I don’t know about your situation, but I already have several well-documented (see my memoirs) relationship failures that had D-i-s-a-s-t-e-r written all over them before I ever willingly waded into the eye of a hurricane. When I look back on these women and the circumstances surrounding our break-ups, I like to say to myself well yes, you were a mess and they were a mess and everything was so messy- but try to remember you were young. As if my being young was the rationale for selfish behavior that hurt the people I loved. Mea culpa, mea culpa…translates as through my fault…and it usually was.
Mistakes have never been reserved for the young – it’s quite possible to make them in mid-life with the same vigor and recklessness we did when we were young. Repeating mistakes, developing patterns can be a breeze to recognize and understand when you reflect on them forty years later sitting on a sofa in a therapist’s office. They weren’t hard to make at all when I focused on my pursuit of happiness with the fervor of a terrier that had a whiff of a delectable mole.
When I was fifty-five years old, I began a new relationship with a woman I had known and admired for eight years. She was a good friend and a wonderful activist in the growing LGBT community in Columbia during the early 1990s. We had worked toward the same goals and shared the passion that all activists share for their causes. We also shared a love of sports – particularly the University of South Carolina Gamecocks who typically rewarded our dreams of glorious wins with crushing losses. In the midst of this passion for our teams and our causes, we eventually found a passion for each other.
As the 21st century began, so did Teresa and I. We had both been in other long-term relationships that were winding down – our partners had also found fresh romantic interests with the new century. To her credit, T urged for a slower approach, to let things settle in before we settled down together. I remember making a grand dramatic gesture of tearing the months away from her calendar and telling her enough time had passed now. I was ready to move in with her. And so we did.
One complication in our uncharted family beginning was T’s son Drew James. My previous three homes and the women who shared them with me had never included a partner with a child – much less a child who had just turned fifteen and was about to be exposed to a home life that would replace a young woman he adored for nine years with an old woman he didn’t know well. It was a rocky start.
We chose a home in an established subdivision I wasn’t familiar with, but T wanted to make sure we lived in the proper school district for Drew so he could maintain his high school friends and sports activities. He was the quarterback of the football team and a pitcher on the baseball team, and his mother wanted to be at every home game – but preferred to arrive after the start because her nerves were jangled watching him. I went with her to those games and finally convinced her to take a xanax to calm herself. My belief in the magic of pills is well-known, and T came to see the wisdom of one every now and then when the stress of having a son in competition was simply too much.
I made many mistakes in the beginning in my eagerness to please T and my misguided attempts to be Drew’s friend. The age difference between me and T was fourteen years, but the age difference between Drew and me was an eternity. We were both not what each other hoped we’d be, and my exasperation with teenage drama – yes, boys have drama, too – too often was a voice of frustration and anger and not the kind soothing one I imagined I’d have with a son. At times I wondered if I were the wicked stepmother.
Yesterday my thirty-one-year-old step-son Drew James spoke at his paternal grandmother’s funeral. T and I were sitting with Drew’s mother-in-law Sissy who had a program and shared it with us. Drew hadn’t told his mother or me that he was taking part in the program so we were both surprised to see his name listed. And of course, his mother and I were worried.
We needn’t have been. The tall handsome young man who is our son spoke with tenderness and love and honesty about the grandmother who had given him refuge and a place under the stairs for his toys in her home – a woman he obviously respected and appreciated for her constant support and loving care. How fortunate he was to have been so close to her from the time he had a memory until yesterday when he had to say goodbye. What a legacy she left for this grandson.
Mea culpa, mea culpa – Red rover, Red rover – let Drew James come over. And he has. We have met each other somewhere in the middle when he realized how much I loved his mother and when I understood how much she loved her son. Drew and I became friends after years of altercations and sometimes even animosity. Both of us mellowed and discovered common ground – our love for Teresa. And that creates a bond which has been very good for us to find.
Families today often come in mixed packages that aren’t very neatly wrapped… Drew’s father and his second wife sitting on a bench together in the funeral parlor while his grandfather sat with his second wife sitting on a bench behind them at the funeral… two uncles and their ex-wives sitting with their children in the family section of the funeral home…the family united but with mixed emotions as the matriarch was laid to rest.
Finally, to me, as Granny Selma used to say, I got to see some of my mistakes weren’t forever ones. Drew James stood upright yesterday and talked about his family with love and deep affection. I know he wasn’t talking about me, but I feel included and thrilled to know that my pursuit of happiness became a part of his.
It’s an early Thanksgiving gift for me.