28 November 2016

Bad Things Happen to Good People

It was the shock of a lifetime. There’s no way anyone could have seen it coming. No way at all. I’ll live with that scene for the rest of my life.

I never liked Sylvie. She was my step mother and what my dad saw in her was something none of us could figure out. She was loud and never stopped talking and never listened to anyone else. Dad was a quiet person who was a good listener. The theory we developed was that, after Mom died, Dad just settled for the first woman who showed an interest in him and that was Sylvie — big mistake.

She was younger than Dad and I suppose attractive enough. Least she was slender and had a big rack. I think Dad was partial to big tits. Mom had em. I know that's a weird thing for a son to say about his mother but it's true. I’m sure Sylvie seduced Dad. She must have recognized him for a guy who was vulnerable and looking for comfort and a woman to share his life with. Mom had been the perfect wife — not to mention the best mother anyone could have —and she and Dad were totally devoted to each other. They’d been married 26 years and had had three kids. First my brother Ron, then my sister Amy and finally me, Jack. My sister and I were born two years apart and Amy was born two years after Ron.

Dad had only known Motor Mouth (that was our nickname for Sylvie) for three months before they got engaged and the engagement lasted only a month before they had a civil ceremony. It was just us three attending and her son, Gregory who had some sort of birth defect and probably a double digit IQ. Gregory worked in a tool factory doing odd jobs. He was a nice enough guy but kind of hard to talk to because — god forgive me for saying this — he was so frickin’ dumb.

I remember at the wedding and the dinner reception in Lorenzo’s, that Ron, Amy and I were just stunned. We barely uttered a word during dinner which didn’t present a problem at all because Sylvie could talk for five, six people. Once that mouth got going it didn’t stop. Dad would just sit there looking at his new wife with a perfectly contented smile, as if all her babblings were the words of Solomon. Us three siblings drank more than our fair share of wine that night and none of us were drunkards by any stretch of the imagination. Dad had a few glasses but Sylvie said she no longer indulged.

At one point I went to the bathroom to relieve myself of some of the Chardonay or whatever the fuck it was, and I thought about Mom and her last, probably horrific moments. She’d been driving home at night after visiting a friend in the hospital — Mom was always doing stuff like that, she cared for everyone. The roads were icy and I guess Mom was anxious to get home because, for probably the first time in her life, she was going over the speed limit. Big mistake. There were witnesses, they all said she fish tailed like crazy before smacking into a semi that was driving too fast through the intersection. They say she died instantly on impact. I guess that’s right but how can you be sure? We were all devastated but especially Dad. I’d never seen him shed a tear before but he sobbed and sobbed intermittently for days and weeks on would still have to choke back tears.

Dad wasn't perfect, he had his faults like anyone else. But he had fewer than most people. He was kind to everyone and had a bad word for no one. Our father was a devoted husband and father and honest in business. Everyone liked him.

It was two months before he went back to work at the plumbing business he co-owned with his best friend Bub (nee Robert) Loningan. I think it was Bub who suggested that he “get back out there” when the time was right and meet some women. At least for companionship. It was almost a year before he was willing to date and the first person he hooked up with was Sylvie. Uncle Artie had introduced him, he’d been pals with Sylvie’s first husband who’d had the sense to divorce her a few years before.

When I first met Sylvie my only thoughts were that it was great Dad was ready to date and I sure hoped he’d do better than this whack job. He never even tried. Big mistake. Amy and Ron had pretty much the same reaction to her.

Sylvie called everyone “dear” and called Dad “snookums” which made us all gag. We all had dinner at Dad’s house after they returned from their honeymoon in the Bahamas and, as was her style, Sylvie talked non stop. She didn’t ask any of us about what we were doing and what our interests were or our opinions on matters of the day. Ron was just finishing law school and Amy was about to graduate college with an English degree and I was a sophomore studying journalism. Not that Sylvie ever knew or cared. She talked mostly about what TV shows she’d watched, what movies she wanted to see (she never actually went to the cinema) celebrity gossip (a topic none of us cared a whit about) and shallow observations about current events. Sylvie also bored us with inane details about her work day as a secretary in an accounting firm. Why she thought we’d be interested in office gossip I’ll never understand. Dad just sat there smiling, indulging her, seemingly happy as a clam.

