September 04, 2009

The ex-wives club

Since the papers have been signed, I count four ex-sisters-in-law, only one of whom I care about. Ex #4, A., is the mother of my niece. Despite the not-so-surprising end of the marriage, I want to stay on good terms with her. I need the connection.

A. has physical custody of my one and only niece, Kay, who is my link to the next generation. How to make nice with A. without disturbing my brother? Friends say, send Kay postcards (not that a 2 1/2 year old can read), presents, and so forth -- just to keep my name in the air in her mother's household.

When Kay gets a little bit older, I'll start sending family photos, with lengthy captions explaining who's who. I'll write her stories about my dad, the grandfather she will never have met. I'll write stories about my brother, about my mom. I will be the witness, Kay's link to a family she otherwise may know only when we die and she inherits.

In the meanwhile, I have befriended A. on facebook. We have the occasional chat -- about her school, work, and my niece. FB is good for keeping in touch from a comfortable distance. When I'm typing instead of talking, I am more deliberate in what I say.

In some ways, that cuts down on the misinterpretation factor, but at the same time, so much is left out: the body language, the facial expressions, any visual clues. This is always the problem with e-communications; here, it's exacerbated by the speed with which a typed chat occurs.

I keep clear of any mention of my brother. Today, however, I'm wondering how to interpret A.'s status. A. "is happy that things are looking up. for a change:)." Dare I ask why? I think not. I'm curious, but at some point I have to be an observer.

Occasionally I wonder: what would happen if all the ex-wives got together? Each one took my brother's last name. It might be confusing: "Mrs. Uptown, this is Mrs. Uptown, this is Mrs. Uptown, this is Mrs. Uptown."

Did they revert to their previous surnames? From Social Security to the DMV, Department of State (ex # 1 was the sole passport holder), the IRS, and whatever other government institutions in the need-to-know loop, that's a lot of bureaucracy to contend with. Each one said, "I do," then after fewer than three years (each) said, "I don't."

Hard to know why any of my brother's marriages ended: we are not a family to ask for details best left unspoken. All I know is, each time he says, "I should never have married her." That's four "hers" now, and we hope he won't take the plunge again.

Honestly? I want to take all of his divorce papers and hide them in New York, so the next time he has the urge to merge, he has to get on a plane to fetch the papers. At least it would buy some time. He may be over the marriage thing, finally, though his track record suggests otherwise.

After wife #2 didn't pan out, I stopped getting invested in my brother's partners. I assumed he would always have one, but that she was subject to change. No point in my even knowing the maiden names of the women in the ex-wives club. I do have some recollections, however, not just of their names:

Ex #1 was Smith (sic) ; ex #2, not a clue; ex #3 was Cluck or Gluck or something to that effect, courtesy of her first husband; ex # 4, Kent. Looks like surnames of one syllable have been popular. And what would Emily Post say? Not sure she covers that territory.

A quarter of a century ago, Miss Manners did: "the truly correct style is to combine Mrs. with your maiden and [married] last name...but few people use it nowadays." By that rule, ex # 1 would be Mrs. Smith Uptown. However ex # 1, like her successors, was not the type to have heard of Emily Post or Miss Manners.

Ex #1 was, to put it mildly, a bitch on wheels. (Another epithet comes to mind, one rhyming with "bunt.") Of the group, she was the most educated -- and the one who lied on her financial aid application for law school, saying she was single to get a scholarship.

If she hadn't known so many family secrets, I would have made sure she got had gotten hit by payback. But I couldn't. What I know is, payback's a bitch unto itself. Perhaps karma will take, or have taken, care of her. My brother left her on Christmas day, the best present he ever gave me.

She made out like the proverbial bandit: after she and brother were through, my brother, who should have had a prenup, had no nup left to pre. Her list of parting gifts was extraordinary: a house, a car, law school tuition, a set of sterling silver my brother had inherited, and a lot more that I can't remember, seeing that the marriage ended in 1991.

