Misled is based on a true story of love and deceit. Betrayal is a universal topic, but when the betrayal is done by a mother to a daughter because of a love triangle, the reader cannot help becoming hooked on the story. Truth is stranger than fiction, and this book, the truth has been fictionalized, and the result is sensational.
Through gritted teeth, with her finger pointed straight at me and hate in her eyes, my mother said, “You have betrayed me, and I will never forgive you for this.”
The wounded child in me silently said, And you are an expert in the field of betrayal, aren’t you, Mother? You want to talk about betrayal? Let’s talk about 1979. Let’s talk the letters. Let’s talk about my marriage . . .
But the adult me wearily said out loud, “I wish you could see I’m doing this for you and not to you.”
Many years before, my mother had given me power of attorney, and today I was invoking it because her mental and physical health had deteriorated to a point where she could no longer live alone. Anybody and everybody who knew her could see it was the right thing to do. But dementia had taken every cell of rational thinking from my mother’s brain, and she was vehemently opposed to leaving her house
and not shy about giving us a piece of her mind, if you’ll pardon the expression.
I’d tried to broach the subject of her moving for weeks, but she immediately shut me down each time. I tried to talk to her about getting home health care, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She was falling daily, and in fact just a week before had fallen and hurt her leg so badly she was bedridden for days. This was after she threw up in her kitchen and lay in her vomit for hours before she had enough strength to crawl down the long hallway to her bed. And she didn’t see anything wrong with that.
But it was her inability to see that she’d been conned out of $4,000 that finally bought her a one-way ticket to assisted living. She had hired a man to do some yard work, and he had quickly assessed her situation: wealthy older woman, living alone, diminished mental faculties. Ripe for the picking. He showed up daily, knocked on her door, told her she owed him $770, and she wrote him a check, no questions asked.
She not only wouldn’t believe the man was cheating her, she was furious with me when I called the Crimes Against the Elderly unit. It wasn’t until the detective showed her the man’s mug shot that she finally conceded that maybe the yardman hadn’t been completely honest with her. But she still failed to see the gravity of the situation.
“So I lost some money. Big deal. I don’t see what everybody’s so upset about.”
So there I was, with two employees from the assisted living facility, standing in my mother’s bedroom for over an hour, trying to convince her she needed help. Appealing to her vanity, they managed to get her a hair appointment at SeniorHome and that was when she finally — reluctantly — agreed to go “for a few days.” Don’t pack lightly, Mom . . .
But even with all of the turmoil of the day, one word kept running through my mind: betrayal. How dare she accuse me of that after what she had done to me. How dare she!
For over a year, from the time she was diagnosed with vascular dementia to that moment in her bedroom, I had been forced to spend more and more time with my mother. We’d finally gotten her to stop driving (for which I should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, if I do say so myself), but that meant I had to drive her everywhere she needed to go. All of this Mommy and me time had brought the past back to the forefront of my mind. The words she’d written thirty years ago, never dreaming I would see, kept running through my mind:
“I’m the greatest and most fantastic? It occurs to me that you make me feel great and fantastic . . . ”
“You give me a thrill by your mere presence . . . ”
Burned into my psyche was the knowledge that she’d so artfully deceived me, competed with me, hated me—then and now. So much had happened over the last thirty years, but one thing was the same: her duplicity. She never stopped pretending to love me.
No matter how hard I tried to forget, her words of love for the man who would be my husband mingled in my brain with the sentiment of her hate for me:
“She’s kind of on my “little shit” list right now. I’m sure I’ll get over it, but right now I just don’t much care one way or another about her.”
And now she was accusing me of betrayal? She would never forgive me?
“ . . . that pea-brained little jerk of a daughter . . . ”
I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a cliff, and one slight breeze might push me over.
Being her caretaker wasn’t the only thing wrong with my life. Front and center was my dysfunctional marriage. I was living a life she designed for me. And it sucked.
When I’d found out the truth, eighteen years before, I locked it away in the back of my mind. I forgave and thought I forgot what she’d done to me. But her illness and being forced to spend so much time with her brought it all back in a constant rush of torrential feelings.
At the ridiculously tender age of thirteen, I had a killer crush on Daniel when he graduated from high school. Dating was an impossibility because he was five years older than I, so we had to rely on casual conversations amongst a group of friends on my front lawn as our only means of getting to know each other.
When I think about the summer of ‘74, I think of bell-bottom pants, the song “Don’t Rock the Boat, Baby,” an orange ten-speed bicycle, and a green Chevy Nova, the latter two being Daniel’s. I also see thirteen-year-old me sitting in my front yard night after night, waiting for Daniel.
