Beginning early this year, my mother began speaking of incidents that happened many years ago – some back to her childhood – as well as people, many of whom have long been deceased. Through my new research topic, “Dementia,” I learned this is very common in those with this illness. Current incidents in daily life happen and are often promptly forgotten. It must be comforting to think of times that one can recall clearly. Something my mother has related to me several times are the two happiest days of her life, the first when she married my biological father, and the second being my birth. The first one startled me a bit considering the miracle it is that she escaped that marriage with her life. If you’ve ever seen the movie, “The Burning Bed,” based on a true story, my mother endured much worse than the movie depicts including my father throwing a cup of hot coffee in her face, throwing her down the stairs that led to our basement in Ohio, hitting her so hard she would fall then kicking her in the ribs, and countless episodes of slapping, hitting, and other types of physical abuse. After no-fault divorce was passed in Florida and my mother managed to find a new home for the two of us and began working 70+ hours/week so I could stay in the same neighborhood, hence the same high school. I have no idea if my father is still living; shortly after he remarried (at age 66 and after over 20 years of being single), he gradually discontinued communication with me, with which I’m positive his new wife had a hand. I have forgiven my father in my heart but, until recently, my mother would think of something he did and call me to say how angry she was at him for xyz. She regularly stated how thankful she was to be able to get away from him but now…all she talks about is how in love with him she was. When I mention his brutality she says, “Yes, but that was just during a few minutes then he’d sleep or withdraw and was much easier to live with.” As bizarre as that sounds to the ears of the child who lay in bed shaking every night, sticking my fingers in my ears in an attempt to not hear the slapping sounds and my mother begging my father to stop…I know my mother is comparing that to her current life where my step-father is doing something every single moment, much of it asking here, “Where did you put this?” or “When is our quarterly income tax due?” Since the short-term memory loss set in and she forgot to pay bills, which was the first tip-off to Harry that something was wrong, he closed out her credid cards and “consolidated” their accounts, supposedly now going to be the one to handle their finances, but he doesn’t; instead, he regularly asks my mother if this has been paid yet and “I told you about that 10 times” – questions/comments that are annoying in the best of times but perhaps frightening when one truly does not recall having heard “whatever” once, much less 10 times.
Thinking on these things led me down two trains of thought: (1) What were the happiest times in my life and (2) I often feel like I’m living in a different time.
As to the first – I’ve been pondering this for some time and not one event stands out in my life as “the happiest” or even several “happiest” events. There were events about which I was happier than others but I can’t call any particular time THE happiest. It certainly wasn’t my wedding day. That entire marriage should never have been and, while my former husband (Tom) and I led a good life, it was never a true marriage and I was never in love with him (a fact Tom knew prior to our marriage, even prior to our engagement!) In fact, while I was bathing in preparation for dressing in my gown and being driven in a limousine (a gift from my mother) to our 7:30 p.m. candlelight wedding, my mother walked into the room and I sad, “If I got in the car and began driving now, I wonder how far I could get by 7:30.” Definitely not even in the top 10 “happiest” events.
I have no trouble recalling the saddest event/s in my life, #1 being the death of my paternal grandfather or “Popow.” Given the negative situation with my father, Popow was the father I never had and an indulgent grandfather rolled into one. Since my father was an only child, and I am an only child, I was my paternal grandparents’ only grandchild. I adored Popow. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents; beginning at age 3 I joined them on their yearly 3-week vacations to Miami Beach. (Still lived in Ohio at the time.) Such amazing times – the wonderful things we did and places we saw. This was also “a” happiest time as it was three wonderful weeks out of the house where “the ogre” (as I referred to my father in childhood diaries) lived. My grandparents also took me to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. We ate at the Automat and attended the premier showing of “Cleopatra.” I took my first jet plane trip with my grandparents. Popow died of a heart attack at age 71 when I was in my first year of college. He was the first person I knew who died (other than my step-great-grandmother in Kentucky who I barely knew and was in elementary school when she died) and the most beloved to date.
Deaths of several of my pets through me for a loop, especially my 20 year old cat, Morris, who died during a time I was physically run down and emotionally fragile due to a bizarre (and very short) engagement. Although I took a six-month leave of absence from my job, returned for a few weeks for 4 hours/day but, advised by my Dr., finally realized I could not return there as the intense multi-tasking environment played into my illness and resigned, followed by attempting to do some temporary work via an agency, the date of the death of Morris is also the date listed as the beginning of my SSDI since that is determined by them as the date I became too ill to work.
I’ve been thinking about this for weeks and the closest I can get to a “Happiest Day” or, more accurately “Happiest Days” was when I visited Larry’s home and met his family in 1974. Having met at college, Larry was the first (and only) boy/man with whom I truly fell in love. He had two older brothers, the eldest of whom was engaged at the time, and one younger brother. His parents were so warm and the entire family made me feel at home. His family attended the same church denomination as I at the time and we all went to church together. It was the first real “family” I’d experienced – one in which there was love and laughter – board games were played with fierce competition – and I was “positive” I would one day be a part of that family. Another “saddest day” of my life was when I returned for my last semester of college, had a “date” with Larry, although a bit strained, at the end of which he announced that would be the last time we saw each other. No explanation.
I met Tom indirectly through Larry as they were fraternity brothers. (Tom also knew I was in love with Larry when we became engaged and later married – I really need to write a book someday.) Years later, Tom clued me in on why Larry broke up with me – I was a year older and a year ahead of Larry in school; Larry apparently relayed to Tom or the fraternity in general that he and I were getting very close and he didn’t want to drop out of school to get married. That was it?!?!?! I so wish he’d told me as education is HUGE with me and I would have waited any amount of years for Larry. (Note: Getting pregnant and having to drop out of school wasn’t the issue as pre-marital sex was still fairly taboo back then and the girls who did developed “bad girl” reputations, so that was never in my pattern of thinking.)
Until something else comes to mind – the time I spent with Larry were the happiest days of my life…and I still think of him.