Friday, January 16, 2009


My parents have been married for 37 years. 38 in August.

They have built a life, a family, a history together.

They’re a unit. They finish each other’s sentences and know what the other is thinking.

They have always seemed so in love to me. Even after over 3 decades of being together, my dad still called my mom “good looking” and they still stole kisses in the kitchen and snuggled on the couch. There was comfort knowing that they loved each other to pieces, that no matter the drama or difficulties, they stood by each other.

I’ve always held them up as an ideal; that’s the kind of marriage I want, that's what a marriage should be.

And then.

Last night.

Oh, God, my family is falling apart and my parents’ hearts are broken and my heart is broken and my younger brother’s heart is broken even though he puts on his stoic face. We haven’t talked to my older brother because we all have so many tears that we don't think we can hold it together for him.

My parents had a huge fight. Enormous. About something that’s been going on for years that they’ve managed to keep pretty well hidden from their children.

They fought. Ugly words were said. My father declared their marriage over.

My mother went speeding off into the night.

She hit a patch of black ice and totaled her car. She is relatively unharmed.

After some machinations, it is decided that she will drive a different car up to my house and spend the night.

But she doesn’t show up. And doesn’t show up. And doesn’t show up. And we’re all terrified, even my father, and I call every hotel between her house and my house and I call her work and I call local hospitals and I call the state patrol. Nothing.

Finally we manage to get her to answer her cell phone and we talk and she is sobbing, broken, and she can’t stop, and I am kneeling on my living room floor weeping and I can’t stop, and my younger brother is sitting on my couch clutching my dog to him and staring into the distance. Finally I bully her into coming into my house.

We call my father to tell him she’s safe and coming here. He waffles. Should he come up and talk with her, come up and take her home, or stay away? I don’t know what to tell him. My father, my hero,, his voice is cracking on the phone and I can tell he’s hanging on raggedly. He decides to stay home.

My mother shows up, bruised from the car accident and utterly shattered. She falls into my arms and cries. Hard, gasping, gulping sobs, the kind that make even my stoic brother and husband tear up and turn away. She whispers brokenly that she loves my father, that she can’t lose him, that she fucked up and ruined everything.

I don’t know what to do. My mother, my idol, the one I always lean on, is leaning on me and I don’t know if I’m strong enough to hold her up.

I force her to take one of my sleeping pills. I dress her in pajamas, like a little child, and tuck her into bed. I sit with her and we weep together.

I go to bed and cry silently while my husband holds me, whispering that everything will be okay. I don’t believe him.

This morning, my mother and I huddle on my couch and drink hot tea and look up therapists and programs. My father calls once in a while to check on her. I pass messages back and forth like this is junior high. Silent tears track down my mother's face and my father's voice has gone cold, hard on the phone, the way it did when my grandfather died and Daddy was holding himself together by sheer willpower.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to handle this. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to hold up both of my parents when I have always relied on them to hold me up. I can’t do this. They’re shattered. And we're all broken.


MOLLY said...

I'm so sorry, Buster. I know it feels like you can't do this - but I know you - and YOU CAN. It's not fair that you have to be strong for them right now, but you have to - you are the glue holding your family together right now. I know what's it like - I've been there so many times. And it sucks, terribly. But if anyone can get through this - you can. You've got enough strength and common sense for your whole family right now. And you've got so many people out there who will hold you up. Hang in there Buster - it will all be ok in the end, and if it's not ok, it's not the end. I'm here if you need ANYTHING.

-R- said...

I am so sorry.

My parents got divorced after almost 25 years of marriage when I was 19. I didn't have to be in the middle of it though, so I can't pretend to know what you are going through.

I wish you and your family the best.

Janet said...

Oh, Buster. I'm so sorry.

I recently had to acknowledge that my father has been an alcoholic for at least the last 10 years, and my mother has been putting on the happy face while the rest of us pretend that the staggering and word slurring are totally normal and okay -- as if it doesn't happen all the time. (Things escalated to the point that he had to be taken to the hospital by ambulence because they thought something else was wrong... but when he got there, he BAC was .5)

The worst part of the whole situation was that my dad is not a touchy feely share you emotions kind of guy (that may be the understatement of the year)... except when he is drunk, when he is always much more affectionate to my mother. So now that he's working on sobering up, their relationship has lost most of the affection. The talks I've had with my mom where she breaks down into tears because she is embarassed and doesn't want anyone to know... well, they break my heart, and make me want to curl up in her lap and force her to be the parent and me to be the child.

The thing about growing up seems to be that sometimes we don't get to be the children in the relationship anymore, and, for me at least, that's the hardest part.