He lived one street behind us. In fact, I could stand on the toilet in my parents’ bathroom at the back of the house and look out the window to see his bedroom window. I know this because I did it a lot that spring and summer. I had it so bad for him I was thrilled just to check if his bedroom light was on. I checked dozens of times each night. I also hung around outside on those long, humid summer days and nights, waiting for him to ride by on his bike or in his car on his way home from working as a lifeguard.
I remember spying on him with my mother as he watched over the kids in the pool, idly twirling his guard whistle on a long chain. He sat in the high guard chair with his sunglasses covering his blue eyes, twirling the whistle until the chain wrapped around his wrist and it caught in his palm. Then he would repeat the action, swinging in the opposite direction until the whistle unwound, rewound, and caught in his hand again. He was so cool. Daniel eventually gave me that whistle, which I still have, along with other things like a popsicle stick, a piece of denim from his cut-off shorts, a golf tee, a whole walnut attached to half its shell, notes, his high school graduation invitation and program . . . a teenage girl’s mementoes kept in a box somewhere in my
closet; buried treasures from that memorable summer. Now I can’t help but compare the innocence tucked away in that box to the treachery housed in another box in another closet. Both mementoes from that time with Daniel.
My best friend Jill and her mom were appalled that I had feelings for Daniel because of the age difference, but strangely enough, my mother encouraged my crush. She helped me obsess about him, driving me by the swim club where he worked, just to get a glimpse of the hunk known as Daniel; driving by his house on our way to or from somewhere; and riding bikes or walking around the block on the chance he was out and we could stop and talk.
Eighteen years older than Daniel, my mother was young, thin, pretty, vivacious, and energetic. Think Mary Tyler Moore but more confident. She was not only my mother, she was my closest friend, even closer to me than Jill.
She wanted to be the cool mom who hung out with her daughters and their friends, and she always wanted to know everything going on in my mind and my world. She even helped me compose flirty little letters to Daniel, reading rough drafts of what I’d written, then editing and dictating what she thought I should say. I told my mother everything, and up until my last year in high school we were as close as a mother and daughter could be.
Daniel broke my heart in the summer of 1974. After months of flirting in person and through the mail, and silent conversations with our eyes, he gave me my first kiss and then disappeared. I was devastated when he suddenly quit coming by and stopped writing after he had shown such interest in me. I replayed The Kiss over and over in my mind. Night after night I waited outside, from post-dinnertime to bedtime, watching and waiting for him, but he never came.
I was crushed. I walked around for weeks in a blue funk I couldn’t pull myself out of. I only saw Daniel once more before he left for college. He stopped by our house to say goodbye. He promised to write, and he did in fact write frequently. But he wrote to both me and my mother. Not together, but separately. Since she was part of our “gang” that summer, she and I both got to know him simultaneously, and so at first their letter exchanges didn’t seem strange.
I had fallen hard for Daniel, and as brokenhearted as I was, receiving his letters kept my crush raging on throughout his college years and my early high school years. He was always in the back of my mind with a big question mark. We exchanged platonic letters and had innocent visits whenever he was home—always with my mother present and accounted for.
During those years, we flirted, said things with double meanings, and exchanged longing looks with one another, but there was nothing else going on between us. What I didn’t know was that while we were maintaining a friendship, my mother and he were growing a friendship. They became very close in their letter exchanges. Letters I wasn’t allowed to see. His visits to our house consisted of conversations between the two of them, with me merely sitting in the room mostly listening, a third wheel, almost forgotten. They talked, he’d throw a little attention my way in the form of teasing, or a loaded look, and I sat back and adored him from afar, wondering how he felt about me.
My mother and I had both been writing to Daniel for a couple of years when one day she came into my room to show me a poem. She wanted to know if I thought it would be all right for her to send it to Daniel:
I think about you always
And I’d write you every day,
But there seems so very little,
That seems worthwhile to say.
It either rains,
Or it doesn’t rain,
It’s either hot,
Or it’s cold.
The news is all uninteresting,
Or else it’s all been told.
I looked hard at the map today
It seemed so very far,
Across those little squares,
To that one where you are.
I breathed a single, quiet kiss,
Into the silent blue.
Unless it’s tangled in the stars,
It should be reaching you.
Um . . . what? I read the poem and raised my eyes, stunned, to my mother. She had a funny expression on her face, like she was trying to be nonchalant. She was failing miserably.
Now, that poem would be something that I would want to send to Daniel, but my mother? In my mind I was thinking “Lady, are you nuts?” But out loud I simply said, “Um . . . no. No, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
She nodded, took the poem back from me, and left the room. A big neon flashing light accompanied by a loud, obnoxious warning sound blared inside my head. “Buh! Buh! Buh! Buh!” I wanted to holler after her, Are you kidding me? Why don’t you go ask Dad what he thinks?
I distinctly remember that moment as the first time I thought something very weird was going on.