I slept at Mom’s house and then went over to Darby’s the next day. By the time I got out of the car I was already questioning the purpose of my visit. Darby and I had never had the kind of conversation I was planning to have with her.
Often I’ve felt guilty for moving so far away from Darby; it’s hard to be much support to her, or much of an aunt to Cody from three-thousand miles away. For someone like me, who is married and can afford a nanny, being a mother is hard enough. I can only imagine how hard it must be for her as a single parent.
We sat in the kitchen, drinking tea. I tried to talk her out of some of the herbal medicines she consumes as casual beverages, but stopped when I found myself lecturing to her. I tried to segue to the subject on my mind.
“Don’t you think,” I asked her, “that some of the trouble you and I had finding husbands has to do with the whole group marriage?” It was meant to be an opening. I thought she would ask what I meant by “you and I” and then I’d tell her what was happening with Charlie.
“Here’s what I know about relationships,” she said. “You try to be present for the other person, you pay attention to each other, and then you have to trust god, or the powers that be.”
“How were we supposed to get into healthy relationships when we had such a weird model to follow?
But she was thinking about Mitchell, the ex-boyfriend who hit her. “How can you get into a healthy relationship if you’re too drunk to tie your shoes?” she asked. “That was my problem.”
“But Darby, isn’t that why you started drinking? Because of what was going on in our family?”
She shook her head, with a flash of that tolerant big-sister smile she used to wear when we were kids. Though in many ways our relationships is the reverse of what it should be – I’ve taken care of her more than she has of me over the years – I sometimes think she finds me unbearably ingenuous. “I was drinking a long time before we got involved with the Wrightsons. I was ten years old, Adrienne. Ten years old when I had my first drink. It just took everybody else a few years to realize what I was doing.”
For a minute, I didn’t know what to say. Casting my mind backwards, I couldn’t ever remember her drinking until she was at least twelve. Not until our parents were well into the midst of their calamitous experiment. Is my memory that distorted?