Fellini goes to Redlands, My Bad Movie

I wrote this all down mostly for myself and for the people who love me most, those who wonder what the hell happened to me that made me crawl in a hole for a week and not talk to anyone? It was cathartic to write it, but I am embarassed and appalled by my family of origin. It still feels like I was an unwilling voyeur at a very bad movie and I will be picking shards of mental glass out of myself for sometime to come.

How did this Fellini movie starring me happen anyway? After three bizarre days with my family in Southern California, I fled like a cat with her tail on fire. I’ve been emotionally catatonic for a week and I’m just crawling out of the wreckage to try to put the pieces together.

My little voyage into hell started  after a fantastic two and a half week road trip with fellow Prairie Dog Posse members Pam and Paula, (aka Louise and Peaches from the elegiac Thelma and Louise). I left my happy suntanned crew behind to return to their homes and I headed on south to Redlands, California to visit my ancient parents, reasoning that at the age of 91 my opportunities to spend time with them were rapidly diminishing.

I went the back way from Death Valley to Redlands, through the Lucerne Valley and over the back side of Big Bear Mountain. The landscape is barren and beautiful high desert until suddenly, you pop into Ponderosa pines, a startlingly blue lake and about a million tourists escaping the heat.

The drive in my Mini was hideous. Somehow I had managed to forget over the previous 20 years that the road up the back of the mountain is a two lane goat track with nausea inducing ten mile an hour curves all the way up. Fine and dandy, I do drive a sports car after all, except that the clutch decided to forget how to shift on three different steep curves. I have driven cars with a clutch for 40 years, and this wasn’t me. Fyr Fly turned into Christine and it wasn’t fun.

I have to take it in to the dealership and yell at them next week, but at the time I was busy trying to survive and not roll backwards. If I stopped the car completely, it would go into gear, with me sweating bullets and leaving fingerprints embedded in the steering wheel by the time I hit the top of the pass and the ten million tourists.

I got off the mountain down the front way with five million of the tourists and into the smog, a nice wide road at least. I hit the freeways right at rush hour. Of course.  I made it to my parents’ front door about six p.m., on a beautiful warm sundrenched afternoon.

My brother answered the door. I greeted him with a hug and he said, “Mother says you don’t want to see me or speak to me. I’m leaving; T. and I will go sleep in the rest area.” What the hell? That was a sign and I should have gotten back in the car and left immediately.   I sputtered and told him I had said no such thing and that of course I needed to see him as the parental units were aging fast and we needed to make a plan; it was his girl friend T. I did not want to see, ever.

Back story: T. is an alcoholic with a mouth like a trucker and a sailor rolled into one. She knows words I have never even heard and I’m pretty close to a sailor myself after years in restaurant kitchens.  T. is the dictionary definition of trash. She is over 60 but insists on wearing the shortest cut offs available that leave little to the imagination. Crop tops, daisy duke style. Her hair is half peroxide yellow blonde with long  gray and brown roots. She is as tanned as a saddle and wrinkled from the sun. She is not fat in any way but her skin is loose and baggy and she really does look like a drunken shar pei .  She repulses my parents and I find her tacky and distasteful in the extreme. I am still not sure what my brother sees in her?

In a previous contretemps involving my brother and this woman, an allegation of domestic violence was made and, I was on my brother’s side, blood being thicker than water and all that. It turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, and reunited with all charges (by her) dropped, they fell into each other’s arms, like lovers separated by an ocean and years of longing. This was immediately followed by T. leaving a detailed foul and truly heinous voicemail for me. My charming and horrid mother had apparently told her my true thoughts on the matter, as in “Roxy said…..” I called my bro. and told him I would not willingly see or speak to her or him again because of said message. Nobody calls me names like that.

These two are over sixty years old and don’t understand personal responsibility–yet.  Sadly, they blame everyone and everything but themselves for the continuing maelstrom they live in. My brother is a recovering drug addict with ten years clean, he just changed drugs and now he medicates with alcohol along with the peroxided harpy he lives with.  A few weeks previous to my proposed visit these two idiots had finally lost their house. Foreclosed and on the streets, they moved into my parents’ house.  Said parents live on a fixed income although they seem to be able to find money for continual shopping forays while complaining bitterly of their lack of funds.

