Five years previously, I was in my car driving my mother to a radiation treatment for her lung cancer when my phone rang. As you can imagine the mood in my car was less than light. I guess some people put on a false front when facing treatment for a disease that has a huge chance in causing your demise, but Mom was not one of them. It is not like she was overly morose or weepy. She was tense and brittle anticipating her treatment and when I saw that it was Delilah on the phone I thought speaking with her would be a good way to ease the tension. To move Mom’s and my thoughts from disease and death to something lighter and distracting. I answered the phone on speaker. I had barely gotten out “Hi D “ and had not warned that my mother was in the car when she laid into me. Apparently, she had just gotten off the phone with Conor Jr., then a sophomore at MIT, with whom she had just had a knock down drag out fight and for a reason I could not fathom at the time, blamed me for argument. He had, she said told her that her listening to Fox News was rotting her brain and that her political opinion was racist and woefully ignorant. That her view of Christianity, steeped in the megachurch evangelical community in which she had immersed herself were both heretical to the true precepts of Jesus and hypocritical. That she preached love and understanding but practiced hate and intolerance. She screamed into the phone “You did this to him. You and your New York point of view have stolen his values from him.”
On my back heals from a verbal assault I didn’t see coming and knowing full well what New York point of view meant when dealt by a viewer of Fox News I elegantly responded, “What the fuck do you mean by that.”
“You and your liberal ideas that you put into his head. All those Jewish ideas he gets from the New York Times and other anti-Christian media. It has turned my son against me. I never should have left him into our house.”
I guess I could have been a good Christian and turned the other cheek. But as she pointed out I am Jewish, a son of a holocaust survivor and someone who has had to fight against insipient antisemitism most of my life. (They called me matzoh king of the Jews in High School) her triggered nothing but anger and rage.
“Who the fuck do you think you are calling me on the phone and accusing me of corrupting your son and blaming Jews for corrupting his values. Are you insane? You spent every day with him for twenty years and suddenly I am the problem and Jews are to blame. You talk to him every day and I maybe speak with him once the month and his opinions and thoughts are my fault. Perhaps it would be more useful for you to take a look in the mirror than call and yelling at me while I am taking my mother to radiation therapy.”
“I don’t need to look in a mirror. I know where he got these anti-Christian ideas from. Whenever you would come to visit I would spend weeks trying to deprogram him and Finn from your ideas. I told Conor I never liked having you in our home.”
I flashed red. Not necessarily a great thing to have happen when you are driving a car. But this was too much. I always thought I was the welcome addition to their house. Uncle Daniel. The guy who took care of Delilah when she couldn’t get out of bed for fear of losing her baby. The Uncle who bought the kids their first hot fudge Sundae. The man who got took them to Yankee Stadium with tickets behind home plate on the rail. The guy who whenever he came to visit would take the family to Morton’s or Chops or some other fancy restaurant for an opulent meal not just for fun but to teach them what to do when they went to fine restaurants. The link to their roots who reveled in telling the boys stories about their grandfather because they needed to know, and I wanted them to know, about their legacy. Now this woman, whom I had introduced to her husband is telling me that I was never welcome in her home.?”
“You know what Delilah. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. I will never set foot in you home again. “ And then I had the good sense to hang up. There was silence in the car for a few miles and then my sweet, Ferragamo wearing loafer, never leave the house without putting on lipstick mother said “What a cunt.”
I called Conor later that day and told him what had happened. I said “This is all kind of fucked up. I don’t need to tell you why. You get it. And she can be as mad as me she wants even if it is stupid and fucked up. But man, I can never stay in your house again. Never. Not because of animosity or anger. But because if she has been harboring all this hate for me for years, and saying nothing, how can I feel welcome when I know somewhere lurking beneath the surface is this hostility. Can’t do it.”
He replied, “I will take care of it.”
Later that day, I got a call from Delilah. I didn’t answer it. I let it go to voicemail. Her message was a tnon apologies, apologies. She said that she was sorry for the tenor of the conversation but that she meant what she had said. As she didn’t ask for forgiveness, I saw no reason to speak with her. My relationship with Conor didn’t change except I never set foot in his house again. My relationship with his boys Conor Jr (Con) and Finn continued through emails, texts, and the occasional visit I never saw Delilah again.
That is until four years ago at my wedding.
