Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Wedding by Albert M. Honig
Suddenly, Allison's eyes protruded like oversized golf balls, her stomach flattened like a board, the muscles in her shoulders expanded, and a wild, shrill scream with the volume of a police siren, paralyzed the room. "I'm feeling like the characterization of the street scene business incorporation of the facts of my father's business." Sick talk? Perhaps. "The truth of the matter is, I do want to go back home-to the wedding." Silence. "Shut up, you bitch!" Strutting like Mussolini, with reddened tight face, she added, "You're crowding me."
Another female voice spoke gently but firmly. Jane, Allyson's assistant therapist and companion, spoke up. "Two hours ago you didn't want to go. Your family doesn't understand you. Too much hate and competition. Nobody listens. That's what you said."
"I told you to shut up, you bitch."
"You should see my daughter," her father Carl said over the phone, several weeks before Allison was admitted to the mental hospital under my care. "Allison can do one hundred pushups on her fingertips. Ranked fifth in junior tennis in the Midwest. She never was dainty like her two older sisters."
"Even as a baby, I never felt wanted," she said frequently. When animated, she wanted people to understand her. Not so, when depressed or lonely -- then she was what family therapists call the identifiable patient... the one who carried all the symptoms of the family illness so that the others could appear well.
"I've been on my own since I was two," said Allison. "Daddy was always away on business, and if he was home on weekends, he was always on the phone making deals. He never relaxed...he couldn't listen. Everyone -- the whole world -- was something to use, to plug in here or there. Why not? Who the hell cared about him. His mother was lobotomized when he was eight -- no brains, a slave to her husband. Trained to cook and clean and obey."
On another phone call, Carl said, "I quit school when I was thirteen...I couldn't study. I wanted to be down at the store with my older brothers and father. I worked the most hours, learned every inch of the business. My father died when I was twenty-two. My brothers were a knock over...no competition. My old man, he had a stroke and was out of it. We put him away in a nursing home."
"How old was he?" I asked.
"Sixty. Believe me, he was useless, good for nothing. I am the Lazarowitz empire."
Sitting in my office with Carl, after Allison's admission, her mother, Caroline, said, "I was born and raised by a single mother in Buford, South Carolina. "My parents operated a dry goods store selling mostly to poor blacks. Mother spent most of her life in the store. I finished high school and dreamed of going to New York to work at Saks or Altman's. I was afraid to live on my own. I hated myself, and hated my mother for making me so weak." Caroline paused, asking where the bathroom was. She needed to pee and have some water. "One day I did go and passed the interview for Altman's. The fear became worse. I remember how I felt pain in the pit of my stomach. I was staying with a cousin from Cleveland. She introduced me to Carl. He said he was struck with my softness, my gentleness, and my southern accent. I felt safe with him, he was so decisive and self assured. He was somebody I could cling to, as strong as my mother." Not bothering to look at her husband as they sat across from each other, she continued, "I now had the guts to talk back to my mother." Caroline spoke on, nodding toward Carl. "The guy was never home. So I figured what the heck, I bought expensive everythings... Yeah, I used him for his money."
Carl leaned a deaf ear to his wife's whimpering, "Let's get back to the wedding. It's three months away, just do your work. It's important that everyone in the family be there."
"She's hallucinating, she's delusional and very paranoid," I said. "She's got all the symptoms of schizophrenia."
"Bullshit! My daughter isn't nuts. She is soaked with marijuana from hanging in the streets with the wrong crowd. No wedding for her, and no patient for you. I'll take her right out of here."
The staff worked hard to paste Allison together hoping that if she made it through her sister's wedding, the family would be pleased. She then would return for a lengthy stay, where the real bringing up all over again therapeutic work would continue. Allison would come out strong enough to face everybody and everything.
"It's not going to work," said Jane. "You are fooling yourself. The whole thing will collapse like a building hit by a bomb... and they will blame us... say we don't know what we are doing."
"The guy is a control freak," I answered. "Just hope for the best, and it's going to be you who takes her."
"Thanks a lot, boss," said Jane. "I thought you liked me."
For the next three months, Allison tried. She quit smoking joints, spent her time doing macrame and working in the garden. She cleaned the ground so well, the tiny vegetable plants were so alone they hungered for a weed or two to talk with.
Elizabeth, the bride to be, breezed in one afternoon with her fiancee to check out her little sister. "Hi, baby. I'm on my way home from New York. I want you to be one of the bridesmaids-we'll all be in pink. I've already picked out a dress for you." When Allison tried to kiss her, Elizabeth brushed her off.