Her father was an Episcopal priest. At the wedding, someone dug up a rabbi to hold up our family's end of the heritage. I was pressed into service as a bridesmaid. (I wanted to set fire to the acetate dress, but refrained.)

My father, who was the best man, forgot his cuff links and had to sew buttons onto his shirt. We were late to the ceremony, and you don't need Freud to figure out why.

That was brother's only church (did I ever say we were religious Jews?) wedding; the rest were City Hall specials that sounded about as exciting as renewing a driver's license.

Wife #2? That was more of a drive-by than an actual marriage. They pledged their troth (tell me, what is troth?) after eight weeks together, and divorced two years later. She was the daughter of Jehovah's Witnesses and had even been christened or baptized or what have you herself.

When I heard about her religious background, I hoped no offspring were forthcoming -- because I didn't want to have nieces or nephews raised as little door-knockers offering up copies of the Watchtower.

#2 took Oprah as gospel, which I didn't realize when started pondering aloud about the power of the media and how warped it could get. Whoops. Put my brother between a rock and a hard place. I remember telling him I would get on the next plane out of town if it would keep the peace.

Prior to marriage #3, my brother's mother-in-law to be took me aside and asked about my brother's "intentions." Excuse me? Intentions? Of a 35-year-old man with two ex-es already to the good?

Wife #3 came with two children, though motherhood was not her forte. The elder daughter turned into a teenage terrorist who proved incorrigible, not that her mother helped. Elder daughter got locked up in juvie jail, and upon her release, had to have "piss tests" whenever the authorities wanted. This put a crimp in wife #3's style, or so she bitched to me.

If we had national health insurance, I suspect wife #3 would not have gained her position. Sure, my brother liked to get married, but this time, it seems, his employee benefits were a major attraction.

The third segued into the fourth, who was half my brother's age. Now he says he married her to give his child a father. Okay. Wife #4 hadn't had a legal father of her own, that I knew of. And that marriage did produce my one-and-only niece, whom I adore. Still, was the paperwork necessary? Couldn't he just have put his name on the birth certificate?

For various reasons, including the fact that gay marriage isn't legally recognized by the IRS, I have never been formally married. What amazes me is, my brother and I grew up in the same household, saw the movie of our parents' lives unfold together.

Perhaps one of us saw the director's cut and the other saw the dailies. In any case, marriage never struck me as a good deal, though it struck my brother as the best thing since, yea, sliced bread. Our adult lives have unfolded in such different directions that I don't even feel I can ask, why marry? Or maybe I don't want to know the answer.

What I do know is, I have a niece, and I want her to know me as more than Aunt Alice swooping in from out of town for a few days a year. I don't know how I'll achieve that, but I'm hoping my current strategy will be the right one.

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Blogger the only daughter said...

I wish you luck and success in fostering and maintaining a relationship with your beloved Kay. I hope her mom continues to see the value in maintaining such a connection. I hope your brother won't thwart the efforts.

Cheers to Kay. :)

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Teresa said...

Yeah, and we're threatening the sanctity of marriage.

I have one niece too, and her middle name is Kay, as is mine (and my mother's). Kay is such an old-fashioned name, and I enjoy getting into loops where people ask me what the "K." stands for. "It stands for Kay." And so on. Of course, some people have only initials for middle names, which has always struck me as an odd convention.

I spent my whole life thinking I wouldn't get married, even before I realized I was gay, then coming out to myself pretty much solidified that suspicion. But oddly, when the California supreme court issued their surprise ruling in favor of marriage equality (I truly was not expecting it, and truly did not think I would avail myself of the institution even if it became available), I went to my office (we were at work) in a daze and typed an e-mail to my partner of 15 years, something to the effect of, "So, do you wanna?" And we did, five months later, two weeks before it became illegal again. It was a surreal experience, all of it, and I was surprised at how emotional I got during our low-key backyard friend-officiated ceremony. In the end, I think I had always rejected marriage because I thought it would always reject me.

1:13 AM  

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