Late last week, just before my birthday, I received another FB message from the (other) Most Dreadful Man On Earth.
He had something pressing to share, something important and urgent. This, after I’d flat-out ignored the last several unsolicited messages about movies he’d seen, names of directors he’d been trying to remember, shows he’d watched and enjoyed, anything to prompt me to talk. He knows me well. This time though, he held my attention, if only for a brief moment. I take a death in the family quite seriously after all as we all should. My ex-father-in-law (ex-FIL) had passed away. Whether it was true or just a ploy to get my attention, I don’t know. The details seemed feasible, realistic even. I could easily research it, I suppose, but I’ve other too many other things happening in my life that I’d rather do than take a road trip down long-scrubbed memory lane with him. The ex-FIL, he seemed a good man to a lot of people, a good ol’ southern boy, but I’ve not fully believed — let alone wholly accepted — that idea about him.
There was this one time, when the ex and I were visiting the ex’s hometown, my first time there. Ex had picked me up from the airport, dropped me off at his family’s house, and went for a long ride on his motorcycle. Yes, he’d essentially left me behind with strangers, people I’d barely had time to talk to during my wedding (and people who weren’t necessarily the types who wanted to chit-chat much). Ex-FIL sat in his well-worn, crackly armchair, watching hours of baseball. Ex-MIL was working a shift at a nursing home, so, effectively, I had no one there to talk to. I spent that time in the guest bedroom, shut-in, reading a novel I’d hastily picked out for the trip. Couldn’t tell you what the novel was about, who wrote it, what the genre was. All I know, all I remember, is that it didn’t feel angled and heavy enough, like a hardback, to severely hurt me when the ex threw it at me later. The book was light. The pages had gone soft like it had been read many times, might’ve even fallen into the bathtub once. An old paperback. Probably one I’d picked from the used bookstore in my grandparents’ town. Loved that place. Crying shame it had to close.
I could hear a door open and then slam shut from somewhere in the house. There was the murmuring of low voices, masculine and abruptly cutting off, punctuating the other back-and-forth. The door creaked open again and a soft, feminine voice, complete with honey Southern drawl, piped in. His mom. I could hear pots and pans clanging. Objects being plunked down on a counter. The thump of something heavy against the floor. The conversation had grown much more animated, the tones still low, a little chuckle here and there. A bit later, after the conversation had died down, the ex opened the bedroom door and peeked inside. I softly said hello, asked him if everything was okay, did he have a good ride. After all, I’d since learned to expect such impulsive acts of self-centeredness from him. Most importantly, I was learning not to appear angry even when I felt all hot and torn inside. The ex’s eyes then went flat as he slipped inside the room and shut the door behind him.
After that, I don’t remember much, not clearly anyway. Those sorts of memories are often soaked in mud. I do remember splintered fragments of conversation. Angry words, hushed voices, his voice hissing, my own — my words, apologizing over and over again. He was furious with me that I had holed up in the bedroom, that I’d not been in the living room, talking with my ex-FIL, acting the role of charming daughter-in-law. I kept on with the apologies, even when I was seething, so angry that he’d been the one who’d left me alone with a man I’d had no connection with at all.
(Incidentally, it hadn’t been true. I’d tried to talk to ex-FIL. Tried and failed to strike up a normal conversation with him. However, he didn’t like talking. He liked watching baseball, and I didn’t know a damned thing about baseball because I’ve never been interested in sports at all. That’s just how I was raised, which my ex thought was so abnormal, even unheard of.)
The act of apologizing was my way of submitting, my way of cowering and willing him to stop whatever he was thinking of doing. For some reason I can’t explain, I’d thought if I apologized for something that was clearly not my fault, it would temper him, if only for a little while.
I remember the book being thrown at me. I remember how it felt, striking my chest. It didn’t hurt at all, and in retrospect, I think the fact that it hadn’t hurt me made him all the angrier at me. I remember getting off the bed somewhere in the mix. I kept trying to get a word in about his leaving me there with a stranger. His voice went up a notch in tone, I remember that. I don’t remember his exact words, but there was a certain script he’d routinely follow that included at least one of the following sweet terms of endearment:
Stupid fat bitch
Worthless fat bitch
(After awhile, it’s all so easy to improvise, isn’t it? And so inventive! So original!)
I remember him shoving me hard against the wall so that my head smacked against it. That’s what hurt. I remember that.
Most importantly though, I remember the passivity beyond the wall. No one bothered to knock. No one bothered to ask.
No one bothered to stop what was happening.
I got used to it I suppose, but I shouldn’t have had to.
So to my ex, I say, I’m sorry for your loss. It’s sad — I know, I do — to lose family.
But truly, I’m even sorrier that you were so evidently raised the wrong way.