I got married for the insurance.
So, it was left up to me to do the asking, which I did late one morning as we were leaving the elementary school where we had just enrolled his son in 3rd grade. I turned to him as we were walking down the sidewalk, with cars whooshing past us a few feet away, and the heat blasting up from the pavement (it was August in New Orleans) and said, "We should get married." Very romantic, I know. But hey - he was always the romantic one. He cried at the end of Titanic; I was just annoyed. He remembers the date of our first email; and our first date, and our anniversary; I have a hard time remembering his birthday (much less our anniversary). But I'll tell you one thing, if we ever go down in the North Sea with only a door for a raft, either we're both getting on the damn raft, or I'm staying in the water with him. None of that watching-your-soul-mate-drift-away for me. What kind of crap is that?
Not that "James" (his name has been changed to protect the innocent) is my "soul mate." If I have one of those, I doubt it would be good for either one of us to actually get together. If the other half of me is anything like this half of me, hooking up would definitely end badly - and wouldn't the sex be just boring? Would my soul mate challenge me - or call me out when I've got my head up my ass? Would my soul mate even need courage to stand before one of my issue-driven rants and be certain it's only temporary insanity? I don't know - maybe I don't fully understand the concept, but I am absolutely certain that the first time James met me, it wasn't love at first sight. The first time he met me he thought I was hot, and smart, and funny, (which I was/am!) and he wanted desperately to get into my pants, which was understandable, since I was, you know, hot. And smart. And funny. In that order. (And still am! Except maybe not in the same order ... )
But that's all about sex, and hormones, and chemistry, and in the interest of being honest, rather than taking poetic license, it's only fair that I admit that I went into the relationship pretty certain that, after the chemistry wore off, we wouldn't go much farther.
It wasn't about James so much as it was what I had come to expect. Emotionally, I'm pretty demanding and uncompromising. Don't jerk my chain; don't feed me crap; don't "be nice." Be honest. Brutally honest if you must, but say what you mean and mean what you say, and know you mean it before you say it because you can't really ever take it back. As everyone knows, this is not always so great when you're on the receiving end of someone else's honesty (unless, of course, they're telling you how hot, smart and funny you are). As one former friend told me, I was a complete moron if I thought she was going to thank me for telling her how screwed up I thought she was. As far as I'm concerned, she's the moron for caring so much about what a moron thinks.
And that's essentially how I expected me and James to go. At some point, I confront him with my wise insight on how he's failing as a human in some specific area of his life, he tells me to fuck off, and we're done. It's not that I wanted all my relationships to end that way, but I tried the other way, and it just isn't for me. I never learn to trust the relationship, you know? How can it be real if I have to lie about how I feel? And in those relationships based on me being less than honest about how I felt, I invariably still ended up hurting someone else. Granted, it was later, rather than sooner, but it seemed to hurt a lot more.
So, and even more so with James, I made a point to be brutally honest from day one, chemistry be damned. I cut him zero slack. On our first real date, I called him on using a particularly offensive word and told him I wouldn't tolerate it; after we dated a few months I told him he couldn't drink around me anymore because he was an obnoxious drunk; I even remember chewing his ass over putting knives in the dishwasher wrong, Those are some of the nicer, less petty things. I kept waiting for him to get nasty, tell me what a raving bitch I was, and leave. Instead, he never said that word again; quit drinking completely around me and stopped putting anything in the dishwasher. That last one might have a hint of passive aggressiveness in it, but I can live with it.
I think he asked me to marry him the first time within the first 6 months we were dating. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was essentially that there was no way either of us knew the other well enough to get married, and for all I knew, he was an axe murderer with Ted Bundy-ish charm, suckering me into trusting him so he could axe murder me and steal all my worldly goods, which consisted of a 15 year old pick up truck, about $1,000 worth of furniture and a boat load of student debt. Yeah, I've got some trust issues.
He probably asked me to marry him a half dozen more times in the second year we were together, living together now, but I still said no. When the light finally came on for me, or I finally pulled my head out of my ass, depending on how honest I want to be, he wasn't even there. I find it ironic, or perhaps disturbing, that the most romantic moment of my entire life happened when I was alone. He'd called me, in the middle of the day, because he had a moment from work, and just wanted to hear my voice. He wasn't upset with anyone, didn't want to vent. He was having a fine day and just took a moment to call. He was sweet, and funny, got me to laugh, even though I was not necessarily having a good day, and then he had to go.
