This is a 'guest post' that Irene has kindly written for my blog.
thank you Irene.
Wendy’s Parents Post
“A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis”
In Chapter 9 of “A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis,” Wendy makes the following comment to Roger during one of their phone fights: “I barely knew either of my parents, even though we lived in the same house for twenty years.” What, exactly, does she mean? Who were these people? What kind of marriage did they have, and what kind of parents were they?
Wendy’s mother, Laura, was an artist. Her father, Charlie, owned a successful diner in downtown Denver called Cantrell’s that his father had owned. Both of them were very involved with their careers. Wendy’s mother spent most of her time locked away in an upstairs bedroom painting, sketching, and chain-smoking. Her father worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Wendy didn’t see much of them, and when she did, they weren’t very attentive. They were much more interested in her younger brother, Tom, who started working at the family restaurant when he was a child, and would ultimately take over when his father died.
The only time Wendy seemed to bond with her mother was on their yearly shopping trip to New York. On these extravagant, mother-daughter jaunts, the sky was the limit, as she explains in this passage from the book that was cut because of length:
What can I say? Our relationship was never a normal, day-in-day-out kind of thing. We were either in the same house but on different planets, in separate cities, or together 24/7. Like on our annual shopping trips to New York during my grade and middle-school years. On these week-long fashion binges, we were more like two little girls playing in the same sand box than mother-daughter. After settling into a posh suite at the Plaza, we’d spend hours each day roaming around Bergdorf’s, Saks, I. Magnin and Bloomingdales, trying things on, and buying clothes, handbags, and shoes. By 4 or 4:30, we’d be seated at a linen-covered table in the Plaza’s sumptuous Palm Court for tea. As we nibbled crustless finger sandwiches and delicate pastries, we’d chat about art, fashion, theater. It was all so grown-up and glamorous, so Auntie Mame meets Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Mummy would come alive on these fabulous retail flings, morphing from a self-absorbed artist into a stylish, vibrant fashionista..
But the minute we got back to Denver, the glass coach would promptly shatter and turn into a pumpkin. Mummy would cram her pretty new clothes into her already-bulging closets, revert to her withdrawn self, and schlep around the house in baggy pants and paint-stained work shirts. I would basically become Cinderella again--invisible. And my father would rant about the bills for a day or two and complain bitterly that my mother never went to his restaurant, refused all invitations, shunned the neighbors, and made an effort to look as unattractive as possible at all times.
When Wendy was a teenager, she learned some things about her parents’
marriage that helped her understand why they were so unhappy. According to Cousin Linda, Wendy’s mother had married her father on the rebound after her high-school sweetheart eloped with her younger sister. Laura never spoke to either one of them again. Six months later, she married Charlie Cantrell. It was never a happy or loving union. He may have loved her at one time, but it is unlikely that she ever returned the sentiment.
Cousin Linda also tells Wendy that her father had a long-term romantic relationship with a pretty blond hostess at Cantrell’s named Kay. Wendy’s mother looked the other way and ignored it until one summer when she left for an artists’ tour of Europe, came back, and spotted Kay wearing one of the designer discards from her Big Apple shopping trips. Laura was furious. She didn’t care that Kay was sleeping with her husband. She was more upset that he’d given her one of her never-worn jackets.
This incident provides a glimpse into Laura’s skewed values. No wonder Wendy turns out the way she does. She equates shopping with Mother Love, and worships designer clothes. This makes her a brilliant success at Panache, but it also instills values that are sometimes hard for others, including Roger, to fathom.
In 1980, when Wendy is 20, she leaves Denver and moves to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actress. Before she can achieve any real success, she takes a job at Panache so she can pay her rent and meet expenses. At Panache, she bonds with Carol and Paul Guthrie, the store’s owners, who become her surrogate parents. Years go by before she sees her mother and father again. When her mother dies of lung cancer in 1989, Wendy is in Paris for Fashion Week and can’t get back to Denver for the funeral. Her brother criticizes her to the family for not attending, and Wendy cuts all ties to him. I think she’s hurt because they always favored him, so this is the final straw for her.
As Wendy experiences a period of confusion with her marital problems and the loss of her job and friendship with Carol, she finds herself looking back on her unhappy, unfulfilled relationship with her parents. In the following excerpt, she fantasizes about what it would be like to have loving parents to turn to for guidance and support.
As I tried to cope with the loss of my job, my marital problems, and Carol’s disappearing act, my gaping lack of parental support was especially painful because there was nowhere to turn for guidance, perspective, reassurance. My father, who died in 1995, and I hadn’t been close either, and now, for the first time, I found myself longing for a warm and loving fantasy-surrogate who would put his big, strong arm around me and say, with absolute conviction, “It’s their loss, sweetheart. You’ll find a better job with more money. Just wait and see, they’ll be sorry.”
Standing beside him would be this equally mythic gray-haired maternal being with my eyes and bone structure, a Miss-Manners-type swathed in comfy cashmeres and tweeds who would pat my hand reassuringly and whisper in sweet, dulcet tones, “Don’t worry, honey. You and Roger are going through an awkward period of adjustment. He loves you. You love him. Everything will work out. You’ll see. Now come into the kitchen and I’ll make us both a nice cup of tea.”
Did anyone actually have parents like these anymore? Or were they nostalgic relics from some bygone era? Mythic figures from a lost civilization? Maybe it would have been more realistic to conjure up some Botox-Babe-Collagen-Cougar with a better body than mine who wouldn’t hesitate to seduce my husband just for kicks while I was out of town?
My neediness frustrated and disgusted me. I couldn’t believe how vulnerable I still was in the parent department. When would it end? I was a 45-year-old newlywed. Why couldn’t I just get on with my life and be happy? Why did I still long for parents, or my fantasy-version of them: endlessly warm, loving beings who would advise, support, and comfort me forever?
As 45-year-old Wendy suddenly finds herself without the comfortable world she has thrived in for 25 years, she feels the need to reach out for support from the people she has always been too busy to contact,
Now, years later, with my personal and professional lives in flux, I felt vulnerable, isolated, and more aware of my lack of family. Without parents to lean on or children to nurture, I was a member of the sandwich generation--without the bread. Where was my support system? Friends, bosses and co-workers had always filled the void, but now they, along with my career, seemed lost, scattered, elusive. Illusions, really. I suddenly felt the need to get in touch with people who’d been important to me--to reconnect with them and find a part of myself that I’d denied and neglected for years.
It was sad, but true, that as I pursued my career and my relationship with Roger, I failed to maintain regular contact with family and friends. I didn’t make enough of an effort to let them know what I was doing, or to find out what they were doing. Maybe I was busy? Maybe I was lazy? Maybe I didn’t think it was important? Maybe I was waiting for them to make the first move? I don’t know. But whatever the reasons, it had gone on long enough, and I now felt the need to get in touch.