"As long as I can remember, both my parents always worked even though we never needed money. My mother has told me and reminded me even more often lately that for six months after I was born, she remained home to raise and nurture me. She always makes it sound like those six months were the ultimate sacrifice in her life. She says my father would never even think of taking a leave of absence to care for me even though he is essentially self-employed and doesn't have to answer to anyone but himself. That, she tells me, is a big difference between them and why I shouldn't even consider living with him.
"Now she tells me that new studies in women's magazines argue that the mother doesn't have to be at home during her child's formative years as much as was previously thought.
"Have you read that, too, Dr. Marlowe?" I asked.
"I've read similar arguments and data, but I haven't come to any definitive conclusions myself," she replied. "There are good arguments and data on the other side, too."
"Yes, well, I think she's been telling me that because Daddy says I would have had less emotional problems if my mother would have given me more tender loving care. I know for a fact that's part of my father's motion for custody."
I turned to the girls who looked lost. I hadn't heard Cat's story yet, but I knew neither Star nor Misty were really thrown into the lion's den of divorce courts. They were in for a real education listening to me.
"My father and his attorney claim my mother was insensitive to my needs. He says she was too self-centered and that was why they only had me. As soon as he realized what a poor mother she was going to be, he decided not to have any more children."
"In my case and especially Rodney's, we were lucky our momma didn't spend more time on our formative years," she said. "Otherwise, we might never have formed at all."
Dr. Marlowe surprised us with a small laugh.
"Of course, my mother says she decided not to have any more children because she knew what a poor father my father was and would continue to be. She said he couldn't blame his failings as a parent on her career. She claims it doesn't interfere with her responsibilities toward me."
"So your mother still works?" Misty asked.
"Are you kidding? Of course."
"What does your mother do?" Misty asked.
"She's a sales manager for a big cosmetics company -- if you want, I could probably get your mother some real discounts." I said, remembering how she described her mother's obsession with her looks.
"My mother never worries about discounts," she replied. "The more she spends, the more she can complain about the alimony being too little to provide her with the lifestyle she was accustomed to before the divorce," Misty declared with a dramatic air that brought a smile to my face.
"You probably don't realize it, but that's an important legal consideration," I told her.
The wife and the child or children enjoying the lifestyle they enjoyed before the divorce. It's one of the things the judge will consider to determine support payments should my mother win custody. My mother wants to be considered fully independent, but her attorney wants her to sue for some alimony so my father still bears his burden of expenses for her well-being as well as mine."
I paused and looked at them.
"Are you sufficiently fascinated yet? Does this compare to your favorite soap opera?"
Misty held her smile in check.
"What's your father do?" Star asked.
"My father is an architect. He's actually a very successful one who designed some of the buildings in Los Angeles and one of the big malls now being built. He has designed buildings outside of California, too, and even did one in Canada. My mother and her attorney have tried to make a big dung of his travel to point out that he would be away too much to provide proper parental care and supervision, especially for a young teenage girl.
"Daddy says my mother's grueling schedule is worse than his and she, too, often travels on behalf of her company, so she would be away too much to provide proper care and supervision. They have subpoenaed each other's travel receipts, business diaries and credit card records to support their arguments in court."
I thought for a moment and looked at Dr. Marlowe.
"I've been wondering what will happen if the judge believes they are both right. That would leave me with parents who are both incapable of being proper parents, right, Dr. Marlowe?"
"That situation has occurred, of course, but I doubt it will in your case, Jade."
"Really. That's a relief," I said. "Otherwise, I might have had to move in with Star and her granny."
"Like you could stand one day without maids and chauffeurs and such," Star shot back.
Misty laughed and Cat smiled.
"Maybe you're right," I said, "but I can tell you this...I'm not giving anything up to make their fives easier for them. They raised me to expect a luxurious life and that's what they have to provide. Enjoy the lifestyle to which I have been accustomed, remember?"
Everyone stopped smiling. I sat back.
"You all know I'm a Beverly. Star called me that just a few minutes ago," I said, looking at Misty who had told us about her boyfriend classifying spoiled rich girls as Beverlys because they came from Beverly Hills. "I'm not ashamed of being rich. I don't think of myself as being spoiled. I think of myself as being...protected."
"Against what?" Star asked. "Certainly not unhappiness."
"There are degrees of unhappiness and different things that make you unhappy. I don't have to worry about buying anything or going anywhere I want."
"Big deal," Star said.
"It is to me and no matter how you act here, I know it is to you, too," I said, recalling my mother's advice about people who had less.
"You don't know anything," Star fired back.
"Oh, and you do?"
She folded her arms and sat up straighter, putting herself in a defensive posture.
"Do you have a big house?" she asked me.
"Bigger than this, in fact." I answered, looking around the office, which was admittedly quite large. It had a desk and bookcases on one end and the soft chairs and tables on the other with large windows facing the back yard. "My father designed our house, of course. It's not a Tudor like this one. He thought there were just too many Tudors in Los Angeles.
"We have what's called a two-story Neoclassical. It has a full height, semicircular entry porch with Ionic columns. It has two side porches and all the windows are rectangular with double-hung sashes, nine panes to each sash. It's very unique and always gets a lot of attention. Cars actually slow down when they come up to it and people gape even though there are many other magnificent homes in the community.
"What is this house, Dr. Marlowe, four thousand square feet?" I asked her.
"Something like that," she said.
"Mine is closer to eight. Does that give you an idea?" I asked Star.
"So you have a big house. Do you have your own car?" Star questioned.
"I will have this year. I haven't decided what I want yet. My mother suggested I ask for a Jag convertible after my father had suggested a Ford Taurus. Now my father is thinking maybe a Mustang. They're both dangling carrots. Until I do decide, I have a limousine available whenever I need to go anywhere."
"Great. Glad you explained all that." Star quipped. "So you have transportation. I'll bet you also have lots of clothes."
"My walk-in is almost a third as long as this office and full of the latest trends." I glanced at Misty. "I know from what you told me you have nice things, but the difference is I wear mine. This gray sleeveless sheath I'm wearing today is a Donna Karan," I pointed out.
"I don't have anything that expensive," Misty said. "My mother does."
"You poor thing," Star said. She turned back to me. "And you have a maid and gardeners and a cook to go with your expensive wardrobe, I bet," she said.
"Yes, I do as a matter-of-fact. The current maid's name is Rosina Tores. She's about twenty-five and from Venezuela, and my cook's name is Mrs. Caron. She's from France and was once a cordon bleu cook for a famous restaurant."
"Our maid is our cook." Misty said. "You have a separate cook? Wow."
"So you have a big home and cars and a maid and a fancy cook and I still say, big deal," Star declared. "Stop paying the maid and the cook and limousine driver and you'll see how fast they stop caring about you." she added. "And when you go home, you just have more room for your loneliness in your great big house. With all your money, you can't buy what I have."
"What's that, poverty?"
"No, a granny who gives me love and not because she's hired to do it," she said with glee. She looked like a little girl sticking a pin into someone else's beautiful balloon.
I looked at Dr. Marlowe. Her eyes were fixed so hard on me, I felt my face grow warm.
"I have grandparents," I said.
"You do?" Misty asked, the expression on her face looking as though she anticipated all sorts of warm stories about family gatherings and holidays. I hated to disappoint her almost more than I hated disappointing myself. Wait until they heard about my last Christmas, I thought.
"Yes, they just live far away. My father's parents Eve back East. He has two brothers and a sister and they are all married and have children, too. My mother's parents live in Boca Raton, Florida. They're rebred. My mother has one brother who works on Wall Street. He's not married."
"What do your grandparents say about the divorce?" Misty asked.
"Not much, at least to me. My father's parents have told him to work out his problems and my mother's have told her they are too old to deal with these kinds of crises now. They want to be left to their golf and bridge games."
"Do they ask you to visit them?" Star wanted to know.
"They have, but not lately," I confessed. "They all probably think I'm a big mess and they can't deal with it. I don't like visiting with them anyway," I added. "There's nothing for me to do and they all complain too much about their aches and pains and digestion.
"Besides," I realized aloud, "if I decided to visit my father's parents, my mother would want me to visit hers and spend equal time."
"They'd fight over that?" Misty asked, astounded.
"They fight over postage stamps. My house is like a war zone these days. Sometimes, I feel like I'm risking my life just walking between them."
"You mean, they both still live there in the house together?" Cat asked astonished.
I had almost forgotten about her because she was so quiet. I certainly didn't expect she was following my every word so closely.
"Yes, they do. Of course, they don't share the same bedroom anymore, but they are both at home when they're here in Los Angeles."
"Why?" Misty asked, grimacing. "I mean, if they are in the middle of a bad divorce and all, why would they want to still be living together?"
"My mother let it slip that at first my father wanted to move out, but his lawyer explained to him, that in general, if one parent has moved out of the home without the child by the time the trial has started, it will be more difficult for that parent to win custody of the child. She says that's the only reason he's still with us."
"Wow," Misty said. "Your father must really love you if he is willing to stay in an emotional fire zone just because of that."
"Her mother could move out, but didn't. Don't forget that," Star reminded her.
"They're not doing it for me," I said through clenched teeth. I didn't realize I was pressing my teeth together, something I'd caught myself doing more and more lately.
"Who are they doing it for?" Cat asked.
"Themselves. I told you. I'm a prize, a trophy, a way of one getting it over on the other. Don't you listen?"
She shook her head.
They all still looked confused about all these legal maneuvers that occurred in a custody battle. I gazed at Dr. Marlowe, who wore a small smile on her lips.
I sighed deeply, lifting and dropping my shoulders.
"I guess in a sense this legal war and my status as a trophy is my story," I said and truly began.
"My parents didn't have me until almost six years after they had gotten married. I always had a suspicion that I was a mistake. My mother forgot to take her birth control pills or I was one of the small percentage of pregnancies that can't be prevented. I like to think they had some wild passionate time and threw all caution to the wind, that the both of them, normally well-adjusted, perfect and organized people, were unpulsive and made love when either least expected it. And, as a result: moi."
I held out my arms. Misty laughed. Star let her lips soften into something of a smile. Cat just continued to stare wide-eyed, as if it was incredible to even think of such a fantasy.
"When I was about nine, I used to sit on the floor in the living room and look through their vacation albums and actually envision love scenes. As I told you, they went to so many romantic places. To me they seemed to have lived in a movie. I could even hear the music."
Misty lowered her chin to her hand and stared at me, a dreamy haze in her eyes as I continued.
"There they were in the gondola in Venice listening to the music and the singing and then afterward, rushing up to their hotel room, laughing, my mother throwing herself into my father's arms, and as the moonlight poured through the window and someone sang in the street below, they made me."
"Right." Star said. "It probably happened in the backseat of some car."
"Maybe for you," I snapped at her. "My father and mother would never..."
"Why are you lying to yourself? Don't enough people lie to you as it is?" she asked, angrily.
I stared at her and then looked at Dr. Marlowe, who raised her eyebrows, which was something I noticed she always did when she thought a valuable thought had been dangled before me, or any of us, for that matter.
"I'm not lying to myself. It might have been that way once. Both of you talked about your parents loving each other once and doing and saying nice things. why couldn't it have been the same for mine?" I asked, my voice sounding almost like I was pleading.
Star looked away. In my heart I knew that she wanted to dream the same sort of fantasies, but was afraid of them after what she had been through. I guess I didn't blame her. Maybe she was right.
"My mother got pregnant," I said dryly, "and she was about to be promoted at work. That I know for a fact because I've heard it too many times for anyone to have made it up. So that's why I think I was probably an accident."
"Why didn't they just have an abortion?" Star asked.
"Sometimes, I think they did," I said.
It was like I was looking in three separate mirrors and saw my face in each of theirs. How many times recently had each of them felt the same way, a burden, unwanted?
"They wanted me and didn't want me. Their lives were less complicated without me and yet, I guess, grandparents, friends, society, kept them thinking about having children, starting a family. My mother was thirty-two and hovering over her shoulder, she says, like the good and bad angels, was this biological clock, the hands pointing at her like two thick forefingers, warning her time was running out.
"Anyway, once she discovered she was pregnant, they had the first of their many, what should I call them?" I wondered aloud looking at Dr. Marlowe. "Post-nuptial agreements?"
"What's that?" Star asked quickly.
"Lots of people today sign pre-nuptial agreements before they get married. Some do it to protect their personal assets or to guarantee things they don't want to change won't change just because they get married." I paused and laughed.
"As you see, thanks to my parents, I'm practically a paralegal.
"Anyway, my parents didn't have a pre-nuptial, but after they got married, they agreed certain things would always continue.
"Namely, my mother could pursue her career and my father would do what he could to ensure that happened. Nature, and shall we say unprotected sex, had thrown a new ingredient into their lives, a fetus they would name Jade. I threatened their wonderful status quo so they had to reassure each other, understand?" I asked Star. She didn't look like she understood. "Do YOU?"
"I feel like I'm a nail and you're a hammer. I'm not stupid," she quipped.
"Well, I just want you to appreciate my situation."
Frustrated, I looked at Dr. Marlowe. Couldn't she see how much more difficult this was for me? These girls were so...unsophisticated.
"You were telling them about the post-nuptial," she said firmly, insisting I keep trying. I sighed and continued.
"Yes, the post-nuptial. So they sat down and wrote out what they expected of each other if I were to be permitted to be born," I said.
"What are you telling us?" Star asked, her eyebrows rising like question marks. "If they disagreed about it, they wouldn't have had you?"
"Let me assure you," I replied, "I have little doubt, especially after the last six months or so."
Star shook her head.
"I swear," she said, "Granny's right. Rich folks are not just different. They are another species."
"I don't know that it's just money that makes people different." Misty offered. She looked at Cat, who bit down on her lower lip so hard, I was afraid she would draw blood. "Jade already told us her mother didn't have to work, and both her parents having careers made for big problems, right?" Misty asked Dr. Marlowe.
I think these are questions Jade will have to answer."
I agree. Money doesn't make you more selfish necessarily," I said. "Yesterday, you told us just how selfish your parents were," I told Star.
"Yeah, but just writing it all down like that." she said, grimacing. "And if they disagreed, they'd stop you from being born...that's cold."
"What did they write down?" Misty asked. "Did they ever tell you?"
"Of course. They both throw it back in each other's faces all the time. First, they agreed that my mother would stay home for only six months and then my father would pay for the nanny afterward out of his money."
"What do you mean, out of his money?" Star asked.
"They always kept track of what each other made. They have always had separate bank accounts and they agree on what they are both responsible for like the mortgage, real estate taxes, utility bills. She has her car and he has his and they keep the expenses for each car separate. Food is shared, of course, as it's a basic maintenance expense."
Star was looking at me with her mouth open as if I really was from another planet.
"They do that to maintain their self-integrity. My mother's not such a radical feminist, but she believes it's important for her to keep her identity and if she turns all her money over to her husband, she loses that identity, and my father certainly wouldn't turn all of his money over to her."
"So does she call herself Mrs. Lester?" Star queried with a twist in her lips.
"She uses her maiden name for her professional name, Maureen Mathews." I thought for a moment. "Often, when they sent out invitations for things, they did write Mr. Michael Lester and Ms. Maureen Mathews."
"My mother's gone back to her maiden name now," Misty said. She turned to Cat. "What about your mother?"
"Yes," she said.
"Your parents sound like they were divorced before they got married," Star muttered.
I almost laughed. It was something I had thought myself.
"Let's just say they were together but divided. Equally," I added.
"What else went into the agreement?" Misty wondered.
"After my mother returned to work, my father was to share full responsibilities for my care. If I needed to be brought to the doctor and my mother was at work, he would have to leave work. The following time, she would. The same was true for school events, dentist visits, dermatologist visits, optometrist visits, orthodontist..."
"We get the point," Star said.
"They actually kept track?" Misty asked.
I grew up believing everyone had a large calendar on the wall in their kitchens with their father's first initial in some squares and their mother's in others. When I visited friends and didn't see their calendars, I asked and they either laughed or looked at me funny. Some admitted their parents kept small diaries for scheduled appointments, but few talked about it like I did.
I guess that's when I began to feel a little different from some of my friends. Actually, what happened is I started to feel guilty about it all," I said.
"Why?" Cat asked and as usual looked down almost immediately.
"Because I knew my mother would rather be someplace else or my father had to shift some important meeting because he's forced to be doing things with me instead. Whenever they could when I was older, they just hired a limousine to cart me around but for quite a long time, one or the other had to be with me and there are places and meetings that require a parent to be present."
"All your expenses, they shared, right?" Misty asked.
Almost all. There were times when my mother didn't agree about something my father had bought me or vice versa and the way they settled it was the other didn't have to contribute."
"They were always like this and you thought they were in love?" Star asked with a smirk.
"Yes, I did. I don't think they were like this from the very start. As I said, I think they were romantic and then they just became..."
I looked at Dr. Marlowe. There was no doubt she was very interested in my answer. It had taken me a long time to find it, many hours of watching my parents argue and gradually become more comfortable as strangers than lovers.
"Threatened," I said.
Star looked at Misty, who shrugged.
"Can you explain what you mean, Jade?" Dr. Marlowe asked so softly, I almost didn't hear her question.
I guess they each realized how much of themselves they would have to surrender to make the marriage work, and when I came along, the price went up. My mother was always afraid she would become less and less if she had children, and my father was always afraid he would get weaker and weaker as my mother demanded more of him."
"Is she right about all this?" Star asked Dr. Marlowe. "Does she know what she's talking about?"
"Maybe," Dr. Marlowe said.
"Don't you ever say yes or no?" Star snapped at her.
Doctor Marlowe just looked calmly at her. "Yes," she said finally, holding her expression for a moment and then we all laughed. It felt good, like we were all able to stop pulling on a rope.
From the way Star looked at me, I knew she had another delicious question rolling around in her brain.
"What about this?" she asked, motioning around the room.
"Coming here to see the therapist. Who pays for that?"
"Oh, they both do that," I said. "Although there's no question my father thinks it's my mother's fault and my mother thinks it's my father's."
"So how did they agree on it?" Misty asked.
"The judge made them agree," I said.
"The judge made them?"
"I'm practically a ward of the state at the moment," I said. "You didn't have all that much to do with your parents' divorce, did you?"
She shook her head.
"You do?" she asked.
"Are you kidding? I have two new best friends," I told her.
"Who?" Star asked.
"My parents' lawyers," I said and I laughed.
None of the others joined me.
They were all just staring at me. Why weren't they laughing too? I wondered.
Until I felt the first tear slide down my cheek.
Copyright © 1999 by Vanda General Partnership
Or that escaping the madness had lured Jade into an ordeal too traumatic to forget....
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