Whose family doesn’t have drama? Some dark secrets you want to keep hidden? Some unsavory activity someone is guilty of? Or just some normal every day crap that gets stirred up by the family instigator?
Our family is no different.
Some of you who know us personally don’t even know that my husband has two brothers. He stopped talking to them when his father died and some stuff got stirred up. His father’s will, which had been on the kitchen table with other documents, mysteriously went missing. His sister-in-law beseiged us with requests to split everything three ways, despite what the will indicated; requests to do what “daddy” wanted (she’d never personally met the man), and requests for a copy of the death certificate – before we’d even had the funeral. Niether of his brothers wanted to see his dad, so we took care of the viewing and cremation ourselves. The week of the funeral, where we hosted his one brother and sister-in-law in our house, ended with his brother telling me I was fat, and me, in true South Philly fashion, yelling out the front door as he was walking away – for all the neighbors to hear – that his wife was a bitch, and at least I could lose weight. For any of you who have referred to me as “Sweet Anna” at any time, this was not my finest hour.
Jim and his brothers were not particularly close. I didn’t even meet this one brother until we had been married 10 years. I’m not sure why it took that long. He lives in California, we’ve always been on the east coast. We invited them to come stay with us for a family event when we lived in South Florida, and they came, spent two days with us, then left for Key West. His wife called me from Key West and begged to come back to stay with us, because she didn’t like Key West and guys were hitting on her husband. They came back to Weston, stayed another couple of days, then went to Orlando to visit Jim’s mother. I only saw them one other time outside of the funeral in the 30+ years Jim and I have been together. We stayed one night at their house in California. They gave us a nice dinner, let us sleep in an unheated water bed, and we took them to brunch the next morning in Sacramento before we left to continue our cross country trip. It was pleasant, but not comfortable, and I was so glad to be on my way away.
Jim’s mother never fostered any kind of friendship among the brothers. At times, although I have no concrete proof, she drove wedges between them. His brother Robert married after Jim and I did. The two were talking on the phone in one of their rare phone conversations through the years, and Jim asked Robert about the wedding he was going to have. He told us that he was having just a quick trip to Nevada because their mother wasn’t paying for their wedding like she had paid for ours. Except she didn’t pay for ours – Jim and I did. We told all of our parents we’d pay for our immediate family, aunts, and uncles, and if they wanted to go further with guests – like their friends – they would pay for the extra people. She did have some of her friends there, that she did pay for, but that didn’t mean she paid for the whole wedding, like she told Robert she had.
This brother also seemed like “the golden child” from my perspective. Although his mother, on multiple occasions, referred to her sons as “the cheat, the sneak, and the liar,” it always seemed like Robert was favored over the other two. He seemed more well liked by his aunts, he was invited to things we were never invited to, and he just seemed he had a much closer relationship with his mother’s family than we did, despite being so far away from everyone. I won’t say he did everything right. I remember his wife calling us one Christmas after we had hosted them at our place during their Key West debaucle saying she had sent what she thought was a lovely gift to Jim’s mother, only to have her send it back, broken, with a note that said she didn’t want it. She vowed never to talk to Jim’s mother again – but quickly changed her tune when probate issues arose around Jim’s father’s death and she needed to rally troops to her side. I guess the wind blew in many directions.
Another thing that has always bothered me about this brother is that before Jim and I were married, shortly after we moved in together, he told Jim not to marry me. He didn’t think I was a good fit for Jim for a number of reasons, and he had no trouble at all telling Jim we shouldn’t get married.
So, when we inadvertently found out over the weekend that this brother was now divorced, I have to admit that I did a little internal happy dance. I don’t ever like to see anyone go through difficult times, but knowing the heartache this brother has caused me through the years – even in his absence from our lives – made me praise the Lords of Karmic Retribution just a little bit.
I spent almost 30 years with a mother-in-law I could never make happy. If I did what she wanted, it wasn’t good enough. If I didn’t do what she wanted, I wasn’t good enough. If I didn’t do things she thought I should do but that never entered my mind, I was awful. And whether it was her influence or not, I never felt I could measure up to standards Jim’s brother (this one in particular) expected Jim to reach. I feel like a horrible human being, but his divorce sparked joy in my heart.
I’ve never been more proud to be married to my husband than I was after this news. Although communication between Jim and this brother was rare, it seemed that those communications were filled with messages of negativity and disapproval of the life Jim chose. Yet here we are, 31 years into our relationship, three children and one and a half grandchildren in, living in a small home in Bellmawr that is filled with more love than money. And when I heard this news, as horrible as it makes me as a human being, it made me feel rich. It made me feel triumphant. It made me feel overwhelmingly blessed that despite messages from his brother, Jim hung in with me and made US work.
And wow. I’m so grateful that this brother – and Jim’s mother – continually challenged Jim with their negativity. I have so benefitted from him continually climbing out of the pool of adversity they wanted to keep him in. He’s been determined from day one to prove them wrong, and it’s proven to me that he would go to the ends of the earth for us.