Life Among the Never-Winged

Once upon a time I was writing a book called, "Just Another Love Letter", about angels behaving badly. Now I just quietly ask myself each day, "What the hell am I doing?"

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Location: The Rocky Mountain Empire, United States

My friends always knew I was going to hell. My only hope is that God likes good jokes and bad redheads.

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  • Saturday, July 07, 2007

    The Unbearable Politeness of Being Me

    People hurt other people the most when they're trying to kill their own pain, real or imagined. -- Frank J. Page.

    When I returned, Colorado had lost its green.

    The spring almost had me fooled. It was as if I was being courted by Colorado, as if Washington and Oregon had been rival suitors. The spring was cool and green and full of storms. But after fourteen years, I think I know Colorado, his duality, his square maverick ways.

    Sunlight that feels like a whipping; the same old arguments. Straw under my feet; the same old failings.

    I understand Colorado. I don't like it, but at least I understand it.

    * * *

    I insisted on driving the 1000 miles home. I couldn't be a passenger. I was afraid of feeling trapped in the car again. And I needed to be the one to take us away from Illinois.

    * * *

    No magic, this trip. Except the lightning bugs. I was right, I got one thing right. The rest...?

    * * *

    We shouldn't have gone. I know that now. O tells me, “This is it. This is the last time.” And I agree. But, then there's my mom. I want to make her happy. There aren't any other grandkids, nor will there be. I'm her last living child. And I had thought I was making my dad happy too. Before the boyos were born, when I was sitting on the couch trying not to breathe too hard for fear of another bout of premature labor, he groused on the phone that his grandchildren would never know him because we lived so far away. “They'll think I'm some old man. They'll be afraid of me.”

    They adore him, by the way. Or, they did. Yeah, I'm sure they still do. Kids are resilient, isn't that what they say?

    “Come on out,” says my mom. “You need a break. Stay as long as you want. Stay all summer if you want!”

    So we went. And the trip out pretty much set the tone. Being polite is a high priority in my parents' household these days. Unfortunately, the boyos didn't get the memo. They were perceived as being loud, unruly, out of control, immature, and intolerable. And it was my job to keep them quiet. All the time. It wasn't long before I felt like a crack mom who'd brought her illegitimate children home. And I hate myself for feeling that way, for seeing the boyos through my father's eyes. For looking at them and thinking that they are indeed out of control and that I've already failed them somehow.

    I tried to see things from his perspective. He's newly-retired, and struggling with that. He fights battles with his mother, the Grandmonster, and you can't imagine how unpleasant THAT is. He tries to appease her, and here I am, his daughter, making her own demands that do anything but feed the dragon.

    But. I'm realizing now that I've spent my life trying to make everyone around me happy. Trying to make up for things that happened that I see now were beyond my control.

    * * *

    We were in the car. We were going to spend the day in the car going from one thing to the next, but I didn't know that yet. My dad wanted to show off the boyos to 'the ladies'; his former office colleagues. On the way there, he said, “This is what we call closure.” And I realized that my dad had an agenda, and we were baggage.

    We saw the ladies. The boyos were shy and quiet, just as their grandpa wanted them at any other time but this one. He wanted them to perform and they didn't.

    On we went to the next destination where they were too wild. I suggested lunch, since we'd been out for over an hour. They didn't sit still enough at lunch, or clean their plates, which I guess was a sin. Then it was on to a plant nursery to look for yellow petunias. Then another one. And another one. And another one. And a stop in-between. An another one. Toward the end, he insisted that the boyos and I stay in the car, since they couldn't behave. He took the keys. It was hot, and the three of us were bored, noisy baggage.

    This alone would have been sad enough, but then there was that stop in between that I mentioned. An antique shop full of stained glass. Perfect for overtired boys, don't you think? Of course they were impossible to keep calm. They didn't break anything, but it was on leaving this place that I nearly broke.

    Leaving, he said, “Now let's go to grandma's house.”

    Scroll down to the previous entry, if you will. Remember what I said about grandma's house? Was that clear to you, Dear Readers?

    “We are not going there,” I answered.

    “Let's go to grandma's house.”

    “We are NOT going there.”

    And then the dirty trick: “Hey guys! Do you want to go see great-grandma?”

    “We are not GOING there.”

    To my credit, I kept my voice low and even. And the boyos to their credit said they didn't want to. This woman creeps them out, as well she should.

    My dad didn't say anything back. We got in the car, the issue unresolved. And that's when my heart started pounding in double-time, my mouth went dry and my tea light went out.

    I didn't know where we were going. My parents moved from the house where I grew up to one on the opposite side of town, so everything is backwards to me. Not to mention that a lot has changed in the 18 years since I left. I couldn't tell direction. And then something disturbing happened.

