“You’re mother lied to you. That’s the truth.” Those were the first words my father said when he came to see me in the hospital. Thanks, Dad. I appreciate your sensitivity.
Why was I in the hospital you might ask? I was having a delicate brain operation to remove a tumor. I had been suffering from symptoms for the past two years. Now you can see why Dad’s sudden need to expose my mother and her prevarications came at a bad time. At that moment, I was just hoping I would wake up after the operation, not worrying whether my mother had lied about the time and date of her graduate school graduation.
You may need a little background to understand this situation.
My father and mother are divorced and have been for the past four years. I see my dad sometimes, but not often, and when I do, the visit is usually riddled with his sarcastic comments about my mother and her behavior. Dad still hasn’t recovered from the divorce and remains one of the walking wounded. You would think that would make him slightly more aware of how I would feel just before brain surgery, but apparently not.
“Why do I care about the date of Mom’s graduation?” I asked him. “Does that really matter now?”
Dad’s response: “Your mother isn’t graduating. She hasn’t even been going to graduate school. I don’t want you having this surgery without knowing the truth about her and her deceiving ways.”
My delicate brain went into a complete free fall. “Are you saying that Mom has been pretending to go to class for over two years and is actually lying about where she’s going?” I knew Dad was bitter, but this accusation was further than he’d ever ventured before on the hate scale.
He looked awkward – perhaps actually registering how disturbing this information might be for me – then nodded. “She’s a stripper, Amanda. An exotic dancer at one of those clubs over in the industrial section of town.”
My father had now moved into certifiably insane. My mother, who was a librarian, would not remove her clothes for a bunch of lonely, depraved men for any amount of money. “Sorry, Dad,” I said, “April Fool’s Day was two weeks ago. Good try, though. Was that to cheer me up?”
“Just call your mother in here and ask her,” my dad said, pointing to the door. Do you want me to go get her? She’s just in the hall.”
Now I was hooked. I couldn’t go under general anesthetic with that absurd question burning in my brain. “Yes, go get her,” I said, curious to see how she would react to such a ridiculous claim.
My mother came in, wrapped in an oversized sweater, loose-fitting jeans, and Crocs and Dad wasted no time confronting her. “Go ahead, Penny, tell your daughter the truth about your supposed graduate school graduation. She deserves the truth.”
My mother, with her blonde hair cut super short and wearing no makeup, nodded. “Yes, honey, I guess my secret is out.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It beat working for minimum wage at a convenience store, and you must admit we needed the money.”
Yes, that part was true. My frequent trips to doctors’ appointments weren’t cheap. “But why didn’t you tell me?”
“And have my daughter be embarrassed by her mother’s actions? No way. I figured we’d get you through this and then move forward.”
I thought back over the past couple of years. I was aware my mother left every day at odd hours for graduate school classes – often at 9 or 10 at night – and returned sometimes in the early morning hours. I knew that she seemed to have more money than her librarian salary could offer – a lot more than she’d had for most of the time I was growing up. I also knew that she seemed happier and more fulfilled than she’d been when she started graduate school. I guess I had just assumed that she had found her niche and was finally happy. I suppose that was, in fact, the case. It was just a different niche than the Art History I thought she was studying.
My father beamed with triumph. He had the same look back when I was sixteen years old when he had come into my bedroom to tell me that he was moving out. All I remember about that day, besides that crazed look of victory on his face, was that when I went into the kitchen I saw that a carton of lemon sherbet had melted all over the counter. My mom must have taken it out before the fight began and never put it back. Now I saw that my whole relationship with my dad was like that sherbet – a treat that had gone to waste.
I looked at my mom, who had now retreated to the door out of fear, I suppose, of my rejection. I called to her and said, “Hey, Mom, come close. Let’s get something straight before they take me off and start drilling into my skull.”
My dad, gloating, stood next to me, and my mother, nervous, walked slowly up to my bed. I looked at them both and realized they were just two ordinary people who didn’t have a clue what to do with the problems life had sent their way, which included a daughter who had been sick for several years now and finally had some hope of getting some relief. “Let me say this once and be done with it, please. I don’t care what you’ve done or how you make money. I just care that you are here right now with me and we are a family – a fairly crazy one, I admit – but my family just the same.”
My mother hugged me.
My dad looked as if he was just about to protest, but instead leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. “I love you, honey.”
“I love you, too,” I said.
Hours later, I was finally settled back in my room with my mom knitting quietly in the chair beside me. The door opened and in walked my dad carrying a carton of lemon sherbet. After filling three bowls, he raised his plastic spoon. “Here’s to a new beginning.”
“Hear, hear!” said my mom.
I smiled. “Let the healing begin.”