I went there for one reason.  I really wanted to see my father.  If I never saw my mother again it would have been just fine.  Negative, destructive, vicious, toxic, mean spirited, and selfish should be tattooed on her somewhere.  Her grandchildren who knew her in her heyday loathe her, my sister and I try really hard to stay as far away as we can from her for a boatload of reasons.  Still, she is 91 and she is my mother and I wanted no regrets at not seeing her.  I love her but I do NOT like her.

Strangely, she has mellowed in some ways. The house full of dregs and druggies she has taken in one or two at a time over the years, They adore her and they have stolen her blind although she doesn’t see it. All of her good jewelry is gone and the antiques would be gone too if these folks weren’t so damned stupid. Luckily, they can’t figure out how to find a market for 17thcentury French furniture.

My looney brother and his alcoholic girlfriend are parked in my parents’ spare room which luckily, is in a separate building.  They both smoke and they brought THREE golden retrievers and three cats with them! My parents have a little dog and an Afghan hound who have been busily peeing on the Persian carpet because they are afraid of the 3 retrievers. Oh yes, one of the three dogs is pregnant. My mother gave me a bottle of Chantilly perfume for Christmas (in June) which I surreptiously doused the rug with but I still can’t be in the same room with the urine stench.

They have a guy named Gary, in his 40s, unemployed, who lives in their old dead motorhome at the back of the property. He looks out after them and takes care of the yard. They house and feed him and call him “their son”.  The yard was gorgeous. It’s four city lots and situated on top of a cliff and for once it looked wonderful.

My parents are hoarders like many other decrepit depression era folks. Gary has pretty much managed to get my dad lodged in one  place on the deck and gotten rid of the mountains of crap in the yard. Thank God, I can forgive Gary a lot for that. In fairness, my brother tried for years to get rid of the stuff but every single thing he threw out my mother retrieved from the garbage, old wet sofa cushions, moldy rugs, broken lawn furniture. Torin and I tried too, about five years ago and had the exact same experiences. This was nothing short of a miracle.

Inside the house, chaos reigned. My mother reads newspapers with a magnifying glass about five hours a day. Cover to cover, yep. She complains constantly of accomplishing nothing.  Number one, she is old and getting rickety and number two she reads the paper all day long and drops it on the floor in a welter of Kleenex and other trash. She has macular degeneration so I don’t even know if she sees the crap on the floor. Mention it and she goes ballistic about how hard she tries and how misunderstood she is, then tears.

Waiting for them to wake up Saturday morning, I made the mistake of cleaning- literally, a half inch of dirt off the bookcase and dusting the books. I got chewed from one end to the other and told her cleaning people did a good job and I wasn’t to touch her stuff. Okay…

The evening I arrived, I went right through the house to see my dad on the deck where he was smoking his pipe and hanging out with his little dog, Rosy.  I gave him a big hug and promised him the next day would be great, our day. He has grown a Sam Elliott mustache and it was so wonderful to see him and just sit with him. We used to escape the harpy that was my mother by fishing and just being together. Amazing how quiet it can be in the middle of a lake. Boats make mother sick, coincidence?

Thank God, I had my tent and camping gear with me when I got to their house. I set up my personal haven with a wonderful view and thanked my lucky stars for my canvas cave and escape hatch.  I did jump my mother though, she came outside while I was putting up the tent and I opined as to how I would appreciate her not doing that “Roxy said thing” and repeating things that were told to her in confidence. I did tell her I found that rather cowardly and if she wanted to bad mouth my brother and T. she could damned well not use me to do it.  Guess what? Tears and stomping off, this level of crazy I can cope with, I grew up with it.

Five minutes later all was forgotten as per usual, and I was helping truss a roasting chicken. Of course, delightful mother had to berate Dad for being stupid bringing back the wrong chicken. It was “too big”. What the hell? I should relate that she has a defect in her voice that makes her sound Katherine Hepburn would sound if she ate a few broken dishes, cracked and almost not understandable.

