Monday, January 18, 2010

In which - Wait! Who's Nancy?

I've been holding out on you. I didn't tell you about one of the main characters. Knowing about Nancy might change your impression of Sly and Doris. Might put you on their side. Make you forgive them of everything. Because after what they've been through, they are allowed to be complete jerks for the rest of their life, right? They are allowed to wallow in grief and bitterness and anger and to drag everyone down with them.

Nancy is Primo's younger sister.


She died of a heroin overdose about three years before I met him.

She was mentally ill, or so they say. Borderline personality disorder? Who knows? Whatever she had, it couldn't be fixed. When she was committed, she would emerge angrier than when she had gone in, which is not surprising, because Nancy was no idiot and being condescended to by county social workers just ticked her off.

Based on Primo's description of her, I don't think she would have been my favorite: tattooed, pierced, purple haired. Hooked for booze and drugs.

But my sister in law Stephanie liked her. Said they would hang out, laugh, do their nails. Nancy was funny, artistic, smart as a whip. Said that it was Sly who set Nancy off and having spent time with Sly, I can sure sympathize. Stephanie says that when Sly was around, Nancy wouldn't come out of her room.

I'm not quite sure what the mental illness did because it doesn't seem that Nancy wasn't in control of her actions. She knew that if she was going to flip off a cop, she should wait until she was inside of a bus pulling away from a stoplight when the cop could do nothing.

She either couldn't or wouldn't hold a job. Got disability and housing assistance. Got pregnant more than once. Doris took her to get her abortions. Doris will never have any grandchildren of her own. I wonder if she regrets those abortions now.*

Primo maintains Nancy's death wasn't a suicide - that there were several heroin deaths that night from a bad batch.

Sly and Doris are broken. They think they failed Nancy. I can't begin to understand. I have no children. I don't know. I do know that other people have had tragedies in their lives. My great-aunt Madge and her two little girls watched as her husband crashed his small plane in front of them. Madge remarried, had more children, was not a bitter, angry woman. Stephanie's great aunt buried three of her children, but did not stew in despair.

Now you know. Now you know Sly and Doris' excuse for their anger. For their demands on Primo. They are owed. They were robbed. I am sorry for their loss. I am also sorry that they choose to be bitter and angry for the rest of their life.

* Primo thinks I am making a political statement about abortion here. I am not. I am genuinely curious about what Doris thinks. Primo is absolutely positive that Doris has no regrets about what happened - that raising the children of two drug addicts was not how she wanted to spend her later years and that is what would have happened because Nancy would not have given up her chilren for adoption but she also would not have been a responsible mother.


  1. It is very sad that they have chosen to be bitter and angry. You can't let the tragedies in your life define you.

    It might be at least partly an explanation for why they seem so put-off by their daughters-in-law, too.

  2. Losing a child is something people say you never get over. But it doesn't give you license to be mean spirited and judgmental.

  3. So they hate you because you didn't crash and burn the way Nancy did. What a way to live.

    Not much you can do about it either. Maybe they'll move past it for Primo's sake, but it seems unlikely.

  4. Yikes. I cannot come to an analytical conclusion.

  5. It is such a horrible thing to happen to any parents - the death of a child. And the years preceding Nancy's death were horrible, too. She put them through hell with her drama. So yes, they were robbed of happy years with a healthy daughter, both during her life and then when she died. So I grapple with that: they deserve their grief.

    But I wonder why they don't want to be happy now with what they do have - three sons, four lovely grandchildren, three of whom live ten minutes away.

  6. I haven't experienced the loss of a child, and I pray I never do. But my one BIL and SIL have had their share of grief. Six weeks after the birth of their second child, their eldest got an E.coli infection -- kidneys shut down and everything. Didn't think he'd make it. He was only 2.5 years old. Fortunately, he lived (but there are lasting effects due to the infection). But nearly three years ago, they did lose a baby. It was stillborn. Umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. I know it's hard for my SIL to see my son because he's only four months younger than what the son they lost would have been.

    Who knows -- maybe it's the love that scares your in-laws the most. If they choose to let the love in and then lose someone again, how painful that would be...

  7. Thank you for linking your blog in Carolyn Hax's comment section! Your writing is so hilarious and, coming from a fairly dysfunctional family, I really love stories by folks who don't suffer the insane behavior.

    I just wanted to say, though, that Nancy's behavior sounds completely typical for a young woman who's suffered sexual abuse. That's often a hidden factor in the kind of family dysfunction you are documenting here. So no, telling this story did not let Sly and Doris off the hook in my mind, at all. In fact, it reminded me of the documentary by Mariel Hemingway, "Running from Crazy," in which she recounts witnessing her father sexually abuse her sister Margaux, who later committed suicide. ~rb13

    1. Whoa! I had never considered this. (And thank you for your kind comments.) I asked Primo and he said, "Oh yeah! There was a teacher at her special school! He had a sexual relationship with her! But I don't think they ever prosecuted him."

      How did I not know this? It makes a lot of sense.

  8. My father's mother got pregnant very young. Her parents were not kind. She was forced to marry my grandfather, after being forced to stand in front of her church and confess she was an evil girl that got pregnant out of wedlock. They stayed in the same town and my dad remembers people talking about how his twin sisters were bastards from when he was just five years old. Maternal grandmother is angry, selfish and mean, like she stopped growing up after 16 and just soaked in vinegary anger the whole rest of her life.

    My maternal grandmother lost her mother when she was seven. Her younger brother nearly bankrupted the family getting his broken arm treated, and then the stock market crashed and they never recovered during the Great Depression. Her father died when she was seventeen and she worked as a house servant until she married maternal grandfather. Her step mother married her uncle (her father's brother) when her father died, then they had a child and they both died. Maternal grandmother raised that child, along with her other three children. Maternal grandmother was the kindest, gentlest and most loving person in the world. I remember that one time, when I was about ten, she wasn't smiling for a minute (I think she was concentrating on a problem with the computer we'd bought her), and that was so unusual it freaked me out a little bit.

    Some people take the garbage life throws at them, and use it to make themselves stronger and better. Others allow it to warp them into something ugly and sad. I have a lot of sympathy for the girl my paternal grandmother was. I have none for the woman she chose to be.

    1. I am so sorry that I just now saw this comment. It was in moderation and I have been out of town for work and then for vacation. Thank you for sharing your story. How sad and yet how wonderful at the same time. (And how beautifully written!)

      Yes, some people get stronger. And some do not.