Marilyn sighed as she poured herself a coffee and sat down with another long sigh. She loved her moments of peace and quiet along with her need for a strong coffee. Charlene would surely be either ringing her in an hour or coming late for supper. Another sigh!
How can I bring about change without hurting her feelings, she questioned herself. She took a long sip of her milky coffee. Being also a bit restless, she picked up her coffee cup, refilled it, added the bit of milk and saundered towards the back garden, now in full sunlight, where a lounge chair awaited occupancy.
Now Marilyn gulped her coffee down, leaned back deep into the chair, closed her eyes and let a few tears trace her cheeks. She led herself down memory lane beginning with the hard delivery of Charlene. Tom had almost lost both of them that very early morning where they had barely made it into the hospital. Once there things did not seem to get any better. They certainly did though after her own doctor arrived. She and Tom were so thankful and thrilled at the prospect of being parents.
Five days later Marilyn was allowed to go home but it was five months later for Charlene. That meant five long months of visiting the hospital daily to help care for her daughter. It was a joyful event to finally bring her home. She took home a list of duties concerning the care of her child. She followed it through painstakingly. She rarely left Charlene alone. It came downright to lengthy discussions between her and Tom. Tom appealed to Marilyn more than he could remember to let up as Charlene was now growing beautifully much to the happiness of the nurses at Mother Care. It really was time that they should and could spend more time together, to be able to go out together and leave Charlene in the hands of a babysitter. Marilyn found so many excuses, so much so that their marriage took a downward turn. Eventually Tom said goodbye.
Is that where I went wrong? she quizzed herself. She remembered missing him, remembered trying to persuade him to come back, then she attempted forcing his return by claiming Charlene’s health was endangered. He did move back but it wasn’t long before the tenderness the two had had before Charlene’s birth returned Marilyn to being a single parent. Tom had tried to keep up their relationship until Charlene’s 8th birthday but with Marilyn’s inflexibility to change her ways, he eventually moved forward with his life. Today she had no idea of where he was or how to find him. Then she shook her head and told herself he wouldn’t know how to help either.
Tom had said Marilyn kept their daughter hanging onto her apron strings. She supervised Charlene’s friends, walked or drove her to school, seldom allowed her to join her classmates in school activities. Marilyn slowly realised how she caused herself to be punished. She had lived only for her daughter, she had no real social life, no close friends, her parents lived in another state. They seldom saw one another. This brought on a deluge of tears. Oh, what am I to do? Can my parents help me?
What if I tell Charlene that I’m going to spend a few months in Montana with her grandparents? She’s bound to rant and rave that she cannot live alone for so long. No one would believe that a twenty-year-old would act that way. It’s even amazing that she had found a place of employment that catered to her individuality. Oh, I am so tired of waiting on my daughter hand and foot. I cannot even think of going to the cinema alone or even, heaven forbid, find a new friend, mind you, male or female, to enjoy life with. I’d only encounter a sullen face and a period of absolute silence at first acknowledgement as if we were incompatible or living in a platonic relationship. Then all hell would break loose.
I remember when I had first brought Adam and his wife home to introduce them to Charlene. She had been civil to them at least but our meal was interspersed with disparaging remarks directed towards me, embarrassing me, thus Adam and his wife at a loss of words never reciprocated my invitation. And it was a week or more before Charlene and I returned to normality.
And there was the time I decided I needed to improve my state of health so I decided to sign up for a swim course. Well who followed me in my footsteps, only Charlene! So no breaking the umbilical cord there either. She was twelve by then. I know now I should have let her go to summer camp that year but I was sure she wouldn’t have been able to cope. And she was such a delicate child, I couldn’t justify her going. She had no one to really look after her. Those camp counsellors surely could not pamper to her needs, or so I thought at that time. Yes, that was my mistake, a huge one thinking back. There was more sighing, more feelings of desperation, and missing Tom after so many years. Walking memory lane was not really a help either, was it? she thought.
With sixteen Charlene was offered driving lessons at school but I refused to let her take them thinking she was so little and young she could wait another few years. Oh there had been several rows over that but I held fast to my beliefs. Then came graduation – whatever had Charlene wanted to do after it I can’t really recall that time even though it was only two years ago. It was filled with schooling versus job-hunting. Charlene was not really university material so it came down to visiting the unemployment office after school cousellors had given her a few tips on the sort of jobs they thought would suit her. These included mainly jobs such as secretarial office help or shop assistants, and possibility of training for flight attendant, etc. She was very good at English and she had managed to get a job at the local newspaper, doing proof-reading. My life as well as that of Charlene’s had taken step forward then. But ........
