Saturday, July 08, 2006

New Rules of Engagement


I woke Friday morning with such high expectations for the day. Such energy and such ambition. As I prepared for my Friday library trek, I was busy composing the post that I hoped to write for that night about the books and movies going back and coming home, about the ideas encountered and the impact stories had made on me. That post didn’t get written. Nothing got written. Because I returned home to the news from my mother-in-law that my husband had returned home from work and then left again to go cash his check. I told her that if he didn’t get back by the time she was ready to eat to not worry about fixing for me either. And then I went to my room to unpack the books and movies and reorganize the shelves. I was no longer composing in my head the post about the books and movies or the round trip to the library. I was already obsessing on the subtext of that little exchange between me and my mother-in-law. What had not been said was so much bigger than what had been and all of that bigness was sticking in my craw like a balloon being steadily inflated.

What we were both thinking and not saying was that the chances were slim to none that he would be back in time for dinner and little better that he would be back before she went to bed. And until he did get back we would both be stewing and fretting about what shape he would be in when he did show up and whether he would have the money he owed her. He doesn’t have a bank account so he cashes his checks in one of three places--the grocery store, a lotto shop or the bar. It is de ja vu for his mother who lived her own version of this story while raising four kids.

I stayed in my room for over an hour before venturing out to fix myself an iced-coffee and then taking that along with a book and both my cats out to the back yard where, after staking their leashes in the middle of the yard, I sat in a lawn chair just out of their reach trying to read. But between the noise of the dozen or so neighbors in the pool about six yards behind me and my continued obsessing about where my husband was and what he was doing, I didn’t get very many pages read. And as for comprehension and retention--I doubt I could pass a quiz on the content of those pages. I think I was out there for nearly two hours when my mother-in-law came out to turn the hose on to water the front yard. The cats were discombobulated by the sound of the hissing in the hose that passed by them and started straining their leashes toward the back door so I took them in. I decided that since I was having such a hard time concentrating on reading maybe I should watch a movie instead. I popped a DVD with two old James Stewart movies on it into my laptop’s DVD drive. I put earphones in and turned out the light. The movie was Pot ‘O Gold. This was good for eighty some minutes of distraction. By the time it was over my mother-in-law had gone to bed. Still no sign of my husband.

I then decided to take the book and go sit on the front porch to read. The book I have been referring to is Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy. I was in the middle of the section that discusses the religious right’s agenda and how they have turned a number of state’s GOP platforms into theocratic manifestos. Where he relates their view of the role of women in the family I suddenly found myself living in multiple states of mind simultaneously. I was continuing to read and continuing to worry about where my husband was while I was remembering when I still fervently believed much of those fundamentalist tenets, remembering when I dreamed through my teens of the home I would one day have, when the role of Christian wife, mother and homemaker was my highest aspiration. Not that I thought then that that represented a limitation on my options. I believed then as I believe even now that I’ve shed the fundamentalist view point that the role of homemaker is the most important one in this or any other society. But I digress, as usual.

So there I was waiting on the whims of a wayward husband while sitting on the front porch of his mother’s house as it closed in on midnight, comparing my teenage fancy of marriage and home to what I have now, comparing that fundamentalist ideal of marriage and family to the ideal that has grown out of my own heart as I shed fundamentalism--a co-equal partnership of mutual respect and integrity of body, mind and spirit; trusting and trustworthy; nurturing and submission running both ways. With that vision juxtaposed over the current reality which was but an iteration in the triple digits of similar events spread out over 28 years, all these thoughts and memories, feelings and expectations converged, I felt a momentary wave of dizziness and a sense of falling or sinking into a vast stinking ooze. Misery. My comfort zone.

Then like a bouquet of exploding fireworks there was light--a cleansing white-hot light that evaporated the ooze instantly. That light was anger aka righteous indignation. How dare he! He has no right to abandon me to these endless hours of worry and shame here where I have no role other than to come to the table when I‘m called and keep my room cleaned! No better than a teenager at two years shy of fifty! And how dare they have taught me that I have no right to insist on better from him, that I have no leverage other than prayer, just because he has a certain dangly appendage which bestows on him the title of Mister. He knows that I worry and by that I mean he knows that when I worry I am subject to anxiety attacks when under the kind of stress his disappearances put me. He knows that my work session starts at nine and that I can not focus on my work as long as I am worried. He knows that I can’t go online as long as there is the remote possibility that he or someone else might be trying to call.

