Charlie and I are sitting and gabbing at my dad’s wedding. Well it’s actually the reception, my dad and Ellen married in court last week. Ellen had never been married before, so she wanted a party, and Charlie and I had flown to Chicago to attend.
I spy on my brother, whose dancing with his date Lucy, on the other side of the reception hall. My dad never mentioned Lucy, which means he is not in a relationship with her. Although my brother is successful professionally, as far as I know, he never had a girlfriend last more than two months. Aside from a few obligatory words, Mark and I had not spoken during the reception.
I watch as Mark whispers something to Lucy, and strolls over to where Charlie and I are sitting. “Good party”, he says. I nod in agreement. He continues to talk.
“You know I couldn’t stand Ellen when I met her, but now, well I still can’t stand her, but I do think she’s good for dad.”
“I think she’s great.”
Mark smirks at me. “Well you’ve always had bad taste in people.”
My blood starts boil. Charlie takes my hand and asks Mark, “so where did you find Lucy”.
“She works with me. Lucy has an obsession with weddings, so I asked her to come with me. Give a woman what she wants, and you get rewarded.”
“Well, when you are married, if you don’t give a woman what she wants, you get punished.”
I glare at Charlie. “Relax Ann, it’s just a joke”, he says.
Mark watches us with interest. “I seem to have caused trouble in paradise”, he says gleefully. “I better get back to Lucy, she’s getting lonely.” He strides away from the table.
“I hate him”, I declare to Charlie.
“I wish I was an only child.”
“He always ruins my mood.”
“I know, but you shouldn’t let him. Come on lets dance.” Charlie’s grabs my wrist, and pulls me on the dance floor. We dance as the Beatles sing “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”
Charlie and I spent the night in my dad’s house. I got up at 2 in the morning, to search for my moms scrap-book. I finally found it in a dusty box, which had been placed on the bottom shelf of the pantry.
My dad gets up every morning at 7 to have his coffee. On this particular morning, I corner him in the kitchen, as he brews his coffee. “I found the scrapbook”, I say. I show him the evidence, and I ask him if he could tell me about the people in the photos. My dad looks through the album, and he stops at a photo of my mom standing next to a brunette. “I met her once”, my dad says. “Her name was Jen or Jane, I don’t remember. She was a good friend of your mom’s.”
“What happened to her?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about the photos of where she’s standing next to people who look like they might be her relatives. Do you know who they are?”
“No, although I would assume they are probably members of her foster family’s, the ones she got along with.”
“Where did you and mom meet?”
“On a train. I’m glad you found the photo album you were looking for. I’m sorry I can’t give you any information about the photos, but your mom hated talking about the past, and I never wanted to push her.”
When a child asks an adult a question, and the adult doesn’t want to answer, they can refuse in many ways. They can tell the child “you’re too young to know this”, or they can say “it’s none of your business”, or they can just flatly refuse to answer. When an adult doesn’t want to answer a question that another adult asks, any one of those techniques would be extremely rude. So instead the adult will reply with false information, or they will say that they don’t know. In my dad’s case, he even apologizes for not being able to provide the information asked for. This helps make the lie more believable.
Charlie and I are waiting in the airport for our plane to arrive. “Do you find it strange that I know nothing of my mom’s past?”
“A little bit, but most families are weird.”
“I wish I could find out more information about her.”
“I hope you don’t plan on making this your obsession.”
“Why not, I have a right to know my family’s history.”
“Did you ever think that maybe there is a reason your mom’s past has been kept secret. Whatever the reason may be, let me assure you it is not because your mom was the clandestine heir to the throne of England. Whatever happened in her past, is unpleasant, and knowing what it is, is not going to improve your life. It won’t change the memories you have of your childhood. It won’t change who you are today. It won’t solve any of your problems. All it will do is fill you head with horrible facts.”
“You have no right to tell me my mom’s history is useless. You know everything about your family.”
“A lot of good that does me. It doesn’t impact the man I am today. It’s just pointless facts, which take up space in my brain, where more useful information could be stored.”
“And what is this more ‘useful information’?”
“Well I wish I knew the way to get you to stop obsessing about your mom’s life.”
The conversation is interrupted by a boarding call for our plane. We stand in line to board our plane, choosing not to air our argument to the public. I used to love flying on planes. I remember my first plane trip, I was ten years old, and we flew on a family vacation to San Francisco. Mark and I had been coerced into a temporary truce, by the excitement of the impending trip. Every facet of the plane ride thrilled me. I felt important as I passed my bags through the metal detector. The cinnamon pretzel I ate as I waited for the plane made the anticipation of the trip even more enjoyable. I remember sitting by the window on the plane, and watching the houses turn into little matchboxes, the roads turn into faint lines that cut the city into neat squares, and flying above the clouds which had begun to seem like fluffy pillows on which a person could sit and view the land below them. The plane trip had been etched into my memory, while San Francisco had been forgotten. As I became an adult, and plane trips became part of my life, the magical feeling associated with them had disappeared. The feeling had been replaced with boredom, and flying became just another tedious chore. I felt that way now about my marriage. When I first married Charlie; I enjoyed discussing any random thought that entered my mind, and I was earnestly interested in his output. Now I am stuck in a marriage where my husband cannot seem to comprehend any simple thought that I have.
The plane has taken off, and I impatiently wait for its landing in Boston. “My dad never took me fishing”, Charlie says breaking the silence. “He took my brothers fishing all the time. They would sit in the middle of nowhere, have pointless conversations, and cook fresh trout for dinner. Sam always said those were his fondest memories of dad. Of course by the time I was old enough to be taken fishing, my dad lost all interest in it. Well one day when I was twelve, after much harping from mom, he agreed to take me. I was excited because I had never been fishing. We arrive at the lake, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but fishing with my dad was indistinguishable from spending time with him at home. He showed me how to get my reel ready, and then he stood in the water without uttering a word. At home I at least had the TV or my mom to distract me from his lack of communication. Well at the end of the day, when we caught a couple of fish, he actually opened his mouth to tell me a story about his dad. My grandpa died before I was born, and aside from a few basic facts, I knew nothing about the guy. My dad divulges to me that grandpa was an amazing fisherman, and that he spent every weekend fishing. One time he caught a four-foot fish. I was grateful for the story, but I would have been just as grateful if dad had discussed a TV show, or the way opium was made. That was the first and last fishing trip I took with my dad. And although I never had any desire to go fishing with him again, that trip remains a fond memory for me.”
“Are you insinuating that the only point of family history is to be a conversation starter?”
“No, what I’m saying is that stories about a family’s past should be a form of entertainment, and if they are unable to serve that purpose, than they have no use.”
“I don’t agree.”
Charlie shakes his head sadly at me, he gives up the argument, puts his head against the window, and goes to sleep.
The plane lands around 6pm. As Charlie drives us home from the airport, I ask him a question that every wife has asked her husband during their marriage. “Why did you ask me to marry you?”
“Don’t you know why?”
“No, that’s why I’m asking?”
“Because there was nothing good on TV.” Charlie smiles at me and continues driving.