Note: This one got a little long (just under 1,800 words), because I kind of got on a roll. I hope you like it!
He was packing up clothes in our walk-in closet. Not his clothes, mind you. Mine. I watched from the doorway, my face a complete mess from the hissy fit I’d just thrown when he told me he was kicking me to the curb. My side of the closet was nearly empty now, and I still didn’t know what I’d done to make him mad enough to talk of a separation, to force one upon me so suddenly.
Did it really matter what I’d done, what he hadn’t done, which mistakes the pair of us had made, how often, how big, how messy…?
Our life was a wreck from the moment we got back from our honeymoon and he stopped in front of his parents’ house. When he turned and said, “Honey, we’re home,” I thought I’d die of mortification. Live with his parents? I’d rather melt into the car seat like a crayon on a summer day in the Lone Star State.
Somehow, we made the living arrangements work. It was completely out of necessity, hard economic times and all that. I hated it most days, with my father-in-law grouching about something from his den, er, workshop—he fiddled with model airplanes in there, but a person would think he was putting together the next science fiction flying contraption, to hear him tell of it. My mother-in-law hovered around me and constantly told me what I was doing wrong—in her kitchen, I couldn’t cook beans right; in the bathroom, I didn’t scrub toilets properly; in the sun room, I read too much and slouched so badly my spine was apparently going to fuse into a huge question mark.
So I snapped.
I screamed at her.
Not for long. I really only hollered, “Shut up, Irma!” before lowering my voice and hissing through my teeth, “If you don’t climb off my back about never measuring up to your expectations, I won’t give you any grandkids—and Stanley won’t have a say in the matter.”
A bit melodramatic, perhaps—but it worked.
After doling out her brand of abuse for over eight months, my mother-in-law quit hovering, and I felt like I could actually breathe in this house for once. The peace was nice while it lasted, which was only until about five seconds after my husband got home from work.
Once his mother had let him know exactly what I’d said and how I’d said it, he stormed right past me—not letting me explain my side of things at all—and called over his shoulder that I’d better call a friend to come and get me in twenty minutes.
I’d been crying my eyes out ever since, and he hadn’t heard a word I’d been trying to tell him in between giant sobs.
Taking a large step into the closet, I slammed the door behind me. Stanley barely gave me a glance and continued to shove my clothes into his black bag. Why hadn’t he grabbed my purple one?
“Stop packing, Stanley. I’m not going anywhere.” I crossed my arms, thrust out a hip, and glared at him. Sobbing hadn’t worked, genuine as it had been, so I quit.
He heaved the loudest, longest sigh I’d ever heard him release, then turned toward me. He still held the bag, but this was major progress. “You can’t talk to Mom that way, Jen.”
I let silence take over while I considered what to say. He didn’t seem to want to see things from my shoes, so how could I express my need for us to figure out how to stop the mega-war that was swirling around him without his taking an ounce of notice?
Finally, I landed on an idea. Not even sure it would find success, I sucked in a quick breath and spit out the words. “What if your best friend came and told you he’d kicked his wife out of the house without hearing her explanation for the misunderstanding they’d been having? If we were Shelley and Jake right now, and this was their closet and everything, and he was packing her bags…”
Stanley’s face had hardened in the beginning of my speech, like he didn’t want to hear one iota of what I had to say. When I’d mentioned his friends by name, his eyes softened and took on that dreamy gleam that had originally caught my attention about a year ago.
He’d given me the slightest of openings with that expression, but I only had one chance to get this right.
“Would you tell him he was right to dump her and move on, stick to what he knew was comfortable, like living with his parents and allowing his mother to control everything about his wife’s life? Or would you throw another duffel at his chest and suggest he pack his own bag and go with the girl he fell in love with and could never live without now that he’d become a part of her?”
Maybe I blew it. Maybe those weren’t the right words to say. Maybe he’d laugh caustically, throw me over his shoulder, and carry me out to the curb where he took out all the trash.
That little lift to the left corner of his mouth gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I’d landed on the right analogy after all.
