Once you come to your senses…

Sarah and I kept in close contact after they moved, and I expected her support when I finally made the decision to leave my marriage. I was wrong. I had fallen in love with another woman. I think of this affair as more of a catalyst to leave a miserable situation than as a reason. Sara did not approve. “My God, Madelon. What are you doing? You are not a lesbian. Once you have come to your senses, you can date my son Steve and we can all get back to something that makes sense.” I never did “come to my senses,” but neither my lesbian affair nor my lesbian identity lasted long. In the Winona years, I stopped drinking to excess, and I entered therapy and 12-step groups. I finally became able to face the demons of my background. I knew it would be hard, but I needed to show my little girl that the cycle of abuse ended here with me.

The Willows’ stint in Indiana was short-lived.  After my divorce, I was living in Winona, Minnesota, and the Willows moved to an exurb of that small city a couple of years after they left Houston County. I met their return with much joy, and they came just in time to decorate for Christmas. I personally didn’t have much use for Christmas, but Sarah loved it. “We’re gonna do Christmas up right this year.” The lights, the tree, the decorations. Although Sarah hardly ate anything, she prepared food and served it at her beautifully appointed table. Although none of us had any money, we exchanged presents. 

All the joy left by summer, was when my daughter, Becky, and I went on a camping trip with the Willows. On the first evening of the camping trip, Sarah was very drunk and in a foul mood, and she made an inappropriate, mean comment about my daughter. I don’t remember the context or exactly what she said, but it was to the effect that I gave the child too much leeway, she should be disciplined, and I needed to reign her in. Maybe give her a good slap. 

I had never said anything about the way that Sarah parented Angie, but I hadn’t approved since the day Sarah got that child. I knew she used corporal punishment and that was non-negotiable for me. What did Becky do on the camping trip? Be a 4-year-old. What did I do? Swallowed my shock and anger and went to bed. The next morning, I packed up our gear and left, announcing that I did not care to be around people who did not accept me or my daughter.


In a follow-up phone call, I told Sarah, “You have crossed a line. Nobody tells me how to handle my child unless that child is in danger of hurting herself or someone else.” Sarah bitterly unloaded all her disappointment about me: I was queer, I was a bad mother, I was selfish, I had no direction, and I didn’t meet her expectations. 

So you liked me better when I was under Tom’s thumb? Right? 

“Well, you don’t meet my expectations,” I countered. “I expect my friends to be kind and supportive. And Becky and I are a package deal. If you don’t like her or the way I handle her, you don’t have to be around us.” Sarah then hung up on me.

Many years later, I heard from David, and I traveled to Houston County to attend a memorial for Sarah. I had a good visit with David and Patrick. Patrick told me that his mother, who had died (not surprisingly) of lung cancer, had a breakthrough in her dying days. She saw the error of her ways and said she had regrets. I found that news to be earth-shattering. I never heard Sarah say she was wrong all the time I knew her. 

I agreed with Patrick that Sarah having these realizations was healing and remarkable. Patrick and David were back living together in Houston County. And Angie, who had given the family a lot of grief with her acting out, was settled and well-employed in the area. 

I drove back home that bright autumn day, with red and gold leaves, and red and gold flowers in the fields. I was grateful for the fun times I shared with Sarah. I wished her well. I was proud to have stood up to her. 

I never went on to do those Great Things that Sarah said I would achieve, but I did grow a spine, and that has served me well.


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