book reviews, celebrities

Repost: Brooke Hayward explains how her family went Haywire

Here’s another reposted book review. I originally wrote it for Epinions.com on January 9, 2012. It was reposted on my old blog exactly six years later. And now, I’m reposting it again, almost three years after the last repost. As this was written in 2012, please bear in mind that some things in my life have changed since then.

Television has certainly changed since I was a child.  Back when I was still at a tender age, movies of the week were very common on the big three networks.  I remember back in 1980, there was a movie of the week starring Lee Remick and Jason Robards called Haywire.  Though my memories of the actual film are hazy, I did remember the movie was high on drama and based on a book by the same name written by Brooke Hayward.  When I recently got the urge to read something new, I went looking for Haywire.  To my delight, it was available on Amazon.com, both in print form and for the Kindle.  I downloaded a copy and spent the next week reading all about how Brooke Hayward’s family went “haywire”.

Who is Brooke Hayward?

Being a child of the 70s, I haven’t seen that many classic movies.  Consequently, I am not all that familiar with Brooke Hayward’s mother, Margaret Sullavan, who was a successful actress and film star.  I’m also not familiar with Brooke Hayward’s father, Leland Hayward, a reknowned Broadway and Hollywood agent.  But the two were at one time a couple and their marriage produced three children: Brooke, Bridget, and Bill.  Besides her turn as an author, Brooke Hayward is known for being Dennis Hopper’s first wife and a model and actress.

Brooke Hayward has also had many famous stepparents.  Her father was also married to Nancy “Slim” Keith and Pamela Harriman.  His first wife was Lola Gibbs.  They divorced, remarried, and divorced again before Brooke was born.  Also before Brooke was born, her mother had a brief marriage to Henry Fonda and a slightly longer marriage to Hollywood director and screenwriter, William Wyler.  At the time of her early death, Margaret Sullavan was married to Kenneth Wagg, an investment banker.

How things went “haywire”

Haywire is, at its core, a book about growing up with Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward as parents.  But at a deeper level, this book is also about being a child of divorce and an innocent bystander to mental illness.  This book was written in 1977, before people talked about how divorce affects children.  Indeed, when Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward split up, divorce was not nearly as common as it is today.  It was a source of shame.

In her elegant writing style, Hayward describes how Leland Hayward and Margaret Sullavan grew up and eventually came together, even though they were very different people.  Leland Hayward liked to live a fancy life, while Margaret Sullavan was more grounded and determined not to let their children grow up spoiled.  Hayward liked the city, while Sullavan preferred the country.  Hayward was a sophisticated jetsetter, while Sullavan remained faithful to her Virginia roots.  They were a mismatched couple, even though their marriage lasted a somewhat respectable (by Hollywood standards, anyway) eleven years.

When Brooke Hayward’s parents split up, she and her brother and sister were asked to take sides.  By Hayward’s account, Margaret Sullavan was very possessive of her children and would manipulate them through guilt.  When they had disagreements with her, Margaret Sullavan would suggest they go live with their father, suggesting that it was somehow a punishment.  One day, Bridget and Bill Hayward agreed that, yes, they would prefer living with their dad.  Apparently, that revelation drove Margaret Sullavan to a nervous breakdown.

Aside from problems stemming from their parents’ divorce, Bridget and Bill Hayward had significant mental health issues.  Both committed suicide.  Bridget died of a drug overdose in 1960 at age 21, just months after Margaret Sullavan’s own suicidal overdose.  Bill Hayward died in 2008 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Both Bridget and Bill spent a great deal of time in mental hospitals. 

Interspersed with her ruminations about life with two world famous but troubled parents, Hayward injects plenty of tales about her contemporaries.  Peter and Jane Fonda were contemporaries and Brooke, Bridget, and Bill spent a lot of time with them.  She describes the elegant lifestyle she enjoyed, despite her mother’s determinations to prevent her children from being spoiled by excess.

This book was updated in 2010 and has a new epilogue, which updates readers on how Brooke and Bill turned out.  There are also pictures which looked great on the Kindle.