“Jenny…” Now he dropped his bag on his foot, then tugged his high-top from beneath it and slowly walked toward me, that hint of a smile inching out just as snail-paced. When he reached me, he stopped after he invaded my space. His voice eased into that huskiness that indicated he wanted nothing more than to kiss my lips from my face, and he pressed both palms lightly against my cheeks. “Jenny, have you been completely miserable here? Have you come to hate me? Have I pushed you away?”
I shook my head, forcing his hands to follow my movement, because tears welled up in my eyes until he blurred and wavered in front of me, and I knew there was no way coherent sentences would leap from my tongue just then.
“Mom’s pushy, controlling, I know. Dad’s a grouch, sure.” He rolled his eyes before I could scream No duh! in his face. “But, babe. They’ve got good points too. Dad really likes it when you poke your head in the den and ask which type of plane he’s building and to tell you all about it. And Mom… she asked me for your crepe recipe the other day. She said you were a great cook and she wished you’d teach her a thing or two she hasn’t already learned.”
“But…” The sobs were back. I couldn’t help it. Stanley was shifting everything I thought I knew about my crazy in-laws into something completely different and foreign to me. “Why are they so mean to me? It seems like they hate me, especially your mom. She’s downright cruel sometimes. I just want my half hour of reading time to be peaceful. You know? Because life is stressful enough without her nagging me night and day.”
“I know, I know.” He stroked my hair like I was four with a cry against the big bullies in pre-k, but it was still soothing to a degree. “What if we go sit down with them and calmly express your need for some freedom, some relaxation, some camaraderie? Would that help?”
I sniffed. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Wordless again, I simply nodded.
“There is another thing I suppose we should chat about.” He took a step back and held my hands. I liked that he kept us linked.
“About a month ago, Dad offered to loan me the money for the down payment on that little cottage-style house we drove by. Do you remember? The little blue one with the peach-colored door?”
Another nod, but now I felt an impossible hope growing. We couldn’t afford that house—any house, really—could we?
“I immediately told him no, because we need to be more financially secure before taking that leap. We had the small wedding, close-to-home honeymoon… we didn’t spend as much as we could have, for sure.”
“Right…” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
“My boss called me into the office right before I left tonight.”
“What? Did you… Are you fired?” If I had to live in this house with his mother for a hundred years, I might just go insane right now.
“Just the opposite, really. I got promoted with a bigger raise than I would have thought. It’s not a glitch or error; I checked.”
I hoped I knew what he was saying, but I couldn’t let my guard down just yet. “So… what are you getting at here…?”
“If Dad’s still willing to give us the loan and the house is still available, what would you like to do?”
“Did I really just blurt that out?” I gave a sheepish laugh, which made him laugh even harder. We both ended up with leaky eyes and aching abs from our merriment. “I didn’t mean to make your mom mad or angry or whatever.”
“And I didn’t mean what I said about kicking you out.” He ducked his head. “I wasn’t expecting nuclear war when I got home.”
“It came as a surprise to me too.”
I wrapped an arm around his waist as we exited the closet…
… to find his parents grinning from ear to ear in our bedroom.
“It’s about time you two realized you need your own space!” Irma came over with open arms and pulled me into a hug. “I’m sorry for being such a pest. Donald and I just aren’t used to having our space invaded, and we thought for sure Stanley had made other arrangements for you two once you’d gotten back from your honeymoon.” She pulled back and looked me in the eyes. “I really would like that crepe recipe, if you have time. I think you and I are going to be great friends.”
As we moved into the kitchen—the men following us like obedient puppies—and I offered to show her how to make the thin, French pancakes or dinner tonight, I had a niggling feeling that she was right. Packing my, er, his bags might’ve been the best thing my husband could have done today. We’d found a fresh start with each other and with his parents, but mostly, we’d remembered that we love each other and that no lover’s quarrel was worth splitting our union apart.
How do you face life’s challenges?
March’s reading challenge celebrates Artists and Musicians!