#10 Two Days Later

I wrote in #1 The Ten Commandments: The Movie about my father dropping dead and how life changed. There were more shocks ahead.

The night he died, Alice, my mother was sedated but still hysterical. She had me sleep with her since she wouldn’t be alone. In that sleepless night I learned that it wasn’t my father who snored. Good God no wonder she always had headaches. I finally had to slip into the living room to curl up on the sectional sofa. I couldn’t sleep but didn’t go up to my room in case she woke and needed me.

The next night I slept in my own bed and was frightened awake early in the morning by my mother, fully dressed, standing over me. Was she going to smother me or make one of her pronouncements? I was confused partly because she never came upstairs. She was going to the mortuary to see my father and did I want to go? “No,” was my response. The thought of seeing my father dead was unimaginable. My brother didn’t go either.

I was also startled by what she said next while I struggled to be conscious.

“I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to help you, but that means you’ll never have to take care of me.”

It was short, no big words and I remember them all. But it didn’t sink in. Maybe she was still sedated and it was grief speaking.

But she did mean it. She bought a new house for cash. She sent my brother through Optometry School, gave him a family diamond for an engagement ring, paid to start his practice, bought the equipment, helped to buy his first house and his lake house, even paid for his divorce and bought herself a classic red Thunderbird. But I never received so much as a plant for a new office. I stood in lines at the Veterans Administration begging for an education. I had two jobs in Seattle while going to school. Even when I moved east I never questioned her decision to make a choice between her children. Now looking back it’s clear that my father’s death made what she had planned all along possible.

On only one occasion did I ever ask for help. I was working in radio in New York at about age 26 when two friends invited me to buy a radio station with them in Massachusetts that was up for a distress sale. This was my dream and we each only needed $10,000, but immediately. I thought my sole hope for that kind of cash was my mother. She inherited a great deal of money from her parents, which remained entirely hers. My father supported us so I never knew what their financial arrangement was.

At work one day I closed my office door, took a deep breath and called her, 3,000 miles away about a loan for my dream. She was irritable and said, “Don’t be ridiculous, I’m busy.” And she hung up. I held the receiver in my hand for a long time with tears in my eyes.Another group bought that station in Massachusetts and turned it around in a few years with a 3 million dollar profit.

Once when I was home for a visit, Alice actually said to a friend, “Elizabeth would never let me help her.” She knew I was too well trained, too passive to challenge her in front of anyone. My brother called it her “reality problem.” I called them lies.

Almost twenty years after her pronouncement at my bed, she and her husband came to see me in Pennsylvania. She also visited a family friend in the same town. After seeing my elegant historic home, she let it slip to the friend, “I may have invested in the wrong one.” She also told the friend that the reason I lived so well was that I had inherited a great deal of money. I’ve never inherited a penny in my life.

This made the “Stupendously Stupid” list and reads, “At 19, didn’t question my mother when she told me that since my father had died, she was never going to help me, therefore I’d never have to help her.” I was too numb to think of challenging her that morning or any other time.

I could have titled this Don’t Be Ridiculous, a common phrase of hers.

One Comment on “#10 Two Days Later”

  1. Sylvia says:

    A wicked heart of stone she has. And you -her antithesis. It takes a truly strong and talented writer to tell this, without one whining word. Those of us reading are sputtering all over the screen.

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