There have been two defining days in my life: the day I married Teddy Minsky, and the day Teddy died. On both days a dark, ominous cloud loomed overhead—that cloud came in the form of his mother, Ida.
Ida Minsky was a bulldozer, in attitude and appearance. A short stout woman with square shoulders like a linebacker, but she was much nastier. On our wedding day, the storm cloud bullied the caterers into changing the menu, the band into playing the songs she liked, and Teddy into realizing that no matter whom he married, she was still in charge.
She was so skillful in fact that she relegated her husband, Pauley, to near invisibility in her presence, and he finally just vanished altogether, choosing death over life with Ida.
But Pauley’s liberation meant my captivity because after he died, Teddy brought Ida Minsky to live with us.
“She doesn’t have anywhere to go, and we can’t leave her alone in that house without Dad; it’d kill her.”
Now there’s an idea.
Teddy did his best to be the buffer between us, but it was a difficult and thankless job.
Then Teddy died. Maybe he wanted out too—like his dad. Maybe that’s why he got drunk on that fishing boat; maybe it wasn’t an accident at all. Maybe he threw himself off on purpose, and floated down the Payette River with a big smile plastered on his fat face, relieved that he wouldn’t have to referee another fight between Ida and myself again.
The sheriff tried explaining to us what happened to Teddy. Ida wouldn’t listen and ordered him to take her to the morgue. “That ain’t my Teddy!” she screamed on her way out.
Her next course of action was to blame me. “He wouldn’t have been out drinking if you were any kind of wife.”
It would’ve been easy to yell back at her, to tell her what an obnoxious and hateful woman she was. But I didn’t have it in me; Teddy was gone, so I just left the room with Ida screaming, “Go ahead and run; this is all your fault!” followed by a vase smashing just above my head.
Lots of people came to say their goodbyes to Teddy, including the morons, George and Pinkus, who were drinking with him that night on the boat, too inebriated to realize a man had gone overboard.
“I’m so sorry, Karen and Mrs. Minsky. We loved Teddy like a brother,” they said. And all I could think was, I’m Mrs. Minsky too. But I smiled and hugged them; they were dopes, but they weren’t malicious.
Ida sat next to me, stoic, chin up, no sign of tears or sadness. “He was an idiot,” she said to his casket on her way out, but her hand lingered on his before she left.
I sat with Teddy after everyone had gone. I wanted to give him a proper goodbye.
“I wasn’t a great wife to you, Teddy,” I said, wishing I had told him these things when he was alive. “But I loved you as best as I could. You were the first person in my life to show me what love really was, and I thank you for that.”
I took his wedding band out of my pocket. Teddy hadn’t worn it since he broke his ring finger in a bar fight two years before. I placed it on his finger and touched his cold face. “I’ll miss you, ya big fool.” And I kissed him one last time.
For reasons I could not fathom, Ida stayed in the house after Teddy’s death. I would never kick her out; I couldn’t do that to Teddy, and she knew it.
I came home late one evening to the sound of soft music coming from Ida’s room. Her door was open, and I crept up quietly and saw her sitting on the bed. Ida’s back was to me, but I could see she was looking at something in her lap.
Ida turned so quickly, I couldn’t retreat before being seen. “What do you want?” She appeared to be drunk, but she wasn’t—Ida Minsky was crying.
I had never seen her cry in the entire time I’d known her. I froze, not sure what to do.
“This was Evelyn’s,” she said quietly.
I walked a bit further into the room, prepared to exit quickly if Ida decided to throw something at me. Then I saw what was in her lap. It was a beautiful wooden music box with a tiny ballerina twirling to Mozart’s “Little Serenade.”
“Pauley’s mother gave it to her on her sixth birthday. Who woulda thought that would be her last.”
“Who’s Evelyn?” I asked cautiously.
There was a long pause before she said, “My daughter.”
I was stunned. Teddy told me he was an only child.
And as if reading my mind Ida said, “Don’t blame Teddy; I told him never to talk about her. ‘We just need to forget,’ that’s what I told him.”
“I’m so sorry Ida.”
“I hated everyone and everything after that. Was like my heart went cold and died.” She turned to look at me, her eyes red from crying. “Teddy paid the biggest price of all. But I loved him.”
I went and sat next to her. “Teddy knew you loved him.”
Ida looked at me, and I thought she would go into her usual rage. Instead, she said, “I want to stay, because of Teddy. He’d want us to try and mend fences.”
It would’ve felt good to say no, to tell her she wasn’t wanted here. But I thought about Teddy’s kindness, and how he was able to love the bitter and broken woman I used to be without ever giving up on me.
“Of course you can stay.”
Ida nodded and went back to her music box. “Thank you, Karen.”
Before leaving I said, “I picked up some take-out; you hungry?”
“I could eat.” She smiled.
Ida stood, and we walked out together. The two Mrs. Minskys arm in arm.