Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stand Up and Speak Up, Over 20 Years Later

My mother made the grave mistake of not looking out for herself, or standing up to my father when he was insistent on his own way. I heard about it last Sunday morning. I had only slept about four hours, probably succumbing at 6:15 a.m. to whatever my subconscious had planned. Not only is my subconscious an expert at creating dreams that sometimes totally confound me, but it has a radar to detect worrisome family sounds, such as my parents fighting. Mostly my parents fighting. Actually, that's all the radar detects, and I'm jolted out of my sleep.

I was pulled out of an unmemorable dream at 10:15 a.m. to the sounds of dual pasts being rehashed. I heard about Dad's family, I heard Mom lamenting how she didn't disregard her mother-in-law's advice to brush off much of what Dad says. I heard about Casselberry and Orlando again, Mom saying that we were happy there, but since Dad wasn't happy, we had to move to South Florida. We were happy in Casselberry. We were so close to Walt Disney World that we went there every weekend, and sometimes during the week just for dinner. A good number of the employees knew us by name, and many cast members in the parades at the Magic Kingdom always recognized us and sometimes stopped by right in the middle of their work to say hello. Orlando International Airport was where my love for aviation developed. I loved Stirling Park Elementary, which I attended from kindergarten to the first half of second grade, because the library was a rotunda. The middle of the rotunda was where the check-out desk was, down a few carpeted steps, and each set of wide bookshelves was in between the entrances to the classrooms of each grade level. We had a house. There was a tangerine tree near my window, a basketball hoop next to the driveway, a huge tree in the front yard that made me want to build a tree house. I also fell out of it once, right into the green-leaf plants around it.

I always wondered why Mom never stood up for herself, why she never made Dad consider her in his plans too. He was either transferred from the Orlando branch of Southern Bell (which became BellSouth, and then AT&T bought it) to a branch in Fort Lauderdale, or he had asked to be transferred. I don't know. Part of my understanding of Mom's timid nature is that she was raised by her grandparents, who I suppose taught her, through their day-to-day living, to never really question anything, never to wonder what might be good for her. She regretted not standing up to Dad to tell him that we should stay in Casselberry, so I, and soon my sister, could grow up in one place, and feel like we were home somewhere. She also had a job there that she liked, working for a heating and air conditioning company called Air Flow. She was rising within the company and at the time Dad decided we should move to South Florida, she was offered a promotion. Our family had money. There was no problem with that. Dad just wanted to leave. Maybe he didn't like the people in his office anymore. Maybe he somehow pissed off the people in his office. He's the type that strives to eventually take over wherever he works. Not take over in the traditional sense, but making sure that he has the dominant voice. He tends to make a lot of noise, overly expressing his opinions of what's going on, what someone might be doing wrong, what someone should be doing right. It has caused trouble for us over the years. He can't just sit down, do his job, and let pass whatever might bother him. That piece of bother could be gone the next week and it wouldn't matter anymore. I'm not saying he should be an automaton, embodying what crowds of anonymous workers represent. But maybe we wouldn't have moved around so much.

My parents' marriage has never been a two-way street. Only now is Mom finally realizing what she's lost over all these years, and, approaching 51 years old, she's beginning to speak up. Dad's done ok in many things, but none related to the important things, like his marriage. When we're at a store, whether it's Ralph's or Wal-Mart or Target or PetSmart, his cell phone is his preferred companion. He doesn't even walk near Mom. He'll wander off. Multiply those instances by about, oh, 24 years (even though they've been married 26 years, I can't be sure if it happened in the first two years of marriage too. I don't think I'll ask right now), and you can understand why Mom finally confronted Dad about these matters.

Then, last night, Mom was affixing a few tchotchkes to Dad's keychain, adding on to the square plastic thing he has that has a cartoon of New York City, and a few other things I've never really looked at closely. She couldn't find one particular piece on there: A locket or something similar that she gave to him in the days when their marriage was young. On one side was "Jeffrey" and on the other side was something like "From your loving wife." I wish I had paid closer attention to Mom when she told Meridith and I this story yesterday towards the late afternoon. Most important in the telling was that she had saved up her money to get Dad this thing to put on his keychain, engraved with that. It was not cheap. It took her quite a while to save up for it. When asked about its absence, Dad acted like he was looking for it on his night table. Eventually, the truth emerged: He had thrown it out some time ago. Yesterday, after coming home from work to Mom still in a sad state, and rightly so, he admitted to her that he had thrown it out to get back at her for some fight they had long ago. Oh yes, my father can be vindictive, just like his father was, and I'm making damn sure that trait never blooms in me.

I think Mom used to be a huge supporter of marriage. She hoped that I would get married, and my sister would get married. But also yesterday, she told us what I have been mulling over for the 23 years I've witnessed their marriage (years 1 and 2 of my life don't count since I don't remember anything): It's fine if you find someone you want to have a relationship with, but make sure you're happy first, make sure you have what you want in your life, what you want to succeed at, what satisfies you. For years, up to now, as I got older, to where I am now, Mom occasionally hinted that I should meet a nice girl and, well, you know the rest. I've never prodded her to understand and support my staunch belief that personal happiness should come first above all else (I'm not happy yet, but I'm working on it), but finally I've heard what I've always hoped to hear from her.

Granted, some aspects of personal happiness may be difficult if you're married with a few kids. I'm not there yet, and I'm not sure if I will be there. I know for now, after I finish writing my share of "What If They Lived?", I want to sign up for online classes from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I want my bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics. I want to work at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. I want to get to know Las Vegas. I want to find things there to love as much as I love the lobby entrance off one of the parking garages at Mandalay Bay, leading to a few restaurants off the casino, as well as into the casino. There are tons of books I still haven't read. I want to read them, or at least 3% of them. I want to write.....plays, essays, fiction, literary nonfiction, I don't know yet. I want to find out what I should be writing about. I want to find out what drives me and write about that. There are also tons of movies I want to see, likely equal to the number of books I want to read.

In that aspect of life Mom once hinted at, I think I'm genetically torn. My mother's romantic idealism wars with my father's indifference. Naturally, I occasionally dream about women. Before I began dating Irene, who was my girlfriend in 7th grade (we broke up amicably because she was moving to Naples, on the west coast of Florida, and even though we'd be only an hour apart from east to west coast, we couldn't be certain how often we'd see each other), all the dreams I had leading up to that day involved girls. A psychic mind? Only with that. But I don't know. Relationships take work. The only work I really want is at McCarran. I know there's compromises, and I don't think I could live with that. Right now, if I want to do something, I do it. If there's something I want and I don't have enough money, I wait until I do, and then I get it.

Maybe I'm ok as I am. Besides, I've already lived through 23 years of a marriage. Why would I want another? But maybe, just maybe....oh hell, there goes both factions again.

Mom knows that living in Las Vegas won't make up for what she, and we, already lost. But now there's a chance to plant ourselves firmly and let our roots break ground, dig into the earth, and keep us steady and unmoving (that is, no more looking at apartments, no more boxes, no more stress of that kind. We've moved 11 times. I want to be done with it). Maybe by then, Mom and Dad will figure out some common ground to make the rest of their marriage work, if they want it to work. And maybe I'll figure out what I want.

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