Tuesday, June 21, 2022

FAMILY MATTER - Chapter 19


        Chapter 19

To her parents’ surprise Kathy drove up in front of their Tanner home just after two o’clock that Friday afternoon, nearly four hours earlier than expected. For her part, Kathy was just as surprised to be greeted at the front door by her mother. 

“You’re home,” she exclaimed. “Del told me you’d left. She didn’t know where, but she said you were gone.”

“Only for a few days. I came back yesterday.” Nell took the bulky dirty-clothes bag from her daughter, leaving Kathy with her suitcase. Starting down the hall, they dropped their baggage at the top of the basement stairway and walked on to the kitchen.

“Dad’s out in the garage,” Nell said. “He’s finally got around to cleaning off the work bench. It was getting to where we couldn’t find anything out there. Delaney walked over to the mall, probably half an hour ago. I think she needed an email fix. Let me pour some iced tea and we can go out on the deck.”

A moment later, as she retrieved a pitcher from the refrigerator, she asked over her shoulder, “What has you home so early? We didn’t expect you until after dinner.”

 “I’d taken half a shift for Debra on Tuesday, so she covered for me this afternoon. I was anxious to get home. It sounded like Del and Dad were on their own. I thought they’d probably need some help. But here you are. So I guess not, eh?”

Kathy took a quick sip of iced tea, before cutting right to the chase. “It sounds like you and Dad had a crazy week.”

Without a reply, Nell nudged Kathy toward the outside upper deck, high over the back yard. Though there was no avoiding what came next, she was dreading it nevertheless. 

In an uncomfortably ironic sense her daughter, their only offspring, was something of a stranger, having just returned to the family fold after decades spent on the fringes of her parents’ lives. It was hard to know how she would react, hearing the latest news about the most significant relational conflict her father and mother had ever experienced?

Outside, seated comfortably on the shady side of the deck, Nell sipped at her tea, reminding herself that their little girl had grown into a mature, straight-thinking woman and mother. There was no doubting her concern, which meant that Nell owed her the truth....as uncomfortable as that would be. Then, before she could introduce her version of that truth, her daughter was there with her own questions.

“I couldn’t believe it when Del told me you’d left. I know it shocked her to tears.” There was a second or two of hesitation before Kathy asked, “Do you mind that I’m curious to know what that was about? Was it more of the same stuff we’ve heard before? I thought at the time that it didn’t sound at all like you and Dad. It was nothing like I remembered.”

“I know,” came her mother’s wistful reply. “It surprised me, and your father too. I’m not sure either of us realized how far it would go.”

“So why did you leave? That seems so......so extreme.”

“It was extreme,” Nell nodded, pleased to hear that her daughter’s concern came in the form of questions, rather than upsetting judgments. “The situation seemed to call for something extreme, something to get your father’s attention, to bring him to his senses.”

A long, deliberate drink of tea gave Kathy time to frame her response. “Look, I know you guys have been at odds about your retirement plans. Those were the first words we heard when we got here. Remember? There must have been a few times when the neighbors heard that too.”

“I suppose so. It got to where it was awful. That’s why I had to leave.” On her feet again, Nell walked across the deck and back before, with her eyes riveted on the floor, she explained, “It felt like I had to make a stand. I was afraid that if something didn’t change we might go on dancing that same stupid dance forever.”

“And you’d already decided that you couldn’t do what he wanted?” Kathy asked. “Not even for a while?”

Reclaiming her seat Nell finally looked up, displaying an earnest intensity that surprised Kathy. “Honey, your father is not a young man anymore. Certainly not as young as his crazy dreams.

“If he had his way we’d give up this beautiful home, here in our hometown, where we grew up. He’d have us living in a tiny little box on wheels, spending our time traveling all over the place. We might see you folks and our other friends every four or five months. In the meantime, there’d be no garden, no church, no nothing.

“Anyway, about the time your father finally realized I wasn’t willing to settle for that kind of life, I gave him something else to chew on. Long story short....I suggested he go traveling on his own.”

“Without you?” Kathy asked in shocked disbelief. “And that was your idea?”

