Now, I don't remember my parents ever being married. Dad and Denise, as I called her, were married when I was little. I don't remember, though they claim I was to be a ring bearer, at least until I chickened out. She spent 30+ years with my father, far more time that my mother ever had yet I feel I resented her for most of the time. I don't actively remember resentful thoughts, but I know acted like everything she did for me was wrong
I recall fabricating excuses to try and get my mother and father together at the same place so they might realize they were supposed to get back together. Having now been through my own divorce, I realize that just wasn't going to happen and my 10 year old mind was perfectly normal. I hadn't accepted it, the divorce that is, even though I couldn't remember them ever being together.
Every summer, I spent a month or so with Dad and Denise and their son, Moose, and Denise's kids from a previous marriage, Scott and Michelle. Several times I had to be sent home early because I was homesick. Really, it was probably just mostly stress from being on my own as an only child of a working, socially active, mother being forced into a home with two parents and three other kids.
I know now that Denise really tried to make things work and that she went out of her way while I was there to please me. Instead of taking advantage of it, I fought back at every opportunity. No I can't possibly eat a PB&J cut into triangles instead of rectangles. I didn't know it until last summer, but she and Dad were fighting for custody of me. I've since wondered how my life would have been different if they'd succeeded. Even as an adult, it never occurred to me that they wanted me to be there more than that one month a year. I managed to mess that up too as I got older. Once I was 16 I got a job over the summer and stopped going to Dad's house. I didn't even realize what I'd done until last year. I didn't realize the pain I caused him by taking away his one chance a year to see his son. I'm sorry Dad.
Around that time, as a teenager, I finally noticed that all the birthday and Christmas checks that Dad sent me were in Denise's handwriting. Those checks and cards and such continued through my adult life, always written by her hand. This is especially meaningful to me now, when my own kids have been taken from me. I know dad struggled to provide for the family and that the child support he was forced to pay Mom far exceeded what he paid each month for his other three kids. And still Denise sent some of the little money they had in the lean times.
For years I had referred to her as my wicked step-mother. I always dreaded visiting because she would be there. She would take an interest in my life and ask me questions and show genuine concern for me and I didn't like it. I wanted to see Dad and be left alone, or so I thought. I admit that her smoking also bothered me, particularly after I became an adult and no longer used to smoke. Still, she didn't deserve the title. She loved me and loved her own kids. I remember her picking through Moose's poop to find the little pink Barbie hairdryer that he'd swallowed and then washing it off and giving it back to Michelle. I'm not sure I'd do that for my own daughter.
Last summer, after settling the terms of my own divorce I went to Florida with my fiance. We took a day away from her kids and her parents and drove across the state to visit Dad and Denise and Moose and his kids and Uncle Eddie and Chris. Denise and I had quite a talk that day and I came to realize what I jerk I'd been to her for all those years. How I'd hated her and resented her for no reason. Sure, I was only a kid for part of it, but I never really gave her much of a chance. Here I was finally making friends with the woman. Making peace with her. Finally realizing that she was more of a partner to my father than my mother had been. Realizing that she had been the centerpiece of the home, decorating, clean, maintaining, sure, but welcoming, greeting, and caring for her guests as well. Apologizing for being the little shit she knew I'd been but loved anyway.
I didn't know that would be our last conversation. I know now you weren't wicked in the sense of the wicked witch, but wicked in the Boston sense. Wicked Good. Goodbye Denise, I'm sorry your journey ended just as I was finally starting to learn who you really were. I'll miss you.