    * * *

    When you form a mental picture of the Grandmonster's house, you would do well to remember the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Her house is painted frosting-pink, with white gingerbread trim. There is a German Hex on the garage door and lacy curtains in the window. Bright, plastic flowers line the walk and fill hanging baskets on the porch that is just a little too dark to be welcoming.

    I think she actually cultivates this witch-in-the-woods image – consciously or unconsciously I don't know anymore and don't care to speculate, because I'm not sure which is creepier.

    The inside is worse. It smells. And the smell is not gingerbread.

    To breathe in that house is to breath her in.

    * * *

    So, back in the car. We passed a neighborhood from behind. There was a house, perhaps five years old, a two-story painted light blue-grey. It looked like every other hastily-constructed new house on this booming side of town except for one thing. White gingerbread trim.

    I remember seeing the house, and it looks the way that I described to you. But in my head was a voice screaming, “That's her house! He took you to her house!”

    And another voice was saying, “No, it isn't. That is not her house. It is a completely different house.”

    This argument went on well after we had passed the entire neighborhood. I don't know when it stopped, but thankfully it did, and it has left me shaken and wondering about what exactly happened to me there in the car.

    * * *

    Nursery after nursery after that, looking for the rare and elusive yellow petunia. Stuck in the car.

    * * *

    There is one other tent pole that holds up this carnival of misadventure:

    The boyos were watching a video and fighting over couch space. I sat down between them to try and end the conflict. The elder protested, kicking me instead. My dad came in from the other room. He yelled for quiet. He got into my son's face. I watched my dad's scalp turn bright red as, teeth clenched, he roared at my son.

    “Be quiet! Do you understand me!”

    Then he gripped my little boy's arm and squeezed. He shook my son.

    At which point, I yelled, “Get out of his face!”

    He stopped. He let go of my son's arm. His scalp stayed deep red. My father looked at me with spitting hatred.

    “Fine.” Through gritted teeth. He left the room, slamming the door behind him.

    The three of us were quiet after that.

    I didn't cry. I shook, but I didn't cry. And then I got up and started packing.

    My mom saw me. She'd just come home from work. I wonder if things would have been different if she'd had the time off, like she told me she did.

    “What are you doing?” she asked. Downstairs, I could smell the dinner my dad was cooking.

    “We're in the way here,” I told her.

    “What do you mean, 'in the way?' What are you talking about?”

    “We're in the way.” I folded another shirt.

    “I don't understand,” she said, tearing up.

    “I'm sorry.”

    She started crying. “No. No. Don't do this to me. Don't do this to me!”

    I stopped. “I'm sorry.”

    “I've been working! I haven't even had a chance to see them!”

    “I can't...we...”

    “Just stay. It's ok. You're not in the way here. Just stay.”

    “He...” I couldn't finish.

    * * *

    We stayed. I felt guilty for pouring the drama out on my mom. It got nominally better with her there. The boyos continued to act out, reacting to all the tension in the air. But my dad quieted down. So did I. I think there was a day when I didn't say more than a dozen words.

    * * *

    My dad burned some CDs and DVDs and put them in my room. The entire Beatles and Steeley Dan catalogues. Yellow Submarine. Pan's Labyrinth.

    You don't know how this breaks my heart.

    * * *

    O drove out to get us and I drove us all back.

    The ugly girl Nebraska had put away her velvet dress. Colorado had lost its green.

    We got to I-25, about two dozen miles from home, and I joked that I was going to pull over and let O drive the rest of the way. And then I realized the traffic was getting heavier. After 15 hours of comparatively thin traffic, I was getting confused. He didn't realize. I drove in on autopilot. And when we got home, I looked around. Nothing looked right. It wasn't home.

    * * *

    I'm better now. I've tried writing this over and over but I couldn't until my voice came back. I've spent a week coming home.

    Labels: , ,

    24 people left me a love letter:

    Blogger Stucco wrote in a love letter...

    Shit Pants- that completely fucking sucks. I'm sorry.

    3:38 PM, July 07, 2007  
    Blogger amusing wrote in a love letter...

    Dearest Nancy, I am vibrating reading this. I have had some tough times of late and my parents called today to announce that they want to stage an intervention. I have been doing everything wrong and they have decided it is time to sit me down and tell me how i need to be doing it. I think all I wanted was some sympathy b/c I lost the man I loved, and now it comes down if I was worried about being a failure, I actually am.

    I'm glad you are home. I'm glad you are back. I will think of you detoxing and send good thoughts your way.

    5:02 PM, July 07, 2007  
    Blogger amusing wrote in a love letter...

    Oh, and your beautiful, unique, vision-provoking voice is certainly back -- maybe better than ever.


