The Whiteheads (Middle)


Peg stayed home with Kelly only three weeks. Then she started part-time in my office. There was never any doubt that she’d be a responsible, caring, diligent mother. It was more a matter of feeling relatively unsuited. Peg wasn’t a good cook or a smart housekeeper, and as she said herself, she was no Nurse Nancy. Home time irritated her, and she’d rather be patient and loving with Kelly for six hours a day than edgy and anxious with her for fourteen.

That was fine with Jim. He was around most of the time anyway, and he was besotted with his daughter. From the moment he held her he felt a connection more profound than any he had ever imagined. He was fascinated by everything about her, and he soon built a bond with Kelly that Peg would have had difficulty entering even if she wanted to.

But she didn’t. Peg properly discharged her duties as mother and wife but she got her gratification from the office. There she solved problems and received kudos. At home she felt adequate but not successful.

That’s when the Whiteheads began going to church. My once-agnostic friend not only started attending every Sunday; she went to the Wednesday pot luck meetings too, and she even signed Kelly up for the preschool program.

That’s also when Peg stopped shaving her privates. She and Jim were as exhausted as any new parents; they couldn’t find time for sex. Jim took to masturbating again. He fell asleep at that once, and Peg came downstairs after awhile to discover him snoring on the couch, Levis around his ankles and diaper-clad hand around his dick, which image did nothing to revive her desires.

They only found the time to do it when they went away. If it hadn’t been for Jim’s parents’ willingness to take Kelly, they might never have made her a sibling. But Kevin was born when Kelly was four.

And the family regained some symmetry. Peg was flooded with all the love that hadn’t come to her with Kelly. It was as if her original maternal passion had been locked up somewhere and the son-triggered labor found that place, loosed it, and deluged her with a double dose of connection. Her soul expanded. She promised that baby every good.

Maybe Jim’s parental passion was already spent. Maybe he just reacted to Peg’s overreaction, the way I become crazy-generous in the presence of a tightwad. He felt responsibility and interest and satisfaction in his son, but he just didn’t warm to the kid the way he had to Kelly.

Meanwhile Peg was still valuable in the office. We neither knew it then, but that was just before she began to slide. We hired a few support employees and I never noticed her move away from substance and toward supervising. We both had kids and domestic demands on us and we stood in for each other frequently, and although I knew she was getting more from that arrangement than I was, I didn’t see then how lopsided it was.

Peg’s family got sick more than mine so she missed work. They had problems and went to doctors all the time. Like when Jim got the mysterious stomach pains. Kaiser never diagnosed the problem; he suffered or at least complained for almost two years before it subsided. Peg had to run home more during those months.

Or when Kelly got molested. That was a bona fide tragedy, requiring substantial counseling and even a change of church. I remember my shock at the time: learning how common it is in the church environment, for the simple reason that many marginal individuals find “control” in the church, so they hang around for that control, and then when they relapse (for the rate of relapse is much higher than the rate of successful control), there they are, trusted among the vulnerable.

Now there’s another slant on that story. As I transcribe Dr. H’s notes I see it in a different light. There’s no question that the guy who ran the after-school group should not have taken those pictures. But I always wondered why the church didn’t support the Whiteheads more at the time … why it was necessary for them to find a new church. Hearing and typing now, slowing my fingers to take in the words, I think about the hyper-close relationship between Jim and Kelly, about the gap between mother and daughter … did that dynamic set the little girl up to cooperate with the church perv? Yech.

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