Monday, July 16, 2007

Cut Flowers

Written by Omega Mum from 3 Kids No Job

Get married and the words ‘for ever’ trip off your tongue and up into the ether like silver bubbles of air in a top-lit seascape.

Nothing in life can prepare you for eternity, though in my case double maths with Mr McC, - a teacher so dire that we ran competitions offering a night out with his cardigan; second prize, two nights - came close.

While we juggle with the infinite nature of the universe, we’re evolving into creatures so full of self-interest and deficit in concentration that gazing at anything other than our own navels is rapidly becoming a task of almost insuperable difficulty.

Yet we still propel ourselves into happy ever after unions blessed by officialdom and nourished by dreams, sex and fairy stories.

It’s like those battery advertisements where all the little toy rabbits beat a toy drum in unison, a confident welter of pink fluffiness. One by one, as the batteries fade, the confident drumming dies away.

‘For better or worse’ stops tripping off the tongue so easily once you’ve spent countless days checking the children for triple sixes while, once again, your husband calls to say he’s been held up at the office by a fifteen way international satellite call when you both know he’s got his feet up on the desk, open beer by the laptop until the bedtime ‘all clear’ sounds for the night.

My parents did their best to put me right on fairytale endings and castles in the sky. They saw creating a make-believe world for the very young as a waste of precious time and effort. Father Christmas had my mother’s voice and my father’s mocking laugh and the tooth fairy never had the right change.

And they taught me early on what really happens in marriage. The muted cross-border exchanges of fire in undertones. The escalations and stand-offs. The failed treaties. And then, war.

My siblings and I would sit on the staircase and listen, then go in and beg my mother to get a divorce.

“Why stay with him?” we’d ask.

“He makes me laugh,” she’d say.

We grew up and out of their house, its four suburban walls too small for our hopes. When we visited, my father, coiled in his chair like a serpent, would greet us like interlopers.

“Why stay with him?” we’d ask my mother.

“I feel sorry for him,” she’d say.

He developed leukaemia. There was nothing they could do. His face, always gaunt, shrank like boiled washing over the bones which rose up, tectonic plates under the skin.

We came back, my sister, brother and I, to share the weight of the responsibility like pallbearers.

One day, I arrived home. My father was asleep.

“He’s been out,” said my mother. “He’s tired.”

“On his own? Where?” I asked.

She took me into the living room. An enormous vase of flowers spread green, embracing arms towards the walls.

“He bought them?” I was incredulous. In my father’s eyes, cut flowers ranked with crossword puzzles for pointlessness.

There was a card, too.

“Thank you for everything. With love, Leo.”

At the funeral, we followed the hearse to the cemetery. My sister wore long black gloves and dark glasses and looked, said my mother, more like the grieving widow than she did.

My mother died two years later. “Why did she stay married to your father?” people would ask. And I couldn’t answer, because I still don’t know. But after over a decade of marriage, maybe I can start to guess.


Sensible One said...

I see couples all the time that make me silently ask "what are THEY doing together?" or "what does she see in him?". There is someone perfect for each of us, and it's those small moments in between the big ones that keep us going. Great job!

AuthorMomWith Dogs said...

Yes, those of us on the outside of those "odd couple" matches can only guess.

I'm glad your dad found a way to let your mom know how much he appreciated all she did before he died.

Omega Mum said...

Sensible one: so right, especially when you see them snarling at each other or sitting resentfully in restaurants.

authormom: yes, it was really nice. In an odd sort of way.

melody is slurping life said...

This hits home. For years I watched what I believed to be a miserable marriage for my mother. She stayed until he died from emphysema. I might have understood if her children had not been harmed in the process. But I didn't...and...I don't.

That's the first time I've said anything about this in public. You've obviously written a powerful piece.

Omega Mum said...

My mother always said that you never truly grow up until your own parents are dead. And now I think she's probably correct. It's taken me a long time even to begin to see their marriage from an adult perspective. Thank you, Melody, for your comment.

Mama Zen said...

This is really moving. And, of course, it makes me wonder what my own marriage will look like to my children.

Omega Mum said...

I think it shows that marriages are intelligible only to the people involved - and probably not always then.

SingForHim 94 @ Real Life said...

For years, I was so afraid to get married because of what I lived with growing up. When I realized that I didn't have to follow the cycle, it was incredible. Thanks for your piece.

Jen E said...

Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

Omega Mum said...

singforhim/jen e: Glad it was useful

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