When last we saw each other, I’d just found out that the person I loved and admired, with whom I’d traded secrets and kept them, hates me. Present tense—she might be dead, but I’ve no doubt she wasted her first days in the afterlife lecturing Saint Peter about what a horrible person I am.
What made it worse was the realization that literally everyone else knew it. I was the clueless one, following her around like a golden retriever, thinking we were pals.
Marsha’s body was still warm when my father’s idiot brother rushed to his bedside to tell him of Martha’s dying wish: that I be cut off entirely, and never have any news of my father’s health again.
Now I’m no saint; I’ve disliked people before—hell, I’ve even used the word hate on more than a few occasions. But to wish upon someone the pain of being cut off from their family? To never know whether a loved one—on whom they are actively doting and worrying and checking and caring—is alive or dead?
I really do want to keep moving along the timeline, because the shit was not done raining down on me, but this is also an excellent opportunity to back up and talk about some family dynamics. Also? I literally just finished off the thing y’all read yesterday, so I’m pretty fucking tired.
So let’s talk about Marsha, shall we?
No, not to drag her through the mud—my feelings are complex, but I do still love her. Loved her? I don’t… It’s confusing. Regardless, there’s a lot more going on here and I need to give you a clearer picture.
Think back to Chapter 2, when I mentioned the odd looks I was getting from the girls—Marsha’s daughters.
As it turns out, I didn’t have to wonder very long what that was about. See, every time I made any sort of comment about Marsha raising them, or the three having grown up together, one or both of them would rush to correct me.
They didn’t grow up together. And Marsha didn’t raise them.
That last thing seems to be a particular source of bitterness for the girls, who did not boomerang back to their mother’s home and therefore only know what she and my father told them.
ME: I’m so sorry… this must be even worse for you. I mean… she’s your mom. She was there—
KATIE: Oh, she didn’t raise us.
KATIE: I’m sorry, I don’t mean to keep bringing it up. But… she didn’t.
ME: Oh… kay…
KATIE: Kenny and I were in foster care.
ME: (confused) But—
KATIE: I mean, eventually we… but yeah, she didn’t raise us.
KATIE: And I mean, it’s great that she got to raise you—
KATIE: But yeah, we were all a little…
ME: That’s n—
KATIE: And it’s not that we resent you or anything!
KATIE: It’s just… it was hard, you know?
KATIE: After she wasn’t there for us and then she marries this man with a kid and… (sighs) Yeah.
ME: If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t even know they were married. For like… ages.
KATIE: (relieved) Really?
ME: Yeah. I went down to stay with my dad for a summer and he was like, “This is my lady friend” and then it was,“Actually, we’re dating” and—
KATIE: Oh. None of us found out for years.
Hey, let’s talk about some of that, huh? Unpack that fuckin’ baggage!
First of all, now their resentful stares and weird stories make sense to me. They think their mom—who was, by their reckoning, a shitty mother—ditched them when towing a child around got in the way of finding herself a new man and then, when they were all grown and no longer in danger of needing her, went out and found herself a younger man who came conveniently bundled with an adorable do-over baby.
Shiiiiit. I’d be pissed too!
But here’s the thing: what actually went down was… not that. My dad hid the fact that they were married for more than half that first summer visit when I was ten—according to Marsha he did this because I still desperately wanted my parents to get back together and would have lost my shit at the idea of him marrying another woman. Once she realized this was not true—and some other things happened, which we will discuss when I tell you about the actual worst day so far—she sort of blurted it out to me. And that was it; I had a new stepmommy. And, apparently, two stepsisters and a stepbrother. Whom I wouldn’t meet for years.
I met Kenny when I was 12, and only then because we made a special trip up to see if he was actually getting clean with that wife of his before my dad would give him any money. (Dad was unconvinced, but I have no idea what happened with the money.) I met Katie when I was 16; she and her trucker boyfriend (and their awesome Rottweiler) came through town for like a day and a half.
I met Lucy last month. In her mother’s hospice room.
And here’s the thing about that whole Chase wants her mommy and daddy back together sooooo bad she’ll Parent Trap the shit out of her poor stepmother story: it was all based on a comment I’d made to my mother—a known idiot—trying to convey the exact opposite sentiment. One day, out of the clear blue nowhere, I told my mother—who had quit dating losers who stole from her to focus on becoming one herself—that I was tired of being an only child. Indulgent, she asked if I was ready for a baby brother or sister. No, I replied, I’m ready for a BIG brother or sister. Naturally, my mother couldn’t wait to share this bit of hilarity with my father, and the pair of them concluded that:
- This was my way of asking them to get back together and make more babies
- I had no idea how babies were made. Awwww!
I was nine. We had cable. I was suuuper fucking aware of how babies were made. I probably could have lectured them on a few things. This request was my way of expressing to them my readiness for them to hurry up and date other people. People with, maybe, other children? So they could, you know, quit being so fucking weird and focusing it all on me? (The therapy was getting to be exhausting—there are only so many times you can listen to a stranger drone on about how your parents’ divorce isn’t your fault before you start to wonder if maybe it was.)
I tell you, it’s an actual goddamned miracle I’m here at all. Because my biological parents are quite honestly too dumb to fuck. Like pandas, I’m telling you!
And the bit about me being Marsha’s do-over baby?
- I never called her Mom and she never wanted me to.
- She was never in charge of either my rules or my punishments, and could generally be counted on to help me squiggle around Dad’s ridiculous punishments. Because he was a big fan of grounding me for non-offences and she wanted me out of the house as much as possible.
- I only ever visited for a month or so in the summer, until my parents started playing hot potato with me when I was 12. Then it was back and forth (you take her! No, you take her, it’s your turn!) until I was 15. Then there was the Incident when I was 17 and… yeah.
Note that I don’t include Kenny in the resentment. Because Kenny—when he finally did get clean (I think that wife of his either got busted or got tired of him using her disability checks to buy coke)—boomeranged hard and came to live with us for like… all the years. So he knew how it really was in that house.
But the girls? They only got the fairytale Dad and Marsha sold them, about their happy perfect family. Which, coupled with what I’ve learned from them these past few weeks, helps me understand something I never noticed before: all of Marsha’s stories of them are either from their earliest years or adulthood; there’s a huge gap there—right out in the open for anyone to see—but it goes totally unnoticed because of the way she always told the stories. It was always one isolated, lovely memory, then a subject change. Maybe she noticed something out the window, or wanted to ask about your new haircut, or had to get up to fuss with something on the stove…
Marsha was a master of secrets.
I weaponize words… but not mine.
 This part of the story I know. And it’s horrible. Literally the worst thing a mother could allow; I debated whether to even go into it, but ultimately decided it will just have to hide behind a spoiler block. The squeamish are encouraged to skip it. Eventually, Kenny went to live with his father, who had already sexually abused him; Marsha knew about this, and knew he was living there again. I have feelings about that whole thing, but it’s not my trauma to work through.
 Let us be clear: Marsha did not “raise me.” Nyuh-uh.
 Except for Kenny, but we’ll talk about him in a minute.
 That’s right—we’re still not in the basement of suck yet!
 Or at least my mother who, maybe two years later, would tell me she didn’t need to bother with condoms because the guy she was with had “been snipped,” then didn’t believe me when I explained a vasectomy didn’t prevent STD’s. Yes, seriously.
 My mother suffered from, among other things, a weird form of Munchausen-by-Proxy in which she needed to stuff me into all the therapy and have me diagnosed with something new every few months.
 Dad tried to push that one, for a while. Neither of us were having it. Honestly, he did all the things you’re not supposed to do when trying to smooth the way in a blended family.