I was really working myself up. My heart was doing the Macarena and my mind was doing the tarantella. Or visa versa. I needed to journal. I headed back to my room but before I could get started, he came home. His story was that he had come looking for me at the library after cashing his check but before he got there he ran into a friend who had an ailing computer that he thought he knew how to heal and that it wouldn’t take long. And I know how he gets when he is in problem-solving mode--single minded, can’t bother to look at a clock or pick up a phone, can’t quit until its fixed or finished--kinda like me when I’m writing a story. Yes, he deigns to compare his hanging with his beer buds to my hanging with my fictional creations. Unavailable is unavailable is how he figures it I guess. And I don’t refuse to credit the analogy, yet neither can I give it equal footing and I’m not sure if that doesn’t make me an elitist snob to elevate my ‘art’ over his male-bonding rituals. Sometimes his framing it this way will shut me up. He knows exactly where my buttons are. One of them is my high value of fairness. But this time it doesn’t work. He happened to walk in while I was revved at gazillion rpms at a standstill having not yet released the clutch via a word-purge of my rage into my journal. The sight--and smell--of him set me off, tires spinning and flinging gravel before they gripped the road and gave me the traction I needed to get where I needed to go at a speed which would give him no time to take aim at another of my off buttons.

I ‘yelled’ in a whisper that would not wake his mother nor the neighbor lady, whose window was actually closer than his mother‘s. I told him that as long as his mother was our landlady he had no right to go hang with his buddies before the rent was paid. Nor did he have the right to abandon me to the hours of anxiety that being stuck here--with his mom as witness to my shame--worrying about him and about whether he would be coming home in one piece with enough funds to cover the week. Nor did he have the right to not come home to a dinner that he knew was being prepared for him. Nor did he have the right to have both Saturday for going to the races--made possible by my sitting with Grandma, let’s not forget--and Friday for hanging with his beer buds. This was acceptable behavior only of a bachelor with a landlord other than a parent. Nor did he have the right to keep sabotaging my work sessions. I already lose Saturday night by staying with Grandma which also makes Sunday night iffy due to sleep deprivation--for not only could I not go online, I could not prepare content for posting since I could neither think nor write about anything except how worried and angry I was which was good for nothing but journaling. And that is when he found a pause button.

What is a blog? He asked in a tone that made clear its rhetorical character. It took me several beats to get his point. I started shaking my head. He said, Why not? I said you know I have a strong ethical disdain for gossip and tattling. I will often confess things on Joystory that will tend to shame me but I try very hard not to share things that would tend to shame someone else. You make too many rules, he said. You are never going to build an audience if you don’t get more dependable about posting but it is no wonder you can’t do that when you rule out ninety per cent of the viable topics before you even start. If you can’t write on ‘safe’ topics while obsessing about one of the taboo topics but won’t let yourself write about the taboo… It’s no wonder you average two posts per week. So get this straight. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Except you. I care what you think. But not what a few dozen strangers who don’t know me think. But, I blurted, I don’t blog anonymously. Sure I don’t use my last name as I want to establish Joy Renee as my pen name but I haven’t hidden the connection between Joy Renee and Joy Renee Davis. I’ve never spoken of you by name on Joystory but I have reported our marriage on both Classmates and Classreports and I do get occasional traffic from them. So? He asked again. Why should I care? Your blog is about writing among other things. When stuff happens that impacts your writing that makes it fair game. When I screw up, I’m fair game. Tear me to shreds. Rip me a new @hole.

1 tell me a story:

Jamie 7/08/2006 3:55 PM  

So rip him a new @hole, you have his permission. I have heard it said more than once by writters, write what you know, this is what you know. Oh, I got Bush for my word verification thing, imagine that. LOL

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