew of this because she asked. The daughter told her—also because she asked—that she was not mentioned in the will, at all.
And my friend, the attorney, though she felt that the affair all those years had been wrong, felt outrage for her mother.
“How can it be “ she asked me “that my mother could devote decades to the pleasure of this man and yet as his life took its most critical stage, it was like she no longer exists? Mom did not care about his money, but you’d think there would be some mention, some small token. It would have meant so much to Mom. I just don’t understand how someone can matter one moment and then, suddenly, not matter at all.”
Sharon’s mother still has pictures of herself and this man framed throughout her house. C.