    [word verification is "gutsof" -- glory? steel? angst?]

    5:22 PM, July 07, 2007  
    Blogger Schmoopie wrote in a love letter...

    I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am, Pants. I think of what a wonderful person you are and how bright and inquisitive and curious your boyos are about the world. THEIR needs were not being met. Yes, THEIRS- the boyos. They needed space, parks to run in, a grandpa to hold their hands and show them something wonderful.

    What is it about this generation of grandparents who just want "peace and quiet" versus spending time with their grandchildren? We endured a whole week of crap from MIL too.

    You need to be done with going there for a while. It's been 3 years for me and I am not sure how many more will pass before I go back. I've never been happier.

    6:53 PM, July 07, 2007  
    Blogger ms chica wrote in a love letter...

    Shit. No, maybe there's a better word. No, I'm pretty sure shit is the right one. I'm really sorry, Nancy. Boys need room to run and grow. It's what little boys are. I like quiet sometimes, but I remind myself kids are kids, not well behaved senior citizens or lawn ornaments.

    I've missed you. It is nice to have you back.

    7:31 PM, July 07, 2007  
    Blogger Scott from Oregon wrote in a love letter...

    How far was it from Illinois to an Oregonian beach?

    8:06 PM, July 07, 2007  
    Anonymous d-man wrote in a love letter...


    3:28 AM, July 08, 2007  
    Blogger Bud wrote in a love letter...

    That is tragic on so many levels, Pants. Sorry you had that experience. Cathy and I have a rule to never stay with relatives. It works for us. We get to see them but avoid all the obvious traps that exist in every family. I hope you recover from this soon. It pains me to think about what you went through.

    6:43 AM, July 08, 2007  
    Blogger Irrelephant wrote in a love letter...

    I'm sorry, dear. If I had a lever long enough and someone gave me a flat place to stand I'd change it for you.

    10:30 AM, July 08, 2007  
    Blogger Mother of Invention wrote in a love letter...

    This may seem weird but this most touching post is the best writing I've seen in awhile anywhere. It is so rawemotionally and is so well put together, we are carried along with you, as you.

    I feel for you so much as you deserve way more. Maybe there's no going back..just forward, breaking this unhealthy cycle and feeling good that you won't be perpetuating it with your kids. Would it be any better if your mom just came to visit you on her own?

    I'm glad you got this outside yourself. Thanks.

    2:52 PM, July 08, 2007  
    Anonymous Rudi wrote in a love letter...

    Ouch. Were I there in person I'd give you a hug, say I'm sorry and I don't know what to say.

    But what to do? Anything to get back to normal with normal people. We could go food shopping together. Cook a meal. Fold laundry. Lame but normal.

    Give you time to decompress and detox.

    The conversation will flow eventually.

    6:21 PM, July 08, 2007  
    Blogger meno wrote in a love letter...

    Dearest Nancy,
    How i have missed you. How glad i am to hear from you. How sorry i am to hear about this. Little boys ARE noisy and rude and wiggly, that's their job.
    Maybe your parents can come visit you in the future, and stay in a hotel when they need quiet.

    I wonder why they can't hear you. Maybe it's just a won't.

    6:28 PM, July 08, 2007  
    Blogger JustCallMeJo wrote in a love letter...

    You don't actually need to go back to Illinois again. You really don't.

    2:00 AM, July 09, 2007  
    Blogger Maggie wrote in a love letter...

    Nancy, my heart clenched and throat tightened just thinking of how exhausting and heartbreaking this was for you. And it was supposed to be a vacation. Yeah right. These things can take so much time to sort out in our heads especially when life is so rude to just keep on going around us while we're trying to figure it all out. Big big hugs. And a giant glass of whatever imbibement calms your nerves.

    6:49 AM, July 09, 2007  
    Anonymous clowncar wrote in a love letter...


    As I said between bites of burrito, his learning to deal with retirement and old age is no different than J learning to walk, or D learning to talk. It's just another stage of development. Only difference is that your kids seem to be much faster learners than your Dad.

    Tend to your own garden. Somebody famous said that. Not me.

    6:02 PM, July 09, 2007  
    Blogger Schmoopie wrote in a love letter...

    Ahh...I love that saying, Clowncar! "Tend to your own garden." That is exactly what we are doing here in Seattle. :)

    8:10 PM, July 09, 2007  
    Blogger Nancy Dancehall wrote in a love letter...

    I try not to, Stucco. ;-) Yeah, it totally sucked.

    I hear you, Amusing. how many of us are out there trying our best and 'getting slimed' as you put it in your happy family post? Sending good thoughts back atcha. Oh, and thank you for a bunch of stuff. :-) (In my case,it's guts of angst I think).