My thoughts

I am not a child of divorce, but I am a stepmother to my husband’s two very alienated young adult daughters.  I have only met my husband’s daughters once and they haven’t spoken to my husband since 2004.  Like Brooke Hayward, I have had an up close and personal look at the way divorce can screw up children.  On ther other hand, divorce can be a lifesaver when two people don’t get along.  And if it’s done correctly and the parents put their kids first, it can be a good thing for a dysfunctional family.  Naturally, it works best when parents can cooperate with each other. 

As I read Haywire, it appeared to me that Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward did, on some level, try to co-parent.  Sullavan didn’t like sending her kids to see their dad, but she did at least allow them to maintain that relationship.  However, Brooke Hayward’s account is very telling in that Sullavan was adept at emotionally blackmailing her children.  She made disparaging remarks about Leland Hayward and, though she might not have done it on purpose, asked her kids to take sides.  Clearly, this kind of manipulation eventually took a toll on all three children.  While most children of divorce do grow up without having to do time in a mental hospital or prematurely ending their lives, Hayward’s account of how she missed out on time with her father is very revealing. 

Leland Hayward was not blameless either.  He was somewhat guilty of being a “Disney Dad”, lavishing gifts and money on the children in order to assauge his guilt over not being around.  He was not faithful to Sullavan and that was one of the reasons they split.  I’m sure there was guilt stemming from that as well.

One thing I was glad to see is that Brooke, Bridget, and Bill seemed to get along with all of their stepparents.  I did notice that they seemed to like some of their parents’ choices more than others.  For instance, Brooke really seemed to like her first stepmother, Nancy, more than she liked socialite and future U.S. Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman, who was married to Leland Hayward at the time of his death.  Of course, Pamela Harriman is a fascinating subject all on her own! 

Overall 

While I can’t claim to be a fan of Margaret Sullavan as an actress, nor did I ever follow Brooke Hayward’s acting career, I will admit to liking Haywire.  It’s a fascinating read on so many levels.  It’s entertaining for people who enjoy reading about classic film stars.  It’s also great for people who like to read about family systems.  And now I’d like to re-watch the film that prompted me to read this book.

An ad for the made for TV movie, which was based on the book. I remember watching this film when it aired.

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musings

Forced family time… not always the best idea.

First thing’s first. There has NOT been a recent drama in my family, other than my beloved Uncle Brownlee’s death. For once, things have been pretty peaceful in my world (knock on wood). However, a friend shared with me an email she got from a distant family member that has inspired me to write about this subject today. Out of respect for her privacy, beyond the most basic of details, I won’t go into specifics about what the email said, only that it reminded me a lot of my own family dramas, which I feel alright in writing about. God knows I’ve done it plenty of times.

The basic gist of the story is that a few years ago, my friend and a couple of her family members got together for a “vacation”. For at least one party, it was supposed to be a “grand” trip, involving a lot of money and international travel. I don’t know how much or what kind of planning went into the trip, but it sounded to me like there wasn’t much communication before the traveling happened. Family relations were already strained from stuff that had happened for years prior to the travel.

I suspect that when these folks came together, tensions arose and there was a lot of fighting. The trip was an expensive disaster for everyone, and it ended badly, with many hard feelings. Years later, the trip is obviously still a source of “soreness” for everyone involved. My friend recently got an email bringing up that old business, along with a few hurtful remarks that made her glad that this “family member” is literally distant, and lives on the other side of the ocean that separates North America and Europe.

Beyond a few Thanksgiving reunions, the last of which I attended in 2014, I’ve pretty much sworn off family gatherings myself. I don’t remember the last time one of them went well. When I was a child, I guess I liked spending time with my sisters and parents… even though there were often fights. When you’re a kid, you’re more resilient about these things. It’s easier to forget slights and petty shit; because when you’re a kid, you often have to get along just to be able to survive.

But most people eventually become adults, and when you’re an adult, you start to see things differently. Your relationships become more complex. You have an enhanced ability to see beyond the obvious. You stop wanting to yield to other people’s desires, especially when they’re clearly wrong. You may or may not be just as wrong about something yourself. You may even be willing to talk about it with the other people who are involved. Unfortunately, getting past this stuff usually takes cooperation and mutual respect. A lot of families are unwilling or unable to acquire the perspective that makes mutual respect and cooperation possible. I’ve found in my own family that I often get relegated to the dreaded “baby of the family” role, even though I’m 47 and have always been perfectly competent. I get spoken to as if I need “special help”, which naturally pisses me off. I can take that in limited doses when it’s just one on one, but when I’m around the whole family and they’re all doing it, it drives me absolutely batshit crazy. I’ve tried to explain this to my family members, and they usually claim I’m just “too sensitive”. Since I’m so “sensitive”, I stay away.

