My pre-teenaged mother was enraptured by the idea of romance and at twelve documented her vision of married life and motherhood. Aspergers may have limited her ability to connect with other people, but it did not dampen her desire for love and marriage. She had two romances in her life, both with men who shared her lack of empathy.
My father was my mother’s first boyfriend and the only man in her life until her widowhood romance with my father’s friend Norb, an even drunker drunk than my father but a drunk who was still adaptive enough to flatter my mother and to pretend to enjoy her quirky interests – something my father had always refused to do. Norb, by then thrice-divorced and essentially homeless, was just manipulating her, of course, but she gulped it down like a woman who’d miraculously found a lush oasis after an exhausting trek in an endless desert and was not inclined to wonder how it materialized and whether it could last.
It didn’t last. Norb was so dedicated to drunkenness that he eventually left to get away from my tee-totaling mother’s efforts to subvert his only genuine interest.
As much as Mother could not see through Norb, she did know enough not to marry him. Though she thought they were soul mates, she knew he would not take care of her. She had already witnessed his callow treatment of wife number two and had cheerfully attended wedding number three a year or two later to her sad-sack friend Billie, a mother of four boys who somehow convinced herself that jobless drunk Norb was some kind of better role model than their absent father. Mother reported casually about the rapid dissolution of that month-long third marriage under the strain of Norb’s dedication to a 24/7 drinking schedule. She was little affected when, a few years after their affair, Norb finally drank himself to death in some dismal dive downtown.
Mother reminisced dreamily about Norb for years, though, never acknowledging his inappropriate behavior towards me when I visited, never disapproving of his inexplicable nastiness to my brother and never noticing that he did not have redeeming qualities to even partially offset his drunkenness and his Machiavellian behavior. She ignored my indifference to gushy stories about Norb reading her favorite children’s books aloud or gaily reminiscing about the music and movies of their youth. She did not drop the romantic cover or glance over at the memory tapes of his cruelty or his deceit or the detritus of his three marriages and his three overlooked children. He had filled a need, even if it was all a fraud.
When my sister and I cleaned out Mother’s condo recently when she moved to assisted living, I discovered a miniature trove of Norb memorabilia, including his high school diploma and a jumble of check stubs from some time in the 80s, the last time Norb was sober and solvent enough to have had a checking account. These keepsakes were tossed in a large metal box marked without irony for the convenience of burglars who never came, “Mementos. Nothing of value.”
Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.