As a kid she had me make her phone calls for her because she had such a bad stutter she couldn’t say things like the word “seven”.  It had gotten better with new treatment the last few years but it was decaying again. and I discovered that nodding my head and saying “yes” or “no” was the best tack to take when I understood one word out of four.

She is now getting deaf which is even better since my dad is almost totally deaf and wears two semi-functional hearing aids.  Perfection, she can’t talk and he can’t hear, constant screaming and recriminations ensue on both sides.  I should also mention my dad has always yelled. I thought my mother’s name was “Jeannie Jesus Christ” for years. He is a spoiled rotten only child who married someone who was in a constant war for his affections with his mommy.  I think the same recipe was applied to my sappy brother, valued only son and object of veneration. Thank you Jesus, from this girl, for being a forgotten tom boy who pretty much raised herself after her older sister escaped the crazy people.

The chicken was finally trussed after a fight over who put the string away and where were the scissors. It was set to roast and I am pretty proud of myself for keeping these two cranky old people in a pretty good mood and on track to the table. I actually enjoyed helping mom in the kitchen. I made a big salad using my California dressing recipe learned at her knee and a few of her fresh lemons.

As we started to eat dinner my brother’s best friend from high school showed up to take him out to the desert to do a landscape job. Harold. He’s still adorable, successful and on his third wife. He’s the one who got away, but as an anal retentive German I’d say that was best for both of us. My eclectic mess would have killed him but I was still happy to see him.

T. came in to have dinner after Harold left and I was civil. I was such a good girl, I didn’t engage in conversation but I didn’t beat her to death with a serving spoon either.  T’s leg is in a cast and there are differing stories about how my brother got his head whacked, her leg broken and etc. etc. Story one involves her being in a plane crash and some pit bulls attacking their dogs and knocking him out of their truck bed.  I’m guessing bar fight. Who are these people and what have they done with my family?

Dinner over, dishes soaking, kitchen wrecked.  T. comes in to the house uninvited and starts whining about Wayne ( My brother) who has loaned her/his truck to friends who are going to a nearby town to move furniture for someone.  My mother tells her to get out and she goes, after snarling a few choice epithets on the way.  Now mother gets down to it, telling me in painful and miniscule detail every single thing these two have done or not done since they moved in and for years before—and then she repeats it. They contribute nothing, etc. etc.

Other side of the story: T. and the bro get free food from the Catholic Food Pantry and a few other places, in addition to Food Stamps. These they contribute to the household. My charming horrible mother says they contribute nothing since they are not “paying” for this food, it’s free.  She takes it, uses it, but says they contribute nothing.  I loathe her behavior and have to leave the room so I won’t yell.

I come back and try to reason with her and explain that she is a deluded idiot, in much nicer words of course, but she only wants to complain bitterly and repeat the same broken stories.  Doesn’t want help or advice, just wants me to listen.  I tell her if I can’t help and she won’t address the issues, I don’t want to listen to the same stories, again. “I just wanted you to listen to me like a daughter and a friend. You are neither.”  Ouch, my response is that it is not fair to hand me a bucket of toxic waste and tell me to swallow it, poisoning me and telling me I can’t do anything to avoid being poisoned.  I excuse myself, quietly, and go to my tent/lair looking forward to Saturday with my dad.

Saturday I got up at 7:30 and found my camping coffee and made myself a cup. I sat outside and read happily in the sunshine til the herd crawled out around noon. T. screaming at the top of her lungs. Good old Gary has locked the only bathroom she and my brother have access to and the brother is off in the desert.

One of the druggie chicks my mom has taken under wing has a lair in the bedroom with the bathroom attached. Druggie Chick  must have known I would tear her limb from limb because she is nowhere to be found.  Word is that my charming brother, who hates this woman, has done a few unspeakable acts to her bed clothes. In retaliation she has delivered his porn collection to my mother.   I go take a shower, not really caring to be involved in the level of insanity we seem to be descending too.

