Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Machetes, Not Daggers

After my first divorce, I would drive up to the wine country on Friday afternoon (or, if I’d been able to force myself to go out chasing skirts after a hard week of processing the words of fools, Saturday morning) to pick up my daughter Brigitte, the light of my life. She had only recently celebrated her third birthday, and wasn’t at all clear as to why Daddy was living in a little studio apartment on Nob Hill, rather than in the big house in Santa Rosa. She called the little studio apartment “your [that is, my] house”. It took me weeks for me to persuade her to refer to it as “our [that is, hers and Daddy’s] house”.

On a couple of occasions, Mommy would deign to drive Brigitte down. Brigitte would be distraught at the thought of being left with me, and it would feel as though daggers were being plunged into my heart. It wasn’t only that my daughter didn’t reciprocate my elation in our reunion, but also that it enabled her mother, whom I’d come to loathe, to patronise me, to play the intermediary. She, Mommy, would assure Brigitte that she’d phone her in an hour to ensure that she was all right (as though there were some question about my taking care of her), and I’d want to strangle her right there in front of 1406 California Street more than I’d wanted The Sect — the second biggest band in Santa Monica — to choose me as their drummer back a million years before, when I was 19.  

I grew up with my mother telling me that she loved me much more than my dad did, and that my dad’s love wasn’t worth aspiring to anyway. On the night we brought Brigitte home from the hospital in which she’d been born, I’d held her in my arms and promised that I’d do better than that for her. But circumstances were forcing me to be my mother, to feel threatened by my child’s love for her other parent, to want, on a certain level, to diminish that love so that the scales would be more equally balanced. I hated myself for that, but every time my daughter, at what I was experiencing as a moment of peak joyfulness, whimpered for Mommy, I couldn’t help myself. It had been Mommy who’d refused to consider couples counselling, and Mommy, I’d managed to divine, who’d been unable to resist the siren call of the great wealth of a Swiss-born electronics mogul she’d served in the Sonoma art gallery in which she worked a couple of afternoons a week. The pattern would continue throughout my daughter’s childhood, to the point at which Brigitte  stopped speaking to me entirely 14 and a half years ago.

It's nearly Halloween. Oh, the memories. On the night of her fourth Halloween, I took Brigitte out trick-or-treating in Pacific Heights, the richest precinct of San Francisco. (The candy they handed out wasn't any better than in the grubbiest working class 'hood.) We were having a glorious time, but we had to return to...our house because Mommy wanted to take her out too. As usual, Mommy, who was incapable of punctuality (and who never missed a plane) had gotten A Late Start, though, and was her traditional 45 minutes late. Forty-five minutes that Brigitte and I could have been trick-or-treating. But that's who Mommy was. And Mommy was the one of her parents for whom my little girl pined implacably.

Swiss Electronics Mogul wasn’t much to look at, seemed to have no sense of humour, and spoke with a Swiss German accent. There is no less pleasant way to speak English. Though he seemed a decent sort, I hated him beyond my ability to express, as the thought of another man in my daughter’s life was nothing short of excruciating. One Sunday afternoon he drove down with Mommy, and parked across California Street in the parking lot of what has since become Trader Joe’s. As I watched the two of them walk back away with a delighted, relieved Brigitte between them, I was barely able to breathe for the pain of what I was witnessing.

No mere daggers, but machetes.

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