As I’ve written about many times on my old blog, Christmas 2003 was the last time I spent time with most of my entire immediate family under one roof for longer than a few hours. I was pretty wary about attending the gathering because history had shown that they never go well. I couldn’t remember the last time we were all together as adults and there wasn’t at least one huge fight. I don’t enjoy fighting with people, especially when the fights aren’t productive. I have a sister who, no matter what, just can’t seem to understand that I’m not a stupid person. When I try to be assertive with her, she becomes really fake and placates me with niceties. Then, within hours, she’s back to criticizing and questioning my life choices, telling me how much she hates my laugh, or giving me unsolicited advice in an insulting way. I’ve tried so many times to get her to understand my side, but she never seems to get it.

Despite this dysfunctional family dynamic we have, my sister has often tried to organize family events. More than once, she’s come up with the “bright idea” to rent a house and hang out together for a week. I swore off these types of gatherings after our Christmas 2003 debacle and, despite tons of pressure from her to give in and “chip in” on a house rental, I have so far refused. These gatherings just plain don’t go well, at least not for me. And until everyone involved takes a realistic look at what could happen during a gathering and actively works together to make it go well, I refuse to spend precious time and money on “forced family time”.

However, despite the disaster that was Christmas 2003– which culminated in Bill and me leaving one of my sisters stranded at our parents’ house and forced her to take a Greyhound bus home– I am grateful the disaster happened. It was a good life lesson on several levels. First of all, I finally learned to assert myself and realize that I no longer have to go along with what immediate family members try to demand of me. I’m an adult, and free to make my own choices.

Secondly– and this is the more important lesson I learned– I also don’t have to go along with what extended family members demand of me. Christmas 2004 was an even more dramatic holiday, mainly because my husband’s ex wife tried to insist that Bill and I spend it with her at my father-in-law’s house. She made it clear it was the only way my husband could see his daughters and she wrongly thought I’d cave in to her shit in an effort to “get along” and “assimilate” for the sake of family solidarity. I had absolutely zero desire to spend the biggest holiday of the year stuck in a house with my husband’s ex wife, particularly since she and her husband had brazenly claimed the one guest room (her excuse was that the kids were staying with the grandparents, so she should be allowed to stay there, too). Bill and I were expected to get a hotel room, which was actually fine with me– in fact, I highly recommend that people gathering for reunions stay in hotels, preferably in different ones, and that they bring their own transportation.

As regular readers know, I refused to attend Christmas 2004. I was blamed for the fact that it went badly, as if my presence would have made that holiday a huge success. If I had attended, I can pretty much guarantee it would have been way worse for everyone involved. My primary concern, of course, was for my own well-being and for that of my marriage. I knew that no one there, aside from Bill, actually wanted me to be there simply because they actually wanted to spend time with me.

Ex just wanted me there so she could see what buttons to push. Everyone else just expected me to be there to make the situation seem “okay”. None of them specifically wanted to visit with me; this was all about placating the ex and letting her use her children as leverage to get what she wanted. I didn’t want to be a part of that dog and pony show, spending money we didn’t have and precious time on what I knew in my heart would be a fiasco. So, I became my own advocate and stayed home. I had only met Bill’s kids once anyway, and figured they’d rather have him to themselves.

But Bill went. He saw his daughters. We didn’t tell Ex I wasn’t coming, which reportedly really upset her. She made Bill pay for it. It was the last time he’s seen his children in person, although the younger one now Skypes with him regularly after many years of no contact. Despite what some people might think, I don’t believe it’s my fault Bill’s ex wife punished him by withholding visitation. That was entirely on her. I had nothing to do with that decision. She’s now paying the price for that decision, and many other bad ones she’s made, as her three eldest children are adults and can see what kind of person she really is. Yes, Bill could have gone to court to fight for visitation. He might have won. But it would have meant spending years fighting a person who is insane, but not insane enough for the courts to keep her out of our lives. He chose not to fight, and life continued to be worth living. In fact, it became a lot more fun.

