Sunday, February 11, 2007


I just finished another review book and it is a doozy. The Liar's Diary has some flaws, most notably in knowing the difference between affect and effect, among others, but the story is riveting and disturbing, much like watching a train wreck at half speed. It brings up the memory of other families who keep secrets behind a perfectly normal and upstanding facade. Few on the outside ever glimpse the dark and bitter truth and those on the inside have a vested interest in ignoring the truth just to get by.

I have seen many marriages from the outside, and quite a few from the inside, but those that most directly affected me were my in-laws and a couple who employed me. In those three marriages I saw the good, the bad, and the undeniably ugly up close and personal.

My first husband's family was an ugly sewer that I was forced to trudge through for seven years. There were times I had to live with my in-laws. I got a front row seat for the secrets and lies vomited up from their murky depths. The neighbors thought they were the perfect couple, parents to the perfect family, but that was far from the truth. My father-in-law was a long distance trucker and he had girlfriends in truck stops and cities all over the country. He and his best friend's wife were quite an item when his best friend was out on long hauls; he was a trucker, too. Ed made sure they weren't at home at the same time so he could take care of his friend's wife since his own wife sickened him to no end. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law was terrorizing her children and running up credit card bills she hid from Ed until it got to the point they almost lost their home. Ed worked harder, pulled more dangerous and much more lucrative loads and paid off the debts only to have to turn around and do it again and again every time Betty got the urge to spend more money, which was all too frequent. She made sure she had whatever she and her girls wanted, all the time playing the dutiful and frugal housewife who served her family cheap and utterly tasteless meals. After all, it costs money to buy herbs and spices, money she could spend on fabric painting or another closet full of clothes and toys and gadgets she nor her girls used.

My second husband's family was quite different. I met him the year after his mother died. I was close to my father-in-law and one of my brothers-in-law who spent hours showing me family photos and telling me stories about the mother-in-law I never met. I can still see the tears shining in my father-in-law's face when he talked about how Ethel was always late, even literally to her own funeral, and how whenever they had a disagreement she solved it by putting pepper in his food that would burn his other end a few hours later. Larry, my brother-in-law, told me about how strange it was not to see his parents holding hands while they watched TV or how Bill would Hug Ethel when she was doing the dishes or cooking dinner, a dinner she inevitably burned and he ate as though it were ambrosia. After nearly 40 years of marriage, Bill and Ethel were still on their honeymoon and sometimes Larry said it felt like he and his brothers and sisters were intruding. Bill missed Ethel so much he died 13 months after she did even though he was living with another woman, a woman Ethel had picked out for him, hoping he would go on with his life and be happy.

David and Connie aren't relatives but I worked for Connie for years. Those years felt more like slavery or indentured servitude than a job, but David made it a little easier for me. He understood his wife. Although David never came out and said anything, I had a front row seat for Connie's diatribes, recriminations and ego assassinations on too many occasions to miss what was going on. Connie was manic-depressive (what is now called bipolar) and almost always in the manic phase, especially on those Fridays when we did the payroll for Batelle. It was a rush job and Connie ran around snatching half finished batches from desks where operators were inputting the data to throw it on someone else's desk to be verified before it was even finished and balanced. We all prayed for her to get sick and be out those days, but she never was.

Connie was a control freak with a vile and vicious tongue and her favorite targets were her adopted son, John, and David. She never thought to cut them up into little quivering pieces of emotional goo when no one was around and she frequently sliced and diced them in front of me. David smiled and made light of Connie's attacks but she continually battered John, often calling me into her office or at home to ask me why her son was such a useless, lazy bastard. Few people outside the inner circle knew about the emotional abuse Connie honed to a fine art. Everyone thought Connie and David were the bright picture of success. They owned two businesses and even bought a shopping center to house their business, moving their way up from a pair of trailers on the 150 acres of their farm outside Columbus. David was always smiling and Connie was always driven but they seemed like the happiest couple on the planet every summer during the office picnic and at the Xmas party every year.

After reading The Liar's Diary and being reminded so starkly of the facades I have seen up close over the years, I have no doubt that the happiest facades, or the most normal ones, hide more secrets, shame, abuse and pain that anyone realizes. I have known many over the years and it never ceases to amaze me every single time. Husbands and wives who don't talk to each other for days or weeks or months, except when they absolutely have to and only about bills and appointments and the necessities of running a household and raising children. Husbands and wives who are virtually strangers to one another and haven't a clue to whom they're married and can't remember why. They just keep going through the motions, going to church, serving on committees and showing only their public face while they slice and dice and emotionally dismember and numb themselves and each other. Makes me wonder if it's all worth it.

When I moved here, my landlady told me she'd never divorce her husband even though they had lived separate lives in different states for more than eleven years. She changed her mind last year and got her Xmas wish. She got divorced. She says now she was afraid to change things but now that it's over and done with she's glad she did it and wishes she had divorced her husband sooner. She realized at last that she has a right to be happy and as long as she was married to him that would never happen. It was partly about money and mostly about fear but she got through it. I know so many people in similar situations and my hope for them is that they finally get it before it's too late and their lives are over before they even get a chance to live them and know true happiness.

That is all. Disperse.

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