    Thanks, Schmoop. that really means a lot. I don't get it -- he was/is the best dad ever. Now this. I don't think we'll be going back for a long time. So...what are you guys doing for Thanksgiving? *wink*

    Shit's a good word, Ms. Chica. Works mighty fine. I think he would have preferred lawn ornaments. It's good to BE back. I missed y'all.

    Scott, it was another world. But I made Cannon Beach my 'happy place' when I needed a mental break from the stress. I loved the story you've been serializing. Made me cry.

    D-amn, D-Man. Remember that ocean for me.

    I like your rule, Bud. But in my family (and I've said it before) nothing says, "I hate you" like "So. How 'bout a hotel room?" thanks for thinking about me.

    I love that image, Ir. Maybe the moon? Here, stand on my shoulders and I'll boost you up there...

    Thank you very much, MOI. I seem to have a knack for writing about pain. I'm learning a lot about how NOT to treat the boyos, though I often fall short...

    Ah, well Rudi, here's a cyber-hug. *hug* Art shopping yesterday (at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival; check it out) did me a world of good. I'm all inspired and my voice is back.

    Aw, Meno, I've missed you too. *hug* Glad to hear you went hiking with Schmoop; she had a blast. It's more like they WON'T hear me. There is a long history of won't hear me on certain familial issues. not going to the GM's house was a MAJOR victory.

    I know, Jo. But lightning bugs. And we won't be going back for a loooong while. They can come here.

    Thanks, Maggie. I missed you! This sent my stress level through the roof. But, I've had a week to process and gloss and buff, and I'm ok now. The boyos are mostly fine, though there's been some regression. *sigh*

    I liked what you had to say the other day about retirement, Clowncar. I think it IS a stage that one must get through or get stuck. I hope he's temporarily stuck. Tend your own garden. Words to live by.

    Suuuuure, Schmoop; rub it in! ;-) We've got to check out the public gardens next time I'm up there.

    10:36 PM, July 09, 2007  
    Blogger Lynn wrote in a love letter...

    My BIL and SIL don't like noise either. Whenever we see them, it is implied that I am a failure as a mother because my kids are noisy. Of course the reality is that my kids have 'personality' and we rarely ever see BIL and SIL because they are so damn intolerant. I am sorry for the hell you went through.

    5:41 PM, July 10, 2007  
    Blogger Cheesy wrote in a love letter... trip come this way.... my pasture LOVES wiggley squirmy noisy boys,,, so do I!!

    [[[[[[ U ]]]]]]]]]

    {and there is a winery across the street!}

    11:30 PM, July 10, 2007  
    Blogger Nancy Dancehall wrote in a love letter...

    Don't you love that, Lynn? When people can't see past their own little worlds? I'm sorry you have such insufferable in-laws.

    I'd LOVE to, Cheesy. I was actually tearing up the other night, thinking what a good grandma you are.

    1:39 PM, July 12, 2007  
    Blogger Lisa wrote in a love letter...

    I know what you mean about these square old mountainous states we live in. I know mine, too, and revel in its peculiar beauties, but daaaaaaaaaaaaamn does that ocean miss me. I felt it surge as I stood on its shores and rocked on its waves.

    I am so sorry that your trip was so awful. I remember going home when my boys were that scarred us all, scared us all. The tension of trying to maintain control of two darling little seekers/destroyers is hard enough in any situation. My parents have always been pretty understanding/non-judgmental, but I still felt the heat of my imperfection scorching its way across the landscape of my visit.

    Don't give up.
    Mine turn 7 Saturday and they are a DREAM compared to 3, 4, even 5. They're still unruly little bastards, but they are so much more mature.

    Giant, bear-sized, bare-legged hugs to you, darling!!

    12:00 AM, July 13, 2007  
    Blogger Popeye wrote in a love letter...

    I have this little meditative thing I sometimes do with my parents it goes like this:
    1) Take a deep breath.
    2) Hold it to the count of 10.
    3) As you exhale, say, "Fuck 'em."
    4) Repeat, as needed.

    11:25 AM, July 14, 2007  
    Blogger Nancy Dancehall wrote in a love letter...

    Happy birthday to the unruly little bastards. ;-) So it does get better? Really? Cross your heart and hope to swallow? 'Cuz I just got bawled out by somebody else. I'm at the end of my rope.

    Good formula, Popeye. I'm actually kinda feeling sorry for my mom these days.

    9:23 PM, July 15, 2007  
    Blogger liv wrote in a love letter...

    Oh girl. I so get it-and in all honesty, getting back on the plane with 2 kids under 5 for 3 hours is less of a challenge than rooming with my parents in glorious CO. Sometimes I feel like you can never go home again.

    9:11 PM, July 31, 2007  

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