Anyway, the point is, Bill’s ex wife often has these kinds of “pie in the sky” visions of gatherings that resemble Hallmark movies. They NEVER go that way, but she expects everyone to go along with the bullshit, even though it means they’ll spend time and money they don’t have, and recovery from the psychic trauma will take weeks. Those who don’t go along will be punished… at least for as long as they give a shit. I don’t so much anymore. Maybe that’s the beauty of getting older. You realize that you don’t have to cave in to family pressures unless that’s the only means of survival. You can say “no”.

When I read about my friend’s situation, it occurred to me that– just as Bill’s ex has unrealistic “visions” of perfection when she comes up with her harebrained family gathering ideas– when more normal people plan these kinds of gatherings, they often have a picture in their minds of what the gathering should or actually will be like. They don’t often share these visions of family bliss with everyone involved. There’s usually little communication among the people involved about what’s expected behavior. I think, a lot of times, people just have it in their minds that these reunions will somehow be as magical as a Hallmark movie. They just expect that everyone will come together in harmony, with nothing but peace, love, and goodwill in their hearts. Unfortunately, unless everyone is already close and has a respectful relationship, that is rarely the outcome. Life is not a Hallmark movie. When there is mental illness, drug addiction, or alcoholism in the mix, you can count on things going south in a hurry.

Yea!

People often have overly ambitious and mismatched expectations when it comes to these kinds of family reunions. The more money and time a person spends on a gathering like this, the more they’re going to want to get their money and time’s worth. When things don’t go perfectly, they get angry and blame other people rather than taking an honest look at their own contributions to the problem. My sister, for instance, doesn’t want to hear what would make me want to spend time with the family. Instead, she wants to try to dictate to me how I should look and behave. She doesn’t want to relax and accept me for who I am, simply cherishing the time spent together. Instead, it’s like she wants to try to fix my flaws. This is the same sister, by the way, who for Christmas has given me exercise videos, makeup kits, and Proactiv.

While I do think family reunions can be fun, I also think that until everyone is “close” and has mutual respect for each other, it’s a terrible idea to have them in locations that involve a lot of time and money for travel. My first rule is that if I can’t drive to it, I don’t go… unless it’s for something like a funeral or memorial of an immediate family member. I did go to Virginia from Germany to attend my dad’s memorial at Thanksgiving in 2014. Dad died five years ago tomorrow, but we had his memorial during our annual Thanksgiving reunion in 2014, so more of the family could attend. Since he was my dad, I made an exception and went “home”. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again, unless my mom dies while I’m abroad.

My second rule is that I have my own transportation and lodging. I have seen way too many family fights erupt after someone has had too much to drink or spent too much time cooped up with people who rub them the wrong way. One of my cousins went home for Thanksgiving a few years ago, got into a fight with his dad, who had been drinking, and got kicked out of the house in the middle of the night. I kicked my own sister out of my car for throwing a massive temper tantrum when I said I wanted to leave early. I refuse to let someone else have control over my transportation or lodging. Now, I make sure to book a hotel and have a car at my disposal.

Thirdly… I am always prepared to leave when things start getting shitty. I have stayed too long at my fair share of parties. It’s never a good idea. I usually take weeks to recover from the trauma. So now, the minute things start to go south, I get the hell out of Dodge.

And finally, although I know it’s tempting to combine long awaited trips to save time and money, I don’t mix family business with pleasure. If I wanted to plan a trip for my completely hypothetical retirement, I would not combine it with a trip to see family. There’s just too much risk that something will go wrong and ruin what should be pure celebration. God knows I haven’t worked for 30 years in an occupation, but Bill has. If he wanted to celebrate his retirement by taking a trip to, say, Japan or South Africa, I wouldn’t take that opportunity to include family with whom we’re not close. Take the big celebratory trip to where YOU want to go. Don’t use it to see long lost family, especially if there’s a lot of unfinished business. You will likely regret trying to combine trips, because there’s an excellent chance it will lead to catastrophe. The other people involved, unless you’re close to them or dear friends, simply aren’t going to place the same value on your retirement as you will. So celebrate that with someone who values your retirement as much as you do and wants to celebrate it with you.

