Monday, August 21, 2006

Wisconsin Dells: The Finale

Poor George and I are safely back in New York, decompressing from the family "vacation."

Last I reported, we had gotten through most of the week without any major emotional dilemmas. My brother did have a significant meltdown at one point mid-week, but he did it only in front of my parents and me. Rich's tantrum was momentarily upsetting for my mom, but fortunately I was able to take him aside and talk him down in private. It only took about ninety minutes, and put me in quite a mood for the rest of the day. But at least my parents' 50th anniversary trip was still intact.

For a while it looked as though we were going to finish off the week without any further catastrophes. Wishful thinking.

Although Rich continued to be randomly drunk and belligerent at times, we made it right up to the final moments of our familial celebration before it all fell apart.

Each of us had been responsible for preparing the evening meal on a given night, and the plan was that my parents were going to take us all out to a buffet dinner on Saturday for the final celebration. We had a lovely champagne cocktail hour at the cabin before the nine of us headed off to dinner in two separate cars.

We were all seated with our salads and were having a fine time, when out of nowhere my dad blurted out to my mom: "I don't know why Donna (Rich's wife) just ran off from us when we walked in here. I didn't know where she went. I didn't like that."

Ok, so it was a random, somewhat snarky comment. My dad seems to do more and more of that as he ages. He's 75 after all. I thought old people were entitled to their random snarkiness. Plus, if he would have said that about me, I would have a) apologized for upsetting him, or b) told him the reason I had walked away from him. Then I would laugh to myself and think "what an old coot."

Well according to Rich, my dad's comment was too much to bear, even if Dad hadn't intended for anyone but my mom to hear it. Rich glared at my sister and me and said "was Dad talking shit about us?" Luckily, or so I thought, my parents had already left the table to refill their salad plates.

Marg and I both immediately replied that we didn't know what Dad was talking about, and tried to change the subject. George was busy stuffing a french fry up his nose or something like that, so we tried to use him to distract Rich.

But then Rich turned to Donna and said "did you go off and abandon my parents when you walked in with them?" Donna replied "Well, yes, but just so that I could go up to the host desk to make sure they still had our reservation. There was a big group that came in right at the same time and I didn't want us to be stuck there behind them."

Rich's cheerful rejoinder: "Well, I don't know why this entire family has to talk shit about you! Everyone here hates us both, it's obvious! I'm about sick of everyone being against us!"

Marg: "Rich, we're not against you! We're really glad you're here."

Rich: "No, you guys hate us. I'm sick of it. I told everybody, the first shit I hear from anyone, I am out of here! Do you understand me?"

Marg: "Rich, please don't be upset! We're having fun! We all love you and want you to stay here with us!"

Rich, with a look in his eyes that was growing downright scary: "I am out of here. You can all go fuck off! You all hate me, and I don't want to bring you down!"

Marg, being more sensitive than I, broke out into tears. Rich was clearly spinning out of control, and besides, she figured my mom would try to find a way to blame this all on her.

I, on the other hand, felt I had done my duty by talking him down through his first tantrum, and decided to return to the buffet for my entree.

When I came back, Rich had departed. My parents were still at the buffet.

Those of us still at the table, including Donna, who hadn't left with Rich, agreed that we would shield the news of Rich's departure from Mom & Dad so as not to ruin their party. If they asked where Rich was, we had a number of excuses in store: "He's in the bathroom" or "He went outside to smoke" or "He wasn't feeling well - I think he may still be in the bathroom." That kind of thing.

Well, let's just say that Donna is not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. After about ten minutes my dad noticed that Rich had not returned to the table. He walked over to Donna. "Where is Rich?"

"Oh, uh, I guess he left."


"Well, uh, he heard you say something mean about me and he got mad."

Bridget was sitting across from me, and the look on her face was priceless. Can anyone spell S-T-O-O-P-I-D?

So of course, Dad marched right back over to Mom to announce that Rich had taken off, leaving eight of us stranded with only one car.

Mom started to cry.

We all soberly finished up our plates, and made plans for me to drive half the party back to the cabin, and then return to the restaurant to pick up the others.

I dropped Marg, David and Bridget off first. Then I returned to pick up the others. By this time, Rich had returned to the restaurant, but just sat in the bar and refused to speak to anyone but Donna.

Mom, Dad and George got in the car with me. Mom said, at least while she wasn't sobbing, "Don't take us back to the cabin. I refuse to go in and watch his tantrum. I'm sure he's packing up to leave early, so let's just let him do it."

I took them to a pub across the street from the cabin, where we waited until we saw Rich & Donna speed out of the parking lot.

We returned to the cabin to see that Rich had neglected to pack much of what he brought, including all sorts of kitchen instruments as well as my mom's motorized scooter. It was going to be quite a game fitting everything into the rest of the cars to get it all home. My mom spent the rest of the evening in tears.

We haven't heard from my brother yet, now that we've all returned to our homes. My mom and dad are despondent, when they were supposed to be celebrating this happy occasion. And at no small expense, either - a four bedroom, four bathroom cabin rental for a week wasn't exactly small change.

