"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Friday, February 12, 2010

Anniversary


My mother called a few days ago, with the pattern of random small talk that I recognize well. She was upset about something. While she chattered on about the weather or her recent purchase of new placemats for the kitchen, she was trying to find the courage to say what was really on her mind.

Finally, in a quiet voice, almost a whisper, she said: You didn’t send us a card for our anniversary. We have been married for fifty years, this was special. I was just surprised.

Fifty years. I knew when their anniversary was. My mother has never been subtle or able to hold back excitement for any holiday or birthday. She is nearly unbearable around Christmastime, walking around in holiday sweaters that embarrassed me growing up and even now. So, for the weeks leading up to their anniversary date, she was dropping hints and asking for my advice on a present for my father, all the time reminding me of the approaching day.

I should be a bigger person. It’s one day out of the year. I could drop a card in the mail with some simple sentiment, nothing too sappy, devoid of anything that makes me sound overjoyed about the occasion. I could send flowers and just sign the card with my name. But I never have been able to make myself do it.

My parents both grew up in poverty in an area of Kentucky that is still a bit lost in time. At that time, in that place, it wasn’t uncommon for people to marry young. My mother was sixteen when they married, my father was twenty.

From day one, and not just because of her age, my mother has been dependent on my father. She is and has always been painfully shy, and doubts everything about herself with such depth that I am shocked when she steps even a millimeter outside of her comfort zone. She didn’t have a driver’s license until the age of 29, and this was after years of marriage and success with my father’s career—and after having two children. They had money for her to have a car. Instead, she waited for my father to take her where she needed to go.

Their marriage showed no evidence of love or respect at any moment since I can remember-- since I knew even a little about what those words meant. My mother has always professed her love for my father. I know she believes that and means it. But how you can truly love someone who has never put you first, has never encouraged you or believed in you, who has belittled you, taken you for granted, ignored your birthdays, squashed your dreams, and expected in turn to be waited on hand and foot—is beyond comprehension for me. She was a child when she married him. He taught her his version of love and she was an excellent student.

Fifty years of marriage for my parents, to me, is not a cause for celebration or special recognition. If I have to label it, I would say it is an accomplishment at best.

My mother survived fifty years of never making a decision without deferring to my father. She managed to put a face on for the world that seemed together and content, when my father’s alcoholism and many affairs were the crippling reality.

I can’t paint her completely as a hero or even a martyr-- as she lived in such denial over the toll my father’s choices and behavior were taking on our family. She chose indifference over action. She chose denial over protecting me.

For the forty years I have lived with or known my parents, their marriage has confused me, saddened me, angered me.

When I was very young, caught up in my mother’s excitement of marking special days on the calendar, I would make homemade cards for their anniversaries out of construction paper and glitter—happily handing it to them on the morning of the big day. But even when I was barely out of grade school, celebrating that day felt false. Not marking that day with some gesture wasn’t done out of bitterness, it just seemed so much like a lie, a betrayal of everything I knew to be true. I couldn’t make myself encourage my mother’s state of denial.

I feel for her. I hurt for her. I wonder so often what my mother could have become, what she would have done with her life had she not married my father—or had she broken away from him when she was young. I sometimes imagine her with someone who would have seen her. Truly seen the person she is, the heart she has. She can’t even see it herself.

So, each year, I let that day in February quietly pass. The square box stares back at me on the calendar. I don’t have to mark it, I know the date.

It is the date that made my mother who she is, and me who I am.

It was the beginning and the end for all of us.

It is the loss of her innocence, the beginning of his betrayals.

It is a mix of love and hate.

It is a contradiction—wishing the union didn’t happen—but knowing I would not be here if it hadn’t.

And there isn’t a card for that.

20 comments:

Katherine February 12, 2010 at 2:36 AM  

I totally understand your feelings & pain about this situation. I think your mother may not only be a product of her marriage to your father but also a product of her time. A generational thing!

Below is the type of thing that girls from that generation were taught. This text comes from a 1950's high school home economics textbook, teaching girls how to prepare for married life.


1. Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time.

This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him, and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

2. Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking.
He has just been with a lot of work- weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

3. Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables.
Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

4. Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces if they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes.
They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

5. Minimize the noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.
Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.

6. Things to avoid: Don't greet him with problems or complaints. Don't complain if he's late for dinner.
Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.

7. Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes.
Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

8. Listen to him: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

9. Make the evening his: Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment; instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

10. The goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax.

So it is obvious from this text that it is all about the MEN! Woman dreams, desires or wants in these days were seemingly unimportant!

PVieira February 12, 2010 at 4:19 AM  

This is lovely. Heartbreaking, but lovely.

lydia eve February 12, 2010 at 8:44 AM  

If I had this to say about my mother: "she was trying to find the courage to say what was really on her mind," I might have talked to her more than for just 10 minutes at Christmas since the end of September. I felt a twinge of jealousy when I read that.

Something else that struck me as I read this was this: "It is the date that made my mother who she is." While you may know that life could have and should have been more for her, she doesn't. Your reality and hers are not the same, and you talk about how much joy and excitement she gets out of holidays and special dates. You're not going to change how she sees her life, and she will probably never understand your perspective on her life and her marriage. I have to wonder if you not acknowledging one of the few things she seems to have that give her joy isn't a purposeful sleight? Your silent way of trying to make her understand that you disapprove of the life she chose? Of the life she didn't really know better than to *not* choose?

I'm the last one to give advice about how to deal with a mother of whom you are the polar opposite (see first paragraph), but I wanted to share these thoughts because it sort of surprised me that I had them as I read your post. You seem to still have some relationship with your mother, so if you can do that in spite of feeling like she betrayed you during your childhood, perhaps you should take one more step and add just a little bit of joy to what seems like an otherwise joyless existence?

Eva Gallant February 12, 2010 at 9:21 AM  

Wow. That was a heavy post and a couple of heavy responses. I think my mother could have written that 50's text. She did so many of those things. But I never doubted that my parents loved each other. That was the way things were done back then.

Fresh Local and Best February 12, 2010 at 9:34 AM  

You've poignantly written my some of my observations with this holiday. I am glad that you have learned and had a different experience from your mom.

The Chapstick Pezbian February 12, 2010 at 10:48 AM  

"Fifty years of marriage for my parents, to me, is not a cause for celebration or special recognition. If I have to label it, I would say it is an accomplishment at best."

I know and agree with this feeling. This is the way I feel about all my parents' marriages. The first one, of which I am a product, fell apart when I was very young, and neither of my parents seemed to learn anything from it. They're both in other marriages now that have been incredibly close to falling apart on more occasions than I care to think about. I don't like to celebrate their anniversaries and no longer do. Instead, for my mother's current marriage, I celebrate MY anniversary: the day I gained 4 more siblings - people I cannot imagine living without.

Joe February 12, 2010 at 7:24 PM  

Kim,
It was hard for me to understand your feelings at first - my parents' marraige, now in its seventh decade, has been a mutuality from the beginning. My Mom & Dad each had their role, but they also each had their say. They complete each other, to this day, with my Mom now 86, my Dad, 89.
Is there some way that you can support your Mom without reinforcing the nature of the relationship? Seems like she had a lot to do with making sure you would have your own wings....
just a thought...

Kim February 12, 2010 at 9:03 PM  

Everyone, thank you for the comments-- it always means so much to me that you take them time to share your feelings and stories.
I know it is hard to understand why I cannot swallow my pride or see the bigger picture about this issue. It is a failing of mine I admit. But it is just this one date--this one anniversary. I do spoil my mom on her birthday, mother's day and at Christmas. I have always felt a need to go overboard for her on those days. But for their anniversary, it is just beyond me. As much as I know my mother suffered, and I do agree some of it was beyond her control or choice, she also kept silent when I was being hurt and abused by my father--and I have paid for that silence a great deal.
I don't know how to explain that my ignoring their anniversary isn't revenge--it is just such a charade in a sense--I can't bring myself to get past it.
Katherine- I loved reading the passages you shared from the textbook- a lot of insight there. I may have to search for more things like that, books my mother may have read at that time in school. I agree that a good deal of this may have been the times she was living in.

