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Kitchen Sink

Beneath the Surface

February 13th, 2009

Other dimensions fascinate me. I admit to believing in the possibility that perhaps we live parallel lives. One of us is on this plane, living according to the decisions we made throughout our life, and our doppelganger is somewhere else entirely, a product of the choices we might have made, but didn’t. Rather, I’m not sure that other dimensions exist, per se, but more that we create our own dimension in which we live, and that it’s comprised of what we see, how we process information, and who exists in our little world.

 

All of this is to say that there are different realities for all of us. You know those books that address the same incident from contrasting perspectives (Suite Francaise comes to mind), and how you, the reader, gain insight into how each character views the other or a shared event? I’m struck by how completely differently each person sees the same exact incident. But it’s to be expected. Surely the drunk driver experiences the crash contrary to how his victims do.

 

Still, I find myself expecting others to see matters like me. It always surprises me when I learn that The Rock did — or didn’t — enjoy the party as I did, or that what I perceive as a horrible thing, he sees as a blessing. How many times, after hearing of a friend’s divorce, do I say, “They seemed so happy!” and The Rock tells me in all practicality that you never know what’s really happening between a couple.

 

This all came back to me during a recent conversation between my dad and I, which turned up all sorts of information I never knew when I was a kid. Seems there was a whole bunch of Desperate Housewives stuff going on in our little pastoral neighborhood that I didn’t notice. So again with the different dimensions. The adults operated on a separate frequency than us kids, and I don’t know why, but the adult me wonders how I didn’t see what was “really going on” between couples or in the families of my friends. But of course, those concerns didn’t reach me. The adults sheltered us from them, and kept their arguments to bedrooms or after 11PM. To boot, us kids were only interested in other kids anyway.

 

I spent a lot of time after talking with my dad thinking back. Were there signs that Mrs. C was an alcoholic? I idolized her family, and spent a lot of time playing with Sheila, the oldest of the C’s. I often coveted Sheila’s red hair and cheeks, because they reminded me so much of my beloved Raggedy Ann books. Plus, all of the C’s did well in school and seemed the ultimate perfect ’80s family. But now, yes, I think, yes. Mrs. C. wore those frayed white old school canvas Keds without socks, to me a sign of an Midwestern alcoholic housewife, and we always found her in the kitchen, sitting at the table, ostensibly doing — what? Maybe now I know.

 

Disconcerting of all was knowing that during the happiest time of my childhood — when my family stayed put in one town for more than a year at a time, and I made friends, real friends, that I knew from grade to grade to grade — my dad cheated on my mom. Actually, I knew this shortly before my mom passed away, when she shared stories of her life with my sister, who lived at home during the time. My mom never told me, because I’m sure she knew how I’d react, but my sister needed me to know.

 

I don’t know why, but it freaks me out that not everything was as it seemed during this time in my life. It’s so important that I know this happy time was happy — for real — and for all — and not just in my head. I can’t say for sure why this is, but there you have it. My mother was miserable when she found out about the affair, and I go back in my head to this time in our household, and now recall how she spent an awful lot of time in bed, and the hushed voices coming from my parent’s room. My dad traveled extensively — at least two weeks out of every month — and apparently he met the other woman in England. As usually happens, a letter came to the house, and my mom opened it. Once she discovered the details, she wrote the woman back, enclosed a family picture and told her to back off. Then, she gave my dad an ultimatum.

 

fam.jpg

 

He stayed. But even now, he won’t read my mom’s old journals because he can’t bear to read the pain. And I can’t stand to not have known it was happening. How queer that this drama unfolded as I blithely did homework, climbed trees, planned birthday parties.
I clearly remember posing for the picture above. That it was used to convince my dad to stay with the family is another one of those “realities” I suppose it’s necessary I know.

 

Still. The doppelganger me chooses to let this time be as happy as I remember it. In fact, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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On February 13th, 2009, Twenty Four At Heart said:

Isn’t life funny? Recently my mom started sharing stories w/me and I’ve been trying to reconcile them with my memories ever since. Not always an easy thing to do!