T. comes in the house to use the toilet with my father yelling at her to get out the whole way. Joy in the morning, I tell you. I am informed later that my idiot mother has paid this Gary guy $40 to unlock the bathroom. Hello? He lives on your property for free; he puts a lock on a door and has the only key, what’s wrong with this picture? Plus T. is howling like a banshee that her truck is missing and my brother’s friends are nowhere to be found. Neither of these women knows the words “Shut UP!”

I get my dad showered shaved and we get out of there. It is now 3 o’clock and I haven’t taken up drinking yet.  We have a great time together. He has gotten so old and rickety, he seems like a fragile bird to me. He still loves his pipe and his dog and the rest of his life seems to be spent in passive aggressive combat with Jeannie Jesus Christ.

He is enchanted with the interior of the Mini and all its technological tricks. We put the top down and drive to the PX at March Air Force Base, we went to Wal-Mart, where I bought them a new vacuum cleaner, we went to Bed Bath and Beyond, and we went to Michael’s to buy a tube of glue. At each stop, I’d drop him at the door and he would toddle off with cane in hand. I would park the car and set off doing laps in search of him, usually finding him comfortably ensconced in a demonstration chair on the floor while I hunted for him.

He takes me to dinner at Coco’s, and for someone with the appetite of a bird, a real picky eater, according to the mother unit, he packs away a chicken fried steak, broccoli, garlic mashed potatoes, 3 cups of coffee and  half of my strawberry pie.  I think he won’t eat just to piss her off; it’s working by the way.

We get home around nine p.m. after a wonderful time, including a blast from the past, where he abandoned me in the car while he went to the commissary. That has happened to me and even my kids. How many times has that man left us to bake slowly in the sun while he strolls around and shops? Again, he is sublimely selfish but at this point I am only wryly amused.

He goes in with his purchases to get the third degree from mother while I put together the new vacuum and try to ignore them both. She is determined to destroy his pleasure in the day and it amazes me. She sits right in front of him and starts attacking with what she wants him to do tomorrow while she is gone or else. She can’t let him just marinate in an hour of pleasure and digest his day.

I suggest gently to her that she might like to go take her drugs and get to bed so we can have our day together tomorrow. I’m wishing I had drugs to take too, but I am determined to have a good day come hell or high water.  I escape to the tent and crawl in my sleeping bag to call my sister and relay the latest in crazy antics and tell her what time we will be there tomorrow, Sunday. We start laughing and agree that this is a very bad movie with hammy actors, laughing until tears run into my ears.

About my big sister, I adore her. She is a highly functioning  hardworking ADD crazy girl who tries really hard to love every one and she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. Eleven years older than I am, she pretty much raised me until she escaped when I was six. She got married when she was only eighteen. I’m convinced she is how I escaped the loonies’ parental skills.

I still don’t understand my sister M. She was a beauty queen who accepted the accolades of the masses like a natural princess. Yes, she has an incredibly sweet personality, but it was that face that opened doors. Those amazing blue eyes and that tiny and well built frame stood her in good stead over the years. She struggles with ADD and works harder and longer than anyone I know, and because of her ADD accomplishes less. She tries to boss us all around for our own good, which always ends badly with all of us yelling at her because we don’t want to do what she wants us to do. Mother treats her really terribly but she keeps coming back for more, she doesn’t know how to give up. That may be a family trait actually.

I got mother up and moving early, T. came in yowling  about the bathroom being locked again which devolved into another shouting match. I quietly requested she leave the house, she was still howling about her truck but she left and of course came back, again and again. She kept trying to tell me her side of the story and I was not interested in anyone’s story. I was interested in getting OUT of there.

I rounded up the mother figure, shoveled her and her hat and two pairs of sunglasses into the car and lit out for Carlsbad. Luckily, my IPod was stuffed with music from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, which got mother started with stories of the musicians she hung out with, the Dorsey’s apparently, although she really doesn’t like music and never has, weird.