I don't even know what to say any more about it, except that I told you it would be a disaster.


Dale said...

Although I should be saying something comforting, may I just say that when I read this:

I, on the other hand, felt I had done my duty by talking him down through his first tantrum, and decided to return to the buffet for my entree.

I laughed a lot.

I hope things calm down and everyone sorts things as far through as they need to. Poor CP.

jin said...

Well then, I'll say something comforting:
"Without family dysfunction your posts would be fairly less amusing."

Old Lady said...

I am speechless. My father died 9/1/05. On August 30, 2005 my step-mother was trying to figure out how to keep him alive long enough for him to make it to 9/1/05 so she could get his full retirement check. The doctor's wanted to turn his defribulator off and she wouldn't let them for that reason. I won't tell you about the conversation that ensued between us when I heard her say that. Families, what are you gonna do, huh?
We still love ya

Melinda June said...

I'm so sorry. Will call you once it's a reasonable hour. xo min

Katy said...

Oh gee. I guess next time maybe you should get your parents a night out without the kids or somehow make sure your brothers invitation gets lost in the mail.

lulu said...

Oh Sweetie,
I'm not sure what to say. Unfortunately, we can't pick our families, and yours is more difficult than most. You have managed to surround yourself with a wonderful, supportive group of friends who care deeply about you, not to mention George, who is one of the kindest, most loving people I have ever met. Try to take some comfort in that.

I hope writing about it is cathartic. I love you honey.

Beth said...

Ugh, how frustrating and stressful. The things we put up with in families. I'm sorry for you and your parents that it ended on such an emotional, crappy note.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, This is your cousin Cathy. Geez, you make your family sound worse than mine! I thought your brother Bill was the one with the problems, not Rich.

We make only a token attempt at family get-togethers, having suffered scenarios similar to the one you describe.

Happy Anniversary to your parents! Love to George, and Marg, too, even though I don't think I've seen her since about 1971.

When are George and you going to come visit us? You know I can't leave the farm! Besides, my horse misses you. She's not getting to have any fun since a week ago when she threw me and I cracked the base of my spine. It's not serious, though, so I'm doing fine.


Martin said...

Tom, I have a heart full of compassion for you and your family. Awesome that you continue to be supportive or your loved ones through it all. Martin

wonderturtle said...

It sounds like, as upsetting as it is, you have managed to keep in mind the Zen-like mantra of those of us with completely irrational family members: Don't Engage. I am certain that without that on the parts of you and your sister, things could have gotten much worse.
Thinking of ya.

Tenacious S said...

It's taken me a day to say something, because I didn't know what to say. So, I'm affirming the cool, smart, wonderful, interesting person you are. I am sure your parents appreciated your calming force, even if you never hear a thanks. It was a better time because you and George were there. You rock! That would be the highest compliment in the Tenacious S book.

Coaster Punchman said...

D & J: Yes, my goal is to keep people laughing through our family traumas. Usually by the time I'm done telling one of our stories, people are usually laughing, in disbelief if nothing else.

OL: Sorry about your father. Is it possible he actually tried to go a day early so as not to provide for her?

MJ: Got your phone messages. No worries re: the tap dancing. No meltdowns planned here.

K: We tried to lose his invitation this time, but he was insistent on coming!

Lu: Yes, writing is awesome. Right back at ya baby.

B: Thanks. It's certainly not the first "unusual" holiday we've spent together. Sadly, with our track record, it's probably not the last. That's why I always try to incorporate some non-family vacation into my year.

C: Glad to see you're still reading! It might be best NOT to share this story with your mom! We just saw your sister down here, did she tell you? We'd love to come back - not sure when, but we'll get there. I will be sure to greet Titanna, though from a safe distance this time. I can't believe she threw you - what did you do to offend her?

M: Thanks! I guess I *try* to be supportive at least... sometimes the sarcastic side comes out instead....

WT: Yes, yes, and I think of you daily. Sometimes hourly.

TS: Thanks! But do I rock as much as the New Pornographers? (Have really gotten into one of their albums by the way...) And yes, my parents did really appreciate my work on Rich's first tantrum, but I'm not sure she knows I chose the buffet over talking him down a second time. What can I say - I had low blood sugar....

Dale said...

I'm glad you didn't set me on fire for laughing. I did feel bad but couldn't help it. I've got a big rollicking bunch of insanity for family so I'm well aware of the trauma and drama that can occur at a moment's notice. The best part is forming alliances with different factions and getting everyone's dirt while giving up none of my own.

Coaster Punchman said...

Well then Dale, I look forward to reading about more of your familial insanity soon! I did enjoy the bit about the Chef-Boyardee!

Tenacious S said...

CP, ignoring his behavior and going on as if it never happened is actually a behavioral technique called extinction. Feel better now? Wanna come work for me?

Coaster Punchman said...

Depends. Is extinction something we want or something we don't want? What or who are we trying to make extinct?

Poor george said...

I am so happy that all of you are full of so much compassion for the CP, but is ANYONE going to dislodge this french fry from my nose already??!!!!

Dale said...

Poor George. Does anything else even need to be said. Poor George. It's not a curly fry is it?