Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trudy the Divorcee

Another thing about Trudy is that she is very secretive. And not always about something important. Ask her any question and you will hardly ever get a straight answer. Instead, she'll smile, giggle and give some flippant reply. What time is it? "Time to buy a new watch." When will you be back? "Who wants to know?" Why did you marry Dad? "Beats me."

If you ask her the wrong thing in front of someone she is keeping a secret from, she'll give you a sideways glance, shake her head almost imperceptibly and softly mutter, "Mmm-mmm." Then she'll immediately change the subject. If you are on the phone with her and ask about something she doesn't want to address, she'll just say, "I have to go to the bathroom. I'll call you right back," and hang up. If you ask her about something she really doesn't want to tell you, and her back is to the wall, she'll burst into tears. (Trudy can cry at the drop of a hat and stop on a dime. You never know when this is coming either. One time I set her off by asking why she fills those little green baskets they sell strawberries in with empty Great Lash mascara tubes, and keeps them under her bathroom sink.)

What little I do know about my mother's life before I was born, I have pieced together from stories told by other family members, and from gathering crumbs Trudy has accidentally dropped through the years. With the knowledge that she is ferociously protective of her secrets, only the uninitiated or a fool would ask her direct questions like, "Why did you leave your first husband? Why were you living in an apartment in Mill Valley? Why did you send Karla to live with Grandma and put Leo in foster care when you lived there?"

Actually, Karla and Leo, who were 6 and 3 at the time, did live with Trudy, but only on the weekends. I don't know why they didn't live with her full-time. And I have no idea why Leo couldn't just stay with his father, my grandmother, or any of Trudy's three sisters. I didn't even know there was a time Karla and Leo didn't live with our mom until I was in high school, when Karla asked Trudy about it in a moment of anger. Back to the wall, Trudy ran out of the room sobbing, and my father yelled at my sister for upsetting her.

Because Trudy refuses to talk about it, my sister, brother and I have concocted several far-fetched theories about why she farmed them out. We considered a mental breakdown, serious illness, or custody issues that could have forced her to hide the children. But I don't see Trudy's decisions being shaped by forces outside of her control. Ever. The most plausible reason that we came up with, the one I have settled on, is that Trudy simply wanted them out of her hair for a while so she could, "get her act together."

That explanation is so much more Trudy's style. In fact, she uses that phrase almost daily. It's her mantra. "Is it 11:00 already? I was supposed to be at the hairdresser at 10:30! I have really got to get my act together!"