Hurricane Mel. Everyone marvels at her from a distance. She's good for a laugh or a riveting story, and she usually doesn't leave irreparable damage; but to be caught up in Hurricane Mel is another story. My grandmother, Mel and Paul (her song-writing-and-key-board-playing-and-formerly-used-car-salesman third husband) came for a visit with my mother last weekend. It was their second visit since the baby was born, the first of which happened about two months ago. Unfortunately, the stars were not aligned this time, and something happened. An incident. A storm. A classic Mel Pazzaglia Storm. No one was hurt physically and the police were not called (although a police officer did come to our door during a previous family visit - on Easter morning - in search of the Masons; a woman named Melissa Pazzaglia - aka Mel- had sent the Macomb Police out in search of the Lincoln with the Florida license plates. When I answered the door in my terrycloth robe, the officer said, "I need to speak with the owner of the car with the Florida plates." Apparently, that time, Grandma Mel and Paul were concerned about the flooding in the Midwest. Thinking my parents and the car with the Florida plates were swept away off of a bridge and into a flood, they called the police and insisted that they send an officer out to find their car in our driveway. Of course, calling my cell phone to ask whether my parents had arrived was not a viable option. Only the Macomb Police will do, for Mel Pazzaglia). I would not have been too surprised if Grandma Mel had also sought the help of the Macomb Police during her latest visit.
During this visit, Hurricane Mel hit Macomb with a vengeance! Her strength wasn't apparent immediately. When the group of three (my mother, Mel and Paul) arrived, five minutes didn't go by before Grandma Mel insisted that the soggy, rotten tomatoes they brought with them in a paper bag from the hotel be cut up and dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Never mind that they had JUST arrived and that I just finished cleaning the house and that the tomatoes were disgusting and that we were planning to have dinner in an hour and that I am neurotic about not wanting to mess up what I have just cleaned; the tomatoes had to be cut up immediately without a moment to lose. "Jess - i- ca. All. I. Want. To. Do. Is. Cut. Up. Some. Tomatoes. Is that so much to ask? I need to eat, I'm a diabetic. Now let me do it!" Trying to keep things calm, I grabbed the tomatoes and started cutting them up for Her Highness. She stood behind me the whole time asking me why I wouldn't let her cut them up and telling me how slowly I was cutting them and that she could cut them a lot faster. All I could say to her was that I had to learn to cut tomatoes sometime (even though I have cut them many times and just happen to be incredibly slow in the kitchen regardless of what I am doing). As soon as I filled a bowl with the tomatoes, I let her dress them. By the time I cleaned up the tomato juice on the cutting board, she had abandoned the tomatoes all together. The tomatoes were ready to be served, but she was onto something new and had forgotten all about her diabetic spell. She never did eat the tomatoes, even though I offered them to her a number of times throughout her visit. She just had to have them cut up right then because the thought crossed her mind, and whatever thought comes into Mel's head turns into an unstoppable verbal demand that must immediately receive a response from any and every available third party. For the rest of the evening of their arrival, we were all getting along pretty well considering the grim circumstances (a combination of Grandma Mel and me - both control freaks but to drastically different degrees and working against one another).
The next day, however, things started to grow increasingly tense. A thought had come into Grandma Mel's mind after she encountered our elderly dog, Cydney (who is nearing the end of her precious Sheltie life). Grandma Mel felt sorry for Cydney and wanted cheer her up with food. Cydney is on a strict diet. We feed her canned Hill's Prescription Diet k/d food and we limit the amount of cookies she has. We know she doesn't like the canned food, but we feed it to her to preserve the function of her liver and pancreas. She is not allowed to have table food (for the most part, unless our ten month old manages to slip her a cracker or a cheerio). Cydney does not like the canned food and often holds out for a cookie instead of eating it, but we - as her doggie parents/guardians - believe it is in her best interest to take this course of action. We recognize that she will not be with us for very much longer, but we do not want to create unnecessary stress for Cydney or ourselves by giving her food that will make her sick. If she eats "table food," she will become sick (throwing up and having diarrhea) and unmanageable so we have chosen to keep her on a strict diet. I informed Grandma Mel and Paul of this upon their arrival, so I felt confident that Cydney would not become an issue. But she did. Grandma Mel noticed how thin Cydney is (which is actually good for her, in terms of joint pain). She also noticed that Cydney lies around the house, sleeping almost all the time. These observations upset her, and she began to obsess over Cydney.