Mother kept trying to tell me more of the horror stories of life with my father and brother but I wasn’t buying any of it and requested that today be just our good day.  We got stuck in traffic but the top was down so we enjoyed the balmy weather and got off the topic of my horrible brother.  We scooped up M. and put her in the backseat with a scarf and a hat.  The sun receded more the further south we went so we stopped and put the top up before hitting the beaches of my childhood for a drive by, which we all loved. La Jolla has so many good memories for all of us. We got to Old Town San Diego and finally found a parking place. Southern California always seems to be full of people which I loathe, but it comes with the territory. We had a stroll, looked in some shops and settled down for dinner at Fandango.  Mother had a fit because she wanted the seat I was sitting in, no problem. We exchanged places and she got to work on her margarita.

My mother has an interesting approach to dining out when someone else is paying.  She orders the biggest plate of food on the menu with plans to take ¾ of it home with her, never stops to think about the cost to the host.  My charming brother does the same thing which is why I try really hard to never take any of them to dinner as I actually do live on a budget.  Dinner was lovely, good Mexican food and mother left with a box of food as big as her head which made her very happy.

We dropped M. off in Carlsbad where mother snapped or broke a chunk off of every bush in sight, another irritating habit. She never asks if she can, she just commits mayhem wherever she goes. I finally got her back in the car for the ride home.  We stopped for coffee in Temecula and she wanted to pay but couldn’t find her $20 bill which was actually sweetly funny. In the car, she started in with the negativity again, everything was wrong, she was going to kill herself, divorce my father, I was not a good daughter, nothing could be changed, T. was awful, an endless litany of badness about my brother until I finally snapped and told her to be quiet or I was going to stop the car, get out and bang my head on the pavement. I asked her to just shut up the toxic flow for a few minutes until I found my center again and could resume coping.  Tears from her, I’m just doing the best I can, etc. etc.  Five minutes later, back to her cheery self and I’m losing what’s left of my mind.

In talking with her about the problem of my brother and the harpy I found it interesting, any rational solution to the problem she refuses, has tried, it won’t work, etc. I am rapidly approaching the conclusion that she loves the drama and attention and doesn’t want to fix it.

I have spoken to the police and offered to take her to the county seat and get a restraining order that the police can execute. The police know the story already and you can tell they are just hoping someone does something so they can lock this chick up and throw away the key. Mother won’t even look at a rational solution; she’s wallowing in the nastiness as far as I can tell.

Back home, we give dad the box of leftovers and then things get even more interesting. My brother comes in telling me T. has just totaled her car. No insurance, no valid license on the car. They kept her driver’s license and locked her up. I hoped it would be for years. She claims her foot in the cast was stuck between the brake and the gas. Here’s the thing, she’s on Trazedone for the pain in her leg. Elephant tranks, and she was hunting for my schmuck brother who was hanging out with friends watching Ice Road Truckers.  The story is she came to the front yard of his buddies’ house and was screaming for him to come out because his mother and sister were home and wanted to see him. I can’t think of anyone I wanted to see less than my brother except maybe her, so that was a complete lie.

To shut her up bro and the boys hop in the truck and head home. She passes them at a high rate of speed and clobbers an old couple from the rear. My idiot brother was told to get lost by the cops or they would lock him up too. His passengers got out and ran; cops scooped them both up, bench warrants. What a swell group of guys, I tell you. The cops bring the bimbo home sometime in the middle of the night. My brother says the couple was fine, I heard the next day they had neck injuries so I’m still hoping they lock her up and throw away the key, they did take her license so who knows what the true story is.

When I emerge from my tent on Monday morning and go in the house to make coffee, I appear to be the only one awake, thank God. Then I hear yelling from the front yard. Holy crap, what now? “Whore! Negro! and other  odd epithets were being hurled by T., apparently at Gary. This woman is seriously crazy.  HE is a white guy and apparently she draws the line at using the N. word and calls him negro instead. What the hell? It seems that in spite of the $40 pay off he has relocked the bathroom door and she has soiled her undies in a big way which has her screaming mad.

