The In-Law Wars

“There is a cancer in you I need to cut out,” my Mother-In-Law, Gette, said to me after a particularly brutal day.  As always, she moved her pursed lips back and forth, like she was sucking a bottle. Kneeling beside her lounge chair, knees bruised from the pebbled cement below, I bit down my words, a supplicant wanting to supplicate.  I could only think that if I could placate her enough, swallow myself down deep within me, become a shell without substance, perhaps she would stop this current reign of terror.

Knowing what to do or say was tormenting me.  I didn’t want to have this woman in my home much less subjugate myself to her will. I had the spirit of independence within me. But with each pass of the Seasons, Gette and her husband, Dragos, would arrive in a whirlwind of condescension and fury.  They would stay for 3-6 weeks at a time.  For weeks before they came, I would panic.  When I finally tried to forbid the planned trip, my husband, Alex, replied, “You can leave if you don’t want to be near them.”

Gette would march in the front door, head directly to the kitchen, and start rearranging it to her liking.  She would send Dragos to the market for those items she felt were necessary.  From that moment on, I was forbidden in my own kitchen.

My spirited, wonderful children suddenly fell under the auspices of the Grandparents’ methods of parenting.  This was the supposed Romanian way of doing things.  All my disciplining was strictly monitored; should I do anything not to Gette’s liking, I was subject to discipline myself.  My husband not only abetted it, he did the same, way too many times.  It might be appropriate if I was in any way abusive, but I was not.  What I was, was anxious, frustrated, angry, desperate, unsupported and alone.

The house would revert to Romanian as the language of choice spoken by all adults except me.  The kids didn’t mind.  Their desires were met, their questions and comments answered.  But one time I asked a table of Romanians to please speak in English (when they all could) and my husband responded, “Shut Up!” in front of his extended family. My in-laws told me this was the language they were comfortable speaking although it had been 20 years since they defected, hey had held professional positions requiring English, and it was an English-speaking home.  When seated at the dinner table, I could sometimes understand they were talking about me to my husband in front of my face.

I was, and am, as American as you can be – blonde, blue eyed, previously divorced. . . in their mind lacking in character.  For many years I was a national management consultant, in Who’s Who in America for several years, and a published author, yet Dragos always told everyone I was a secretary.  Romanian women in their circle were doctors, lawyers or scientists.

There is so much talk about multi-generational and multi-lingual homes.  DACA is on everyone’s lips. Immigrants do have it hard.  Many times they come to the U.S. with little to no money, may have to go back to school to retake degreed professional exams for legitimacy in their careers, and may have to start with jobs well below their educational level.  They can be outcasts, will almost certainly face discrimination, and have to undergo huge cultural shifts that can seem to be never ending tsunami waves.

But what of the people who marry into these strong ethnic traditions?  I was terrorized by my in-laws and ex-husband.  Everything in my life was controlled.  Emotional, financial, familial and some physical abuse was rampant.  I loved my husband very much, but his mother had an untreated schizophrenic personality disorder and was given free reign to behave in whatever manner she chose.  She was a spoiled, at times vicious, callous woman in the manner she treated me.  And he followed in her footsteps, very much her favored and only child.

Yet she was a loving mother and grandmother, cloyingly, overwhelmingly so. The kids loved her even as they came to understand her disabilities. Dragos tried to placate me, saying she was a “Good Girl”, I should listen to her.  They only wanted what was best for me.  Other than pertinent information, Alex would refuse to talk to me during the time they were visiting and up to 2 months later.  And within weeks, it would be time for another visit.

One of those things to be changed was an attempt for me to eliminate contact with my family and friends, to which my Mother vehemently and frequently objected. There was a time I gave in and didn’t contact them for three months because my mother was violating boundaries calling Gette and Dragos and working to undermine our marriage from her end, just as strong minded and quite resentful of the situation.  Not a minute went by when I was not connected to them in my mind. My heartstrings were more deeply connected to them if I couldn’t speak with them. My mother even called their home to argue about these issues.  She would call me and berate Alex, sometimes with him standing right in front of me furiously telling me to hang up. Little wonder I was a nervous wreck.

