Saturday, March 03, 2007


Here is a picture of Colleen dressed for her prom. Prom dresses have certainly changed since the 60s, haven't they?

Colleen was born in Puerto Rico, seven weeks before my tenth birthday. I once got in trouble when she was still an infant for sneaking her into my bed and sleeping with her. And she took her first steps to me.

Well, that's as far as I got yesterday. Couldn't do any more. Slept on it and realized that the problem is that Colleen was, like Daddy, what Julie calls a complex person. And, unlike Daddy, I haven't worked my way through it yet., Yes, Colleen took her first steps to me, and later when I broke my leg she thought it funny to beat on the cast with a wooden spoon, and then to run at me with the spoon to see me flinch. She thought it funny to wipe her diaper out on my bedspread. Until the day she died, she was still telling Mama when I didn't do something she wanted me to do, and Mama was still trying to talk me into it. She almost got me fired when she complained to Mama and Mama kept calling me at work to fix it. When she was 22 and I was 32, I would go to work in the morning leaving a clean house and come home to find that Colleen had come over as soon as Richard and Julie got home from school and now her baby's dirty diapers were spread all over my living room and the mess from her feeding the baby all over my kitchen. She would come over and use my washing machine when I was at work. Once she broke it. Once she decided to do my laundry and took a new wool dress out of the closet that still had the tag on it and put it in the washer and dryer and when it came out the back zipper came below the hem. She wore a suede jacket I had told her she couldn't (she was three sizes larger than me at the time) and buttoned it and tore the seams out.

She never came into my house without breaking something. She burned holes in my drapes. She stepped on my contact lens. She broke slats out of the cafe doors into the laundry area. Her damage was so extensive, she got me evicted for it. She would get in my car as a passenger, reach over and change the station on the radio and turn it up. She pushed the seat back and off the runners. That was the time I drove us directly to the garage to have it fixed and gave her the $7.50 bill to pay. And that was the last thing she broke of mine. Knowing she was going to have to pay for it cured her clumsiness. Daddy used to say that every time she visited she cost him $50 in breakage. She was invited to lunch by Forrest's wife and, right after being told that something was treasured and impossible to replace, she broke that. Remembering that I used to get in trouble when I was 12 for being one minute late, in her 30s she would be two hours late for holiday dinners and we would wait for her and no one would even mention that she was late when she arrived.

She didn't bother to discipline her children and when she brought them to visit promptly forgot that they were hers and allowed them to run around and destroy people's houses. At Forrest's wedding, if I hadn't sat behind her and reached over the pew and held the girls (four and six) down when they stood on the seat, they would have disrupted the ceremony. When I asked her where they were later, she informed me that this was her brother's wedding and she intended to enjoy it. Her girls were, at that moment, interfering in the wedding pictures, causing the cost to double because of the amount of time the photographer had to spend getting a full set. And causing the food for the wedding dinner to be overcooked because of the delay. And when I tried to talk to her about it, Mama and Aunt Flo told me not to be so unpleasant at a family celebration.

With two undisciplined daughters, she married a young Muslim man only two years away from Kuwait, ten years her junior and only 11 years older than her oldest daughter, and never considered the cultural differences in expectations for daughters. When her husband wouldn't let them talk to boys or have phone calls or wear lipstick, she still didn't talk him about it. Girls who had never been disciplined were being spanked for not learning their math fast enough. I took her daughters for 18 months, and then Mama took the older and the younger went back to Colleen.

I really need to stop this. I could, literally, write for hours and there would not be anything positive come out. I left California to get away from her. After she died, at first I thought I had acted prematurely, but every time I go back and see how her younger daughter is leaching off my mother and aunt, I know that I made the right decision. I had enough arguments with Mama over how she and Daddy were spoiling Colleen and crippling her for an adult existence. I can't repeat it with Colleen's daughter. I think about it and my guts tie in a knot. I go visit and I am so glad to see everyone when I get there, so sorry that I don't live closer, and by the time I come home, I can't wait to get as far away as I can. (Her older daughter, by the way, is not a problem to the family at all. We are proud of the job Jenny has done with her life.)

Yes, Colleen had good points. Yes, she bought Julie her first shoes and Richard his tricycle. But she also took the sewing machine Forrest had bought me and, without my permission, traded it in for a "better" one for me -- hurting Forrest, who thought for years that I had done that. She treated Forrest like shit. Because Auntie had died, I went to Stockton for summer vacation my freshman year at college. Forrest and Colleen had a TV in the family room and the rule was they alternated nights to choose programs. And I was there the night that Colleen wanted to choose on Forrest's night and when he said no she took the scissors and cut a hole in the back of the new (hung that day, if I remember correctly) drapes, smirked, and told him that if she didn't get to watch what she wanted, she would tell Daddy he had done it. I watched all summer as she controlled everything he did with the threat of those drapes. And why didn't I tell? For the same reason Forrest didn't -- it didn't occur to either one of us that it would do any good. And I was there, as it happens, at Christmas vacation when Daddy, while decorating the tree, found the cut and demanded to know what had happened. Colleen immediately said, "Forry did it!" And I saw red. I told Daddy what had happened. And, totally unexpected by Forrest and me, Colleen was in trouble. Colleen tried to say I was lying, but Daddy, in one of those bursts of good-guy that he could come up with, told her that her screwing Forrest over was much more likely than me lying and that he was "tired of Forry always sucking on a hind tit around here."

So, yesterday was Colleen's birthday. And I wish that I could only remember the good stuff about her, because there was plenty. Going to a movie with her was a trip -- she became so involved she stood up and yelled at the characters. When Forrest and I thought about going into the toy business together (it fell apart because he wanted to do fashion dolls and guns and I was a peacenic, feminist, Montessori teacher who wanted to do gender neutral learning toys), she offered to borrow money on her house to bankroll us. When Richard was six and we took him to the community pool where my parents lived, he did something that he hadn't realized was against the rules and the life guard yelled at him, and Colleen chewed out the life guard. She combed the rats out of Julie's hair when I would have taken her in for a hair cut. She saved that woman's life, at great risk to herself. And, one day perhaps I will get the same perspective on her that I finally got on Daddy and be able to focus mostly on the good. But, sadly, today isn't that day.


Uncivil said...

Damn......ya just had to go and bust my bubble!!!!LOL I wanted to put her on a pedestal, and you went and knocked her clean into the next universe!

J said...

God, Uncivil can be funny, huh? Priceless.

Anvilcloud said...

Sounds like the poor girl was missing something. I don't know why what happens to some people.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Considering everything you had to put up with for all those years, I think your post was pretty benevolent to Colleen. What a difficult and challenging period in your life.

Rain said...

That had to be really hard and I don't think it's wrong to honestly evaluate someone instead of sugar coating what they did. It sounds like a combination of something wrong in her as well as a family that enabled her to have peace. Very sad but what you said sounds like you have healed from it in a way that is actually healthy.