I came to realize that I didn’t really know Sylvie and perhaps no one else did either. It seemed as though her incessant yapping was a defense mechanism to keep people at bay. No one could really get to know her or ask questions, a dialogue was impossible. She must have been afraid of exposure. I almost felt sorry for her. Amy tried talking to our step mother, she really made an effort, but got nowhere. Ron couldn’t stand Sylvie and wanted as little to do with her as possible. I was somewhere in between my siblings.

They’d been married for two years when things went south. Sylvie started hitting the sauce. Dad had no tolerance for heavy drinking, in part because his own father had been a lush. A few glasses of wine, a couple of beers, even a cocktail or two were okay with Dad. He didn’t even mind someone getting tipsy. But sloppy drunk, and regularly, that was intolerable. The truth was that Sylvie was an alcoholic. She’d been in recovery for four years when she met Dad. We later realized that she was a dry drunk who’d quit cold turkey without the benefit of either rehab of AA. Big mistake.

The way Dad told me was that they’d been at a birthday party in a swanky restaurant when out of the clear blue sky Sylvie ordered a gin and tonic. Dad asked her what was what and Sylvie said that she was sure she could handle it now. Dad believed her. Big mistake. She got drunk at the party but then didn’t touch a drop for over a week. But then they went out to dinner and she ordered a cocktail then wine with dinner. She got sloshed.

Dad pleaded with her to stop, to go to an AA meeting, but Sylvie would have none of it. It wasn’t long before she was drinking everyday and talking even more, which seemed impossible given what a big mouth she was when sober. Sylvie could be a sweet, sentimental drunk but she could also get nasty. That’s what happened when Dad had us over for his birthday. Amy and Ron and Ron’s girlfriend Sabrina and I had driven over together.

Sylvie started railing at us the second we walked in. She claimed we hated her (true) that we were mean to her (not true) that we talked about her behind her back (partially true) and that we were a bunch of snotty showoffs (maybe Ron a little bit). Our step mother also engaged in some nasty language which we’d never heard from her before and which Dad strictly disapproved of.

Dad stood in stone silence looking completely helpless and totally embarrassed. Finally he pleaded with his wife to stop and to go sleep it off. That was Sylvie’s cue to light into him with the craziest accusations you could imagine like he was abusive and ignored and hated her. Dad was mortified. He couldn’t find any words.

Ron, Sabrina, Amy and I just stood there watching this awful witch. In a perverse way I was happy thinking that Dad would finally shed himself of this awful woman. Turns out he did but not the way any of us could have envisioned. Once she got really nasty about us, using all manner of four and twelve letter words Dad snapped. He left the room for a minute as his wife continued her barrage of of profanity. I had no idea where Dad had gone, it was unlike him to just abandon his kids. Then he came back with his shotgun. “Shut the hell up!” he screamed. That’s the first time any of us could remember hearing him scream. Sylvie looked at him with steely eyes and questioned his manhood. That was it. Dad blew her face off.

I guess we all let out a yelp. I know Amy was hysterical. Dad collapsed in a chair, buried his head in his hands and said my Mom’s name — Emma — over and over again. I guess a neighbor called the police because it was no time before they turned up banging on the door. Of course we had no choice but to let them in. When we did Dad took the shotgun and tried to blow his own head off. But the barrel was too long and he could’t reach the trigger. A cop wrestled the gun away and cuffed my father. Soon Dad was taken away. We visited him a couple of times and he acted like nothing had happened and we were just there to shoot the breeze. He also asked why “my Emma” wasn’t with us. He’d flipped.

There wasn’t going to be a trial. The plea deal was for him to go to an asylum for the rest of his days. But Dad was spared that indignity. The day he was to be transported to the nuthouse our father had a massive heart attack and died. Talk about a blessing.

We all wondered if Sylvie had driven him insane or if it started with Mom’s death or if it was in him all along. Something sure snapped that night. I shudder to think now what he might have been holding in.

It’s hard not to think of that awful night. It haunts all of us. Amy and I have gone to therapy. I don't know about Ron. It's more than he can bear to mention it.

While that night is impossible to forget, it’s also easy to remember what a great Dad he’d been. I’m just sorry his life had to end in tragedy. Bad things happen to good people.

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