I realize that I’ve not seen you in more than 13 years, nor have I had any contact with you of any sort in nearly as long, but you are, to paraphrase a bad song, often on my mind. I wonder what has become of you since my father’s death: where you went, what happened in your career…who you’ve grown into, I suppose.
When I walk through major airports, I nearly always wonder if I will see you there. Sometimes, I look around, kind of hoping I will; other times, I hide my eyes, praying that I will not. A silly game, I recognize, but one that has remained constant in my adult life.
I don’t know if you wonder about me or about my son, my father’s grandson. Your step-grandson, when it comes down to it, though we never established any relationship of that sort, and I have no clue whether you would identify him as such or not. Perhaps this is more telling of our relationship than any of the anecdotes that periodically wander through my head. S. is 14 now, in 9th grade, and is a Cadet Private First Class in J.R.O.T.C. He’s a dead ringer for my father; my grandmother is quite taken aback by the resemblance. I’m 33, an English Professor and College Administrator, and I am married, though not to S.’s father. My husband, G., has two sons.
Yes, I am a stepmother. And this, Peggy, is part of why you are often on my mind.
I’ve written letters in my head before, each one full of anger and recriminations, the lingering holdovers from my angsty teen years. But, this letter is to say thank you, because I learned more from you than my teen-life would have credited you with and, perhaps, more than you could have imagined.
My relationship with my stepsons is necessarily different from the one you and I shared, including the gender differences–I imagine that teen stepdaughters are quite different from my teen stepsons, Lord knows I was. That I was a teenage stepdaughter alone necessitates apologies, just for the level of drama. Of course, I managed more drama than most, I think. Secondly, my stepsons live with me a little more than half the time, whereas I usually saw you for at most four days a month, so our lives are considerably more intertwined. I drive them to school on the days they are with us, and I am at least partially involved in the day-to-day upbringing, since we are under the same roof.
When G. and I first met, our boys were 7,7, & 5 (each of us contributing a 7 year-old); I was almost 12, I think, when I first met you. Again, a pretty substantial difference. G. & I married two years later; I think I was…16 when you and Dad married? I don’t recall, but that sounds about right…I know it was the year he had the first surgery, so maybe I was only 15.
The differences don’t mean that I don’t reflect on my experiences as the stepchild when I interact with the boys. At first, I thought I would be “Super Stepmom,” crashing in to save the day. Everyone was good with this except, well, me, in the end. I had always thought of the distance between us as part of the “I don’t want to be your mother” thing, but, I think I misunderstood what you meant by that when I was a teen. I had a mother; my stepsons have a mother. They don’t need another one. Someone else to talk to? Sure. I’ve held my youngest stepson through his first encounter with grief, when neither of his parents could be there. I’ve waited (and waited) for buses to return to the school from field trips with my oldest stepson, so that G. could put youngest to bed. So, I took a page from your playbook–step back, observe, give advice, but don’t get in the middle unless asked.
Now, that’s not to say you always chose that role. We don’t discuss child support and other financial issues in front of the kids in large measure because of the horror I felt when you chose to do so. We don’t talk about their mother–especially not in the negative–because…yes, you chose to talk about mine and to send threats to her through me. But, I thank you for this too. You were doing the best you knew how to retain any semblance of control in a terribly chaotic situation. Would I handle it in the same way? No, but I can see now why you did.
What was it like for you, when you met my mother and I? Did you realize the level of craziness you would be subjected to, given my father’s calm (at least, that is my impression of him)? You married a man with a nearly out-of-control teen daughter and an unmedicated bipolar ex-wife. Dear God, the drama you encountered. And that was just the immediates. Did he give you any clue?
Peggy, thank you for trying to do what you could with me, despite my unwillingness to accept your overtures and my terrible case of affluenza. Thank you for trying to protect my father from the drama as he died, though, again, I disagreed with your methodology. I know you were grieving, probably frightened, and we were so overwhelming at times. I am sorry that I did not take the opportunity to learn more from you; I imagine you would have been a fantastic career role model, having moved up the ranks in the military as you did.
Realistically, you’ll never see this; I have no idea where you are, what you are doing, or even if you are still on this earth, but I waited far too long to say these things already. Thank you, I’m sorry, and I forgive you. I hope you have a fantastic life.