None of the In-laws were behaving appropriately.  One of the main reasons I left the marriage was the knowledge one day I would be taking care of Gette in our home.  I knew her disease would worsen and as they didn’t believe in therapy or medications, there was no hope for the suppression of symptoms.  She would remain the arrogant, controlling woman she was then even as she talked to her spirits.

There were other factors which led to the demise of our marriage but the In-Law Wars were the primary issue.  Had we not been subjected to these pressures, we might still be together. Alex might be more temperate in his need to control me.  We might have enjoyed more limited visits.  But then the “might have been’s” are merely suppositions without merit or reality. Suffice to say I have permanent PTSD from those years which has manifested in restraints to enact on dating or relationships now. And I cherish my freedom.

Disappointment

Disappointment is the muck I drag myself through.  It eats my days into brown sludge.  I am mired in the cloying, pervasive debris as it washes over me and search as I might, sometimes I can’t find my way clear of it.  For many, the Holiday Season is cloaked in it.  What might be a time of Joy is a quagmire of dusty dreams and disappointed disheartenment.

The days to come bring dollar signs and an unconscious acknowledgement the coming days will bring low lights, not highlights.  Even though   my family and friends love me, they are wrapped in their own dynasties and can’t make time to comprehend my place in their worlds.  The wet blanket covering me is off putting. I need to remember that.  They are a reflection of what they see in me.  They glance at me and their eyes slide away.  I’m barely there or perhaps too much there, soaking in their perceived rejection, whether real or not.

As the leaves dance merrily as they flit down to the road I am driving, I have to give homage to the day when life glowed.  Although always the quiet, guarded one, I once found joy in the Holidays.  Thanksgiving meant the “Macy’s Parade”, “Babes in Toyland”, and finally “Miracle on 42nd Street” as a child.  Then I would join my people for a feast.  Mom would always invite others in need to join us.  I’d help with the mountain of dishes.  Night would bring a turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce sandwich before bed. Some years we would pile into the car and head over to my Aunt’s.  One year my sister and I were in the back of the station wagon.  I had on a peasant dress I loved.  Dawn got car sick and threw up all over my front.  I jerked back, falling into the pies. As a Mother myself, I took pleasure in fulfilling some of those memories with my own family.

Christmas had a magic of its own.  On Christmas Eve Dad would read the miracle of Christ’s Birth from the Bible after Church.  One year I woke extremely early and tried to go downstairs but my Father made me come into their room and sleep next to them . . . when I tried to slip out, he put his leg over mine and went back to sleep.  Another year as I was a teenager, he was drunk and fell into the tree.  But most of the time it was precious.  We would excitedly open presents, although some years my parents had to make some last-minute changes since my sister would have switched the labels on mine and hers if she liked mine better.  There would be another feast and we’d loll away the rest of the day.  I delighted in bringing Christmas to my own family.  One year my husband and the kids fell asleep in the living room as I watched “The Nutcracker” and I felt such peace.

Now, older, living alone, and more tired, I don’t take pleasure in the Holidays as I used to.  I cook my side dishes and head over to my sister’s house and try to watch the Parade.  Sometimes I have to work instead of celebrating.  The Magic of the Holidays has faded under the mantle of my Depression.  Going through the motions would be a more accurate description.  Pleasure is rare for me, laughter even more.  The days are chores to be done gotten over, to fade into Disappointment.  I wish I could change my attitude but it is likely to end up as it has for some time now.  I have to accept my reality and go with the flow so I am not making waves.

Rage legacies

As a child I learned the rage
of a woman whose life
had been supplanted
by the needs of others.

I fearfully watched, tiptoed,
practiced walking so my footfalls
left no sound, the prints left no trace
so as not to provoke, to bring attention.

This woman whose life
held more horrors than mine,
which had twisted her soul,
corrupted her heart,
so she had no choice
save to learn the ways of men
and do them better . . .
It was her only hope.

But I find no solace
in the answers of men.
Life seems too bleak, too crushing,
when lived by their ways.

Yet those are the ones
which grew in me,
teaching harshness,
anger for anger,
pain for pain.

My children sleep in their beds,
seeking my lightness of touch,
begging for my arms to
encircle them in warmth
so they are strengthened
and approach life
with love and balance.