“Well, it wasn’t something I wanted. But at the time it felt like there was no middle ground at all. So why not?” 

Nell returned to her chair to offer her disclaimer. “I’ll admit, at first it hurt a bit to see him even considering that possibility. Then, the more I thought about it....about the peace and quiet it might provide, the more logical it sounded.”

“And Dad? Did it sound logical to him too?”

“It must have. Pretty soon he was talking about foregoing the motor-home part....that instead he would drive around and stay in motels. A ‘trial run’ he called it. Then he had the nerve to say that was a ‘reasonable compromise.’ 

"That was a few nights ago. About five minutes after I heard that I had decided it was time for a ‘compromise’ of my own....a little ‘shock therapy’ if you will.”

“So you left,” Kathy nodded. “And now you’re back. Did your leaving change anything? Have you two finally sorted things out?”

Shaking her head Nell’s smile had turned sad. “I don’t think so. It didn’t seem to change him at all. I’m not sure there’s any compromise in him. The way he talks now his leaving is a done deal.

“That means I’ve had to compromise with myself, and settle for having my home, my friends, and the rest of my family. If I can have that much I guess I’ll have to get along with a ‘sometimes’ husband. I’m so tired of us yelling at each other. It seems easier to just let him go off and do his thing.”

The two of them turned quiet for a bit, as if their conversational energy had been expended. Then, setting her glass on the table, Nell appeared to accept the welcome lull as an opportunity to change the subject. 

“Enough about your silly parents,” she said. “Tell me about your job, and what you’ve heard from Gary. Is he still in Los Angeles? Still looking for a job?

“Better than that. He called the yesterday to say he’d been hired. He was supposed to start today, so I haven’t heard the details yet. I expect he’ll be calling this weekend. He thinks it’s a great opportunity, doing exactly what he wants to do.”

“Which means he’ll be staying down there. Is that right?”

Why did her mother insist on putting it so bluntly? For two frustrating days Kathy had replayed Gary’s undisguised delight, torn between his obvious excitement and her own ambivalence. He was certain he found the ‘perfect’ job. He was set, which in his mind meant they could be set. 

His pleading declaration had been straight to the point. It was time for her and Delaney to come home to Los Angeles. Why did it sound like he had forgotten her earlier ultimatum, as though he had never listened to her in the first place?

By then Nell had picked up on her daughter’s unsettling reluctance. “Is he wanting you to go back there?” She waited for Kathy’s reply, but there was none. “If that’s it, I’d have to say you don’t seem too happy about it.”

Kathy bent low in her chair, fussing with a shoe lace, before offering, “I suppose I was hoping for a fairy-tale ending. You know, ‘happily ever after’ in Tanner. I don’t expect that will be happening now, not when I’m here and he’s there. 

“Gary and I have talked this whole thing to death. I want us to be here. Delaney needs to be here, whether she believes that or not. He knows how I feel about that. And he knows I’m not going to change my mind.”

“So, that’s the way it has to be, eh?”

“Yes it is. It’s not negotiable. In fact, it sounds quite a bit like what you’re telling Dad....that Tanner will be home.

“Anyway, what I’m working on now is a transfer to the company’s facility here in Tanner. That should happen before too long. When it does Del and I can get an apartment here in town and get out of your hair.”

“You’re not in our hair,” Nell insisted. “Besides, if your father is going off on his great adventure I’ll appreciate having Delaney, or both of you, here to keep me company.”

“I’ll bet she’d like that too,” Kathy nodded, though in fact she was not at all sure of that. “But it doesn’t feel right, sponging off you guys like this.... though I don’t know what else we can do right now.” Then, with an sigh, “If only Gary wasn’t so darn stubborn.”

It was more than Nell was willing to deal with. Piling her daughter’s nagging relational dilemma on top of her own problems was just too depressing. She stood and pulled Kathy from her chair, into a close embrace.

“No one ever told us about this, did they?” she whispered. “About how hard it could be to keep these men of ours close to home. Sometimes it’s darn near impossible to live with them, and hard to live without them.”

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