One of the first things I learned in my organizational behavior class in grad school that to break a dysfunctional group, you have to divide and conquer. You have to turn the members of the group against each other.
Doris can possibly be turned against Sly. Well – probably not. But if I can isolate her, I can maybe get her on my side a little bit. Even if she would be on my side only when we are alone, that would be something.
I ask her if I can help her in the yard. Like the Apple Pie Approach, it’s another Get In With The Boyfriend’s Mother ploy. Do you think it will work?
She directs and talks while I pull weeds and spade listen.
Doris: My father worked overtime to buy a piano for me. He worked overtime so I could take piano lessons. He worked forty years at a factory doing hard work. My parents were the most loving, the most wonderful people. I miss them so very much. They were such special people.
Me: Primo loved your mom and dad. He has wonderful memories of them.
Doris: When Primo was a baby, he would pull himself up in his crib and say, “Out! Out!” He was talking at nine months! He was so smart! He is the only joy in my life. The only joy. Truly my only joy, ever since Nancy died.
Rats. She brought up the Dead Child. What do you say? What is the right answer?
Me: Yes, Primo mentioned his sister died a few years ago. I am very sorry. The pain of that kind of loss does not go away.
Doris: She was the light of my life. She was sweet and creative but then something happened. She transformed dramatically when she was a teenager. Primo would tease her and she would become enraged – far out of proportion to the teasing. She couldn’t take it. It was sheer torment to her. In addition, she was teased at school. She would come home from school crying because of the teasing. Then we found out she was taking drugs. It was heartbreaking for us, but we put her in a rehabilitation program. The program was in vain. She returned to us in worse condition.
Doris: She was cutting herself. Then she started getting tattoos and piercings. It was as if she got each tattoo to put a knife through my heart.
Tattoos + piercings + cutting + drugs = parental nightmare, even for parents who pride themselves on being hip.
Doris: We had to have her committed. She never forgave us. But we were frightened. We were afraid she was going to kill herself. That place – it was awful. I still – I don’t know. We were so frightened.
Me: That’s a horrible thing to happen.
Doris: I had such hopes for my little girl. I wanted to watch her grow up and fall in love and get married and have her own children. I still have my beloved mother’s wedding ring, the ring that was cut off her finger after she died. I saved that ring just so I could give it to Nancy . I loved my mother so much and she loved me and she loved Nancy and it is the only thing I have of my mother. I wanted to share it with my own daughter. But now there is nobody to share it with.
She starts to cry. What do you do when your boyfriend’s mother is crying? I don’t know.