I don’t know why the memory of a particular wedding I attended many years ago popped into mind this morning, but I think it has something to do with Mother’s Day advertising – all those weepy, teary, heart-tugging moments when Mom gets handed one of millions of cheap diamond pendants sold as “unique” and “just for her” by retailers from Walmart to the “junk jeweler” at the Mall.
As I’ve related before, legislated holidays were a problem for the emotionally inept members of my dysfunctional family. My father was Asperger and utterly clueless as to romantic or social gestures, so leaving to him the challenge of selecting a gift for the Mother of his Children was “asking for it.” The gift would be guaranteed to hurt my mother’s feelings rather than help to cement their relationship… a card was about as good as it got; maybe brunch after church, except that Dad would forget to make a reservation and we’d have to trudge from eatery to eatery, crowded with joyous, flower-bedecked women and their family entourages, only to end up at the “seat yourself” Pancake House.
When I recall my mother’s face, she’s perpetually on the verge of tears; life seemed to be a long, long journey of disappointments. There was a conflict point, a turning point, when she had chosen my father for practical reasons that were perfectly reasonable at the time, during war time in the 1940s. She had been the Belle of the Ball in her small town; lots of suitors, presenting ardent affection, presents, offers of marriage. She turned them all down as not “good enough” to get her out of the small town she hated and into a middle class life of social respectability.
Her “eggs” were getting old, not that she would ever say such a thing. She was pushing 30 – a disgrace and sign of doom in those times. “Beaus” were becoming scarcer; everyone was married. A chance visit with friends to a bigger city; a chance meeting with my father. A “catch” in her eyes. College-educated, a good job, conscientious and not terribly experienced with women. They married within three months. My mother “sealed the deal” by getting pregnant immediately, despite the two having agreed to wait at least a year. I have no idea what the birth control situation was; one didn’t discuss such things with parents, or at least my parents. They must have had access to something, because I was “planned” and didn’t appear until six years later.
My father’s parents had divorced; it affected him deeply, and he had vowed to make his marriage work for the sake of the children. My mother knew that once a child was born, he would never leave. That’s an Asperger, for you. Loyal unto death, like a Rottweiler. But, that wasn’t “good enough” for her, even though that’s “the deal” she had made. Where was the fawning romance, the constant attention, the man that she could “retrain” to be a constant suitor for her affection, the type of affection that would not ever be forthcoming from an Asperger male?
The marriage sank into routine: my mother’s constant dissatisfaction – and my father’s satisfaction in his work as an engineer, became two anchors of contention. Life for my father was designing wonderful gadgets in a secure, predictable universe of mathematics and engineering two feet from his nose on the drawing board. Then home, precisely at 5:30 p.m. Dinner on the table, the house clean, the kids scrubbed and dressed and “normal”. My parents had date night every Saturday, going out dining and dancing with other couples from church or the neighborhood. He really did try to conform to a social routine that was typical in those days, but fell short on social “niceties” – he didn’t drink or smoke; play golf, go bowling, or hang out at the bar with the guys, or play poker, gamble or fool around. He worked, he provided, he loved his children, a bit awkwardly, yes, but consistently, attentively and devotedly.
My mother secretly wept over her “lost world” of ardent boyfriends and became a perpetually resentful buzz killer for all of us. Not surprisingly, my brother never married. I tried it once, but the “picture” of my parents marriage was too cruel: as an Asperger female, it was apparent that I could never “settle for” the prison each of my parents had volunteered to commit to for LIFE.
The “wedding” anecdote that popped into mind this morning is really of no consequence; it was my parents’ wedding that I was forced to attend for the eighteen years that I lived with them. After my mother died, my father stated that after one month, he’d known that the marriage was a mistake. But he’d given his word, his promise, his vow never to divorce. I stifled my own opinion: Without marriage to my mother, my father’s life would have been miserable: he wouldn’t have had children or anything, really, except his job. She agreed to “put up with” his (undiagnosed) Asperger-ness in exchange for a nice house and strange gifts on holidays. They lived out a destiny that they both committed to back in the 1940s, after knowing each other for three months. The fact that they never came to know each other is simple destiny, given the circumstances.
But – let it be a “warning” to Asperger types; extreme loyalty is not always the best policy.
I do not blame my parents for my aversion to marriage, although it certainly didn’t help. My incessant curiosity about “what’s next” in life made sticking to one person, one career, one location simply impossible. And it precluded having children. If I had, there would be one or more “screwed up adults” screaming at me today, Mother’s Day, claiming that I had ruined their lives, that is, if they were speaking to me at all, and those accusations would be true. Parenting necessitates so much sacrifice, even in “happy marriages” and I wouldn’t have been able to do that.