Growing up was choppy, as we moved ten times in twelve years. I was ever the new girl with the family circus in tow – especially my eccentric, unwell mother intent on masking truth and recreating our family story every time we moved. Exhausting. The sparkly highlights, though? Delightful and insightful comments from sister Lisa – ever ready with spot-on commentary, cutting through the madness.
Me? I never knew what whoppers Sue/mom would tell as she tried to make fast friends and establish herself in a new town. Sometimes she’d spin new, fantastic tales in the moment, without warning. I’d nod and try to play along but it was maddening – this need to do improv with my mom. Can I see a script in advance, please?
One such whopper came when we house hunted in St. Louis. Dad was busy at work, but Lisa and I were stuck with Sue and her daily shenanigans as she took the reins house-hunting. We stayed at a Holiday Inn for a month which seemed luxe, at first. Then it became hotel hell.
I was 13 and yearned for private time. As much as I loved Lisa, she was my ever-present shadow and right next to her? Yep. Sue. All day, every day, treating disabled Lisa like a delicate china doll…assuming I might break her.
The worst accommodations would’ve been if all four of us were piled in one room. Thankfully THAT didn’t happen, but adjoining rooms weren’t as great as they seemed. Sure, we could close the door in between, but the walls were tissue paper thin, forcing me to unwittingly tune into every phone call Sue made. Nowhere to hide.
But back to the whopper. Not the burger – the lie. 😉 In one of her insecurity-driven tirades, Sue harassed the realtor assigned to show us houses. Mercilessly. Dad’s employer suggested a particular agency, but no one realized (except me…I saw this coming…promise I did) that the agent better be a guy. Or — If the realtor was a woman, she’d better be old and unattractive. At least more so than Sue. And… heaven help us all, if the designated victim (agent) dared to be a really pretty woman? Buckle up. Bad moon rising. Ever insecure, Sue needed to feel a sense of superiority any way she could, lest her paranoia would run amok…resulting in high drama, Sue-style.
Unsurprisingly, Sue sized up the lady agent based on looks alone, even before they met. The realtor/victim’s name? Let’s call her Patty. She left a massive binder at the hotel front desk for Sue to peruse over the weekend and contacted her on Monday to discuss showings.
Patty should’ve met with Sue face-to-face first, to establish her credibility and catch Sue off guard. But how did she know? Sue didn’t come with a warning label. Until first contact, don’t we all assume sanity? I could see the unfolding…Sue barely flipped through the chubby listing binder because Patty’s 8×10 glossy, glam shot on the cover provoked her, prompting Sue’s insecurities which summoned, ‘You might be prettier, but I’m better in other ways’ nonsense.
When Sue took on airs, she conjured a strange accent and an awkward, staccato rhythm in her speech. I heard it from the adjoining room that day, suspecting that fresh-meat-Patty would be in trouble with Sue, one way or another. How did I know? I saw Patty’s photo, too. Defenseless Patty was too blonde, too thin, too pretty. It was just a matter of time.
Despite years of ringside seats for the “Sue show” I always hoped my intuition was wrong. That day, I listened as Sue spoke in a condescending way to Patty, complaining that ALL of the homes were ‘unsuitable’. (Maybe she stayed up all night taking a look, but far as I knew, the binder hadn’t been cracked open. Not even a smidge.)
Sue continued, complaining that Patty clearly misunderstood the price points, too. “We’re not looking for shacks…we’re arriving from New Orleans” (but she said it like this: NEWWW-ORRRR-LEEE-ANNNS adding an extra syllable with her drawn out pronunciation). Arrogant and loud. To which, Lisa – ever the savant – just turned the volume up on the TV, saying, “Mom’s in a mood again” as she resumed watching one of her daytime soap operas. Why couldn’t I be smart like Lisa, I wondered. Mom’s in a mood. Move on.
Anyway…hearing only Sue’s side of the embarrassing conversation, I walked into the adjoining room, doing my best to pantomime my frustration, mouthing “Oh My God” to Sue and throwing the slash the throat signal, hoping she’d knock off the stupid. It was always a calculated risk, any approach of Sue in a spin-out, but I was mortified and motivated. Instead of slowing down her rant, I became part of the circus as she brought me into the conversation with Patty, hoping I’d back her up and join the tirade. Would she never learn?
Instead, I took the phone from Sue and began an apology to the realtor we’d never meet, this blondie named Patty. At first, she continued her apology, which is what she tried to express as Sue blustered. Patty finally stopped and listened as I introduced myself, adding, “No apology necessary. I’m sorry about my mom. We’ll get back to you. It’s been a lot, this whole moving business.” Patty stammered with relief, “Oh, thank you. No problem.”
Sue? I expected a thrashing about taking the phone from her, and/or for apologizing to Patty but instead, she had a phone book in her lap, trying to identify other realtors to work with. And just like that. End scene. On to the next…and no, we never met Patty.
When dad was looped in, he said he’d heard about a ‘dust up’ between mom and the realtor. “Yup, I said. Too pretty” and he just nodded. The replacement? His name was Fred and he must’ve drawn the short straw, but he managed to survive showings with Sue and she gave him glowing reviews. “Fred the Fantastic” was her nickname for him. Poor Fred got the job done, and I always wondered if his winks in my direction conveyed more. I’m betting so.