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5 Secrets Barbara Kowalski Keeps From Stanley Raymond

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1. She never cared much for the name Stanley.

Nor for Marlon Brando, nor the movies Damien loves that she thinks of as 'boy movies'. A Streetcar Named Desire was one Damien took her to because he thought she'd like it, but all she could do was feel sad for those poor people making themselves miserable.  When he wanted to give their son that name, she felt it would be like hanging some kind of curse on him.  She's still not sure she was wrong about that.

But it was good for Stanley to have something relatively unimportant to be angry with his father about.  And the movies were something Damien and Stanley could always share—first at the theater around the corner (torn down now), and then on the VCR she saved to buy for Damien for Christmas one year (really as much for Stanley as for him).  Even when words failed them, even when they had nothing else in common.  Movies about men and fists and guns and horses and cars.

It’s Ray, Mom.  Call me Ray. But a mother can’t change what name she calls her child.  That’s part of her job: to be the one person in the world who remembers who he was when he was born.


2. Stella was the daughter she never had.

In fact, she's more like Barbara's daughter now that they don't have Stanley to come between them.

Stella cried in Barbara's kitchen for an hour and at the end of it, Barbara told her to divorce him.

Barbara wonders if Stanley and Stella might have been happier as brother and sister. There would have been competition and Stanley would have been unhappy standing in his sister's shadow, yes.  But they would have been there for each other when it counted: to wipe tears and kiss each other’s babies and back each other up against their parents.  And without that terrible need, without all those expectations about being everything to each other, without having to see each other every day. . .maybe they could have grown up to be friends.

Some people are better off loving with some distance between them.


3. She never wanted Stanley to go to college.

Stanley Raymond has brains, but not the kind that are well suited to book learning.  He was never good at reading, or sitting still and listening, or thinking and expressing himself systematically.

And Stanley, being smarter than his father in some ways but just as stubborn, always knew it.  For all his insecurities and desperate longing to please—Damien, Stella, his friends, his supervisors—Stanley Raymond has always known who he is and what he can do.  He dragged himself through two years of community college and then he said enough, and went out and found a job that suited him, one he could excel at and love.

I don’t give a damn what you think, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks, he yelled at his father at the height of their last fight about it, and that cut Damien so deeply that there was nothing more he could say.  One of the few times that Damien believed one of Stanley’s lies.

Barbara isn’t going to tell Damien differently if Stanley won’t.  Even though it breaks her heart to listen to the silence between them, it’s what Stanley needs.  The distance keeps him from drowning in what Damien thinks. 

(Sometimes she wonders whether Stella came to the same conclusion about their marriage.  But as close as they are, there are some things Barbara can’t ask and Stella can’t tell.)

Stanley’s career choice terrifies her; even now, after all these years.  Not a day passes that she doesn’t wonder whether today she’ll get that call that no mother should ever have to get.  But she can’t wish that he’d chosen differently.


4. He’s never been able to fool his parents.

Stanley Raymond was a good boy, but all children lie to their parents.  And Stanley was always trying to get away with something, or thinking that if no one knew about his mistakes, there wouldn’t be any consequences.  He was never very good at lying, though: his eyes would go down and his voice would rise and he’d stumble over his words.  Sometimes Barbara wonders how her transparent son can be good at police work—at undercover work, where presumably he has to lie all the time.  Maybe the difference is that Stanley never really wanted his parents to believe his lies.

She knew when Stanley and Stella started having trouble, long before either of them admitted it to her.  She saw it in the way they became polite with each other; in the drumming of Stanley’s fingers on his knees and in Stella’s sighs; in the price of Stella’s jewelry and the ironed collars of Stanley’s shirts.  She heard it in the way her son said “we” and in the way they both changed the subject whenever she dropped hints about grandchildren.

She’s not sure whether Stanley thinks he’s fooling her now, pretending that Benton is nothing more than his partner and friend.  Barbara has eyes to see what’s in front of her.  She can see it in her son’s smiles; in the nervous warmth that colors Benton’s good manners when he speaks to her; in the way they casually touch each other and the way each of them sometimes reaches for the other and then pretends he didn’t.

She suspects that Damien isn’t fooled, either, but she can’t mention this to him because as long as he doesn’t know what Benton is to Stanley, he doesn’t have to have an opinion about it. 


5. She’s glad to have Benton in the family.

He’s a little crazy, but he’s a good man through and through, and he’s good for Stanley.

She would tell Stanley—tell them both—if she could.  Since she can’t say it in words, she says it with casseroles and cakes and Grandma’s recipes.  She tells Benton about Stanley’s childhood fooleries and the boy whose life Stanley saved, whose mother sends a card every year.  She rents It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas because it’s Benton’s favorite and scolds Stanley into keeping his smart remarks to himself so he can pretend he doesn’t love it himself.  She kisses Benton hello and goodbye and teases him for blushing.  She asks him for favors. 

And when she calls Stanley on Sunday mornings, she always has something to ask that Benton needs to be consulted on.  Stanley stammers and makes up complicated stories to explain why Benton happens to be there in Stanley’s apartment, available to answer Barbara’s question about the Canadian Prime Minister or convince Stanley to accept her invitation to see The Nutcracker. Benton is as polite and friendly on Sunday mornings as at any other time.  It’s hard to tell over the phone, but she suspects that if she could see his face, his eyes would be twinkling.