A Son in Law

It was Ed, my son-in-law, who came accusing.

If he has on his hands an apparently injured wife, my daughter Audrey, he is grateful for the role of defender.

Ed is a decent man, though a white charger hardly suits his bulk.

When too much of him comes at me, whatever my responsibility, I side- step with an unspoken, “wasn’t I born into far greater mess than either of my children?”

And might Ed consider whether he is able to love Audrey so very well?

Though they are at a place in their marriage where they have settled for another dog, not children, and the bond between them is tight.

Perhaps it helps those two to define any present difficulty and find a cause outside their life.

Audrey herself doesn’t speak of grievance or blame my inadequacies. Her perky, “what can you do, that’s life,” keeps me out of access to her wounded heart, which certainly would stir sorrow in mine.

It is Ed who offers me the task of taking guilt.

What use is that to my daughter?

Would she really feel better and get fewer headaches?
Besides, while Ed attends to this for her, Audrey looks after the house and Ed and her job, and generally puts herself aside to please him.

But that is not what Ed comments on.

The case against me is my behaviour during the divorce.

I didn’t behave well.

Divorce is not good behaviour.

Fury and nastiness no longer stayed locked under a need to keep the family show on the road.

Over those years with husband, Darren, our two children, Audrey and her older brother, Douglas, had some vicious fights. We parents did not until Darren went into the bed of a young woman. 

Then the ugly, which our children didn’t expect to see in us, became visible. While Darren’s happily pregnant new partner bestowed big smiles over my children, as if all would be well.

Probably, back at the beginning, she failed to recognise how his first family might taint her central place with Darren.

Her home was calm and hopeful, mine chaotic.

And if I sometimes stormed, my children had the new woman’s attempts to show she loved them.

“I tried,” she’d say too often in later years.

Trying only meant she didn’t succeed.

And why should she?  Except that she sold Darren the line it was Audrey’s behaviour that became the impediment. She had Darren’s ear. Once he’d listened to my views. He tended to know children second- hand.

And now my daughter listens to her husband, Ed, about herself, since Ed is doing Counsellor training.

For Darren there is a concession to the feminine; women know about emotions and the young; nurturing can be their domain, while he attends to football and the car.

Before he left me, Darren hadn’t questioned my authority over our two and his next wife’s opinion of them is not to be challenged.

Darren and I made the mess which gave her this power. She only added to confusion by drawing in Audrey, to help with half-siblings, as if they were to be one happy family unit, then spat Audrey out in later complaints.

Darren wasn’t exactly an ambitious man, yet his eye was fixed on work promotion and his masculinity.

He had a strut about him to cover doubt, but there was no speaking of that.

I tried during our marriage and his anger showed it was a no-go. Since, at that time, carrying on together felt essential, I dared not risk  provoking him again.

Perhaps what happened was my indirect exasperation.

Not that I broke out fully but an infatuation became absorbing.

No doubt it took something from our children. Though I was present if they chatted over meals, listening was probably superficial.

I was plugged in to the separated father of Douglas’s friend, who liked to talk and talk with women, provided they were married to someone else.

Things went no further with him but sensing some withdrawal, Darren became outraged that an unreliable, effeminate man could pull me close.

Was it pride or jealousy which drove him fast into an affair? And soon that mistress was pregnant.

It was the first big fault line for us and, with both flailing, neither kept steady enough to hold the marriage.

I wasn’t looking closely at Douglas and Audrey. Yet I also believed that doing so was intrusive, having simultaneously wanted my own, often absent, mother’s care and resented her gaze.

“Why can’t she leave off?” had been a regular thought, especially if she noted my spots.

Douglas was already putting me subterranean before the marriage eruption, though the younger Audrey had barely begun to find me irritating.

My daughter apparently told Ed, not me, that with my distress centre- stage, there was only a side role for her.

Certainly the drama with Darren carried the children. Quite literally it took us to a far smaller home.

But, from the start, we expected the two babies to move in our wake. They often upset plans yet it was our planning, not theirs. We paid bills, we had the burden, while the children played along, either well or annoyingly.

Then there was upheaval, with no plans, just hurt.

Our children had to breathe in that lurid uncertainty alongside us.

It was tough and not what they’d expected yet hardly catastrophic.

Douglas became secretive and kept clean lines as he moved between two homes.

