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Friday, July 21, 2017

(12) EX-WIFE AND SON ARRESTED FOR STEALING DOLLS

            Tonight I went to Anne Bell’s duplicate bridge.   Joyce and Judy were there, and Agnes and I played our first round with them.  They know about Ed’s Parkinson’s and asked how he was.  Before I could stop myself, I was telling them of the erotic effect his medication has on him.  “It has dopa in it,” I say. “Do you remember reading about the side effects a few years ago?”
             I don’t know quite how to express his attitude (to myself I was thinking crazily, he has the hots for me), but Joyce reads my mind.  “Do you mean he has the hots for you?” she says, bursting out laughing.  I laugh, too, but all through the evening I wished I hadn’t talked so candidly about this  symptom.  Why couldn’t I be discreet and keep my mouth shut, like a mature woman?
I catch Judy and Joyce as they are about to leave.  “I want to apologize,” I say.  “I'm ashamed of the things I told you about my poor ex-husband.  It’s as if I were making fun of him.”
Joyce says, “I was thinking I shouldn’t have laughed the way I did.  But it is funny, and I couldn’t help it.”  Judy says something kind, I forget what.  Her expression is kind, as well, so I feel better about the confidences I should have kept to myself.
As we walked to our cars, Agnes said,  “Really, Barbara, you didn’t come across that way.”   She put her arm around me.  “Stop worrying about it.”
“But you know how it will sound by the time the gossip is second- or third-hand.  Women can be harsh judges of other women.”  She replied, “Not the people that know you.”
It’s morning, and the phone rings.    For a minute I don’t recognize Aliceann’s voice, it is so quiet and subdued.  She asks if I’ve heard from Kathie.  She has been trying to reach her at BU, where she meets with students on Wednesdays, but nobody answers except the answering machine.   “Edward is in very bad shape.  His therapist came today and could see the symptoms immediately, his slurred speech, his lack of balance, his sleepiness.”
She is trying to make an appointment with Ed’s neurologist, thinking he may need to go back on stronger medication.  Meanwhile, she says, he is sound asleep.  . 
An hour later I call Aliceann and ask if she’d like me to come over, just for moral support.  She replies in a voice that sounds more like her animated self, “Edward woke up, and he’s just fine.  Frank will be home at 3:00, so don’t worry, we’ll be okay.”
I did some errands, including a visit to Buck-a-Book to find a card for Aliceann’s February birthday.  I was drawn to the “sisters” section and found a message that expressed my positive feelings for Wife #2 for taking care of Husband One and Only. 

