During the first two weeks of my Mother-in-Law’s stay at our home, I began to call her The Malevolent Presence,
or the MP for short. The menace in the air was as palpable as a sandstorm of grit and jagged, sharp metal objects.
I would come home from work on the train, and as our station approached, my
anxiety would almost lead to vomiting. So deep was my dread that I
considered lurching into the teeth-optional bar on the way home from the
train and drowning my sorrows in Bud Lite, rather than go home. Because She
was there, and She was going to make my life miserable. She was mean, and
kind of crazy. I began to read old Agatha Christies on the train, deeming
them good research material.
The MIL once told me years ago that she didn’t care much for little kids and
shrieking babies; rather, she merely tolerated them and waited for them to
grow into nice, civilized tweens and teens. Red flag! Our home is lousy with
small children. There are kids pouring out of every nook and cranny in the
joint. Not only were there my own kids, but they had little friends who
often popped by for playdates and adventures, and every last one of them had
the volume turned up to 11. This prompted the following comments and
suggestions from The Malevolent Presence:
"That mother doesn’t know how to control her child. If I would even call IT
"I don’t need a f______ three-year-old to tell me how to do something."
"Speak up. You sound stupid when you mumble like that."
"I’m used to dealing with more intelligent children than you."
Should I give her some credit here? She was an older woman, recently evicted
from her home and essentially penniless. Of course she had a right to be
nasty and rude! Poor thing. Of course it’s understandable that you would
call my little boy stupid and my friend’s child "it." I’ll forget you did
that, about 48 years from now.
The Malevolent Presence also adopted a curious uniform upon her arrival, one
which has not changed in almost a year. She dragged on some nasty, stained
sweats, removed her bra, and put on a T-shirt with a hoodie sweatshirt over
it. Then she put on some shapeless slippers that look like they’ve been
gnawed and piddled on by a wolfhound. Sometimes when she bent over to
retrieve a pot from under the stove, I would see what looked like a poo
stain on the back of the sweats. Could it be? I dared not look closer! The
sweats also had crusty food bits on them, and weird white patches that could
have been bleach? Bird droppings? She gained about 20 pounds overnight, so
eventually she changed into looser sweats that were thankfully stain-free.
Then, the shuffling began. I’d be in the laundry room and hear above me
"shuffle, shuffle, shuffle" on the floor above, and would quail in horror. I
might be lying in bed, reading a book, and would hear the ominous "shuffle,
shuffle, shuffle" in the hallway outside my door. "Shuffle, shuffle" she
went down the stairs, and "shuffle, shuffle" out to check the mail to wait
for packages from Neiman Marcus and endless boxes of energy-enhancing
vitamins and other crap.
Do you ever shop at Neiman Marcus? Neither do I, because it’s so absurdly
expensive that I might as well rip dollar bills up and staple them to my
eyeballs. What was she buying at Neiman Marcus? For god’s sake, what?!
Certainly not clothes. She never changed her outfit. A few mystery packages
arrived and were spirited into her room. Then she’d dump the boxes
downstairs in the recycling bin without breaking them down.
Worse than the shuffling was the obsessive television watching. Take someone
with absolutely no life, and what do they tend to do? That’s right: Watch TV
from dawn until midnight. I could hear the jolly tune from Hogan’s Heroes,
the lilt of old movie actresses, the drone of History Channel airplanes, the
natter of the weatherman. Right outside my bedroom, which as I have already
stated had the Deep Freeze on the old libido.
Why the weather would interest her is beyond me, for she never leaves the
house and all weather is bad. A sunny day: It’s too breezy. Snow: It’s too
cold. Rain: Well, that just sucks. It can be the most beautiful day in
creation and she still sits in her room with the shades drawn and the rotten
TV blaring, and she’ll fuss that the wind is getting in through the window
and chilling her to the boneÂ‹the tone of disgust with our house hard to
miss, for its an old one with many quirks and deficiencies. We’ve even tried
to invite her a few times to the neighbor’s cookout or some such, but every
time she mysteriously gets an explosive bout of diarrhea and can’t attend.
This results in the neighbor’s speculating as to her actual existence and
eagerly comparing notes about possible sightings. I have spotted them on the
rooftops with binoculars. One neighbor did spy her once and bounded up,
thinking she was me, with a warm hello. She got a cold fish eye in return.
Things could be worse. The fact that she disdains our friends and neighbors
and keeps to herself is really a blessing. During our dinner parties, which
were fairly frequent for a while, she would reject the invitation to join
in, once with an acerbic comment about the quality of our friends’
conversation. However, she would happily accept a plate of filet mignon with
bernaise sauce delivered to her door, so she could sit on her bed and watch
TV while she gnawed on the meat. Who eats steak with bernaise sauce in bed?
One dinner party we had fresh salmon, and she received her quota at her door
and brought it into her lair. About 6 days later, I opened the garbage can
and saw a festering salmon skin sitting on top of the refuse. But we hadn’t
had any salmon lately! Unless…Yes, the salmon skin had been sitting on a
plate in her room for days, until she suddenly had the ingenious idea of
throwing it away. There’s a reason why, when she actually left the house for
a while one day, I sprayed her carpet with a fire hose worth of Febreze.
Sadly, it did little to mitigate the musty, fusty scent of decay and
One time she actually went away for a while to visit a relative. Those were
glorious days indeed! Since we had guests coming, and needed the room to
house them, I ventured into the lair with trepidation. I would have to strip
the sheets. Although she had been with us for months at that point, the
sheets had Never Been Washed. Please take a moment to contemplate that fact.
I peeled the sheets back, and revealed an ocean of crumpled and used
tissues, stuffed under the pillows and crammed down in the bedsheets. There
were also a few salmon skins in there, and some meaty bones, and an opened
tin of half-eaten tuna.
Next up: The MIL gets a germ from my germy kids! And decides she wants to
start a career in finance. Careers in finance are often the choice for those
who cannot balance a checkbook or pay the rent, and I hear the financial
jobs market is ripe for old ladies in sweatpants right now.