Hubby is playing his video game. It’s the one I drove around searching for the day it came out last year. He loves this game. He’s in his gaming chair, and his headphones are on. He’s serious about his gaming. I know it’s not the time to talk to him, but I’m mad. The experiment is over. This is nonsense, it’s disgusting, and ridicules that a grown man can’t clean up after himself in the small way I have asked of him. I hold the white wash cloth up in front of him, it’s covered in what looks like black gunk. He removes his headphones. “What?!?”
“It’s your hair, from your shaver. It’s gross. I wiped it off the counter!” I’m shaking the washcloth in front of him.
“That’s not hair,” he says.
“Yeah, actually, it is. I’m not calling it hair for fun. It’s sick. It’s dirty and gross. I just wiped this up.” He’s not going to get away with calling me a liar. No way. That is not happening. I am not a liar.
“Stop. Just stop,” his voice is hard and cold now, and he’s done. I’ve gone too far again, but I can’t see it.
I storm out of the room, and back to the bathroom. The tub is full, I had been about to take a bath. I decide to take a bath as planned; there is no reason he should ruin my night.
As I’m attempting to relax in the tub, Hubby comes stalking into the bathroom. He wants to talk. Or yell. Or some combination of the two. When he begins to give me a list that dictates how I can talk:
— no speaking in blocks of text
–no speaking about the same subject for more than 5 or 10 minutes
–no nit picking
–no rehashing fights or disagreements we have had
–a few others I have forgotten
I look at him, and I say, “I get it. Keep my mouth shut. Know my place. Don’t speak. If you want my opinion, you’ll give it to me. Got it.”
He protests, and gets loud. Apparently, my sarcasm has violated the list. Oops. It’s at this point that I start fighting the tears, and tell him to get out. I have to say it several times before he listens. When he leaves, I sob. Great big, heaving sobs. They aren’t healing tears, they are just broken and pain filled.
I sleep on the couch, crying myself to sleep. I wake off and on all night to,realize I have been crying in my sleep. My heart hurts. I want to erase everything. I want to take back everything. Bea was wrong. Trusting him, telling him the truth about me, my past, was wrong. It’s ruined everything. It’s hasn’t helped anything, or anyone.
I wake up early. Driving into therapy, I feel numb. Numb and detached. I can’t figure out why I’m going, except that even though I am mad, I still believe on some level that Bea wants to help me, that she cares. And so I go to therapy.
I hardly remember walking in, or sitting down. We discuss eating for a minute, Bea doesn’t directly reference the list I gave her, which hurts my feelings in a way, but she has a work book she wants me to look at. It talks about how parts of us may not be ready to give up eating behaviors, even though other parts are. I’m not saying much, I can’t think of much to say. I’m working to be pleasant, to not fall apart, to be okay.
“Before we get to far into this,” Bea is flipping through the workbook she wants me to look through, and I wonder if she is planning on bringing up my list, “I did want to talk about Kat and the play date with Lena on Friday. I wanted to make sure you knew that Kat coming to get you wasn’t so much separation anxiety as the play wasn’t going her way, and she was wanting you back in the room, as the person who usually does follow her rules and does allow the play to go her way.”
“So I did the right thing by kind of hanging back and not joining in, then? I didn’t want her to think I was ignoring her, but I wanted her to play with Lena.”
“Oh, that was absolutely the right thing. The trick is to be as boring as possible.” Bea take a drink of her tea, and smiles at me.
“Well, hopefully next time she’ll allow me out of the room, again.”
“We’ll just try it, act like that’s what we expect to happen, and go from there. It was funny, as soon as you left, one of the first things Kat told me was that her mommy is mean sometimes,” Bea says this like it’s no big deal, but to me it’s a very big deal.
I freeze, and my heart hurts. Poor Kat. Finally I say, “I’m mean because I yell. That’s my guess.” I’m looking down, ashamed. I’ve always admitted my mistakes as a mom, freely told where I screwed up. But I’m still embarrassed.
“All mommies yell. Every last one of us.” She’s looking at me kindly, understanding, giving me a pass on my sins as a mother. I don’t take it. Instead I shrug, pretend indifference.
I bring up some worries I have been having about Kat and my mother in law. Things Kat says when she comes home from seeing her Oma. Like the fact she is now afraid of dying, and Jesus because Oma told her Jesus takes all kids to heaven. And somehow Kat has taken this message and heard that lots of kids die and Jesus takes them to heaven. That’s but one example.
My mother-in-law in truly crazy. When I met Hubby, she still behaved as though he were a 10 year old little boy living at home, not the 22 year old man living in his own place. She brought him lunch and dinner, picked up his laundry, cleaned for him, shopped for him. She believed her role in this would continue when I entered the picture, except it would be mine and his laundry she would be doing. It took me almost 2 years to separate the two of them. It’s been messy. Sometimes I think I should have run the other way. Or moved us out of state.
