Monday, March 07, 2005

In memoriam

My grandmother, Elizabeth Petway Moses (née Buttorff), died yesterday, at the age of ninety-two . It's...well, it's not really a very emotional thing for me. I was never close to her, even though she lived in my hometown for the last five or six years of her life (my grandfather died a few days before 9/11, and it was all downhill from there). Still, it is quite sad, from an objective position. Not the death itself: it was quite obviously time, and it was as natural and peaceful as it could have been. But her life itself...she came from a rich old southern family that was positively Faulknerian in its psychoses and dysfuntionalities.

She hated most of her relatives, a hatred that, by all accounts, was not unjustified, but which she held onto like a talisman through her entire life, letting it subtly poison everything around her. She married my grandfather, William Moses, whom she had just met on an impulse, because she wanted to prove her family--which constantly told her that (unlike her sisters) she would never, ever marry--wrong. And for a while it must have seemed like this was IT; that she'd broken through the cloud cover and that there were only blue skies ahead. But such was not the case.

William had serious family issues of his own (he was always struggling under the dominion of his deranged mother, who incidentally HATED Elizabeth), but beyond that--and, most likely to some extent because of that--he was...not a good person. A while ago, after he'd died, my brother and I jokingly asked our father what alignment he would have been had he been a Dungeons and Dragons character, and after we reeled off the various options to him--lawful good, chaotic good, neutral good, lawful neutral, true neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, chaotic evil, neutral evil--he chose "chaotic evil." That sounds hyperbolic, and it probably is. But maybe not totally inaccurate.

He was never physically abusive, nor was he an alochoholic or unfaithful or anything like that. What he was was persistently, unceasingly, almost pathologically self-centered. He wanted what HE WANTED, which was to fish and to write his middling poetry (he was an English professor at the University of Kansas for most of his adult life, and in one of his journals, he wrote that his goal was to work just hard enough to not get fired). Anything Elizabeth wanted that went against what he wanted, or that required extra effort on his part, was viewed as an imposition. He would never actually outright refuse her anything, though; he weas a very inassertive person. Instead, he would bottle up his deep irritation and resentment, only letting it show through consistent, low-level passive-aggressiveness. That's not to say that Elizabeth was entirely blameless here, but I'd rather not go down that path at the moment. Suffice to say, they grated on each other continuously over their sixty-six (!) years of marriage. An existential hell if ever there was one.

And now she's dead. A nearly perfect example of a life of quiet desperation. I don't want to claim that she was *never* happy, but as a whole, it was not an ideal life. Could she have found some measure of inner peace? I don't know. But her marriage pretty much precluded that possibility.

Goodbye, Elizabeth. In death if not life, may you find your peace.


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