Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Post That Spent Four Months In DRAFT Form.

NOTE:  Yes, the date of this post says December 31, 2011. That's when I started writing it. I set it aside for a long time, not sure I wanted to put it out there, because it's pretty angry. I revisited the draft periodically, adding and subtracting and debating whether or not to post it.

It's now mid-April, and I'm still not sure I've made the right decision, but something happened that will surely interest my longtime readers.

I don't mean to sound douchey, but Uncle Prickly's sudden passing was incredibly inconvenient, as it coincided not only with my parents' visit, but also with the BlackBookBerry Writers' Retreat - a commitment I'd made months earlier, and that I was not going to miss. I only found out a week or two before my parents' arrival that they were planning to be here for Tito's birthday. Sidebar: Tito just turned NINE, btw, can ya believe? That means Pie is ten, and Beeb is almost fifteen.

I was at the writers' thing the entire day while R took the kids to Uncle Prickly's visitation.  MIL and FIL were there (Uncle Prickly, as you might recall, was married to MIL's sister, Aunt Huggy), and FIL was, according to Beebie, his usual self. Beeb gave me the details to the best of her recollection, and based on what she told me, I'm now going to give you the conversation that took place in the funeral home, as I've envisioned it. I make no claims to its accuracy, but the one line that I'm pretty sure is a direct quote (according to all three Apes), well, shit, I don't want to spoil it for you. Trust me. You'll know it when you see it.

Room full of mourners. Uncle Prickly's ashes in a lovely urn, next to a picture of him looking youthfully dashing in his Navy uniform.

I don't know how they got onto the subject, but somehow it came out that my parents were in town.

FIL:  Are they staying with you, then, I assume?
R:  Actually, no. They don't stay with us when they're in town.
FIL:  Well, good. Because if they did, I'd be extremely offended... since MIL and I haven't been invited over to your house since we helped you move in.

(Note: This was nearly five years ago. And also, that's exactly how I want it.)

R:  Well, Sarah and I don't really have people over much.
FIL: Whatever. So, are you going to go and socialize here at this visitation thing?
R: I'm not really comfortable doing that. I'm not much of a social person.
FIL: You never have people over and you don't know how to socialize? You're going to raise antisocial children, y'know.
MIL: Oh, Sarah's so social and outgoing, she kinda makes up for R's introvertedness. The kids aren't antisocial.
R:  The thing is, Dad, we're not great housekeepers, and Sarah's afraid that you'd judge her.

(I'm gonna ask you to brace yourselves for what FIL said next.)

FIL:  (scoffs)  When have I EVER judged Sarah?

(G'head.  Read that shit again.)

R:  Well, I think Sarah sometimes feels judged by you.

(We'll come back to that line, too.)

So, I got all of this information from Beebie (who, bless her heart, was right there with R for all of it - that's right, this entire conversation took place in front of my children) when I called to check in while driving home from the writing thing.  And I came absolutely unglued.

WHAT THE MOTHERFUCKING FUCK?!!?  When have I EVER judged Sarah? I was shattered.  Levelled to the ground.  When has he ever NOT judged me? I drove home, let the dog out, and cried myself into a seething migraine because I suddenly felt the reality that the last fifteen years of making myself sick and crazy trying to appease this man has been for nothing, and he will never change... because he clearly doesn't see any need to.

I have done everything I can think to do - for fifteen years - just to get along with FIL. This has been well-documented in this blog since I started writing it. I've attempted to change my mentality from bitter to compassionate. I have tried to not let him get to me. I have tried to forgive and to understand. I have tried to focus on positive things. Tried to find blogworthy moments.

Even as recently as the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I focused my energy into initiating and maintaining pleasant conversation with him, attempting to anticipate all of the things he could possibly criticize. And, as I wrote in my most recent post, FIL still found a way to needle me. And now, I am 100% convinced that FIL will never, ever change. I am convinced that nothing I do - no matter how hard I try - will awaken him to the fact that he is a completely insensitive asshole.