I explain the cycle of Oma: she acts normal, I “fall” for the act, she is allowed to see Kat, she begins to push boundaries and act odd, she begins to really act out, I finally lose it, Oma is not allowed to see Kat unless Hubby supervises the time together, Oma shapes up her act and begins to act normal, she pays lip service to us, I feel guilty and want to make Hubby happy and allow him to have the perfect family he wants, repeat cycle.
As we talk, Bea begins to frown. “I’m concerned. Really, Alice. I think that now is the time to break the cycle and to have Hubby go back to supervising the visits. Or to start making the visits sporadic, let Oma know that she can’t count on your goodwill anymore, can’t count on a guarantee of seeing Kat.”
“I know. She’s crazy. I mean, really, not stable, unbalanced, crazy. Not crazy like when I question you if I am crazy.”
“I really, really think Hubby needs to talk to her. He needs to tell her now what is happening with Kat, and begin supervising the visits again.”
“Yeah, well. I agree.” I shift in my seat, pick at my fingers, stop myself from picking. My words had come out with a bite to them, and I want to take them back. It’s to late though.
We’re silent for a few moments, Bea sitting peacefully. Me, not so much. I drink my tea, fidget, look around.
“Did you talk to Hubby about things last week?”
“Nope. I’m not allowed to talk. He gave me a list of things, rules.” Looking down at the floor, I am focused on her blue rug, and I’m fighting with myself not to pick my fingers and so I’m fidgeting with my scarf.
“When did he give you a list? Was this a written out list?”
“We had another fight last night. He gave me a list then. It was like this–” I tick points off on my fingers as I speak, sitting up now, and looking at her–” no speaking a block of text, no speaking on the same subject more than 10 minutes, no picking apart our fights or disagreements……I wrote it all down later, so I wouldn’t forget. The basic gist is ‘don’t talk, ever.’ So, whatever. That’s it. That’s the new rules.”
“We could look at this and see what the meta message is, that’s what a therapist would do,” Bea suggests.
“I already know. He wants his perfect world, things to be nice and easy, not interrupted by something messy. That’s the message. Be perfect, be nice and easy, and calm. That’s it. That’s all he wants. Anything else, and I get accused of being mean, of being unstable, of being difficult, of criticizing him all the time, of making him unhappy, of anything and everything.” I’m on a roll, the words are just spewing out of me, it’s word vomit, and I try to reign it in, but it’s hard to do, “you think I’m wrong, you told me that last week. But I’m not wrong. I know I’m not. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, most of Sunday, I was what he wanted. And he was happy. He said so.”
I’m curled back up, knees to chest, head down, so I can’t see what Bea is doing, but the slight pause makes me think she may be taking a drink of her tea, thinking for a few moments before speaking. “So just a minute, what made you what he wanted and not what you wanted? What was the difference?”
“I don’t know.” I shake my head. This is the oddest question. I just yelled, got upset, told her she was wrong, and this is what she zeros in on? What in the world?
I fidget, give up and pick my fingers. I say, “I don’t know.” a few more times. I’m lost. What is she wanting? What’s the right answer? What is she trying to make me see? I can feel anxiety creeping in. I can’t tell her, I won’t tell her. Finally, “This is hard, I don’t know what you are asking, I don’t understand. I’m confused.” I feel like an idiot. I hate feeling this way. I want to leave, I don’t want to be here. Why does Bea even bother putting up with me?
“I’m trying to figure out where the differences are between what Alice wants to do, and what Hubby needs you to do in order for things to be ‘perfect’. If we can see where the differences are, then we can see the happy mediums, the compromises, the grey areas.”
I sigh. I understand now what she wants, but I still don’t know how to tell her the differences. I can tell her the days, though, what we did, what I did. “On Thursday, I left here and had yoga then Dr. Beals. On my way home, I called Hubby to see if he would like me to pick him up and take him to lunch at Whitecastle because he had been talking about it for days.”
“Okay, so you took him to eat where you don’t like to eat– I’m guessing that’s not your choice?” Bea asks.
“Bea, seriously? Me and Whitecastle? No. Gross.”
She laughs. Then she laughs harder. “Well, when I ate meat, I used to crave McDonald’s cheeseburgers like nothing else. So, okay. What did you eat?”
“Cheese-sticks,” I say, gagging at the memory, “I ate half of one. I had coffee. The coffee was okay.”
“Do you think maybe you had more to give because we had a ‘lighter’ session, and then you had yoga which focuses on you?” Curiosity fills her voice.
