My sister, Leslie, got married when I was 18 years old and was still a senior in high school. She had asked me to be her maid of honor, which was a big deal for me. It was another indication that she wanted to include me in her life. I was happy that she was getting married, and marrying a man who seemed to be the perfect match for her. He cared for her, could provide for her and they both seemed to be very much in love.
The wedding itself presented a bit of conflict for Leslie and Mom. Dad and Bev were paying for the wedding (so Mom had no say in the planning) and Leslie was going to be wearing Bev’s gorgeous wedding gown from Bev’s first marriage. (Dad divorced my mom to be with Bev, and Bev and Mom used to be best friends, so you can see how that would create a lot of tension.) Bev’s dress looked like a dress out of a fairytale. It had white, sleek satin underneath, which hugged the body, covered in a beautiful pattern of elegant lace with a train that tapered perfectly around the bride while she posed for a picture. The sleeves were long and hugged the arms perfectly, creating a point at the end accentuating the hands. I hoped that some day I would be able to wear that dress as well when I got married. (I remember thinking Mom would just have to get over it.) Leslie also showed me the beautiful pearl earrings and necklace Dad gave to her as a gift to wear for her wedding. The moment is etched in my mind. I remember the pain in my heart thinking Dad had never given me a gift like that. And I felt the pain in mom’s heart about not going to the wedding. I’m not sure if it was Leslie’s request, or mom’s choice but the sadness of it permeated our house for weeks before the wedding.
Leslie was so excited that Dad was going to walk her down the aisle. (This was another dream that I had envisioned as well. It’s funny how our cultures dictate what certain events are supposed to look like.) But 4 weeks before the wedding we got the news that Dad had broken both of his legs. Leslie was beside herself. I told her it didn’t matter if he was in a wheelchair – he could still go down the aisle with her, but she wanted him to WALK her down the aisle.
The incident of my dad breaking his legs sums up his opinion about going to doctors. Even though he was a doctor himself, he hated going. I wonder to this day if this is the case for most doctors and if so, why they feel that way.
Here’s what happened. My dad had been fishing with his dad. They were working on getting his boat out of the water. Dad had a nice big black Cadillac, a trailer and his speed boat that he used for fishing and water skiing. According to my dad, he usually loads the boat on the trailer himself, but Grandpa insisted on helping him. Dad hooked the boat up to the trailer and for some reason climbed back into the boat. Maybe he was going to put the cover on it or get something out of it. Grandpa said he would drive the car and pull the boat completely out of the water so Dad didn’t have to get wet again.
“Are you sure you know how to handle this car?” Dad asked him. “It has anti-lock breaks. Have you ever driven anti-lock breaks before?”
My grandpa was a proud man and let him know that he knew how to drive a car.
I suspect my dad had a few drinks and it wasn’t all Grandpa’s fault like Dad said when he told the story. Apparently Dad was standing in the very front of the boat (it had seats up front) and Grandpa pulled it out of the water with acceleration and when he hit the anti-lock breaks, the car came to a sudden stop and Dad flew out of the boat and got tangled up in the trailer hitch. According to Grandpa it was a miracle he didn’t break his neck. Dad said he was fine and DROVE THE CAR HOME.
After 2 days of being at home, Bev finally convinced him to let her drive him to the hospital and they said he had broken both of his legs.
He was determined to walk Leslie down the aisle. He got his casts off in a shorter amount of time and when it came time for the wedding, he walked Leslie very slowly and carefully with a cane. (Knowing my dad, he probably cut the casts off himself.)
The wedding and celebration went well. I was encouraged by my sister to bring a date. I asked a good friend of mine to please come with me for emotional support. I was very happy he came. He made me laugh in an otherwise lonely and bittersweet environment. I was really feeling a heavy weight on my heart that my mom couldn’t see her own daughter getting married.
Six or so months later, Leslie gave birth to a healthy baby boy while I was at my college freshman orientation. He was a beautiful baby, and both parents were obviously proud and grateful to have him in their lives.
I have a vision of Leslie when the baby was about 8 months old. She was lying on her back in the middle of the small, carpeted living room, lifting him up in the air. He was giggling and she was so loving and happy, talking to him and making him (and I!) laugh. She was so delightful and funny. I laughed until I cried. I felt like I was living through that baby, feeling what it was like to bond in that kind of love. I’ll never forget what it felt like to be sitting in that love between a mother and a child. I told her how much I loved seeing her with him, and that she was an awesome mother.
During this time Leslie didn’t appear to drink too much, but she did continue to smoke cigarettes. She attempted to quit many times, and had long runs were she didn’t smoke, but always seemed to come back to it. Over time it was getting more and more obvious that she was doing other drugs as well, but never in front of me. She was most likely taking some kind of speed – maybe cocaine - she talked incessantly and had to always stay busy.
I remember visiting her at her place one afternoon and someone knocked at the door. I was sitting on her couch and was really surprised – she rarely had visitors. Leslie’s husband was at work, and her son was napping. She stepped out and partially closed the door. I looked and caught a glimpse of a uniform. I realized that it was a police officer and fear filled my whole body. I was afraid that I was about to witness my sister getting a warrant or something similar. Their voices were very low and I couldn’t make out what was being said.
She closed the door and acted as if nothing had happened. “What did he want?” I asked, when I knew she wasn’t going to say anything about it.
“Oh he’s a friend of ours.” She paused. I could tell she was wondering if she should say anything. She decided to give me a refrained answer and simply stated that they (her and her husband) have a deal with him, and that he is on “their side”. It was difficult for me to accept that they were dealing drugs – I didn’t want to believe it and I didn’t want to know it. But I knew that’s exactly what was going on.
This was my first personal experience with the knowledge that there are cops who aren’t honest and their first mission is not to serve and protect. I was horrified. The world just kept becoming more and more unsafe to me. I remained silent and reaffirmed my belief that you can’t trust anyone.
Leslie and her husband had a daughter several years later and another son after that. She deeply cared for her children and did all the things our mom did when we were kids as far as making Halloween costumes and supporting them in their endeavors. And like our mom, she didn’t really know how to set boundaries and would let the older child get away with snubbing the dinner she made and grabbing a candy bar instead. I saw it as a plea for an adult in the room to please lay down some rules. She used to tell me how hard it was and how much energy it took to raise kids. That there’s no way I would understand unless I had kids myself. I knew it was difficult, but I also knew she was making it harder on herself by not creating any boundaries or routines in the kids’ lives. She also admitted a great appreciation for all that our Mom did for her, which was definitely a good thing for the relationship between her and Mom.
A year or so after their daughter was born, Leslie asked me if I thought another child would save her marriage. I told her it didn’t make sense to me. Having another child had nothing to do with a marriage. They had to work it out first and not lay that responsibility on the child. They did end up having a third one – another beautiful boy - and eventually divorced.
By now it was obvious that Leslie was getting more and more unstable. She was doing more drugs, drinking by hiding it in cans of soda and was probably having infidelity issues as well. He took the kids away from her and the court agreed that she was unfit to be a parent. There is so much more involved with that story and their relationship but those details are not completely clear to me and it really isn’t my story to tell. She kept in close contact with her kids, but they stayed with their dad.
She started to really breakdown, and begged Mom for help. By now our Dad had died, so she didn’t have him to go to. Mom set her up in an apartment and bought her a car, with the condition that she would go into treatment. She went into treatment for several weeks, and toward the end of her stay, the counselors asked that we attend a “family day.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was happy to support her and see my sister sober again. There were a couple of revelations that I had not expected to learn that day. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog.