Thomas Wictor

How could she do that?

How could she do that?

It isn’t clear if Mom will be able to come home. Although she’s beaten lung and ovarian cancer—there are no tumor markers in her blood—she’s refusing to eat or exercise. This is making her weaker and weaker, of course.

I understand why she’s doing this. She’s very angry at the loss of control. All she has left that she can control is her level of cooperation in her treatment. By refusing to cooperate, she becomes the captain of her own ship again. The fact that it will kill her is not part of the calculation. If she dies, this will be my second parental suicide. It’s easier the second time.

That sounds very callous, I know. But if I could plug a phone jack into my brain and transmit my current state of mind into your head, you’d see that I’m not callous in the least. What’s happened is that mentally and physically, I’m in horrible shape, the worst in decades, and it’s due entirely to stress, pain, and sorrow. The nightmares and crippling depression have returned. All my gains are threatened. To survive, I must accept and let go. Free will is paramount in my world. I won’t impose my own desires on others.

Mom has shown a lot of character in her life, probably no more so than on the day in 1983 when Dad came to her in their house in Norway. Mom was painting in her studio, and Dad broached a subject in his typical way.

“Got a minute?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said as she paused in her watercolor rendering of the lake and trees outside the window. “What’s up?”

“I want a divorce,” Dad said. “I had a son with [his former office manager in the Netherlands], and I want to marry her and move to Belgium.”

Mom stared at him. He stared back. Mom cleaned her brush, excused herself, and went out for a walk around the lake. She sat on a rock and looked at the water. After an hour or so, Dad came and found her.

“Well?” he asked. “Have you made up your mind?”

Several marathon sessions of discussion followed. In the end they decided to not get divorced. Dad gave us one version of events, and Mom gave us a diametrically opposed version. I believe Mom’s, because Dad’s story was a little too self-serving and presented Mom in a light I’ve never seen. His version also allowed him to shirk responsibility for his actions and transform his bad choices into theatrical sacrifices.

Though the marriage was salvaged, a question remained: What to do about Eric, Dad’s son? He lived in the Netherlands with his mother. Since Dad was terrified of flying, and Mom was adamant that Eric should know his father, the three adults arranged that Eric would come out here to Southern California every summer. He made his first trip at the age of seven, flying all alone and meeting siblings twenty years older. It was a very brave thing for him to do.


At one point or another, many of Mom’s friends have asked me, “How could she do that?” Meaning how could she accept and befriend a child born of her husband’s infidelity?

Because she knew that Eric had nothing whatsoever to do with my father’s choices. Accepting Eric cost Mom nothing. She opened her heart to him without a qualm. After some initial awkwardness, they got along fine.

People have asked me, “How can you accept him as your brother?”

Because he had nothing whatsoever to do with my father’s choices. And he’s got a Teutonic sense of humor, he’s extremely quirky and endearing, and he’s a left-handed bassist. He turned me on to Yawning Man, for God’s sake. How could I not accept him? And he can do this.

Someday Tim is going to make a label for a can of Dutch Boy paint, using that face.

Mom smoothed Eric’s way into our family. Dad was unable to help. When Eric came out here for the summers, Dad would hide in his shop, leaving Eric, Mom, Tim, and me to our own devices. When Dad and Eric went on fishing trips or excursions to museums, Dad wouldn’t speak to Eric. He didn’t speak to the rest of us either, but Eric’s case was different. Dad should’ve made the effort.

Tim and I once went with Dad and Eric to the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Eric’s presence eroded Dad’s always-marginal social skills down to nothing. When Dad asked Eric if he wanted a doughnut from the museum snack shop, Eric declined. Dad went to the counter, behind which stood a teenaged girl.


The poor girl was terrified. “Excuse me?” she quavered.

“ONE!” Dad shouted, giving it truly bizarre emphasis, so it came out UUUUWAAAAN.

He was wild eyed and sweaty, both hands in his pockets vigorously jingling his coins and keys, so he looked like an escaped lunatic, his characteristic affect when the strain of keeping himself under icy control got to be too much. Sometimes this guy popped out, capered around for a few seconds, and then went back inside:

Tim and I almost died on the spot. To this day we can make each other roar with laughter by blaring out of the blue, “JJJJJJJJEHHHHLLLLEEEEEEEEE DOHHHHNAAAAAAAAAAT. UUUUUUUUWAAAAAAAAAN!” It works best with a robotic, Schwarzeneggerian accent.

Eric has turned into a fine man. He’s what’s known as a “sport of nature.” Despite his circumstances, he worked and worked until he became the person he always wanted to be: thoughtful, insightful, caring, empathic, and optimistic, though occasionally his inbred Dutch tendency to brace for catastrophe nibbles at him.

Most of the credit belongs to Eric, but Tim and I played a part, and Mom played a very large part. Recently Eric came out to say goodbye to her. They had a nice, low-key time with no drama. It was very satisfying for both of them. In discussing her with me, he called her “Mom” twice, which he never had before. I was very happy to hear that.

Good for you, Mom.

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