Lisa Holtzman February 12, 2010 at 11:33 PM  

So honestly and beautifully expressed Kim. Though my parents relationship was that of a very passive, somewhat subservient woman and a dominant man, their love, affection and adoration for one another was very obvious. Even so, I can completely understand your difficulty in celebrating your parents relationship and would feel the same way.

Shelley Trbuhovich February 13, 2010 at 7:54 AM  

oh wow, what a powerful, your writing is sublime. heartfelt and heartbreaking. so much food for thought....what is worth celebrating in a relationship? what defines a healthy relationship? how much of yourself do you give and what parts of yourself do you keep? as valentine's day approaches and the 20th year of being with my partner, it is so relevant to me. thanks. x

Angella Lister February 13, 2010 at 1:11 PM  

Kim, it takes courage to share the truth of what you feel, rather than what is possibly more socially comfortable, and I so admire your insistence on the truth. The fact that your mom could even tell you of her disappointment speaks volumes about the relationship you have managed to sustain, in spite of everything. We do what we can. Your writing, your honesty, are so compelling. Thank you.

Michelle February 13, 2010 at 1:31 PM  

i dont remember my parents ever having an anniversay... i believe iwas abot 2 yrs old when they divorced.

i think "the wedding anniversary" thing has been lost on me aswell... ive been married for 7 years and we have never done anything special... not because we arent in love (because we are... very much) but perhaps simply because there were no special occasions in my childhood that wore that lable?

having parents who divorced and have been divorced almost as long as i can remember changed my outlook on a lot of things...

where you saw your mother never putting anyone over herself, i saw my mother put herself before the rest of us... all the time it seemed? her personal happiness was more important, or so it seemed all too often.

I have a decent relationship with my mother... and my father... so i guess it is what it is right?

Katherine February 13, 2010 at 5:22 PM  

Dear Kim

Your response, to our responses, shone a new light on your feelings about your parents marriage. I can see more clearly why your feelings about this situation are as powerful as they are & I totally understand.
I don't know what else to say now , but sorry! I am so sorry that you have endured abuse at the hands of your father. No child should every have to experience that. Knowing this piece of informations changes the dynamics of everything!!

Feronia February 16, 2010 at 9:22 PM  

Thank you so much for this incredibly honest post, Kim. It spoke to me very deeply and very personally.

PrincessKate February 21, 2010 at 5:46 AM  

I too ignore my parents' anniversary these days. Theirs has been an abusive, complicated relationship in which they chose to involve me as an unwitting pawn. Their choices and behaviours have led me to ignore their relationship and deal with each of them separately, even though they still inhabit the same house. They seem to have gained some insight and greater tolerance of each other over the years, but the disdain they show towards each other disgusts me. Thank you for sharing your story. Ultimately, though, I don't think any of us can truly understand others' relationships....

Brahm February 23, 2010 at 12:48 AM  

What a beautiful post, and you are totally entitled to how you feel. Your honesty is commendable, and your writing is touching and beautiful.

Reggie February 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM  

Even though I realize that it had to be difficult at best to write this, this is an excellent post.

You put so much of your naked soul into this and I applaud you for that.

Newly and Forever, Tamantha March 1, 2010 at 10:30 AM  

Interesting...I have had many of the same feelings about my parents' marriage...The response that included the excerpt from the 50's book is telling and can give you insight to what your mother may have been exposed to, but I don't think that those "tips" are what make a person dependant..I think many of them are a great way to make a husband feel like the home is a haven, a place to come home to rest. That does not mean that by doing those things, you will become a spineless ninny that bends to the will of a dominant male..while the person that posted that, I'm sure, meant to give you insight...each person has their weaknesses and is responsible for how they handle boundaries or lack of, in their own relationships.

Lexi March 1, 2010 at 9:22 PM  

This was so honest and so beautiful. It really resonated deep, as I have dad issues as well and I continue to see unfufilling relationships around me and worry that I myself will end up in one as well, which is in fact, nothing to celebrate.

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