I walk into my parents' house with my wife for Sunday lunch and immediately sense that we're in the middle of A Situation, a suspicion my mother wastes no time confirming. She's all worked up, and here it comes.
"Remember that woman your father was dating right before he started going with me?" she asks.
That's a pretty tall order, asking me to remember someone from a time before I was even conceived, but when your mother's in a state the only thing to do is play along and keep her away from sharp objects.
"Gee, Mom, I was so young at the time..."
She says the woman's name - no need to mention it here.
"Your father always said he only went out with her a few times. Now he tells me they dated for a year!"
My mother pauses dramatically, as if to give the heavens time to open up and send a lightning bolt between my father's shoulders.
He's taking it all pretty well. He's scrubbing a gravy stain off the stainless steel stove top with a Brillo pad, and my mother's words have not interrupted his perfect circular motions. A turkey is roasting in the oven, and it doesn't seem to occur to my father that his goose could be cooked.
I'm not nearly as calm as my Dad, and I want to be absolutely clear about what's going on here between my father, age 85, and my mother, age 81. If they break up now, who gets custody of me, age 55?
"Mom," I say, "we're talking about someone Dad dated in 1949, right?"
"Is she even alive anymore?"
"I don't know."
"So really, what's the difference how long they dated?"
At this point my hopelessly romantic wife plunges into the fray.
"Aw, I understand, Cis!" she says, taking my mother in a tight embrace to comfort her over my father's former girlfriend, and a relationship that ended sixty-two years ago.
At this point I do what I always do in situations like this -- I leave the kitchen, and hope the storm will blow over. I go outside and start mowing my father's lawn, knowing it's going to take me a while, because my Dad uses a push-mower. That's fine. I'm in no rush to go back inside until things cool down.
A minute later my father joins me outside, hedge clipper in hand. He's decided to do a little gardening himself, while the women do their best to make sense out of his distant, sordid past.
I mow, he clips. "Why'd you tell Mom how long you dated that girl?"
It's good that we're both gardening. In my family, men can talk to each other as long as we're doing other stuff while we talk. We can't sit on adjacent chairs and bare our souls. There are no Oprah moments in our family.
I pause to clear a twig from the blades of the mower. "So what happened to you and her?"
"I dumped her."
He stops clipping. "It was that look on her face."
This I have to hear.
Suddenly, we're back in 1949. My father has a date with this girl, and they've agreed to meet on a corner in midtown. But my father gets stuck at work, so he's running late, and as he approaches the corner he sees her as he's never seen her before, steaming mad about the delay.
She hasn't yet spotted him. He stops and stares at that angry look on her face, and even though it vanishes the moment she sees him, my father makes a quick decision:
After this date, that girl is history.
At first, it sounds pretty harsh to me. One angry look, not even directed at him, and he dumps the girl? But then, suddenly, I get it. That look was a glimpse into the future, and a time when she might not bother to put on a happy face.
A withering look, a look of contempt. The kind of look that makes a husband's shoulders sag, shrivels his soul, maybe even makes him wish unconsciously for an early death.
How easy it is to be destroyed by the wrong partner!
My father took one look at That Look, protracted it over a lifetime and cut bait on the girl. It wasn't a cruel thing he did. It was a survival tactic.
And whatever he and my mother have gone through during their incredibly long marriage, I know she's never given him That Look. Bottom line, she really likes the guy. No wonder she's upset about that girl, more than half a century later! True love makes everybody crazy!
We finish the yard work and decide it's probably safe to go back inside for lunch with our wives. On the walk to the house I have to ask just one thing.
"How'd that girl take it when you dumped her?"
He shrugs. "It was a long time ago. Who remembers?"
Funny, he remembers The Look as if it happened ten minutes ago, but there's no need to remind him of this. Suddenly, his face gets serious with a far more pressing matter.
"Hey, your mother made one of those special turkeys with no dark meat on it."
"Sounds good, Dad."
"I like the dark meat, but you know your mother." He shakes his head and chuckles as we reach the door. "Ahh, well, what are you gonna do?"
Charlie Carillo's first two published novels, Shepherd Avenue and My Ride With Gus are available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents. His website is www.charliecarillo.com. He's a producer for the TV show Inside Edition.
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