VISIT ED AND ALICEANN, 1990
Back at my Condo, I pick up my mail and see an envelope with Aliceann’s flowing, artistic script.  She apologizes for her delay in thanking me for my Christmas gift and for the sweaters and other warm things I had passed on to her.  She ends with, “It’s nice to know everyone thinks we’re sisters.”  I hasten to call her and praise her for taking such good care of Ed.  I tell her for the umpteenth time that she is wonderful.  I say of course she must feel overwhelmed by her present circumstances but urge her to “hang in there.”                    
There can’t be many second wives who would invite Wife #1 to visit—nay, would insist that I accept, saying, “If you don’t come, we’re gonna  divorce you.”       
            So I paid a visit to Palm Springs that was great good fun until I had a fight with Ed the night before I left.  In retrospect, I realize my request was outlandish, at least in that day and age . . .  
Westwood
March 20, 1990             
              Back from a ten-day reunion with Ed and Aliceann—perfect except for a spat with Ed.  When he dropped me off at my motel one evening, I seized the moment to make an overture.
“Ed, I have a proposition.”
“I’m a happily married man,” he said.
“No, I’m serious,” I said.
I thought it would be a terrific idea if my alimony continued after I died, so I could leave it to our children.  He thought this was a preposterous idea.
No matter how many thoughtfully prepared arguments I presented, I couldn’t get him to see reason any more than I could when we were married.  All he saw was red.  My amiable ex turned into any angry bull and trampled me, figuratively speaking, into the carpeting of my room.  We were still barely communicating when Ed and Wife #2 drove me to the airport.
            Aliceann wouldn’t have it.  “Barbara, I’m not going to let you get onto that plane until you and Edward have kissed and made up.”
Ted calls with his “What’s up?” salutation.  I say there’s nothing special. 
Then it turns out that Ted is the one with the news.  Terrible news.  Blake Thaxter is coming to Ed’s rescue.  Or at least what he thinks will rescue Ed.  He has found a two-bedroom house, near him in North Palm Beach, a terrific bargain that will cost Ed only about a thousand a month in mortgage payments.
“Oh my God,” I said.  “Has he told Dad?”
“Yes, and Dad’s thrilled.”
“And I suppose this house is such a steal, they’d better snap it up before someone else does.”
“Exactly.”  Ted goes on to say that his mistake was in telling Blake he was now giving his father $4000 a month, which he had been obliged to do because he needed that amount himself.  He hadn’t taken a dime out of Tronlox for a year; in other words, he'd been working for nothing.  He couldn’t guarantee he would be able to continue the $4000 payments because the company was still running at a loss.  Not until he rented the rest of the unoccupied space would there begin to be a profit. 
Ted feels as strongly as I do that his father should not simply pack his bags, say “ciao” to Kathie and the terrible credit card debt, fly off to Florida, and pretend that his brief stay in Massachusetts was just a bad dream.
Moreover, neither of us has any sympathy with his complaint about the things that remain unfinished in their apartment.  Unfinished because Kathie has run out of money.   Unfinished because everyone told her and Frank to stop putting money into the addition as soon as Ed started talking about moving back to Florida.  Unfinished even though Frank sold his beloved old Toyota truck just to get extra money for the building project.  nfinished because as hard as he worked, Frank could accomplish only so much in the 12-hour days he worked before their arrival.  Unfinished because again and again they interrupted whatever Frank was currently working on, asking him to do some other this or that. It was as if his sole purpose in life was to appear like a genie when summoned.
I call Kathie and ask if she’s heard any news from her father. She hasn’t, so I pass along Ted’s shocker about the house in Florida.  Ted calls her next and says he doubts the whole thing will come to pass.  It will be impossible for him to come up with the kind of money his father would need for a down payment on the house.  Moreover, he intends to make sure that Kathie gets some of the money he’s been sending Dad every month.  She tells him she doesn’t want to add to his burdens; she’ll find a way to get herself out of the financial troubles she got herself into.  Ted says when he talks to the old buzzard on Monday, he’ll try to make him understand that the financial struggles of the company are far from over.   Kathie is hoping her father will be accepting and reasonable, that he’ll give up his efforts to convince Blake he will die if he doesn’t move back to Florida, and that the end of the rainbow will appear and we’ll all win the lottery.
            It’s Sunday and it’s freezing out and will be freezing again tomorrow.  I call Kathie and tell her I won’t be coming over until Tuesday, it’s just too damn cold.  One of my fingers has stayed numb all day because I can’t type with gloves on.    
            Kathie calls back a few minutes later, sounding elated.  Ed and Aliceann had gone out for brunch and stopped to see an antique doll show at the Marriott Hotel.  They ran into a group of Aliceann’s doll-collecting friends, who had driven up from the Cape.  She has dropped Ed off in Westwood and is now back at the Marriott, enjoying this unexpected reunion. 
Ed is filled with his own excitement when he tells Kathie all this.  He has been trying since they arrived to persuade Aliceann to call her old friends, but she has been reluctant to do so.  He’s unsure why.  Does she think they’ll have no interest in renewing their friendship? Is she embarrassed about the possibility of inviting them to a small, unfinished apartment?  Whatever was holding her back, Fate has stepped in and her friends have embraced her enthusiastically, and they are already urging her to come visit them.
“Mom, this is what we’ve been hoping for—that Aliceann would see that she could have friends up here, as well as in Florida.  I told her that the Cape wasn’t that far away in good weather, so she could look forward to many more reunions.”    