But really… and maybe I’m just super cynical… I think people should spend as much time as they can with people who make them happy, and minimize contact with those who don’t. Simply sharing a family bond doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get along with all of your family members. Most of us would like it to be so that blood is thicker than water, but it simply isn’t… I have many family members with whom I would never choose to be friends, and I know they feel the same way about me. So I don’t feel obliged to hang out with them. I think it spares us all a lot of pain and money.

So ends today’s long winded diatribe. Hope everyone enjoys Monday.

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Ex

Life’s lessons…

This morning, Bill and I were having coffee and somehow, we got on the subject of his ex wife. I’m pretty sure the subject came up because one of us quoted from National Lampoon’s Vacation— the scene where Clark Griswold and family put the recently deceased Aunt Edna on top of the Family Truckster and delivered her corpse to Phoenix, Arizona, where she was left languishing in the heat. Clark delivers a pseudo prayer for Edna’s soul, but Edna was such an obnoxious old bat that his prayer is facetious and uncaring.

This scene led to quite a conversation this morning.

Bill remembered that his ex wife had a family member that did something similar with a dead person. Ex had a relative– supposedly a nice enough guy, kind of quiet, and obviously very practical. For whatever reason, he loaded up a relative’s full coffin in the back of his pickup truck and drove it to the cemetery. Bill said he stood there aghast as this was going on, reminded of Aunt Edna in Vacation and wondering how many laws and regulations were being broken as this corpse was being delivered in an unofficial way. Apparently, that’s the kind of family Ex has. They see a simple solution and/or way to cut corners to settle things, and they do it without any qualms, even if laws are being broken. A lot of times, they get away with it, which only encourages more lawless behavior.

After Bill related this story to me, he explained more about his ex wife’s family dynamics, which are unusual and extremely dysfunctional. As I mentioned previously on my old blog, Ex was adopted. During their marriage, Ex made it clear to Bill that being adopted really stuck in her craw. It was the ultimate rejection, even though she was eventually chosen by another couple. This early rejection, and the aftermath of her traumatic childhood, has helped shape the type of person she is.

In Ex’s case, the couple who adopted her were allegedly abusive. Ex never even knew her adoptive dad until she was about seven years old. He was in the Merchant Marine and was gone at sea all the time. Ex’s adoptive mother supposedly got tired of being alone all the time, even though her husband had reportedly provided well for her. She apparently messed around with other men and eventually divorced Ex’s adoptive dad so that she could marry Ex’s stepfather, a financially successful man with an abusive streak. Ex’s mother had bio children with the new stepfather, so Ex was apparently treated as second rate, both by her mother and her stepfather. Ex claims her stepfather sexually abused her, which he likely did, based on some bizarre behavior Bill observed during their marriage.

Years later, Ex sought out her bio parents and was able to track down her mother. She met her, and learned that her birth was the result of an affair. Ex’s bio mom was married and had an affair with another man. When she got pregnant, bio mom’s husband said he didn’t want to raise another man’s baby. He ordered her to give the baby up for adoption or she would be cast out on the street.

I’m sure just hearing this story rang off all kinds of internal alarms for Ex. Here she was, adopted, which apparently had already caused her angsty feelings because she was rejected by her biological parents. Then, her mother and stepfather were neglectful and abusive, and engaged in a lot of sabotaging behaviors, sending the message that she’s second rate. Then, she learns that she was the result of an affair and her bio mom’s husband hadn’t wanted her. And her bio mom, who may or may not have even stayed with her husband, chose to give up her baby rather than tell her husband to go screw himself. I mean… if she was already having an affair, their marriage couldn’t have been that strong, anyway.

Whenever I hear stories about Ex and her tragic upbringing, I do feel pangs of empathy, even though I fully admit to despising her. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her being raised in that situation. I don’t blame her for having issues. It was not her fault that the adults in her life failed her the way they did. However, I don’t approve at all of the way she deals with other people. She is, herself, a very abusive person who not only causes pain to the people directly affected by her behavior, but also to the people who are in relationships with her victims. Her behavior, for example, has indirectly harmed me, and it’s probably harmed her children’s spouses. It will probably eventually harm her grandchildren, too.