Calling on her cell phone, Elizabeth said to Dad and Mom, "She'll be there." .
Allison never uttered a word. She knew she could use Elizabeth's control and blundering pushiness, and her mother and father's eagerness that she be there in Dayton, to her own advantage. She would figure out a way to have the last word.
That evening she bolted; spent the night on the court house steps with the dropouts whose parents were never home. She was picked up by the police at dawn, disheveled and bruised and beaten. Back at the mental clinic she said, "Tell my parents they gave birth to the ugly beast of the streets."
Invitations came for my wife and myself one week before the wedding. At eleven-thirty I was awakened by a phone call from Carl. "Make sure you come, it will be great, I have room for you all at my place."
"Something makes me uneasy about this trip," my wife said after the call.
"We've stayed with families before, in India, France, Sweden and Israel," I answered. "There's the opportunity to do great family work. At worse, it will be a nice rest."
We flew Friday morning to Dayton.
Friday night the rehearsal dinner went very well. Allison was the toastmaster. "To my entire family, and to my sister and her new husband. What a wonderful family," she said. Very few noticed the large wet spot on the front and back of her dress near the crotch.
We all retired early, for the next day was to be The Big One. About two a.m., Allison, unable to sleep and incontinent, started toward the bathroom. When she opened the door, all hell broke loose. Alarms rang raucously. People in six bedrooms jumped out of bed and rushed in all directions, assembling in the living room on the commands of cool Carl. Great clanging outside and red flashing lights heralded the arrival of the police. Out of the mass confusion, Carl announced that each room was directly wired into the police station. "I forgot to tell you to shut off the alarm switch before you go to the toilet. Allison, you should have remembered."
In the morning, Jane told me that while she was phoning home from the study, and talking to her boyfriend, Carl rushed in. "'You are keeping me awake. Hang that phone up right now,' he hollered at me. Go into his room and take a look. It's like traffic control at the airport. Six phones buzzing and lighting up continually. I never saw a family like this. Personally, for our own sanity, we should take Allison, and all get on the next flight home."
But like a rushing river out of control, one event quickly followed another. Tennis at eleven. Carl played like he did everything else -- including sleeping, business deals, family relationships, and I supposed making love.
"I love the competition," he said glowingly, while we sat around the country club. "It's the fuel that keeps the male animal alive." He rose from his chair and looked toward the bar. "Look at her sitting at the bar. She's moving her fingers as if she's writing a letter... only there's no paper... it's all air. She's getting worse at your place."
It was a formal affair. As we drove to the Sheraton, a parade of Cadillacs, Lincolns, Jaguars and Rolls waited to empty a collection of elegantly dressed guests into the lobby.
This family was complicated. On the way upstairs, we saw a mixed display of religious orthodoxy and ornate wealth. The black hats, beards, pious, somber black suits of the humorless Hassids, with their docile, dowdy bewigged (over their shaved heads) women smiling benignly besides them contrasted sharply with silk attire, ostentatious wealth of the business people with their pearls, gold necklaces and the men with their gold Rolex watches. Peacocked men, the religious and the secular, danced with men -- and women watched from the shadows.
Jane came running from the banquet hall. "She lost it this time, really screwed up!"
"What do you mean?" I asked while running toward her.
"You know they got this makeup guy from New York, this black dude. Well, Allison looked fantastically beautiful. She suggested that everybody pose for a family picture. Elizabeth blew up. 'No way, you nut. Are you going to be in a picture with me and my new husband.' Allison disappeared. I heard a crash. There she was, going down the line of set up tables. Like a magician, she pulled each table cloth off. I don't know how she did it. When she was done, the bare tables still had glasses of water, flower arrangements, sugar, salt, pepper all in place. Very little hit the floor. It took five guys to tackle her, she fought so hard -- and none of it was her fault. All she wanted was a family picture. I even forgive her for the punch she gave me in the eye the other day."
"Where is she now," I asked Jane.
"Herbie, the black guy, Carl's gopher, is home with her. She loves Herbie."
"I guess we ought to see how she's doing." I said.
"One thing more. As I left the hotel, Caroline screamed, 'Tell Honig that's why he's here...to take care of my little girl. Why does he think we invited him!'"
When we arrived at the Lazarowitz home, Herbie let us in and led us to Allison. She was sitting on her bed hugging her worn cloth pussy cat, Matzoh Balls.
Realizing that the treatment was a lost cause, we took the next plane back to Philly. For days we hoped for a phone call that never came. We never saw Allison again.