(continued from here)
I knew my first husband was self-centered before I married him, but it didn’t really bother me. I took it all in stride, and his best friend and I even used to joke about it. One moment in particular stands out: We were in college, and the three of us were in his car, driving around – and around and around and around – the lakes in Minneapolis, drinking soda and telling jokes. It’s what we did for fun back then. I was extremely hungry as we’d not eaten since morning.
“Let’s stop and get something to eat,” I suggested from the back seat. I was always in the back.
My husband-to-be wrinkled his nose as if he’d smelled something. “But I’m not hungry,” he replied.
His best friend, riding shotgun, leaned to stick his head on our driver’s shoulder. “Oh my god it’s the SUN!” he explained. “I can’t move my head!!! GAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” Only then did “The Sun” realize that his was not the only stomach that mattered.
Our marriage was kind of like that, only without the presence of his cheeky friend, which is a shame because he could have lightened the mood. I was only too accommodating, which is why the relationship worked well at first. Thanks to a generally bereft childhood I never felt entitled to anything so HIS priorities became my priorities, HIS schedule my schedule. We both worked at the same place. He drove our one car. He controlled the checkbook and our purchases while I recieved $15 per week for lunch money (ten years later it was up to $25). The Sun even provided my clothing (I was allowed three pair of shoes), and once bought a car without consulting me. For that I could only express a little bit of displeasure: The next car we’ll pick together, right?
By the end of my marriage I felt like a housekeeper-nanny-paycheck sleepwalking through a domestic graveyard. Apparently I had boxed myself into a corner out of habit, laziness and submissiveness, doing no more than just hoping for consideration and fairness from the world but not really expecting it. So I pretty much got what I expected. Yeah my husband was selfish and controlling, but I knew that when I married him, so why didn’t I try harder to even things out?
To think I only figured things out during our separation while I suffered postpartum depression and celiac disease, undiagnosed and unmedicated: Sometimes you have to fight for what you want. I might be intelligent, book-wise, but when it comes to relationships I can be pretty slow. That it’s actually OK sometimesto be angry and make demands was a revelation to me. One day it finally clicked: He had finally crossed the line to the point of pathology. It’s really not me; this cheap, control-freak of a man has got some serious problems. That was the first and only time I screamed at him. I was 30 years old, holding the first checkbook I’d owned since college, taking my first chance of putting my foot down over money. I had my own townhome by then, so I summoned my best Amityville Horror voice and kicked him out of it. GET. OUT.
(Unfortunately, years lated I figured out I had no flipping idea how to manage my finances. How could I have? I had zero experience beyond a few years eking out a college-subsistence level in the 1980’s. But I had this brand new credit card in my own name and an empty townhome that needed furniture. And shoes. I needed to buy shoes. And so the debt slavery began. Bunny’s college tuition fund would have to wait.But that’s a different story; I’m getting off track. Or am I?)
I look back at those years in despair. Bunny’s father was a self-centered control freak, while I was a depressed, self- absorbed shopaholic-in-a-wheat-gluten-fog. Bunny was an only child shuttling between our two homes, three if you include his mother, who still lives in the townhome behind mine. Thank god I never see her. Sometimes I think Bunny didn’t even have a chance. Other times I think we all survived okay.
So why am I muddling through these sad memories?
The main reason is that The Sun has been wanting to meet to balance our taxes and Bunny-related expenses. He’s strangely persistent, apparently excited over the possibility that for the first time since we started keeping track I owe him money instead of vice-versa. This is a man who never paid a dime of child support in exchange for an agreement that we’d cover Bunny’s expenses in proportion to our incomes. He makes a ton more money than I do. So yes, he’s that controlling and cheap. I console myself that in four years Bunny will be in college and I’ll never have to talk to my ex husband about money again, at least until the wedding I suppose.
There’s another reason for the melancholy, however: It’s the holiday season. Sorry but that’s how it works, not just with me but with anyone who has an imperfect family. Which pretty much means everyone. If it doesn’t apply to you then congratulations: You may report to the concierge for your prize. The rest of us will stay here in the back spiking the punch bowl, doing our best to remain cheery. Merry fucking Christmas.
Bunny spent Thanksgiving at her father’s. I got a phone call. Spooky’s family tiptoed around my sadness without knowing that it was typical; actually the phone call was a bonus. For the last twelve years or so Bunny has spent the big holiday dinners with her father’s family because really, and this was my thinking, what did I have to offer? Nothing, so all those years I’d encouraged her to be surrounded by her father’s family at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Sometimes I went away for the holidays, enjoying the company of a boyfriend or my sister, but while single, which I pretty much was between 2005-2010, I got used to going to bed early during the holidays. Sometimes my stomach was full of nothing but tortilla chips, salsa and vodka. I told myself it didn’t matter.
But this year, for the first time in years, I actually had family with whom to enjoy Thanksgiving without having to travel hundreds of miles for it. I wanted Bunny to be a part of my new life, because finally it was happy and whole. Even if it was only for a few hours, because in divorce situations parents are supposed to share holidays. At least, that’s what I’ve heard, and so I was going to start playing by those rules. But no, Bunny was going to her father’s house to be with her family, and then she was going to spend the rest of her weekend with her friends.
Selfish and Confused, by Yxia Olivares
Thus dismissed, I ruminated on my state of affairs for several days. The bitterness worked itself out and I took a long look in the mirror: At least she comes by it honestly. It occurred to me how my own mother must feel. Through the years I’ve neither called nor written anywhere near as much as she’d hoped. I only rarely visit my parents, and never during the holiday season. I blame the Minnesota weather, but the deeper reasons probably go back as far as my childhood despite the fact that things are so much better between us now. But the die is cast, with old habits dying hard, apples not falling far from the tree . . . and so on with all those allegories turned into cliches from overuse.
So instead of ranting on my blog, which I might have done last year, I called my parents. Dad, true to reclusive form, spent Thanksgiving alone. It was his preference, he said. I don’t know that I believe him, but it was his habit so we just talked about other things. I called my mom and stepfather repeatedly to no avail: Instead of spending Thanksgiving surrounded with their children and grandchildren, who all lived far away, they were out with their friends.
I looked around Spooky’s beautiful dining room: He and his mother had gotten up at 4am to cook a nine-course afternoon feast, and now we were all here: Grandma, Mom, Dad, kids, nieces, nephews, grandkids. The only absences were due to divorce, or, sadly, death. This is the way Thanksgivings are supposed to be, I thought. Even if one’s whole family is nuts it’s important to get together anyway for the dysfunctional family theater, if for no other reason but to have something to laugh about someday.
Next year, I think. There is always next year.
(to be continued . . .)
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