I sigh. For a few minutes, I had forgotten how upset I was, and I had started to feel connected to Bea again; understood, not alone, secure. The mad comes rushing back and just like that, I’m alone and misunderstood. How wrong she is. “No. Not at all. I left here Thursday frustrated. I left here with the intent to prove that all Hubby wants is for things to be how they once were; calm, peaceful, nice, easy, perfect. That’s why I called him and asked him to Whitecastle. Because it was the perfect way to start of my experiment.” The words are clipped, biting. I’m mad, and anyone listening to me would know it.
“Hmmm. So what happened after Whitecastle?”
What is with her? She isn’t reacting, she isn’t responding. What the hell? I don’t get it. Whatever. “We drove home. I drove. He picked on my driving. I kept my mouth shut. He directed me home, and took me to all the round-a-bouts. I had to pull over. (I can’t do round-a-bouts, they give me anxiety and panic attacks. These particular ones are a series of 4.) Hubby laughed and teased me. I let him, laughed with him. He drove home, going through the round-a-bouts a few times to show me how easy it is and teasing me further.”
Bea interrupts to say, “So resentment is building, but you’ve also fallen back into the familiar role of the victim. He’s teasing you, over something that gives you very real anxiety and panic –that has to hurt. But you went along with it. Because that it the nice thing to do. Don’t make waves, right?”
Shrugging, I nod my head. Hubby is not a bad guy. I don’t like this, it feels like placing him in the “bad guy” role. That’s not his role. I don’t know what to do. How to make her understand. We joked, we teased. That’s what we did, before. If it hurt, I brushed it off. “We got home, Kat got home. Hubby wanted to play his game, so I took Kat to the pool. Came home, made dinner,cleaned up.”
“Did you maybe want Hubby to go to the pool with you?” I can feel her gaze, she is focused on my story, on what I’m saying, even if I’m not looking at her, I can tell she is intent in listening and trying to to understand.
“I–I really don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it. I…I wasn’t really so much here most of the weekend.” It kills me to admit this. It’s like I have failed somehow, or am admitting that I am thst much more broken.
“Ahh.okay. From when? Do you know?”
“Before that. The round-a-bouts.” I know exactly. The feelings there were a huge trigger. I know exactly when I went away, started to be not here.
“That was a big trigger for you, a lot of old feelings were brought up,” Bea says.
I continue my narration, picking up where I left off, “Put Kat to bed at bedtime. Later, Hubby wanted me to put my book down when he went to bed, so I did. Even though it was early and I didn’t want to.”
“Why did he want you to put the book down? Does the light bother him?”
“No, my book is on my iPad. I don’t need the light on,” I explain, “so Saturday, I brought Kat to a mommy and me yoga, ran some errands, laundry, made sure he had his socks he loves clean, folded on his nightstand so he didn’t have to hunt them down, washed his favorite shirts, made dinner. He got home from work, I made sure I had things set so he could have some wind down time. Then, when 1/2 hour was up, and he was still zoned out on his phone, and Kat was wanting his attention, I took her downstairs to the playroom. We ate dinner. Then we delivered soup to family members and friends who are sick– that was for me. Then during Kat’s quiet time before bed, I watched him play his game. After she went to bed, we made venison jerky together. And then he played his game and I read my book.”
“And did he want you to put your book down when he was ready for bed again?” Bea asks.
“Yes,” I say the word evenly, clearly, carefully.
Silence fills the therapy room. I stare at the throw pillow on the couch that is next to me. I think about hiding behind it.
“I’m still wondering why he wanted you to put the book down,” she says. It sounds normal, in her normal Bea voice, but I feel like it’s a loaded question.
I feel myself fall away, into myself, shrink until I’m tiny. “He wanted me to lay down with him.”
“Mmm-hhhmm.” It’s a verbal nod, because I’m not looking at her again.
“I forgot Friday,” I tell her.
“It’s okay, I think I understand where the differences lie in you doing what you want, and you doing what he wants. What happened when you had your fight?”
“I asked why he gets to be loud with his game and I can’t yell at myself, and then later….” I proceed to explain the whole fight to her.
“And you haven’t talked?”
“No. I’m not allowed. I’m just to sit and look pretty, be nice. I don’t know. Whatever.”
“Okay. Okay. Alice. Some of your frustration that I hear is the frustration of every stay at home mom. It’s part of your job right now. That doesn’t mean you are a slave, or that he can’t clean up after himself. He’s a grown up, he is capable of cleaning up after himself. Or he should be. He can pack his own lunch, find his own socks. The rest of it. You’ve made it all or nothing. There is a big grey space. You need to embrace that grey space. What if you told him when he was teasing you about the round-a-bouts what you needed? What if you said ‘I need to not be teased. It is hurting my feelings.’ You can state your needs. Then you aren’t in the victim role. And you don’t have to feel so mad, either. It’s not all or nothing,” Bea is talking, and I think she is on my side, or something. But I’m not really sure.