Gary is opening the door of the motor home and waving a middle finger in her direction  accompanied with his own choice epithets and then slamming his door.  The horse’s ass is stirring the pot and its boiling over.  I mention mildly to my mother that there is a screaming match featuring filthy language happening in her driveway and someone is going to call the cops if she doesn’t do something about it.

Mother goes to the door and tells her to shut up and leave and T. comes storming into the house and she and my mother get into it, calling each other names and my mother tells her , yet again, to get out and never come back.  Various evil words are thrown about and my mother, 91, gnarled as a stick and mean as a snake is now thumping on this woman, physically trying to shove her out the door. T.offers to hit my mother, and mother toddles to the door and starts screaming help! help!  She screams about as loud as a six week old cat, so this is not helping things.  I am in a state of shock and awe and hoping I don’t have to dial 911, I just want her to go away.

My father has now been roused and he comes roaring out of the bedroom in his baggy undies and a pajama top, barefooted. The two of them start pushing and shoving the bimbo toward the door.  More bad words are heard which include, “bitch! Whore! Get out! Tramp! Slut! Old bag! and Get your hands off me! “ Amazing. It was like watching two old alley cats attack a particularly saggy shar pei dog.  I almost fall down laughing  inappropriately when T. says my mother, 91 remember, is paying Gary for sex because it’s the only way she can get any. This woman is Deranged with a capital D. On the other hand, for a nickel I would kill Gary for causing this morning maelstrom all by himself.

Let me add to the visual, I  step into the fray at this point suggesting the police will be called and she needs to find a better place to live, immediately.  She stomps out and I assume the worst is over. I had been planning to visit one of my oldest friends in Hemet, a few miles away, but shelve that notion to go find my stupid brother. He missed the whole thing because he was vacuuming his tent. He offers to try to find someplace to stash the crazy chick but it turns out no one will take her, even her family. You can’t easily get rid of a crazy person. You can’t just drive up and throw them out of the car at the looney bin, they have to go willingly. Did I mention she is bi-polar?

I give up on changing things at this point because the toxic list is starting again and mother won’t go with me to get a restraining order. I leave the den to go down the hill to Barnes and Noble to send some emails and be around sane people.

I drag home around 5:00, to find my brother has taken the trashmistress over to the hospital to get the cast replaced on her leg, ostensibly so he can dump her somewhere else.  Meanwhile, her dog is having puppies. Disgustingly enough, many of them are emerging dead and their other dogs think they should eat these creatures. My mother rescues a live puppy the mother dog is trying to bury and she is screaming for my father to come to the pen with a dustpan to pick up the dead animals.  My frail father goes to the pen and promptly falls down, he can’t get up and my mother is out of control at this point. Dogs are running everywhere, the mother dog is leaking various repulsive fluids and she is freaking out and running around too. T. and Wayne finally show up and T. demands to know where her dead dogs are.  My parents yell at her they are in the garbage bag and start hollering at her on general principles.

My brother steps in to help my shaken father get to his chair. This scares me badly because dad can’t seem to stand up. I run over and help him find his seat.  Wayne cleans up the dog mess, T. goes to the tent with the mother dog and my mother turns on me at this point and among other things tells me to go to hell.

I find that I have reached the end of my own particular tether, and quietly respond that I am leaving now. I do just that. I take down my tent and have my car packed in under an hour.I don’t say good-bye to my mother.  I walk around the house to say good bye to my father still on the deck in his chair. I really don’t know these people. I left home at 18 and I have tried hard not to go back.  I went this time for one reason. My beloved father.

He stands up, leaning on his cane, his silver hair is rumpled and tears are running down his face. I am sobbing when I hug him and tell him I can’t take this anymore but that I love him so much. He tells me next time I see him he will likely “be planted” and that he is sorry for all of this. My heart breaks, I can feel it, and I head to the car for the long drive home. I cry, sobbing for the first three hours of the trip. I eat dinner at a Burger King in Santa Clarita and pull over to sleep at a rest stop in Button Willow.  I’m not sure if I can ever make sense of this whole thing but I don’t regret making this final visit. It just shows me what I’ve always known, you can’t fix crazy, you can only walk away.

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