By M. Lynn Miller
Sunday, December 14, 2008
My mother is a really, really good person. At Christmastime, she gives gifts to the tellers at the bank and the volunteers at the senior center. She makes chicken soup from scratch -- using water, not broth -- when her friends are sick. And she's having sex with a married man.
My mother, an elementary school teacher in her 60s. Who wears an apple pin that says, "#1 Teacher." Who uses the word "tushy."
My mom met her lover when she was in her 20s, younger than I am now. It was 1973; she was married to my father -- though quite miserably -- and pregnant with me. This man and his wife had just moved into town, and my father invited them over for dinner. As the story goes, when the husband shook my mother's hand, she got tingles up her arm. At the time, she thought it was one of those wacky pregnancy things. But it seems her reaction wasn't because of me at all.
The two couples had a good time and continued to get together socially. They played doubles in tennis. They ate fondue. They babysat each other's kids. And my mom and the husband grew to be friends, and then -- at some point -- more. I don't know the details. I haven't asked because I don't want to hear about it.
When my mom got divorced three years later, I guess the relationship continued. We developed certain traditions around my "uncle": Because he liked pears with long stems, we always looked for those at the grocery store. Because he'd sent a pink azalea to the hospital the day I was born, my mom would give me one every birthday. And we only answered the phone on the second ring. If it rang just once, it was him letting us know he was thinking of us -- or, really, my mom -- though of course he couldn't talk because he was with his family. So, he'd do what we'd label as a "one ringer." We got a lot of one ringers.
It went on like this for years. Then, at some point, I remember driving with my mom to see the apartment that the man was going to be moving into. She seemed so excited, talking about how we'd be able to visit him. And a few months later, about how, actually, we weren't going to be hearing from him anymore. He had lied. And lying was a bad thing.
We didn't buy pears after that. Eventually, my mom got remarried to a man who was different from my father but just as difficult. I became a teenager, then went to college. One day, miles from home, I thought back to my mother's unluckiness in love. My father. My stepfather. Hmm . . . ?! I immediately called her.
True to form, my mom answered every question I asked and some I didn't. It rocked my world a little to know she'd had an affair. She -- so good in so many ways -- did something, well, so bad. But she said he'd been the love of her life. And she was still my mom, still amazing, and I loved her. So I finished college, got a job, had a few relationships and eventually married a man I'd never cheat on. I made him promise to tell me if he ever had the slightest urge himself. A year later, my stepfather died of cancer. And then, my mom got a call from her old flame.
My mom thought she could handle one lunch. She said she wanted to show that she'd moved on. So I said, go for it.
And it went fine. Maybe a little awkward. He looked much older, and there was so much to say it was hard to say anything at first. He was very successful, still married, but still unhappy at home. And, after all these years, he said he still loved my mother.
Of course, "one lunch" turned into more. My mom would make up these rules, I think to make herself feel better: We're just going to see each other every six months, every three months, once a month, once a day. We're only going to shake hands; okay, hug; okay, kiss. I'll sleep in the same bed but not at home, and I won't have sex with him. Okay, at home. Okay, sex. One day, she announced self-righteously, "Well, I'm not going to let him fix the snowblower for me. I mean, that would be going too far."
Sometimes I'll be on the phone with my mom, telling her about some big complication in my life, and her boyfriend will ring through. His availability is always limited, so she'll rush me off the line. I've pointed this out, and she tries not to do it. She just can't help herself.
These days, she'll call me with stories of how great things are and how in love she is. She'll read about something in the paper, think of him, and he'll call at that exact moment. And she tells me they both cried, together, when Pavarotti died. I am happy for her. There are a few great loves out there, and my mom found one. He says that he'll leave his wife this time. Maybe he really thinks he's going to. Practice makes better, perhaps.