A friend wrote about her husband’s quirky family, which stoked a few memories of my first ex’s family, such as it was. My first introduction to the woman who would become my monster-in-law should have been enough to scare me off, but alas, I was young and stupid.
Both my ex and I attended university together and lived in adjoining dorms, separated by a common area with television, uncomfortable seating and a few other basics. We met my first semester (my only semester in the dorm) as I walked through from the entrance on my way to my room. A voice directed at me said, “Hi, you wanna go to a party?” I had nothing else to do, and he looked a whole lot like John Lennon, so I went. The party was tame, but there was vodka, for which I discovered a rather large capacity.
By Thanksgiving, we were dating, but there was nothing serious going on. My first introduction to his mother came when she drove down to pick him up for the holiday and give me a ride home, as we both lived in the same city. She was a tallish, early forties, very heavy, blowsy bottle-blonde with BIG hair, pancake makeup, heavy eye shadow and false eyelashes. She had been divorced for more than a decade—he’d run off and never looked back. (There is a pattern there…) Her last boyfriend, CV, a considerably older drunk, had died and left her his orange Caddy with a plaid interior. I looked around, fearful that someone might see me entering this obnoxious carriage.
As we hit the road, we were silent. As it turned out, he couldn’t stand her, with good reason, but he was going home to see his grandparents, who had driven the four hours up for Thanksgiving to see him. No more than three minutes had passed before she did a 180 in her seat, while driving, and said to me in her 80-decibel, sicky sweet voice, “WELL, I HOPE YOU’RE USING BIRTH CONTROL. I CERTAINLY DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO PAY FOR SOME TRAMP’S BABY.” Stunned, I mumbled something about not even having slept with him, turned my face to the window and never said another word until we pulled in front of my house. I grabbed my duffel, jumped out without looking back and went inside to my own family’s personal chaos.
Needless to say, I avoided contact with her as much as possible, and all future rides were provided by my father, a very dear man. It is, however, difficult to avoid one’s future MIL when there’s a wedding about to take place. In a classic meet-the-parents disaster, they had arranged to meet downtown in a nice restaurant, which had a flight of wide, low steps going up to the entrance. The weather was typically Midwestern summer, hot, sticky and humid. My parents waited outside for her to arrive. They knew her the moment she stepped out of her plaidmobile. As she approached them, somewhat unsteadily, it was clear that she was already three sheets to the wind, and as they began to ascend the steps, she tripped, fell and grabbed my father on the way down. Nothing about dinner improved their perception of her. (It was at this point that my ex revealed that his mother had told both him and his sister, on a daily basis, that she never wanted them, wished she’d never had them, and they had ruined her life. Nice.)
The wedding was a small affair, just family and a few of our college friends. We were married by a justice of the peace, which set the monster-in-law off the moment she heard our plans. A “devout” Catholic (in name only) she insisted on a church wedding. As a nice Jewish girl, I was adamant that if there were to be a wedding at all, it would be on my terms, since my parents were paying for the entire shebang. Of the 60 or so people attending, his side of the family included his drunken mother, his maternal grandparents and his sister. From the first moment she entered the venue, the clubhouse of the apartments where my parents had moved in preparation for moving to Arizona, her stage whispers could be heard disparaging everything. The big scene occurred when she tripped over nothing and stepped on my mother’s cousin’s foot. Cousin Norma wore special shoes for her unhappy feet, and as the spike heel crushed her instep, she writhed in pain, but had the good manners not to kill her. Monster-in-law did not stay for the reception (there was no booze).
We only saw her occasionally after that, once after the birth of her first grandson, once on his first birthday, and once after the arrival of her second grandson. My parents had come up from Arizona to help out when birth seemed imminent, but my little bundle of joy wasn’t quite ready. Five weeks later, I delivered a 10 lb toddler. Because he’d been stuck all night in the birth canal with the cord wrapped around his neck three times, he was purple from the neck up and looked as though he had two heads. Fortunately, there was no lasting damage, and within a month, he little head was as round and pink as any other baby’s. But I digress.
The Monster-in-law decided to pay us a visit the day after we were released from the hospital. She made the six-hour drive in time for lunch, but alas, plans changed when she walked in, set her stuff down, and looking at my precious baby, cradled in my mother’s arms in the rocking chair, said, “OH!!! I HOPE HE ISN’T GOING TO BE…RETARDED.” Had she not had a baby in her arms, this 5′ dynamo would have risen up and taken her out. How dare she talk about her grandchild that way! The ensuing brouhaha ended quickly when she suddenly remembered that she had a dinner date and had to get home.
We never saw her again until his sister got married in Hawaii three years later. The monster-in-law had promised to pay for the wedding, and then reneged. His sister was divorced six months later. On the upside, we had a lovely two-week vacation on Maui, my kids got to visit with their real grandma and grandpa, and we never saw his mother again, thank goodness.
Next up, the F-I-L…stay tuned.