Charlene sat at her desk drumming her fingers reflecting on leaving home that morning. What am I to do with my mother and her constant nagging? I’m so lucky to be able to go to work to get out from under her surveillance. Whenever I suggest doing something a bit out of the ordinary, I’m given a ‚harrumph’ and a cold shoulder. I still cannot drive a car. Little known to my mother, I finally got up the nerve and signed myself up for driving lessons. I had to lie to them, saying I had no car at home to practise my lessons. It’s a bit expensive for me and I have to lie to mom about my whereabouts. The typical excuse has been late working nights.
Another thing I have kept a secret from mom is that Dad has returned to my life. We’ve been in contact since my graduation. He said he acted like a private detective, he’d come around once a week or thereabouts for those few months I was jobless. On one of those surveillance mornings he discovered I was leaving the house and he followed me to work. What a surprise when I literally walked into his arms at my lunch break, then he offered to buy me lunch on that same day. We meet once a week now. Actually he has offered to pay for my driving lessons. Wonder what she’d make of all of this? What I’d love to do would be to go on a holiday - maybe a package deal like I did the proof-reading for an advertisment for one in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’ve heard from my co-worker Sandy that he and his colleagues went there for spring break from university. His description of the fun they had sounds out of the world to me. Of course, Mom will say ‚no way’ like she did about summer camp when I was 12.
I suppose I could just overrun her with all the latest happenings in my life and see what happens. Maybe Dad has a few ideas. Sometimes I really feel sorry for her and the way I treated her at times; usually because I’d get so furious with her overbearing way of treating me. Lately it’s really been unbearable. We just don’t seem to see eye to eye on anything. I mean I’m twenty now. It’s time I stood on my on two feet, right? Damm right!
I’m envious of my co-workers like Sandy, it seems like they have such a carefree life. Sandy has even suggested we go together to after work TGIFs. I can just imagine what Mom would say to that – imagine me drinking, having a beer - it’d be my first – that’s unimaginable, in fact, unbelievable. Well I’m meeting Dad tonight.
Charlene had phoned her Mom and claimed to be working late again – they had a tough client who wanted to meet and discuss the newspaper’s latest market plan. Charlene and Tom met for dinner right after she left work. They discussed her future, Charlene trying to explain the home situation and how she herself felt so out of sorts with it. Tom did a few calculations. Driving lessons would soon end, then came the written and actual driving test before she could drive. Tom had a surprise but he’d wait to tell Charlene. As for her wish to take a holiday somewhere, he agreed wholeheartedly. As for Marilyn, he’d have to think on that a bit. Charlene left feeling at least she had someone to back her up now.
Six weeks later, Charlene phoned Tom to say, 'Dad, I passed my driving test with flying colors!'
'Honey, congratulations, I'm afraid I can’t meet you this week. How about a week from Friday?'
'Right, Dad. Will do. See you then.'
Come Friday, Tom parked his surprise away from Charlene’s work place. He wasn’t quite sure how to surprise her but fate followed its own path. Charlene came out and searched the parking lot for Tom and his car. Tom came strolling by, took her by the hand and said 'Come with me!'
There was a sparkling new blue Mini convertible. Charlene was delighted to see that he had gotten rid of his old jalopy. Tom had a good laugh over that and loved and wished he had her face on camera when he handed her the keys and said 'Happy Graduation, past birthdays and Christmases – it’s all yours, Honey!'
But Charlene’s face soon fell, tears prickled her eyes. 'How am I to tell Mom? She knows nothing about this or about you and me!'
Tom reassured her and told her about his plan. Charlene was to go home as was normal after a long working night. He arranged to meet her early on Saturday morning before breakfast. Marilyn deliberately stayed in bed until 9 am on Saturdays. Only after her shower would she get dressed and come downstairs. Charlene muffled her voice, phoned her to say there was a postal special delivery on her doorstep.
Charlene was left to drive her new car into the drive, surprising Marilyn a few moments later. Marilyn, true to word, was simply overwhelmed to see her daughter behind the wheel. With Marilyn in the passenger seat, Charlene explained about the driving lessons and left her to wonder about whose car it was. They drove to a pancake house in the village. Charlene marched in with Marilyn in tow and asked for a table booked for Wilson. The hostess ushered them to the table where Tom was seated. Marilyn swallowed and whispered to herself ‚Oh my, it’s Tom!’
She thought to herself, Life looks completely different now. Charlene had another surprise for her after she had recovered from the other two. It would soon be autumn and her daughter was going to travel to Florida, 'But by plane, Mom,' she explained.
Yes, she took it all in, smiled brightly at Tom and her daughter while thinking 'Yes, I don’t know how but a new life has emerged.' With glassy eyes, she let out another sigh.