At first, she said things like "Oh, that poor dog. She's sick, Jessica. She needs food. When Poodles was dying, I made her chicken and rice every night and she loved it. You have to make some chicken and rice for Cydney" and "Jessica, she needs food. Poor Cydney. You need to give her some food." I responded by explaining that if I made her food she would puke all over the house, and that I didn't want to clean puke up twenty-four hours a day. My response didn't appease her. She just said, "Oh, Jessica, make - it - for - her - anyway. Clean up after her anyway. She has to eat!" (Think of the delayed, emphatic style of Suze Orman as you read Grandma Mel's words.) I tried responding, again, by saying that she would just get sick and die if we fed her non-prescribed food because her systems would shut down. "Well, then put her to sleep, Jessica. Put her to sleep. She's miserable. I can tell. Just look at her." I then tried to shut her up by saying, "Well, Grandma, she's Sandy's dog so you just have to back off of this." Of course, that didn't work either.
The next episode began after Grandma Mel had showered in our bathroom and has passed Cydney lying on the floor. Even though Cydney was lying on her side, as she has done for some time, Grandma Mel got slightly hysterical. "Oh, Jessica. She's lying in the fetal position. Look at her! Look at her! She's lying in the fetal position; she's in pain. She's starving. Feed her! Feed her!" (Sandy claims that Grandma Mel actually said "fatal position" instead of "fetal position" but I didn't hear it.) Later, when Sandy was at work, Grandma Mel started grilling me again. "You have to drop this," I told her, "she's our dog and we will do what we think is best for her." But that wasn't enough, Hurricane Mel had formed and was now unstoppable.
After lunch, when we were on our way out of the house to pick Sandy up at work, I noticed Cydney following Grandma Mel into Darah's room. I followed them into her room and saw that Grandma Mel was feeding Cydney something out of her hand. As soon as I realized what was happening, I began frantically ranting, "No, Grandma. Why did you do that? I can't believe you. This is going to be a big problem. We asked you not to feed her. Sandy is going to be so upset about this. And now we can't trust you to be around Cydney alone. Why did you have to do this? What is in your hand?" But she hid her hand behind her back like an impetuous child. I approached her and told her that I was going to find out what she was giving her, and that I had to know to make sure she wouldn't get sick. Finally, she showed me a chunk of bread. I said, "Grandma, if you had asked Sandy if you could give Cydney a piece of bread she probably would have been okay with it but you didn't ask and that's the problem." Then she bent over to give Cydney more. "No. Stop, Grandma. This is exactly what I am saying. Sandy is going to be so mad." Hearing that, she snapped at me: "Don't tell Sandy. Don't tell Sandy. Don't you dare tell Sandy." And she sat on the chair and pouted. But it didn't work.
"Of course I am going to tell Sandy. I tell her everything. She's my wife."
"She's your wife? Are you her husband? Who is the husband and who is the wife?"
"Grandma, we're both the wives. I tell her things just like you tell Paul things."
"I don't tell him things."
"Grandma, yes you do"
"Don't tell Sandy, I'm not going to go out if you do. Tell her later tonight."
I agreed, but I shouldn't have. I did it just to stop her psychotic rant.
My mother stepped in, "You should tell Sandy, Mom."
"That poor dog is starving. Have you tasted that food in her bowl? It's covered in fruit flies. It's disgusting."
"I know, Grandma, we will change it tonight."
"I tasted it."
"I tasted it. I tasted her food."
"Are you kidding? Oh my god." I had to laugh. "That is so disgusting. It hasn't been changed since yesterday night"
"It was disgusting, Jessica. If you knew what it tasted like you wouldn't feed it to her. No wonder she's starving. It tastes like BITTER DIRT. Starving is the most painful death, Jessica. She's starving."