Unfortunately, instead of choosing to be different from her adoptive and biological parents, Ex turned into a menace who hurts other people. Younger daughter wisely noticed the pattern of multiple marriages and instability in her mother’s and grandmother’s lives. Ex is currently on her third husband. Grandma was married five or six times.

Ex’s adoptive dad– the one she didn’t meet until she was seven years old– once got an annulment the day after he married someone because, apparently, he didn’t like the way she smelled. According to Bill, adoptive dad was a much better person than Ex’s stepfather was. Imagine how low the bar must have been set for Bill to make that determination. Bill said Ex’s stepfather was the kind of man who had charisma, but was very cruel and, in fact, Bill said that when he met him, he felt like he was in the presence of evil.

Younger daughter, who is a good Mormon and has probably had her fill of drama, wants to break the cycle. As much as I disliked younger daughter before she and Bill started talking, I now really admire her for her strength of character. I have changed my mind about her. I never had as many intense feelings about older daughter. At this point, I figure she’ll come around eventually, when it’s safe for her to do so. She’s still living with Ex, apparently raising her youngest brother.

Perhaps as a result of what she went through as a child, Ex grew up to be a very abusive, narcissistic person. For years, Bill suffered at her hands, listening to her rage, enduring physical, emotional, and even sexual assault. She lied to people about the kind of person he is and did her best to ruin his relationships with his own family members, as well as the children he had with Ex. But despite every thing Ex did to try to destroy Bill, he never took her to court or officially tried to fight for his rights to his money or his children. Many people would blame him for that. Some even take it as an admission of guilt, of sorts. In fact, on my old blog, I regularly got comments from people who didn’t believe his story and/or wanted to blame him entirely for what happened, simply because he’s a man.

Make no mistake. Bill knows that he made errors when he was younger and less secure. He should not have married his ex wife, not just because she was an abusive person, but also because he didn’t love her. He had pity for her, and that is not the same thing as love. He takes full responsibility for making a poor choice. It wasn’t respectful to Ex, or to himself. However, because of what he went through with his ex wife, Bill has changed the way he deals with people. Although he never asserted his rights in a courtroom, Bill did learn to gather evidence to strengthen his side of the story. Because I’m his wife, I’ve also learned to gather evidence to support my stories. He also doesn’t allow people to bully him the way he used to. His anti-bullying skills were honed when he went to war with a narcissistic junior Trump clone, and sharpened with other bullies he’s met during his career. And he’s also taken a stand against Ex in the form of assertive behavior. He doesn’t try to placate her anymore.

On my old blog, I wrote several times about Christmas 2004, and how Ex tried to force me into spending Christmas with her at Bill’s dad and stepmother’s house. I didn’t want to go. I knew it would be a bad idea. There was a lot of pressure for me to get with the program, though, even though I knew in my heart that my attendance at that gathering would be a disaster. No matter how well-behaved, friendly, and nice I tried to be, it wouldn’t be enough for Ex. She would find a reason to criticize. It would ruin my holiday, cost a lot of money we didn’t have, and not do anything to strengthen Bill’s relationship with his kids or his family. So I stayed home. It was hard for me to make that choice, even though it was the right thing to do. I later realized that an earlier event had taught me what needed to happen. It was one of life’s lessons.

I had gotten the courage to stay home from Ex’s sick Christmas gathering the previous year– Christmas 2003– when Bill and I endured a disastrous holiday with my own family in Virginia. One of my sisters got a ride with Bill and me to our parents’ house. I had told her that if there was any fighting, I’d be leaving. My sister agreed with those conditions. Sure enough, there was a fight. True to my word, I decided I wanted to leave. My sister first tried to manipulate Bill, then when that didn’t work, she threw a massive fit. We left her at my parents’ house, and she had to take a bus home.

It was painful for me to do that to my sister. I hadn’t wanted to do it, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want her having a temper tantrum in my car for hours, nor did I want to be bullied into staying at my parents’ house, seething with anger, when I could just as easily go back to my own house and salvage my peace. That situation hurt, but it taught me to trust my own judgment and not let other people bully me.