In 2012, I was in desperate need of a break. I had spent most of my free time over the previous two years being a caregiver for my father. In 2010, he had fallen and injured himself so badly that he could no longer walk. A pattern of hospital, rehab center, home had developed where I became the child that helped both parents cope driving them to Dr’s appointments, or taking Mom to the hospitals and rehabilitation centers, or just sitting with my father and talking. It was traumatic. Not only dealing with the inevitability of your parent’s mortality on a daily basis but dealing with the indignities that they were forced to deal with wiping your old man’s ass or changing his catheter. And even though Dad’s constant refrain was “Don’t break your ass over me” and my always reply “Don’t worry it is already cracked” It ground me down like a knife that had been sharpened too many times and could no longer keep an edge.
Then the Costa Concordia hit a rock and sank off the cost of Italy killing 34 passengers. It made great video footage and all the news outlets covered it extensively. I had never been on a cruise before. Never had any desire but for some reason I decided to check the Costa website. I thought that due to the tragedy that their cruises might be bargained price and afford me a champagne vacation for beer prices. I was right. An 18 day cruise from Santos, Brazil to Savona Italy all inclusive with a balcony stateroom was less that $1,500. I booked it on the spot hoping that it would restore me and give me the opportunity to find a little bit of the joy that had been knocked from me over the last couple of years.
I was not expecting to find a wife. But I did. On the third night of the cruise I was seated next to a stunning Brazilian lawyer named Nadine and by the time we said our farewells at the end of our cruise I knew that I had found my great love. An intercontinental romance had commenced punctuated by the deaths of both of our fathers and long flights between Rio and New York City and culminated 9 months later in a proposal of and acceptance of marriage.
We decided to get married that summer, in my parents’ backyard, among a select group of family and friends. I asked Conor to be my best man and for the boys to be there for their “Uncle’s” big day. I knew, of course, that this meant that Delilah would have to attend. At that point it had been almost five years since we had talked. I figured the scar tissue over the wound had healed enough at that point those whatever uncomfortable feelings we had for each other had faded into whisper. And by and large I was correct. She, besides being a little bossy with Nadine, she was helpful and thoughtful. And the good will produced by that wedding allowed was enough to allow me to be here in their new home.
I am not saying that the animosity had subsided. A bell once wrong cannot be un-rung. But it was enough to reduce it to a minor case of tinnitus.
“Nothing Del” I said “Your husband and I were just discussing whether or not the green flash exists or whether or not it is myth invented by hippies and drug dealers to get us to stare at the setting sun. What do you think?”
She made no move to embrace me. Perhaps it was the oversized glass of red wine in her hand. Or perhaps some other unspoken reason. It didn’t really matter but it made for an awkward moment that was only relieved when she took a seat on one of the deck chairs on the side of Conor farthest from me. Her welcome, or lack thereof, made me realize that Conor’s insistence that I stay with them, was his idea and not embraced by Delilah. I was thinking how awkward this was going to be over the next few days when she said “People around here talk about the Green Flash all the time. You always see people walking out to the pier at sunset to watch it. Our neighbor Phyllis, she and her husband sit have cocktails every night on their deck and watch for it. “
“But have you ever seen it?”
“Well, no but….”
“That is what I was telling Conor. It is hooh-hah designed by some chamber of commerce to get people to come to the beach and spend money at their stores and restaurant” I said with what I hoped was more than a touch of snark to my voice.
I could tell from the nearly invisible smile on my buddies face that he had heard my comments the way they were intended. I was throwing a verbal hand grenade into the room and seeing what would happen. Or said another way, just adding a little spice to the conversation to make it more lively and fun. It was an element of my sense of humor. An element I might add that was shared by Conor and had been honed in us by Conor’s Dad who loved to inject a bit of contrarianism or fit of fantasy in a conversation for fun. I had forgotten than in this regard (and dare I say many others) Delilah lacked a sense of humor.
She replied with earnestness “Well, it just has to be true. Phyllis would not make it up. She has lived here all her life and she says she had seen it. So I believe her.”
Conor chuckled. I may have too. Which I could see instantly was a very bad idea as Delilah’s face turned stormy. Rule one should be “never tease your hostess.” Especially if she doesn’t particularly like you, has little or no sense of humor, and you get her husband to join in. Her voice tinged with ice said “Well, why don’t we just sit and watch and perhaps then you will see that you have been wrong.”