Last November Conrad, my father-in-law, sent me an email, a long one, stating that he was in love. Considering that his studio apartment was situated in Point Loma, a short 15-minute drive from our home, and that we had just shared dinner with him last weekend, I was perplexed. He hadn’t even mentioned that he was dating anyone.
From reading his novel-length email I learned her name was Eunice. They had met four weeks earlier at a singles’ party across the border, in Tijuana. He had seen it advertised on craigslist.
“I was supposed to hook up with a different lady who had sent me her photo, but she never showed. Eunice was very aggressive.”
That was a detail I could’ve done without. I tried not to imagine what he meant.
He attached pictures, glossy ones featuring Eunice in a cluttered kitchen. She was wearing a yellow halter dress and smiling at the camera. There was another one in which she was sitting in a wooden chair, Conrad’s massive foot situated on her knees. She is holding a toenail file. I give her props for touching his toes. There are more photos, the other ones filled with the smiling faces of three children, a girl and two little boys around the same age as my own kids.
She is 31, he writes — my age — but wise beyond her years.
“Your dad has lost his mind,” I yell to Aaron, my husband, who is in the other room watching a documentary on a family of surfers.
He shouts back, “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
I read him the message. His capacity to be shocked is nonexistent. Nothing the old guy does rattles my husband anymore. Conrad comes over the following Sunday. He seems preoccupied.
“I’m getting married,” he blurts out.
“First, we have to wait for her to get divorced,” he adds.
I see that as a red flag, that and the fact that neither of them has a clue what the other is saying. She speaks Spanish and he only understands English.
Who needs conversation when you have love? She wants to have his babies, he tells us. I am alarmed. Mostly over the thought of my father-in-law having sex but also the concept that a woman he’s only known for a month has mentioned children. I wonder if Conrad is mistaken. Possibly he messed up the translation and she said something much more average. “Pass me the coffee” or “I like to read romantic novels.”
It only takes me a few days to begin teasing my husband about his new 31-year-old mommy.
“Will it be weird if and when you have an infant sibling?” I ask.
He tells me to shut up.
“I cannot wait until your mom starts dating again!” he says.
I doubt her foray into love will be nearly as comical.
“We’re going to be like the cast of Modern Family, only I don’t have a cool gay brother-in-law,” I tell him. “I guess we can pretend your youngest brother is gay.”
We laugh. All we can do is laugh. We don’t want to worry about Conrad. We need the old guy to be happy. I am cool with any of his choices as long as he doesn’t end up on our couch.
We try not to think of his last ill-fated relationship that was also sparked over craigslist, a woman with shifty eyes and leathery skin who talked more with our Labrador retriever than anyone else in the family. The same lady would call me at odd hours to discuss the intimate details of her love life with Conrad, the mental images of which I may never be able to burn from my mind.
By the end of November, Conrad has moved Eunice into a bigger and nicer apartment closer to the border. Aaron doesn’t comment; neither do Conrad’s two other sons. Everyone seems to think that it’s normal that their 63-year-old father is spending all of his free time in Mexico with a woman he met on craigslist with whom he can only communicate via Google translate.
Finally, I voice my concerns to Conrad. “I worry that you’re rushing into things,” I mention, trying my best not to sound judgmental. “You’re paying for her rent and food now. You’re supporting her children. You don’t speak the same language. She’s still married. Do you see how it looks from the outside? I worry that she loves you because you are willing to rescue her, and frankly that’s not good enough. You are amazing and deserve to be loved for the person you are, not what you can provide.”
He sighs and gives me a look that says, “Clearly you don’t get it.”
In December, he finds a large rental home near Rosarito in a place called San Antonio. He packs up his apartment and moves there with her and the kids. He is tired of going back and forth across the border. He is fully consumed with love. It’s all he talks about. I will mention to him that my kids have a recital at school. He will say to me, “Did I tell you how beautiful her eyes are?” He’s like a 14-year-old boy.
When Christmas rolls around, Conrad assumes we will spend it in TJ. I tell him absolutely not. I put my foot down on this one. “I am not spending Christmas in TJ with a woman you haven’t even been dating for two months.” He is hurt. I don’t care. I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid.
“Do you realize how many murders there were in TJ last month? Do you really want your grandkids to be part of that statistic?” I am being dramatic. I don’t care.
Conrad spends Christmas Eve with his new family and Christmas Day with ours. While my kids are opening their presents, Conrad explains how he and Eunice didn’t focus on the material side of Christmas and how Eunice doesn’t let them watch TV or play video games and how well behaved they are. For the rest of the day, he makes me feel like a consumerist shell of a person and a terrible parent. Before he leaves, he urges the kids to fill up a bag with some of their toys for Eunice’s children. Five-year-old Amelia cries and tells him, “Mommy made me get rid of some toys already.” We had a hefty Goodwill donation right before Christmas. He reminds her how much she has and how little they have. He has a point, but still, I am annoyed.