             When I hear the good news, I tell Kathie how wonderful she is to maintain her optimism and hope, while I am still going to pieces.   She challenges me.  “Do you really think I feel calm and philosophical all the time?  After some of the things he’s said to me I’ve spent hours having conversations with him in my mind.  Telling him off, arguing with him, listing all the things that make me feel resentful.  And then I ask myself, ‘What do I really want for the future? What kind of relationship do I want with my Dad for the rest of his life?  And how do I get that relationship?’  And I figure out pretty fast that telling him off isn’t going to do it for me.  I’d end up feeling sickened, and nothing would get better.”
The trouble with being a journalist is that events outrun the attempt to catch up with them.  Thus do I ploddingly record relatively inconsequential episodes when meanwhile, something terrible—or terrific—has happened.   Then I share my anger and panic, or my euphoria, only to find out that the weather has changed and all kinds of new possibilities are bursting onto the scene.
So, here I am recording our excitement over Aliceann rediscovering old friends, and at the same time grinding my teeth because, like the TV broadcasters, I must break into the story with a big FLASH because of the phone call I just received from Ed.  “What are you doing?” he asks.  “Reading the Sunday papers,” I say, not particularly wanting him to know that my computer and I have been blowing off steam, hot and cold, about the Edward Malleys and their eccentricities and talents for aggravation.  He has a request.  He’d like me to come over for a conference with him and Aliceann and Kathie and Frank.   He fills me in on his news.  Not content merely to locate a house for them, Blake has just called to say he will come up with enough money for the down payment.  Edward is his best friend in the world, and he intends to retrieve him from New England’s killing climate.
As Ed proceeds to describe his conversation with Blake, I learn that it was not without its bright points.  The house is furnished, Blake tells Ed.  Ed tells Blake Aliceann wants to furnish it with all her own furniture.  Blake tells Ed to tell Aliceann where she can stick her furniture.  Aliceann tells Ed she’s going to tell Blake where he can stick the unwanted furniture, but she loses her nerve when Ed passes her the phone.  Blake laughs and tells Ed Aliceann’s afraid to get tough with him and she better figure out pretty fast what she’s going to do with her old furniture.  Now the only thing Ed needs to do, Blake says, is get bank financing for the mortgage.
I tell Ed I’m not coming to Westwood; he’s not going to use me for moral support when he tells Kathie that all the back and forths and up and downs are coming to an end and he is going to take his money and run back to Florida as fast as he can.
I call Kathie and tell her I’d bet a million dollars that Ed will be a lot faster at repaying Blake’s loan than in paying his share of the remodeling expenses. Probably, she says, without rancor, but meanwhile would I like to invest a small fraction of that million dollars in a pretty little apartment in Westwood?
              Aliceann comes into Kathie’s kitchen, crying, later in the afternoon. She’s glad Kathie isn’t mad at them.  “You know, this is all Edward’s doing,” she says. “I have to go along with what he wants.”
             Having heard from me about the furniture fight, Kathie says only, “Well, we’d like to have our basement back.  Please don’t fly off and leave all your things there.  We’d like to move our summer furniture in out of the weather, and set up Frank’s shop again.”  Aliceann says oh, yes, they’ll be removing everything from the basement and shipping it back to Florida. 
 It’s hard to imagine the basement being emptied out.  It is a nightmare, crammed from floor to ceiling with large cartons (many of them labeled “dolls”). I tell Kathie we should kidnap the dolls, sell them at auction, and recoup her heavy losses.  She just says, “Oh, no,” unwilling even to joke about the subject. When I talk to Tim later, he comes up with the same suggestion about the dolls.  I visualize a headline--SPECIAL NEWS REPORT: EX-WIFE AND SON ARRESTED FOR STEALING PRICELESS DOLLS BELONGING TO EX-HUSBAND’S SECOND WIFE.
My computer greets me with an e-mail from my son, the philosopher. Tim’s message reads:       
"I’ve had a thought—almost an epiphany—about Dad’s choosing to leave. What must it be like for a man who was all that he was (strong, wise, gentle, loving) to go through a disintegration of body, mind, and sadly perhaps, spirit, in the presence of his children—especially his sons? Would it not be easier to do so in the company of an old friend like Blake, himself not too far from that cruel diminishing of self?
“I wonder if I might have inadvertently contributed to that feeling of degradation by trying to get him excited about ‘flying’ on the computer.  It must have been painful for a man who could once pilot a machine hurtling through storm-swept skies, with a steady and confident hand, to be unable to coordinate a simple stick and rudder.
“I don’t mean to be grim, but there is little about growing old that is uplifting.”
 “Well put, Tim.”  Painfully put, I added to myself.   What plans does Father Time have for me?  One comfort is knowing my children think of their father as strong, wise, gentle, loving—never having experienced the sort of misery I often did, as the wife of a hard-drinking Irishman.
Ted goes to Westwood to talk with his father about finances.  Ed says something about revising his will, a possibility he has mentioned to Kathie, as well.
“The old buzzard made one big mistake,” Ted tells me later, laughing. “He had to tell me about how smart he’d been.  He says he’s tucked away $20,000 he was saving for an emergency.  He’s not quite bright enough any more to realize he’s giving himself away.  I’ll bet he’s not getting the money from Blake at all.  He just doesn’t want the family to know that he’s been holding out.”                       
I know Kathie feels bad about not being able to make her Dad and Aliceann happy here in Massachusetts, and worries about her father being so far away, but Ted says she’ll probably be better off with them gone,  Maybe so, just as she’s been better off since she said goodbye to Dick White . . . .