That's pretty much what I've been doing for the last 15 years, folks. Taking his shit so that he doesn't take it out on R or on MIL or, God forbid, on my kids. Why do I go out there? Certainly not because I can't wait to see his happy smiling face and get my fill of love and encouragement.

No. I go because I don't want to put R in the position where he has to explain why I can't stand going out there. I go because if I didn't, FIL would be a dick to R and to my kids, and he'd snark on me when I'm not there to defend myself. He'd take it out on MIL, too. I have to say, though, I'm losing my sympathy for her.

Why do I sacrifice my own sanity and self-worth for the good of everyone else when it's clearly to my own detriment? Do I really want to teach my children that it's perfectly acceptable to allow myself to be treated this way? Do I want them to learn that bullies get to do whatever they want? 

I refuse to believe that the right, noble and virtuous thing to do is, without exception, the one thing that will make you the most miserable. I refuse to believe that that's what God wants for us. I refuse to accept that wanting to be happy is inherently selfish and wrong. I reject the notion that we are called into a life of avoiding our own happiness.

Perhaps I'm not praying hard enough for God to soften FIL's heart of stone. Hell, share some responsibility in this, friends... maybe Y'ALL aren't praying hard enough for ME. 

I'm kidding, of course, but let me ask you something. How do you pray harder? Do you scrunch up your eyes supertight until you give yourself a headache? Do you crank your inside-your-head voice up to 11? Do you yell your prayers out loud as though maybe God didn't hear you?

Or do you say, "Ok, God, I'm not really feeling that this is what you want for me. Please give me some clear direction, and patience while I'm waiting to see it."

And you know what else? Don't get me started on the God thing. I gave up my own beliefs about who God is and what He's about when I converted to Catholicism (for R, but really, for FIL) when we got married. At the time, I didn't realize that that meant I would be expected to teach my children to believe things that I personally do not believe. It's a battle I lost a long time ago, and the one I most regret not fighting harder from the beginning. I feel like I gave up - and continue to give up - a part of myself.

I grew up as the daughter of an Episcopalian minister and went to church regularly most of my life. Now we're pretty much on the Catholic Minimal Obligation Easter/Christmas plan. It's not that I don't want to go more often, I actually would like to go more often, to a Protestant church. But it's not worth a fight, so I shut up and take the boys to and from PSR (which, I'll remind you, costs over $300 a year) every Monday night and tell them to direct their religious questions to R.

I've realized that the motivation behind my actions isn't love. It's fear of what will happen if I don't. I've lived my live in Prevention Mode for far too long, my friends.

Y'all know FIL wouldn't have said shit about not being invited to my house to ME. He saves his bitching for R. FIL doesn't let me see him tearing R apart and putting R in the unfortunate position of having to choose where his loyalty will go. By saying "I think Sarah feels that you judge her sometimes", R made me feel as though the fact that FIL judges me is entirely in my head. Tell me there's not a world of difference between saying:

"Dad, Sarah feels as though you judge her, and quite honestly, I feel it, too. You really kinda do say negative things about her - and me - that would make any normal human being feel inadequate. Which is pretty much the definition of Judging Someone..."

and "It's Sarah's perception - and I don't necessarily agree - that you judge her sometimes. Isn't that just silly?"

To be clear (and in fairness to R), I should point out that I wasn't there and so I obviously don't know for absolute certain what R's exact words were, but that's how the story was told to me, and that's how the story I heard made me feel.

Now, I'm in no way suggesting that I'm the only one who experiences FIL this way. Everyone does. And to me, that means that everyone should be free to deal with him in whatever way they want to. I don't care how other people deal with him. No one's ever told FIL to go fuck himself, to my knowledge. But I get closer and closer to it all the time.

