Monday, January 17, 2011

We're Okay

Yesterday was weird.

Which was weird because the night before had been so much fun. Seven of us celebrated the birthday of one of my very best friends at the new Italian restaurant across the street where the staff is beginning to know us and the service is warm and neighborly. The little girl who lives upstairs and who my daughter babysits sometimes, made a festive crown with streamers and huge tissue flowers and paint and glitter gel for the birthday girl who is also her mother's best friend. The Movie Star was there. Our birthday girl is his best friend too. My friend whose birthday it was has a gift for bringing people together, which is how we came to be two social workers (not surprisingly, my friend's vocation), a documentary filmmaker, a ceramic artist, a magazine editor, an ichthyologist and a movie star at the same table.

This new restaurant doesn't yet have its liquor license so we brought in our own bottles, and my upstairs neighbor brought a chocolate cake and we all talked and laughed and ate good Italian food and drank good wine and had a lovely time. The people next to us kept watching our table and I thought it was because we were having so much fun, and because we were visually such a curious assembly of people and maybe they wondered how this group got together and maybe they also looked at the Movie Star with his Hollywood handsome self and thought "Isn't that....?" and then maybe they decided we were Glamorous People instead of a just a bunch of fellow travelers trying to make ends meet and make everything the way we think it should be but really never is. When we got up to leave the woman at the next table said to me, "That looked like a lot of fun," and it was, indeed it was. And she had the warmest most openhearted face and I had a strange desire to know who she was and to be friends with her and isn't it true that we never really leave high school.

And then on Sunday morning, everything started out perfectly normal and then in a moment when my husband and I weren't paying attention, we squabbled, neither of us listening to what the other was saying and the whole day just skidded off the rails after that. Maybe it was because I drank wine last night. I am not much of a drinker. I think it sends me to a dark place, not in the moment, but I'm starting to realize that the day after I can fall into a funk.

In any case, I didn't want to be around my husband because he was acting like he didn't want to be around me, so I went over to my mother's studio for a while, thinking I would sit there and watch a movie in the empty apartment while back at my house my husband yelled at the playoff football game on TV. But when I walked in I realized that I hadn't really been over to my mom's apartment since my cousin and her kids stayed there over Thanksgiving and so many little details were out of place, not the way my mother likes them, so then I started to put things back in their place and wipe down the windowsills and dust the furniture and scrub down the bathroom and the kitchen and arrange the cushions and change the pretty cloth doilies and change the sheets on the bed and stuff all the towels my cousin and her children used into the hamper for laundering, and I just kept going and going and couldn't stop doing, because if I stopped it would just assail me how much I missed my mother who is warm in Jamaica right now in my brother's house, and who might never come back to this little apartment across the way from me. She took everything with her this last time. Even her rolling walker, which is usually parked in the far right corner. It looked so empty, that corner. So I moved the antique chair that used to belong to my long dead grand aunt into that corner and folded my mother's red blanket, the one she loves so much because it is perfectly soft and never makes her feel too hot, and I placed the blanket carefully on the chair and now the corner looked occupied and not so sad. When I was done fixing everything I went to wash my hands in the bathroom and I used her bath gel and it was so much her smell, and I could remember the way she smells when I hug her and that's when I cried.

I went to sit in her recliner but instead of trying to find a movie to watch I called home. My husband answered. "Why are you still mad?" I asked him. "It was just a little stupid thing." In a mad sounding voice he said, "I am not mad, I am just watching the game." So I asked to speak to my daughter and she was pure light, pure music, the way she so often is, and she was browsing recipes on her laptop instead of studying for the midterms she has this week, and she told me about an onion and gruyere tart she found that I would absolutely love, and she made my heart feel tender and grateful and I started to miss her sweet face and so I decided to go home.

By the time I got there she had sorted the dirty clothes and towels and was gathering up the detergent and bleach to do laundry. I decided to go downstairs to the laundry room with her, just because I wanted to be with her some more, even though I hate doing laundry and have hired my daughter to do it like a real job, with weekly pay and everything. I started to help her put the clothes in the different washing machines, but she laughed and said, "Mom, you're mixing them up," so I laughed too and shrugged and left her to it and wandered over to the bookshelf where people leave the books they no longer want because we live in apartments and these small spaces easily get cluttered and sometimes you just have to make breathing room. And sitting on the bookshelf, dusty and coverless and waterstained was that classic deconstruction of transactional analysis, I'm Okay, You're Okay by Thomas Harris. It was written in 1967 and the language seemed already archaic. But perusing the table of contents I saw a chapter titled "P-A-C- and Marriage" and I turned to it. I soon learned that P-A-C stands for the Parent-Adult-Child aspects we habitually express. And the first thing my eye landed on was this:

"Marriage is the most complicated of all human relationships. Few alliances produce such extremes of emotions or can so quickly travel from professions of the utmost bliss to that cold, terminal legal write-off, mental cruelty."

And this: "Yet the average marriage contract is made by the Child, which understands love as something you feel and not something you do, and which sees happiness as something you pursue rather than as a by-product of working towards the happiness of someone other than yourself."

Those words, presenting themselves right at that moment, made all the difference. I decided right then and there to stop acting from my sulky wounded Child place, to try to get to my more generous and forgiving Adult place and let my husband off the hook. It was a petty thing anyway, and my mood was totally prolonging it. So I went back upstairs with my daughter, who appeared to have no idea that anything was amiss, and I behaved as if nothing was in fact amiss and soon enough, nothing was.


  1. that was brilliant
    and I want to read it again.
    and again.

    and I wish I lived upstairs , or that we could meet for lunch.

    I love you , you know that.

  2. An analytic post! I think about the kind of emotional muscle one is required to develop as an adult.

    As grown-ups, we are not supposed to become so overwhelmed by other peoples moods, but we still do -- sometimes it feels like there are no boundaries between ourselves and others, especially in a marriage where it is supposed to be "if you hurt, I hurt".

    I know all too well what it feels like when it seems that someone else's mood is palpable and overtakes your own. It takes a lot of work to build up that emotional muscle and be able to let things go.

  3. deb, i wish you lived upstairs too. or that i lived across a meadow from you, or through some woods. we can pretend.

  4. koshercritter, that emotional muscle comes and goes! it's good to see you here.

  5. Thanks for sharing that Angella.

    I had my marriage epiphany about 5 years ago. I realized that marriage was going to be the only safe place to work out my childhood issues. It was going to be a relationship that inspired me to change and grow, kicking and screaming and falling in love; whatever seemed appropriate at the time.

  6. I think we could all write an entire book on marriage, those of us who have been in fairly long-term ones. But this- what you have written, is perfect.
    But I have to tell you, the part that made me cry, was when you were talking about your mother. Sometimes, even though I do have a mother, the complete blankness that our relationship seems to me to be overwhelms me.
    I wish I had a mother whom I wanted to smell like.
    And I never will.
    But I do have a husband who loves me, even when I am in a funk and we squabble and who welcomes me with open arms when we clear the air and realize what the hell we are doing.

  7. indigodog, that your marriage is your safe place to do all this speaks to the resilience and love you clearly share. good for you both.

  8. Ms. Moon, i know that i am blessed in the mother i have, and in our both living long enough for me not to take it for granted, to know how truly rare it is to be sheltered by the love of a woman such as she is. i read here about so many heartaches that started with mothers who didn't know how to nurture, and it is the saddest of all stories i read here, because the mother is the source. and yet these women who have this ache are such amazing mothers themselves, they have given what they wished they had to their children, and that i hope helps heal the hurt. And you, Ms. Moon, you in particular are a fiercely loving mother, and your children will never ache the way you do, because you fed their souls. And you know what, you feed our souls too. You nurture us with practical tough-tender wisdom that mothers know and we grow in the light of it, because Ms. Moon said so.

    Bless you, dear friend. Let your woman friends mother you when you are missing that. Women can do that for one another.

  9. Kathleen, you, me and deb, we can have a party. Or just chat quietly over a warm pot of coffee or tea if you prefer. I think we'd have a ball.

  10. Sometimes the smallest out-of-sorts moments can feel as though the bottom has dropped out. Then there is the wonder of words arriving just when they are most needed. My arms have begun to resemble my mother's, even I can see it yet can't explain how I know. Physically transforming into a parent who wasn't there, now present and available, the longed-for source of love. Miracles of an ordinary day. xo

  11. angella, i came back to read this post again. i had that kind of weekend, too; where missed signals were flying around the house. and since i have a new-to-this-relationship rule that i am not allowed to speak until i know what i am saying, there was a lot of dead silence for awhile, until i figured out how to put the words in a sentence that wouldnt leave gaping holes in my dear one's psyche. by sunday evening, i was humming and thinking about what to cook; always a good sign...
    and so it goes. I'm ok, you're ok. phew.

  12. Glad nothing is amiss any more, Angella. :)

  13. Angella, why do I have a feeling I am going to miss you?

    Keep well and stay sweet always.


  14. Wine is doom for me. The happiest of drunks and the most extreme low of any alcohol I've tried. Perhaps this is why I like beer. This happened to me Sunday. I was out to a wine dinner (5 courses paired with 5 different wines) and my friend can't really drink too much red wine, so I drank it for her and you can only imagine what that did. I fell into something deep that night - couldn't sleep from 2 - 4:30 in the morning, crying, depressed, fallen. And Monday, I was a wreck, fighting in my head with my boyfriend of 8 years for things he hasn't yet done, for things I haven't yet done and then something wonderful happened. He bought dinners for the entire week. And that was enough for right then to help me back.

  15. Marylinn, that is an amazing insight. I felt tingles, thinking about it. Wow.

    Susan, maybe it was something in the air? I am glad you are once again humming along. And your rule is a good one, even though I am so bad at getting through those dead silences. I think it requires patience and faith.

    ellen, me too. exhale.

    Silver, I hope you will come and visit sometimes, even though you're closing down your blog. Please do let me know if you start a new site. I will certainly miss you.

    Rachel, I have sooo had days like this! Your guy sounds like a keeper.