“I can’t. I can’t say what I need. He doesn’t care. Oh he loves me, I know. But the day to day crap? He does not care.”
Bea is silent. It’s like she is waiting for something.
“I wish I had never been convinced to tell him anything. It was a huge mistake. Everything is ruined. He shouldn’t know. I didn’t want to tell him. But I did. And I trusted him, trusted that it was the right thing. But it hasn’t been the right thing. All that’s happened is he has zoned out even more while continuing to accuse me of making him unhappy, not doing a good job at things, being too critical even though he can never give me an example, and my feeling are hurt time and time again because I stupidly trust what he says, and he doesn’t do it. Or I stupidly think that because he knows some of my past that he might actually listen to me talk about it. But he shuts down any attempt to talk about anything, or he invalidates me and my experience and calling him on it is being critical. So I wish I could take it all back, just take it back.” I’m loud, mad. And then the tears. They are loud, too. Sobs. The kind that shake your body, and are just full of pain.
Bea talks, soft. I know she says something about there being a lot of hurt. The rest, I do not know.
As I calm down, she says, “You came in here this morning mad, like you were ready to fight back. I could feel it. Mad is energizing, anger can allow us to make changes, we can use anger constructively. Anger doesn’t have to be scary. You can use the anger to speak up to say what you need. You can use it to find your voice. You went so long without a voice, I don’t wish for you to not have a voice anymore, it makes me sad how long you had no voice. I think it’s time you had a voice. 31 years is a long time to be without a voice. That mad, you cam use it to help you tell Hubby, and anyone else that you are angry with them for something they said or did, or made you feel. That’s okay. It’s okay to be mad.”
She stops then, almost like she is waiting for me to say something back. I think she knows I am mad at her. I don’t say anything at first. “It’s pointless to tell him I’m mad. He’s already said no talking about fights, and he has pretty much decided that it’s my issues, my problem.”
“Okay, how about if you tell him that you need to talk about the fight and how it made you feel? Because just like in here, there will be disruptions in your relationship, in your trust, but if you talk about it, that’s when the repair happens, and the relationship is stronger.”
I shrug. “Maybe.”
“Can we back up to the weekend?”
“Sure,” I say.
“I’m a little curious about when you went to bed at the same time as Hubby.” The tone is neutral, and non threatening.
I grimace, cover my head with my hands. Why does she care so much about this? What difference does it make? Seriously. I want to tell her to back off, to leave it alone.
After silence for a while, Bea broaches the subject more bluntly. “I’m wondering if you had sex with Hubby.”
Because I’m angry with her, I can’t bring myself to answer directly. I can’t find the trust I had before. “Maybe.”
“It would be a fairly logical step. Following the way things went Thursday, it would be logical thst you would feel you had to comply with any advance he made, or maybe even feel like you had to respond to any advance he made. I don’t imagine that made you feel very good, though.”
“I didn’t feel anything! I wasn’t there! It doesn’t matter, I’m not there anyways.” I respond to her in anger, snapping, some of my “mad” leaking out at her.
“Alice, he doesn’t know you aren’t there. And you are there enough to respond so he’s not aware that you aren’t there. It retraumatiziing to you.”
“Whatever. He was happy. If I just play the role of happy healthy wife, he’s happy. He even told me this weekend that he thought therapy plus yoga must be helping to fix me. Later he said he’s happier than he has been in a long time. I don’t know.”
“When Hubby came to see me, he told me that he assumed that part of your lives–sex– was over forever. I told him not to think like that. I said you needed to learn a hug could be a hug, a cuddle a cuddle, and then work,your way up. I said that we were a ways a way from talking about that aspect of healing. But I told him there was no reason to write it off.” Bea is gentle when she says this, but for some reason, it is a shock to me.
Bitterness rises up in me. It’s the worst kind of anger and resentment. “He’s always able to say the right thing. He sure does speak pretty words.”
“Okay. Can you try, for the next two days, to say what you need, even as you attend to Hubby and Kat?”
“I can’t. I can’t ask for something and him say no. I can’t do it. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry….” Sobbing and apologizing, over and over. I’m a mess. I don’t even know what I’m sorry for, I just know if I don’t apologize, something very, very, bad is going to happen.
“It’s okay. It’s okay. That’s too vulnerable right now, maybe. That makes sense, I can understand that. Can you maybe try to notice your needs and tell them to yourself? Just be aware of what they are?”
Sobbing, I can’t even talk anymore, so I just nod, yes, yes, I can try to do that.
I work on calming down, and Bea talks about finding my voice, and anger being energizing– a catalyst for change,and how it’s okay to be mad.
As I wander out into the bright sunshiny day, I realize something; Bea knew all along that I was angry with her. And it had been okay.