And again, because I'm truly trying to be fair, I can't say that there's been zero improvement over the years. Some visits (the majority, even) have gone tolerably well, some have gone unexpectedly well, and some, like the time the Aldi's idiot dog dropped a steaming pile of shit on FIL's immaculate white carpet will go down in Karma history as the shit of legend. If you haven't read that one, you simply must. And even if you have, read it again and be reminded of why you ever started reading this blog in the first place. It's one of my all-time favorites.

And if you happen to be new to my blog, welcome! Leave a comment and say hi!

But the point is, you never know. And that's not cool. Just because the last four or five visits have gone well, that's never a guarantee that the next one won't be epic fucking drama. I think it's fair to say that there has not been an improvement that even remotely reflects A) the effort that I've put in, or B) the fifteen years that have passed since the first time he judged me, which was right after the first time he met me.  He told R, "Looks like she's already got her hooks into you."

Nice, right? Little did I know I would spend the next fifteen years trying to better his opinion of me, eventually learning that accomplishing that goal would be nigh to impossible. Yes, I think it improved somewhat after a decade or so, mainly because his other daughter-in-law Mrs. Aldi is a way bigger idiot than I am, but he has never stopped criticizing me. Because NO ONE is good enough for him.

The further point is that not once have I driven out to their house in joyful anticipation of what fun awaited us. No. My self-talk (and, as the kids grew older, my out-loud talk) is always, "Maybe it won't be too bad this time." I have never, ever ridden out there without experiencing the diarrhea gurgle in the tummy - you know, the one you might feel after having washed a sack of White Castles down with cheap beer - and you spend the next few uncomfortable hours wondering whether or not you'll make it to the crapper before your colon unloads... and the odds are, at best, 50/50?
Talk about a crapshoot.

Seriously, folks, I'm open to suggestions. What more could I possibly be doing to improve my relationship with FIL? I'm paying a therapist to help me deal with how I react to him. Is he paying someone to help him become more patient and understanding? If he's not going to put anything into his own improvement - and why would he? He's not doing anything wrong! - then why am I making myself crazy trying to meet his impossible standards?

So I get home and tell R that I heard Nat's vivid description of the visitation, and he says, "It's my issue to deal with."  No, it's really not. I'm dealing with it too, and so are the kids who have witnessed him berating me (and R, and MIL, and Aldigirl, and everyone) countless times, and me turning the other cheek until we identify the appropriate opportunity to make a polite exit. And then on the drive to our house, my children get to see their mother's dam break - flooding the vehicle and its passengers with all that she'd been holding in - until she collapses into a snivelling mass of ineptitude.

I still can not believe that FIL denied ever having judged me, in front of three kids who have seen their mother hurt by him for as long as they can remember.


Lis said...

Dude. Man. Dude.

But seriously, the Aldi's dog vs the carpet is the best ever. I don't even have to reread it; I remember reading it the first time!

Your FIL lacks self-perception. I don't know if there's a way to fix that. You are only in control of you. Is there a way not to take it personally? Obviously not. Maybe you should find an outlet then... perhaps a high-contact sport?

Or perhaps it's time to do what you so obviously want to... rebel. Start small. Maybe try going to church. YOUR church. Do something for you. You don't have to involve the kids, if you don't want to; and just because you converted doesn't mean they won't let you in. Trust me, I'm all over the map, and they still let me in.

If not that, then find something that it is easy for you to stand your ground about, and go from there. You're entitled to some small victories.

Trillian42 said...

Oh, honey. I just cannot fathom him actually saying he's never judged you. What a self-centered, self-deluded asshole. (Him, not you)

I wish I knew what to tell you. I'd love to say that you should say "screw it" and stop walking on eggshells around him, but realistically I know that's just not do-able because of R and the kids.

I love you, babe. I hate that you have to hide part of yourself just to not be abused by FIL.

Stickyfingers said...

Just . . . wut? I don't even!!

There are no words. Hang in there.