I am now unusually angry about our situation with the ex landlady. This morning, I was musing about why this has me so upset. It’s not even like what she’s doing is uncommon. Read on Toytown Germany’s forums, and you’ll find many stories of greedy landlords ripping off their tenants’ security deposits. It happens in the United States, too. A lot of times, landlords get away with outright thievery, since people don’t have the time or the money to fight in court. Foreigners in Germany are particularly vulnerable, since many folks don’t speak German and don’t bother to get legal insurance. They either think it’s a waste of money, or they just can’t spare the money… and the amount they’d be fighting for, while significant to them, is not worth a court battle. American military folks often don’t have the money to get the insurance (which is actually pretty inexpensive, considering the coverage) or they think it’s a scam. They’re only going to be here for three years or so, so they figure it’s not worth the hassle. Sometimes, that means they get ripped off.

In our case, we’re being brazenly ripped off of over 2500 euros, which is a lot of money. Several of the things the landlady accused us of doing, we didn’t do. Several of the most significant charges that were made are outright illegal. Either ex landlady got an insurance settlement, or the statute of limitations has run out. She obviously thinks she can get away with this scam, which I’m sure she rationalizes as “fair”, since her awning broke on our watch and the insurance company didn’t give her what she thinks is a “fair” settlement. They gave her only a few hundred euros, and replacing the awning would take much more money; therefore, in her mind, we should make up the difference. However, she didn’t have it properly repaired when we pointed it out to her, and she made a huge deal out of other repairs we requested. She made it clear she didn’t want to spend the money on repairing her old awning. But she doesn’t mind spending ours to renovate the property, and jack up the rent for the next people. That’s wrong, and it’s against German law.

I’m sure, based on what I wrote at the beginning of this post, our issues with the ex landlady seem small and I seem obsessive. I fully realize that they’re small. However, when you look at the cumulative effect of this kind of treatment over many years, maybe it makes more sense as to why we’re finally fighting back. Bill has suffered character assassination and financial loss for many years. He’s a good man, and he was always above board, both with his ex wife and our ex landlady. Both of them were paid in full and on time. He followed the letter of the law when he gave them notice, both for the divorce and for when we moved out of our former home. Maybe he wasn’t the perfect husband or the perfect tenant, but he’s still better than a lot of people are. He deserves to be treated with more respect and fairness. This time, he has the ability to fight back. He doesn’t even expect to get the whole amount of the deposit back. He may even lose, but at least he will have taken a stand. Maybe we’ll all learn something from this.

We relate.

Life’s lessons often come from unexpected places. Because of my sister’s meltdown in 2003, I was able to see why I shouldn’t have to spend Christmas with my husband’s ex wife in 2004. If I’m willing to walk away from Christmas with my blood family members, why shouldn’t I tell the Ex to pound sand when she tries to manipulate me into a similarly toxic scenario? Why should she get more consideration than my own sister gets? After a year of silence, my sister did eventually speak to me again. Ex was still bitching about my refusal to celebrate Christmas with her years later– and she doesn’t even like me! I guarantee she’d like me even less if I’d been forced to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year with her.

Because of the way Ex treated Bill during their marriage and the many years he spent defending himself against her lies, Bill learned that he has to gather evidence… especially when it’s clear that he’s dealing with a difficult person or someone with a high conflict personality. Two years ago, when the awning fell, it was clear that our former landlady was going to remember that accident and try to screw us out of our deposit. We became hyper vigilant about most documentation, and we bought legal insurance in anticipation of the fight for our money. We have a nice file of evidence that shows what kind of a person she is, to include many irrational, hostile, and contradictory emails, which were always met with calm respectful responses from Bill. Of course, I also have a public blog full of evidence about what kind of a person I am. I know it could easily work against me. But my guess is that what’s in my blog is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

I think our dealings with Ex have made us pretty adept at spotting and preparing for other people who act like bullies and try to take advantage of Bill’s good nature. I feel pretty certain that Bill’s move to defend himself will really upset the ex landlady. She might even send us hate mail or try to countersue. I don’t expect this to be pleasant, but sometimes life’s most valuable lessons are unpleasant for everyone. Taking a stand is important for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with money. Fighting back is empowering. We’d rather spend the time on something else, but sometimes you just have to take a stand, if not for yourself, then for other people’s sakes.

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