“My father was a violent sod, and my mother was a coquette who, as they say, ‘had a tile loose.’ As for my brother and I, we were a pair of sullen tots who went around trying to pick fights with our cousins. The earl couldn’t stand either of us. He caught me by the ear on one occasion and told me I was a bad, wicked lad, and someday he would see to it that I was placed as a cabin boy on a trading vessel bound for China, which would undoubtedly be captured by pirates.” “What did you say?” “I told him I hoped he would do it as soon as possible because pirates would do a much better job of raising me than my parents.”Lisa Kleypas, Hello Stranger
They were, without a doubt, the nastiest couple that came to our office. Any day that either one of them was scheduled for an appointment both me and my staff cringed. Loud; demanding; obnoxious; the kind of people who feel life owes them happiness. If they ever showed up together (we discouraged this practice, because they spent all of the appointment time arguing with each other) a pall descended over the office for hours. They had a unique ability to suck the joy out of anyone who met them.
There was the day one of them asked me if I would accept their daughter as a patient. I cringed at the thought of having to deal with the product of this union. But I was young, and I needed the money.
Of course. Anything wrong with her?
“No. She’s sixteen, and she no longer wants to see a pediatrician.”
The appointment was set. On the day of her first visit I asked my nurses not to get any history from her. I did not want them to fall behind on their work; for sure this child would turn out to be a train wreck. I thought that I better take care of the task.
I walked into the exam room and I was shocked. There was a cute, appropriately dressed, well-groomed young woman who looked like she was ready to finish college. She looked me in the eye, flashed a friendly, lively smile, and extended her right hand.
I still could not believe that this was the right person.
“Yes. My parents come to see you. They said you could be my doctor from now on.”
I sat down and took a pen out of my pocket.
What can I do for you?
The next twenty minutes were pure joy. At every step I tried to find something wrong with her personality. It had to be there. To no avail. Doing well in school. Lots of friends. Did not participate in any sports, but there was a long list of clubs and volunteer activities. Responsible boyfriend. No drug use. Went to church twice a week.
With some degree of panic, I realized that I was running out of time and I still had not found any way that these parents had managed to cripple this child.
Also, with concern, I realized that I really liked this young woman. I would have been proud to call her a daughter. I had to yield to the evidence. There was nothing wrong with her.
Her exam was normal. I had to move on to see other patients, but I could not tear myself away from her presence until I had some peace of mind. How was it possible that two mean and nasty people could raise this epitome of good behavior? Against my better judgment I decided to plow on.
You know… You are not much like your parents.
She flashed a huge smile. Friendly; welcoming. With great relief I knew right then that she was not offended.
“Oh, Dr. Garriga, I realized when I was four that something was wrong with them. I had many friends, and I knew some of their parents, and I could see that there was a difference. Later on, when I was old enough to sleep over at their homes, I got to see how good couples interact. I learned.”
She smiled. Evidently, she must have discussed this topic with many people in the past because she was completely at ease with her unpleasant reality.
“Very early on I decided that these two were nuts. They’re my parents, and I owe them something. I made my peace with their behavior. Next year I apply for college; soon I’ll be out of the house and later I’ll be on my own. For now, I spend a lot of time at my friends’ homes. All of them understand, and their parents are great to me.”
I was speechless. I wanted to stand up, give her a big hug and offer to adopt her, but I had just met her, and I am sure she would have felt that this was a bit weird. I shook her hand.
Anything that you need; I’ll be glad to help. A letter for your college application. An ear to listen to you. Anything. Please allow me to get to know you better.
That she did. She called later to ask about a summer job. I hired her. She went to college; she did well. She married a good man. She is happy.
Sometime later I was having lunch with a friend who’s a psychologist. I mentioned this young woman and her unique situation. I asked why she had survived so well.
“Sometimes the situation is so bad, so consistently, that children realize that this can’t possibly be the way that life is for everyone. She had good friends; she saw how other healthy couples interacted. She figured it out. It is possible that the father who gets raging drunk one day and treats his children to a wonderful outing the next does more damage than the one who is always hard to get along with.”
Much later I talked to one of my med school classmates. He is a psychiatrist, a widely recognized authority on genetics in psychiatric diseases. He thinks that there may be a gene that codes for happiness. That would certainly explain why there are people who win the lottery and complain that they may have to pay taxes on their earnings. And others who have tragedy befall them, and somehow, they move on and find a way to smile every day.
Time will tell. For now, the next time that you run into a nasty couple please smile at their children. Something good may come out of it.