Reminiscences and Regrets
Marina has always seemed so self-sufficient, so independent, so private, so closed to others.
Her brother Bill (Billy back then) recalled that as children she wouldn’t eat in public and that for a long time she didn’t talk in public either, only to him. People just assumed she was a slow learner which was not the case. He recalled how she’d taught him to chew with his molars rather than with his front teeth. He recalled how poor her social skills seemed to be but perhaps, back then, she just hadn’t learned yet how to be manipulative. If she didn’t like a gift she immediately made it clear, which of course greatly decreased the number of gifts she received as well as their quality. But she didn’t care, or at least it seemed that she didn’t care. So he became the favorite although perhaps he’d always been. He didn’t notice just how much that bothered her or how much it may have impacted her. But he was just a very little boy and he loved and thought he understood her.
They loved each other. For too long when they were too young they seemed to be all they had. Their parents had separated (or been separated by their maternal grandmother, that had always been unclear) when he was three and she was two. They’d lived with their maternal grandmother for the next two years and then their mother had remarried and they’d been taken to live in Miami. A series of very sudden and very traumatic transitions but in the world then evolving unfortunately not that unusual and much less unusual now.
Marina had been Billy’s shadow, he her protector, although not always a great protector, especially when having her appear behind him when he went to play with his friends had embarrassed him (funny how that changed when she hit her teens). Bill has all too frequently wished he could go back in time and do a better job as her protector but no matter how he’s tried (admittedly mainly through meditation and mental concentration), time keeps flowing in the same direction. But tomorrow never dies and perhaps someday he’ll succeed in making it yesterday.
Marina changed a great deal when she approached puberty. She and Billy had been separated for a while, he in New York with their parents and she in Manizales with their grandmother. She came back not only looking different but acting differently too. She now knew things he hadn’t even suspected, again become the teacher. He recalled the transition vividly. She’d first become closer and more dependent, then more daring, then more distant as her world expanded and more and more new people entered her life until finally he’d become more and more like a memory of times she perhaps would rather forget.
She’d always been competitive. Bill especially recalled one occasion when she was about twelve and he was thirteen. They were both studying in a small Catholic school in Hollis, St. Gerard de Magella. Because of her time in Colombia she’d lost an academic year and was thus in fifth rather than sixth grade. In a way she found that pleasant since she was not always dealing with Billy’s previous teachers and their inevitable comparisons and she’d done very well. The fact is they should have permitted her to advance into the next academic class but she didn’t care, she was happy and proud and expected recognition from their parents which she unfortunately did not get. Billy had borne the brunt of her anger. She’d confronted him, furious, crying that their parents never recognized her accomplishments while exaggerating his. He hadn’t noticed that and when he’d admitted to her that she might have been right, she’d gotten even angrier, especially when he’d pointed out that she was ignoring the fact that as the eldest, he’d always shared the blame for anything she or their younger brother Teddy had done and that not infrequently all the punishment had been administered to him alone. After that incident, somehow their love started to blend more and more with resentment and ambivalence.
When he was fifteen he’d been sent off, at his request, to a military boarding school, not all that far away geographically but seemingly too far away for visits from his family or weekend trips home. The next summer, their mother and stepfather had suddenly divorced and Marina and Teddy were also sent off to boarding schools, all three siblings now separated; they were never really a functional family again.
That had been in the early sixties. By the late sixties Marina and Teddy had become immersed in the counter culture, in drugs and indirectly, in petty crimes, the kind decent adolescents were unwittingly dragged into by faux friends. During that time, for some reason Marina took to calling herself Teddy and the nickname caught on, something that widened an evolving rift with the real Teddy but as to which, as with so many other things, Billy had been oblivious, at least until it was much too late to have any positive input. Meanwhile, he’d been protected inside military college college walls, unaware of what was happening in the purported real world; imbued with beautiful albeit all too often unrealistic values and ideals.
They’d all grown further and further apart, each perhaps seeking his or her own escape from very unnatural circumstances, some good but others very destructive. Bill had done relatively well. Marina and Teddy had not. Bill had graduated, then gone on to college and graduate schools; frequently staying away for years at a time. First Marina and then Teddy had dropped out of school, although much later Marina had briefly resumed the life course that should have been hers. In 1995 she’d graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington but she never really used that degree opting instead for an administrative career with a large maritime construction firm that had her constantly travelling throughout the United States. An optimal form of permanent escape from personal relationships perhaps.
Teddy never fully recovered although the government provided him a better than basic existence, at least materially. He’d received a military disability pension while in his early twenties due to psychological issues, issues he attributed to too many drugs. Too many drugs to which Teddy claimed Marina and her friends had introduced him. For a while during the 1990s, Bill had become Teddy’s legal guardian, responsible for every single aspect of Teddy’s life, something neither of them were happy with, but during that time Teddy kicked his various drug habits and eventually wound up living in a veteran’s domiciliary in Florida. They’d mutually requested termination of that status when Teddy’s act seemed to have come together. Teddy had married early on, a disastrous experience except for the daughter he’d had, but his relationship with her had never been anything but dysfunctional. Not unexpected given the circumstances.
Through it all their mother had done all she could with the little she had. She was an amazing human being, not without faults and frailties but with an iron will hidden in a velvet glove that permitted her to overcome them. In the end, however, with respect to her children, her efforts had only been enough to save Bill; something that eventually weighed him down with guilt as he grew to believe that perhaps he’d been saved at his sibling’s expense, something Marina had more than implied. For some reason, his parents and siblings all conspired to keep him in the dark concerning evolving family problems taking pride in his achievements but not trusting him to deal with reality or to assume the burdens that should have been his. The consequences were predictable but unfortunately, not foreseeable.
As they each took different paths a deeper and deeper gulf grew between them. Bill became estranged from them and they from him although telephones kept some links open. In hindsight such links seem illusory, the right words but without actions to give them meaning. Bill loved them all with all his heart but all too soon he’d abandoned the means to prove it to them, perhaps because in order to save him, they’d never asked for proof. He wished they had, he wished that more and more as he grew older, especially after their mother passed away and he and his siblings saw less and less and then heard less and less from each other.
Bill remembered his stepfather fondly, sometimes a brute but usually kindly and loving although almost always irresponsible; he didn’t drink or smoke but he loved gambling, unfortunately seldom successfully. Bill had loved him very much. His mother had reconciled with his stepfather shortly before his very early death in his late fifties and Bill recalled his stepfather’s almost prescient last words, summing up the hope and faith that the entire family had placed on him and the responsibility they’d unsuccessfully sought to impose on him. They’d been: “I have more faith in you than I do in God and when I’m gone, it will be you who’ll keep everyone together”. A few weeks later he was gone. But by then the rifts were deeper than anyone of them realized and Bill knew too little of what had happened in his fortuitous absences to be of any real use to anyone but himself.
Not everything was a negative, very far from it. The pain that had been planted in Bill’s heart as a result of his early experiences with family dysfunctionality made him strive to be a good parent, or at least a more successful parent. And perhaps he’d succeeded; his own sons are very, very close. At least he’d accomplished that. Marina, now retired, seems happy with her life, also very focused on her two sons. Teddy? Well with Teddy there’s no real way to tell; some would judge his life a failure but he may be the most satisfied of all. Who knows?
Bill’s life has been very, very eventful; full of successes and failures but in the end, he’s at least satisfied with how the world seems to perceive him. He’s just not all that sure of how he should perceive himself.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved