This post was originally published May 1, 2017 and I had entirely forgotten it (and I do mean entirely) which means I wrote it and just kept walking. It's a powerful post and it's not often I write something this powerful, this revealing, and then keep right on moving. Apparently there was no point in dwelling on any of it. The reason it came up is because Elizabeth told me it existed. Not directly, she'd never seen it, just that there was a mighty powerful post out there published sometime around the end of April beginning of May which initiated an action, or actions and an email. The email did not come to me, which is probably good because I wouldn't have read it anyway, it went to Elizabeth's father and Elizabeth's father being Elizabeth's father only communicated the part which was relevant to Elizabeth and then I suppose that was the end of that. She thought he would at least have told me. He did not. The email wasn't addressed to me. He's often quite literal that way. Elizabeth didn't tell me for two reasons; it wasn't all that relevant and she thought I knew. But Mom, he's unfriended our entire family (instantly I think of vampires for some reason, we are all indelibly linked, one falls, they all fall). Why ever would he do that? He collects friends like stray pennies. Because we told you something that could only have come from his Facebook page. But lots of people tell me things about him. Periodically there's a veritable deluge of information depending on where I go (I am reminded of Flurry... did you know, did you see, can you believe, will you JUST shut up already) and so I think there must be a post where Facebook is directly tied to something he doesn't like and my curiosity gets the better of me because the only post I can remember is the Paul Harvey post and quite honestly that was hardly damning but with Portnoy, you never can tell. The problem with scanning the unpublished archives, because I did unpublish this one, is you can only see the titles. I almost missed it. It's really not about Facebook at all. It's about psychological assessment. It was an assessment of ourselves, of me, of him, of my family, of the world at large. It was a cameo vignette into the last family dinner that occurred in this house and it was an astonishing up close and personal look at the dynamics that make us what and who we are as a family, the boundaries, the working knowledge, the acceptance, and maybe more importantly the space we give each other to walk our own paths without interference. My son never would have said those things to me until it was over unless he believed I was truly in danger and even then I don't know that he would have. I remember my brother asking me and my mother why we never said a damn thing about one particular girlfriend he had and our answer was the same. Because that was your choice and your decision to make or not make. Anyway, a lot was said in this post and I didn't want to republish it because I don't think it belongs in the string at this point because part of it is very personal. However, the pages don't actually get that many hits and the pages don't send to the readers so it can sit out here for a bit and maybe rotate in and out because it matters. And Portnoy, if you happen to stumble over this, try this on: it's not about you.
Yesterday we celebrated the thirtieth birthday of my oldest daughter's, oh hell, I don't know what to call him. He's in possession of my grandmother's rings, my daughter's pulling her hair out looking for affordable wedding venues which vaguely resemble barns but won't get her dress dirty, and they've named their future children. Somehow the timing of the patriarchal asking hinges on artwork. No. That can't be right. Whatever is done to a book prior to publication that has it all come together in book form. I don't really know what that looks like. I've seen books in galley format, bound and unbound and I've seen books on the shelves but other than that - oh, wait! I've also seen them written in long hand on yellow legal pads but he can't be at that stage with an August publication date so that's not it. Let me rephrase: the timing of the patriarchal asking hinges on the finalization of the go to market product and I have no idea what's holding that up. I chose not to ask. It's clearly irritating both of them and was meant to be done in April.
Yesterday we celebrated the thirtieth birthday of my oldest daughter's meant to be permanent male partner. This is the second of these in six months and it's starting to weigh on me, not so much from an age perspective because that's still not happening for me (maybe if you start at twenty-two the first one turning thirty doesn't so much ruffle as remind) but more of a sit up and notice sort of thing. Also, it's one more thing that grabs me by the shoulders, swings me around and shouts, LOOK! LOOK at Elizabeth who is almost gone! The sand is positively FALLING out of the hour glass and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it short of watch. I put my hands out but the sand is pouring too fast and overflows to either side.
I think about what I was doing at thirty. I look at the four of them. Elizabeth is fully engaged now and I am quiet having finally surrendered and accepted the seat at the head of the table which I resisted for years because I just didn't want the responsibility that went with all that head of household garbage. I've carried that weight for years. Can I sit at the table and pretend it isn't so? Can I sit some unsuspecting male in that seat and breathe quietly at his right elbow under the guise of needing to get in and out of the kitchen? There is no longer any point. If I allow another Y chromosome of that particular generation into this household, he's going to have to sit to my left. I am weary and my tolerance of the patriarchy seems to be falling down in shrouds around me. I'm not sure what's happening.
I cheerfully announce that my cartoon boyfriend is marrying his cartoon girlfriend or has already done so and my son is horrified. How, he asks me, HOW could you possibly know this?! Her! I point, smiling at Elizabeth. She did it! Elizabeth claims this may not be so, that there are one or two other people who may have been just as happy to tell me but I say it really doesn't matter and Mike wants to know why the hell I'm so damn happy about it. I explain the circumstances. Mike sighs deeply and I realize he is like looking and listening to my father and I know EXACTLY what's coming next. He is going to impart some sort of male wisdom and I'm going to listen very carefully because that's what I'm supposed to do. Not only is he going to impart this wisdom but he's been sitting on it for quite some time, years maybe.
OK, Mike, let 'er rip.
I never liked him.
Lucia whips her head around and asks: Wot wot!?! You too?
And they're off. Notes are compared and the bottom line is Lucia stopped trusting men I brought home after Elizabeth's father, never liked David from the start and certainly never forgave him and Mike stopped getting attached to men I brought home after David.
I watch this. OK, fine, you two, you didn't get attached or trust him based on prior relationships but what does this have to do with actually not liking him?
He turns into my father again only he says, Mom, and not Alecto and he is very solemn.
Mom, I think that relationship was emotionally abusive. I think you had a lot of unresolved daddy issues and you took way too long playing them out with that one. How long was he around anyway?
Two and a half years.
Well, that was way too long for Elizabeth. He started trying to parent her and I did NOT like that. That was really bad for her. You can't have that going on with a guy who's not going to stick around and we ALL knew he wasn't going to stick around. Right, Lucia?
I don't know that he was my dad, guys. He was a charming, narcissistic, emotionally abusive, unaccountable, Peter Pan.
Two sets of staring eyes.
Hey! Don't say that shit about my dad!
The final nail in the coffin: for all his feminist shit, mom, he was one of the biggest chauvinists I've ever met. The man did NOT like women.
Then you do all appreciate why I appreciate this marriage as much as I do?
In chorus: not really.
Why do much older men marry much younger women?
No. Try again.
You're all too young for this game. I'll ask you again in twenty years or so. But I'll give you a hint.
Lucia at the top of her lungs:
HE JUST ACHIEVED PERFECTION!
Yes. Yes he did. Possibly godhood. What man can resist that sort of thing?
Mike. Plenty. Don't start me.
OK. I think we're done here. But you understand, right? Today my bullet has been put to bed, pass the champagne.
Elizabeth: you know when she broke up with him he had to get the last word in and say he was about to break up with her anyway, right? Did you guys know that? He couldn't just let her have it. Two hours later he sends this email...
Mike: emotional blackmail.
Me: can we be done now?
Lucia: seriously. we're done. Mom. Can you be done?
Me: the bullet has been put to bed. I hope. God I really hope.
Lucia: Let's just assume, OK?
When I was thirty I remember leaning over the dining room table sorting through mail and deciding to purge because I'd just had enough of the clutter. I moved from the dining room to the living room and circled back to the kitchen. When I was through with the living areas I moved on to the master bedroom, all 144 square feet of it and then on to the kid's rooms which weren't quite so bad because for some reason I managed to stay on top of those possible disasters. I don't recall how many contractor bags I hauled to the breezeway (which would need to be driven eleven hundred feet to the bottom of the driveway for pickup) but if I had to guess I'd say probably more than a dozen. Had my husband been home that day or at least around to defend himself this never would have happened because inasmuch as he was purely packrat (we once moved over one hundred paper towel and toilet paper rolls from one house to another because they could be used to house small engines and had been in the past - Industrial Designers have to mock up their work) he also had a good sense of self-preservation.
There is a distinction between mass purging and sorting and it's not a fine line either. It's the difference between elegance and brute force. When under duress I go right to brute force and fourteen contractor bags in the space of six or eight or maybe it was even ten hours cannot possibly constitute anything other than brute force. I purged an awful lot of things. Some of them came back to us. Some of them did not. One of them was the mortgage to the house which taught us to file and it's not like the mortgage wasn't replaceable (town hall, anyone?), it's that it's just NOT SOMETHING YOU RANDOMLY THROW AWAY. Another was our marriage license. Something else more or less replaceable but the part that went with it, signed by the priest and our two witnesses was not replaceable.
It was the beginning of the end. I had two children, one young, one small. Mike was eight and Lucia was three. I was thirty and I'd been married for just under ten years. I did not have the language to explain what all was wrong but what all was wrong was horribly wrong. In retrospect I'd simply outgrown the need to be sheltered and protected and the illusion of the all-powerful male figure was suffocating to the point where I was certain I'd drown, or fall of a cliff, or anything at all. I wasn't going to survive it. And so I purged mercilessly in an effort to clear out some space and maybe let oxygen back into the room. I don't remember if this was late spring or early summer but I was gone by November of that year leaving my children behind in the relative stability of their home breaking with all convention that said a good mother remains with her children at all costs.
Fuck the patriarchy.
It's taken me this long to say that out loud and I still expect to be struck down one way or another.
My youngest, most resilient and headstrong daughter has a boyfriend. He goes to another school and he rows with a fairly prestigious and very competitive rowing club. This is a spring sport and eats up most weekends. In early March they went to his semi-formal event and they were beautiful. They looked forward to her junior prom. Shortly after the dress had been purchased but well before the tickets they discovered that the prom date conflicted with one of his major event dates. They were crushed. She decided she wouldn't go despite the fact that it is perfectly alright for any gender to attend alone with a group. A few weeks later her friends convinced her to attend. When tickets went on sale she avoided purchase. I asked if she just didn't want to go and she wouldn't say. On Saturday she returned from an afternoon at the beach with a friend she'd met in Nicaragua who attends her school and right out of a Disney movie she danced around the living room and announced:
He asked me to prom and he wrote it in the sand!
I quietly gagged.
But what about T?
Well T wasn't very happy at first but I explained this is very platonic and now he's OK.
But Elizabeth, he asked you, you didn't just decide together. Plus he wrote it in the sand and you're sort of all giddy and stuff.
Well that's just the way we do it here.
Later, I handed her the prom contract and a check for the ticket. She filled out the contract but didn't need the check. He's already handled that.
It's how it's done here.
Oh, god, Elizabeth, the fucking patriarchy. Still.
Mom! Will you leave it alone about the patriarchy?! I WAS ASKED TO PROM AND I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE ASKED TO PROM!
I wept quietly.
I sat at the head of the table and watched my four children (yes, I count him now) talk with great animation about the many things that matter in their lives and I looked at the champagne glass in my hand with the imaginary bullet resting at the bottom. The incredibly accomplished younger daughter who needed to be asked to prom, the older daughter who has walked through fire and come out whole who needs to be asked to be married, the thirty year old son who's belief in the world has become so jaded due to expectations that cannot possibly be met that he cannot move forward, and the new thirty year old son who appears to believe he is unworthy until he has passed a self-defined threshold that he can move at any time.
Human, every one of them.
I want to give them each their very own bullet that they can hold in their hands and say, I have already dodged it. It is OK to move forward in my life just the way I am without agreement, authority, or permission, just of my own accord.
But that's not how it works, is it?
Well yes, actually, that is exactly how it works. It's all a matter of the how and the when. Already to varying degrees they have done this. I just look at them like any parent I suppose and wish for more probably just like my parents look at me and wish for more. It is only tragic when it doesn't happen at all. There is no tragedy at my table.
In the mean time: fuck the patriarchy. No, Elizabeth, I will NOT shut up.