On February 13th, 2009, vodkamom said:

The older I get, the more look back and remember things with a bit of a new reality. I wonder and wonder about things, and begin to put two and two together. It isn’t always a good feeling.

On February 13th, 2009, Blognut said:

I recently did an exercise of trying to view a seriously horrible time in my life through the eyes of my mother because I have never been able to accept that she did nothing to stop it. While I still can’t fathom her reaction, which was to do nothing, I now realize how seriously messed up she was at the time. There was a giant gap between my reality and her’s and I don’t know if that can be fixed and now I’m practically writing an entire blog in your comments. I’ll shut up now. I’ll just say, I get it. I totally understand how people living under one roof can be operating on separate planes.

On February 13th, 2009, Jenn @ Juggling Life said:

I read this and I have nothing but admiration for your mother for managing to maintain the illusion of happiness for you during this terrible time in her life. That takes real strength.

On February 13th, 2009, Michelle said:

crazy… reading this I fell back into my childhood. It’s nuts the stuff we grew up with and knew nothing about. You know what, looking back, I prefer it that way. Why would I want to know that one of our neighbors had 4 husbands, the other neighbors were lesbians, and the one’s down the road were alcoholics… what kid can handle that??

On February 13th, 2009, Diane said:

My heart hurts for you. I worry about this sort of thing, as one day my daughter will find out her dad cheated. Our marriage ended because of it and she was too young to really remember us together, but I hate the idea of her thinking I kept something from her. At the same time, I wouldn’t ever offer up the info, as I don’t want to hurt her relationship with her dad (he’ll do that all on his own). But she’s a bright kid and she’ll ask one day. I admire your mom for holding it all together… she must have been incredibly strong.

On February 14th, 2009, matteroffactmommy said:

great one, deb. :)
as i’ve gotten older i’ve realized just how differently people view events – whether it’s as they are happening, or as they are remembered. also, people remember different THINGS about specific events. and The Rock is right – you never know what’s REALLY happening between a couple. doesn’t stop me from wondering though! ;)

On February 14th, 2009, Jennifer said:

I’m just like you. The beginning sound like something I would’ve written ( you just do a better job of it). I wonder all the time why people don’t see things the way I do or even close. It was that way with my ex. I also agree and have planned to do the same as Diane. I won’t keep it from my kids that their father cheated but of course I’m not just going to spit it out.
There will always be something that we keep from our children. Sometimes it is because it’s better that way and others because it’s something they need to discover or fall upon and we’ll be there to guide them through it.

On February 15th, 2009, Green Girl said:

Oh man. I hear you–the shock and horror–I never expect things are bad behind the mask. I give your folks a ton of credit for keeping it together. That must have been so difficult.

On February 15th, 2009, She said:

I think it’s good that you didn’t see it or know it back then. I saw way too much as a kid. I knew things and carried the burden of knowing and seeing and being completely helpless to do a damn thing about it all. As a result, I don’t remember much about being a kid.

It’s a true blessing that you didn’t know. And your mom was an amazing woman that she created space for you to “blithely do your homework” while her world was crumbling.

Love you. Thanks for sharing so much of your heart and life with us.

On February 15th, 2009, stephanie (bad mom) said:

It is so strange & difficult – that desire to protect your child-self from the pain & confusion your adult-self realizes later. You’ve approached it smartly and graciously.

This doppelganger idea is so fascinating – have you seen “Sliding Doors” or read “The Talisman”? Similar ideas.

Thank you for your frankness, and for helping us wrap our brains around this.

On February 16th, 2009, Amanda @ The Mom Crowd said:

Like Stephanie the doppelganger thing reminds me of ‘Sliding Doors.’ I love that movie.

It’s interesting what we know as kids and don’t. My dad would take us to this other lady’s house. I think we knew it was kind of wrong, but we just went along. Now we know the truth – but I would rather have known that to be a happy time than the reality. My parents argued and fought all the time in front of us kids. My husband and I have a goal to argue behind closed doors, but be truthful when it is appropriate with our kids.

That is amazing that your mom was able to remain so calm and not drag you into.

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