Not All Stepmothers Are Wicked but Mine Was

I recently read the Facebook post of a friend’s son who was having some trouble with a step-parent. It seemed like it went well beyond the normal teenage, “you’re not my real dad” bullshit. It sounded like the step-parent in question was really, truly awful. In any case I just wanted to reassure this young person that what they are feeling is valid and that others have been there before. I wanted to share my story with him…maybe it will help, maybe it will help me.

My parents split up when I was 10. To be painfully accurate they told my brother and I they were getting a divorce exactly one week before my 10th birthday. To be fair they had their reasons for the timing; I was born on their 3rd wedding anniversary and who can really blame them for not wanting to suffer through another celebration of their love for one another that no longer existed. I remember my 10th birthday party; it was perfect, a beach party on Lake Sammamish at Idlewood Park on a gorgeous August afternoon. I got the “Lil’ Swimmer” Cabbage Patch doll after which I had been pining. Everything should have been wonderful but I could not feel anything. I knew I was supposed to be happy, but I just could not find it inside myself.

But time marches on as it is wont to do. Less than a year after the divorce my Dad remarried, choosing for his second wife, in his infinite wisdom, Gail Deering. A former high school…girlfriend is the wrong word but you kind of get what I mean…of his who had recently appeared back in his life…as if by MAGIC! In any case she would have had you believe that in all the interim years she had done nothing but pine away for my father. What she was really doing in those interim years was getting pregnant at 17. She married the father of her twins (yes twins, a boy and a girl), Joe. Joe died when the babies were about 2, I think it was a car accident or motorcycle accident and I am fairly certain that alcohol and/or (most probably “and”) drugs were involved. At that point Gail decided that raising two babies on her own was too hard so she left the twins with her mother (who had obviously done a stellar job with her) in favor of biker gangs and heroin.

It was a good life but one can only make a respectable living off the money they earn hustling pool and arm wresting for so long before they start to yearn for life’s simpler pleasures; settling down, making a permanent home somewhere, reconnecting with your abandoned children and their social security checks, etc. And that was Gail in a nutshell; she was always trying to run a hustle. She never worked while I knew her and she was almost always in the process of litigation with former employers over an on-the-job injury or an L&I claim or a disability claim. She worked very hard to not have to work. Which was good because her lifestyle of drinking all day didn’t really jibe with full-time employment anyhow.

Gail was an alcoholic (at first). Not to say that my Dad is not an alcoholic but to this day I could count on one hand and have fingers left over the amount of times I have actually seen my Dad “drunk”. Gail was drunk every night. She was a large, brutish woman and a mean drunk. I always marveled at my Dad’s ability to maintain a blind spot for what a mean-spirited human being she was. I had never met anyone prior to Gail in whom I could find absolutely no redeeming qualities. And I did not want to feel that way about her. I did not want to play out some ridiculous, archetypal, fairytale horror show starring none other than THE WICKED STEPMOTHER! But that was what I got.

Once when I was twelve, and spending the weekend at my Dad’s, Gail and Dad had been drinking all day which led to Gail and Dad fighting all evening. I watched my father get so angry with her that he put his fist through the laundry room door. Her response to this was to hit my father over the head with a dining room chair. She literally broke a solid-wood dining chair over his goddamn head. In the midst of the chaos and the screaming I demanded to be taken out of that house immediately. I gathered up my things while Gail flung a litany of curses at me and my father. I was a “spoiled little bitch” and “a wimp” and “a little fucking princess” for not wanting to watch my father endure another blow to head with whatever piece furniture was next on her hit list. My Dad agreed to take me to his mom’s house. I don’t know why I did not ask to be taken home, to my Mom, but I think there was an unspoken agreement that that was a humiliation my Dad was simply unable to bear after all the other indignities he had suffered. I stood on the side of Highway 9 in the driving rain while my Dad called his mother’s house from a pay phone. There was blood running down the side of his head and out of his ear when he turned to me, while waiting for someone on the other end of the phone to pick up, and said “I think I made a mistake.” That was 1992. Fifteen years later he finally left her.

For fifteen years I was mostly estranged from my father because my stepmother made it too difficult to have a relationship with him. For fifteen years I wondered how he could be so blind, how could he not see what she was doing to us? For fifteen years I genuinely and earnestly wished my stepmother dead. For fifteen years of I was afraid to visit or call my Dad because I would have to go through her. 

In the last 10 years of their marriage Gail’s behavior grew more erratic as her alcohol and drug abuse grew more inclusive and indiscriminate. She abused prescription pain killers to the point that she had gone into cardiac arrest twice in as many months and she wasn’t even 40 years old. She began to traffic drugs, selling pain killers that she would get from her croaker of a doctor and using the money to buy meth or other street drugs. All the while my Dad remained either in denial or complacent due to the income brought in by the selling of drugs.

Towards the end she was painfully thin (having always been on the heavy side before), covered in sores, withered well beyond her years and always high on one thing or the other. But it wasn’t until she got a gun that my dad decided that whatever he might have to give up, it was not worth risking his life. He took off in the middle of night and left her, his house, all his belongings, every photograph, every possession and he had never been a richer man, for he was free.

I remember when I found out that he had left Gail; it was as if I became 50 pounds lighter. I was thrilled for my Dad, thrilled for us, thrilled at the possibility of a real relationship with him! And I was so angry that he hadn’t done it sooner. I don’t know if I will ever fully forgive him for the years we lost.

About 3 or 4 years after my Dad and Gail had split up he called me. I was at work; I remember it was just after Bo was born and I was sitting in the slipper chair at the shop nursing him when my cell phone rang. It was my Dad, telling me that Gail had (finally) died (of a drug overdose because DUH!). Into the phone said the first thing that came to my mind, “Well,” I sighed, “Ding-Dong!”. I had wished for it for so long, so many times but I knew that when it actually happened I would feel a little bit bad, but you know what? I totally didn’t, that bitch can rot in hell for all I care and I am glad she is gone. She was a fucking cancer and she corroded everything she touched.

I know this story doesn’t offer any salient advice or some great moral or lesson…other than if you wait long enough, all the people you hate will eventually die. I just wanted to let my young friend know that I understand what he is going through and if he ever needs to talk….well, you know where I am.

Also, sorry this isn’t funny. I promise to be less depressing very soon! XOXO

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