The richness of their potential,
of the beautiful spirits
resting within them,
cannot be wasted
on the futility of looking without.
They cannot be destroyed
by angry eyes and venomous words
which crush fragile spirits
before they are buds
meant to bloom.

Let my anger become love.
Let my pain be the understanding
inherent in their nurturing.
Let me be the softest of blankets
They can wrap themselves in
To blossom and grow
Without the burdens
of relentless anger
Their foremothers carried within.

Words

You never heard me,
Nor I, perhaps, you.
words were disjointed, convoluted,
twisted, obscure,
making no impression on the other.

All those many words,
a decade’s worth,
and still we couldn’t hear . . .
So now our words
are born witness
through the lips
of an interpreter
in weekly sessions.

Can you hear me now?
Or are you still
hearing me speak in tongues?

 

Failure

There is a name I call myself
thrust down deep, not voicing aloud
for fear it will be more outwardly
manifest – Failure.

Others may call me Strong,
Committed, Spirited, Feisty,
Pushing through the Dark Times
to come through Stronger.
Pointing out the accomplishments
I have made, the great gains
managed at high cost.

But inside I know
there were other choices
which could have made me
Great, Successful, Healthy
not clothed in Fear –
and so, the bottom line
is that of Failure.

Notes on Camelot

Lancelot and Judas filled the same purpose
in their historical roles – each was a pawn
in the greater design.

Guenevere merely fought herself – the battle
between wanting to be woman while needing
to be legend – peace only coming when she
accepted a higher power … God.

Arthur was not meant to be a man
but a god in the guise of man.
Half man – half legend.
Totally noble – but weak in that goodness.
Not wholly real but not able to handle
the strength of goodness
therefore weakness being his evil.

Mordrid was evil incarnate –
lacking goodness.
Neither Arthur or Mordrid
were fully realized within themselves
they were whole together.

Launcelot and Guenivere were, too.
Crushed by their need
to be human – only recovering
when hell had been paid –
when higher powers were last
surrendered to –
Launcelot’s Higher Power Trinity
being Arthur, Truth and Love.

Caught in a Web

Caught in a web
of her choosing
she stands alone –
an allusive enigma
apart from the rest –
friend to most
lover to none

Coquettish teasing
in provocative glances
stream from her eyes –
hips betraying the desire
for passion in their sway
while manner reserved.
She speaks words
of kindness for each one
who crosses her path

Therein lies the reality.
For though each word
is meant –
that underlying need
tugging at her breast
speaks of emotions
far stronger than others
are willing to seek.

So alone she blends
with many
but leaves once again
to return an empty vessel
to the cocooning warmth
of a lonely bed –
sheets becoming
imaginary lovers
caressing her skin.

The Moment in Change

Pen poised in mid-air,
with mind musing upon
the course of destiny,
vaguely wandering in
floating traipses
shooting off into future dreams
forgetting the moment
given in tender love
for cautious care.

So quickly do I flee
from the pressures of time
into a world of imaginary dreams,
mystical illusions and cryptic
messages – forgetting that
only through a full living
does the journey seem brighter
and the path clearer . . .

When caught between
past and future
I stand in terror,
eyes fearfully turning first
one way then another
but never straight ahead –
fogs swirl in clouded images
through the mind
leaving behind a tension
of confusion.

Today is only like any other . . .
the past is all that is seen,
the future lies in a heavy
cloak, blocking out fresh air.

But the moment – if relished
for itself – treasured among all
others for it’s radiance, its life –
is a gift of the gods
given to the weary
to instill hope and faith
that other moments such as these
are there for the taking
and just as freely given

 

Ping Pong

Up and down, down and up,
go the fortune’s
of my life.
Why believe in what
tomorrow foretells
when down and up
it will inevitably
be vastly different
than where I hung
my hat just a day ago.

Up I believed a move
was in the offing –
down no longer there.
Hope waved
in fragrant breezes
only to hang in tatters
so soon before the
supposed finale.

Nothing is real
until you walk the path.
Talking is just dreaming,
lacking substance,
planning does not
make it real.

I’m just the Velveteen Rabbit
watching my ball bounced
up and down, down and up,
always in another’s hand.