February 1992 

Kathie had known since the spring of 1991 that Dick was having an affair.  When she finally told me what had been going on, I was incredulous.  The affair had been impossible to miss since the object of Dick’s passion was the woman next door, who, on occasion, to satisfy her own passion, would come to the house and get Dick.  (There’s a pun here that is better left unsaid.)  All the times I was in Westwood, helping Kathie with her therapy, or asking her advice on my writing projects or personal problems, she never gave a clue that anything was amiss in her own life.
Kathie knew Dick had his weaknesses, but she loved him.  When he moved out, she missed him terribly.  She let me know what she thought of my brilliant idea of a live-in BU student—-hardly a substitute for a warm, lovable body in her bed.  It had been a long time since she’d shaken her head and said, “Mother!” in that tone we moms know so well.
Several months after finally sending her philandering husband on his way, Kathie announced she had joined Parents Without Partners.  My heart sank.  My poor, brave, never-say-die daughter.  Did she have any conception of how scary it was, even for an able-bodied woman, to leave a lonely but familiar nest, drive to a meeting in a strange building or house, and enter a room full of other forsaken displaced persons?  I remembered such forays all too painfully.
"Good for you, dear," I said, not believing myself for a minute.
It didn't take long for Kathie to prove that I was wrong again.  With some trepidation, she went to a PWP dance, and that’s where she met Frank.  The first time she went out with him, I was uneasy when she didn't answer my phone call at eleven.  I called her the next morning.
"Oh, thank goodness!  You're home!  I was worried about you last night."
"Silly Mommy."
"Well, how do I know this Frank isn't a homicidal maniac?"
"He's a big teddy-bear," Kathie laughed.  "We had a wonderful time."

Ted tells me that during their conversation, Aliceann said everyone thought she was mean to Ed, but she had talked to her therapist about things that upset her, and the therapist said her feelings were normal.  Ted responded that when you had children, if they misbehaved on purpose, you punished them.  But if they unintentionally did something out of line, it wasn’t right to be hard on them.
“Well, my therapist says losing my temper with Ed is normal.”
Ed spoke up and said, “She’s right, I’m a difficult person to live with, and she takes very good care of me.”  

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