Somehow we managed to get into our cars (my mother was driving our Subaru Outback, Kiki, and I was squished between two car seats in the back with Darah, while Grandma Mel and Paul were in a separate car) and headed toward Waggoner Hall, but I knew things weren't going to go smoothly. Sandy walked cheerfully out to the car, however her cheerfulness changed immediately upon entering the car. As soon as she sat down, I told her what happened. My mom was nervous and was trying to laugh it off to ease the tension. But, just as I suspected, Sandy was pissed. She looked back at me with a stern expression of disapproval and anger. My mother already has issues of awkwardness with Sandy and seeing her tighten up like that certainly didn’t help. I know how I feel when Sandy is mad (not good), so I can only imagine how my mom felt. It was a shock to her, but I was stuck on the real issue: that Grandma Mel did something wrong. Once we reached our destination – a boutique in town called Debi’s – Sandy stepped out of the car and encountered Grandma, no, Hurricane Mel. H/G Mel quickly apologized, saying “I fed Cydney some bread because she was starving, but I shouldn’t have done it.” Sandy didn’t make her feel better by reassuring her that everything was fine. She said, “You’re right, you shouldn’t have done it” and she said it with a very disapproving expression. Well, that set Hurricane Mel off into destructo-mode. She started bantering, first about me and then about the way we treat the dog. “Oh, I knew it. That little brat told you, didn’t she.” As soon as I felt her starting to explode, I jumped out of the car in Sandy’s defense (and it wasn’t easy, either – I had to climb through the front). I have little trouble running my mouth off when I feel someone is being a bully. All this in the tiny parking lot at Debi’s; I’m pretty sure it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened there. Every word H/G Mel speaks is cartoonishly emphatic – picture Roseanne and Jackie’s mother in the television show, Roseanne, times ten.
“Grandma, this is not an apology. Instead of apologizing you are just blaming everyone else for your bad behavior.”
“Oh, don’t you tell me what to do, Jessica. You two are starving that dog. She needs to eat. She is starving. Starvation is the – most – painful – death there is. She’s in pain, she’s in pain. You are being cruel. Sandy, she’s starving. You’ve got to feed her. She just lies there in the fetal/fatal position”
“Stop bullying. This is what you always do. You bully people to get what you want. She is not your dog, Grandma.”
“But she needs me. I’m being a humanitarian.”
It wasn’t long before H/G Mel and I were screaming at the top of our lungs. Sandy took Darah out of her car seat and started walking away, so I followed her and left my grandmother with Paul and my mother. As soon as we were two feet away, I started crying from the pressure. It wasn’t just the shock over the intensity of it all, it was the fact that this type of episode happens all the time with H/G Mel. Throughout my whole life, Grandma Mel has been over-the-top about everything and, well, downright psychotic about some things. I especially hated the fact that all of this involved Sandy because things are already contentious between Sandy and my parents (simply because they are so drastically different in their personalities and beliefs). Sandy managed to calm me down, telling me that she felt calm and collected and wasn’t going to get dragged into the craziness. I felt better because Sandy wasn’t getting emotionally involved in my grandmother’s psychotic behavior. We walked around the parking lot and returned to the car, hoping that things would have calmed down. But Hurricane Mel had grown even stronger. When I came up to the car, she was in the front seat screaming at the top of her lungs.
“She’s starving. STARVING. You are starving her. You are cruel. Sandy, you are cold hearted. Heartless.”
“Grandma, stop. You are being psychotic. Oh my god, please calm down.”
“I will not calm down. That dog is starving. She’s starving. You’re killing her. Murderers, MURDERERS! We are not staying here with those murderers another minute. We’re leaving. We’ll never come here again.”
At that point, Sandy started walking toward the shop very quickly, trying to remove Darah from the screaming. I followed her, and we went into the shop. I watched my mother from a small window in the shop, and saw that she was pleading with Hurricane Mel. She was saying things to try to calm her down, rather than telling her how ridiculously unacceptable her behavior was. They (Paul and H/G Mel) drove to our house, but were locked out. When we pulled up, we could see their feet in the air on the dashboard. They were listening to a book on tape and sleeping. They could sleep through it, but I don’t doubt everyone else in the neighborhood could hear it. We all went in the house, and Sandy hid with Darah in our bedroom. After a little while, Paul and somewhat calm/somewhat frisky Grandma Mel came to “apologize.” I pat her on the back and said it was okay, to keep things calm (they would be leaving the next day) but as soon as we turned the corner away from the bedroom, she began whispering urgently.
“Jessica, you have got to talk to Sandy about the dog. She needs to eat.”
“Grandma, I can’t believe you are still bringing this up. Just stop.”
“You have to talk to her. Please talk to her, Jessica.
My mother intervened, “Let Jessica talk to her later, Mom”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to her about it later.”
“Okay, because she is in terrible pain”
And that was it, the last exchange we had about Cydney. We went out to dinner a couple of hours later and all acted as though nothing happened (which disturbs Sandy deeply, of course). They left the next morning, and we haven’t heard about it since. If this was a one-time, freakish storm, I probably wouldn’t have bothered writing it down. But it isn’t unusual. It’s unbelievably typical of my grandmother. I always feel as though I’ve been through a terrible storm – a near death experience— when I spend more than a day with her. Needless to say, I had to care for Sandy for a while after that. We’re still recovering from our latest run in with my grandmother, the hurricane.