Audrey showed the strain of trying to please each parent, and remained a messy go- between.

Given that Ed claims I stopped listening, shouldn’t I be grateful if he now does his best?

However, having completed one counselling module, he is deciding where to look for the source of problems.

He has authority, Audrey defers.

Under Ed’s apparent reticence and smile there is power – all along Ed has been ready to know for Audrey and so enlarge himself.

I’d often wished to shout, “let Audrey find her own words.”

Ed doesn’t raise his voice with a mother-in-law or wife and fails to recognise how his quiet, “let’s be mindful here,” is controlling of us both.

He would protest otherwise – advocating emotional intelligence. I see him blocking turbulence, not that Audrey is inclined to scenes.

Her efforts to placate are not what Ed helps Audrey to recognise, or to see she may be repeating my own early behaviour with Darren, of conceding for peace rather than opting to fight. And, unlike me, efficient Audrey doesn’t even get the domain of children to rule over.

Ed has found language for those who disagree with his assessment.

He is right, I am quick to defend myself, but why should I not contest his knowingness if it confines my daughter?

Before the divorce, long before she could possibly join in talk of what might be going on, Audrey swam in me – and, like everyone, is in more than she can hope to capture.

Yet Ed feels entitled to coherence.

Audrey shares his belief in getting answers. Both call having them “mental health,” which Ed tells me should be added to the list of human rights.

I suppose you can’t blame him promoting it since his future income will depend on people seeking the quick remedies he believes in.

He names for Audrey what has given her unreliable health and some bad dreams.

She no longer has to puzzle over a melancholy which intermittently flows, thickening her blood stream, though never yet clotting in complete defeat.

It was there in her as a small girl, and it is that melancholy streak which softens Audrey.

It brings a kindness.

In capable mode Audrey is brusque with others’ suffering.

Perhaps Ed’s attempt to define the root of things for Audrey is him resisting her drop into sore throats or headaches, letting only her body show strain.

I can respect an effort to understand, yet the answer seems narrow and Ed’s rather than hers, and am touchy over what is given to me.

I want Audrey to cry out – letting the troubling be heard.

Though would I really welcome an explosion of resentment over the divorce?

Her brother, older by two years, laughed when I broached the subject.

“Are you just put out to lose power over Audrey? She’s always looked to another and stayed too long influenced by you.”

Douglas has three girls and, mostly forgiving of what used to annoy him, deliciously gathers me round his daughters.

In old photos, there is my baby Douglas looking out with wide eyes. For him there was only the adult world to join.

But in almost every picture tiny Audrey has her gazed fixed on Douglas. From the start she followed him where possible.

Was her focus narrowed to the size of her brother?  And then later to a best friend?

Audrey was the girl permanently attached to one friend.

During the divorce she still had arms slung carelessly round the current best friend, with laughter intertwining as easily as limbs – there seemed to be streaming giggles between them, while I was weeping in the shower.

Though I loved Audrey utterly, no doubt it was part blind.

During her earlier years I was intent on getting through busy days, coping with children, work and refusing the dog Audrey wanted, which I would have to walk.

Should I expect to be forgiven? If forgiveness does not come readily to me, why should it be easier for Audrey?

But my reaction is not just squirming with what is held against me.

There is wanting more for my daughter.

It is wishing for her to be more open with me but it’s not only that.

Audrey’s fears used to surface up on dark nights.

As a little girl she would come to our bed offering a stomach ache.

Perhaps I should have challenged but it felt she had no other words than “tummy pain.”

She would shudder against me briefly, until what made its way through her in sleep was subdued.

Blaming me is probably as good an explanation as any.

Between us, as parents, Darren and I disrupted her expectations.

For years it looked as if Audrey staked a lot on undoing our divorce.

She lost.

Ed says Audrey occasionally wakes crying and daylight fails to show what threatened.

It stirred me deeply to see our child starting some mornings with tears. And yet, that she still does so, suggests not as much of Audrey is lost as it appears.

Watching her grow more and more competent was a relief but it seemed to have such cost. Her impressive management feels brittle.

And though I wish she would face me with her inevitable disappointments, I had better accept she now has Ed for intimacy.

Maybe she is finished with being caught between and what Audrey wants is her new dog and for me to simply love and encourage Ed as she does.