A few days earlier, I had had a total melt down on my way to court. I was nervous and stressed out and I went completely ballistic on him at breakfast, for no good reason, I might add. I was thinking of that when he hung up the phone that day, still cringing at how ugly I had been and marvelling at how calm he had stayed, and, when I called him several hours later to beg for forgiveness, he had told me, "It's okay; I know how you get when you're stressed out." He wasn't even mad at me. And he knew me. And he still loved me enough to call me in the middle of the day to tell me a funny story and that he just wanted to hear my voice.
And, like a tiny tsunami, understanding began rolling relentlessly through all the intellectual, rationalized barriers I had constructed in my head, and I realized that I had been waiting for nearly two years for the relationship to go according to my expectation, and it just wasn't going there. While I had been watching and waiting for the signs that yes, it was business as usual, James had been doing all these other things that, now that I looked at them, looked a lot like what love should resemble. He trusted me to make my own mistakes; believed that I was smart enough to figure out any problem ... eventually; trusted that no matter how badly I did something, it was my best, and never ever forgot the good in me, even when I was being really nasty. He always trusted in me, the whole me, not just certain parts of me. And I knew two things at that moment: 1) that there was no way I was ever giving him up voluntarily; and 2) I was going to learn from him how to love him like that, because he deserved nothing less.
That was really the day I married James, at least six months before we bothered to acquire the legal status. I was certain he would notice within a few weeks of my epiphany, and then, romantic guy that he is, would ask me to marry him officially. Well, as you already know, that didn't happen.
So what, you must be asking yourself, assuming you've gotten this far, has any of this got to do with Russell Crowe? Okay, well, James has a son from a prior marriage. I met him when he was five, and at that time, his mom had primary physical custody, and he saw his dad every other weekend and on some evenings during the week. I have no kids of my own, but I generally like them, and I definitely want to do right by them, so when James and I moved in together, we set up a room for Brett and on his weekends, I made sure he and his dad had time together without me. I figured as a pseudo step-parent, my role was pretty much to stay out of the way and maybe offer some comic relief from time to time.
Unfortunately, it didn't go that way. Brett's mom developed some serious problems and she finally admitted that she couldn't take care of him and just like that, I was a full time step-parent. Mom disappeared almost immediately, swallowed up by her issues, leaving a really confused 7 year old behind. The last nine years have been rough. I'm sure I've made a million mistakes, none for lack of wanting to do right by him. If for no other reason than he's his father's son, I've always said I would do my best to be a mom to him, since his actual mom has been mostly MIA. And let me tell you, there is nothing more terrifying that trying to love a kid who sees you as the enemy because to love you means to betray his own mother. And as he gets older, it gets infinitely harder and here's the ultimate problem, and where we finally get to Russell Crowe.
I am running out of courage. I'm not proud of it, not happy about it, but, you know, it's the truth, and I am just reaching the point, or have already reached the point, where I just don't like this kid. Don't like him, don't want be around him, don't want him in my home. My husband's son. My husband's home. My husband who I adore, and if our ship went down in the North Sea, I'd knock him over the head and drag his ass up on that raft, and I'd stay in the water, because dammit, I get to die first.
So, I have to figure out how to pretend to like him convincingly enough for him and his father to really believe it, at least for the next 2.5 years. I've been over and over it and there is just no other way; no other chance for any of us to get through this in tact if I don't figure out how to be a really good, and here's the clincher, really fearless, actor. Like Russell Crowe. Or Meryl Streep.
Because I'm still all about honesty in relationships, at least adult relationships. With kids, it's different. You tell them you love them and you do the things that shows you love them, and you don't really worry about whether you really love them or not. You just do it. But when do they stop being a kid? At what point am I no longer required to fulfill this role that I didn't ask for; that he never wanted me to take, and neither of us have enjoyed very much. And at what point do I start worrying about whether or not I really love him and if I should stop lying about it?
Two years have gone by and it's ironic that it has all come full circle. How do you ever know if you failed or succeeded as a parent? It's not like acting, where you can get an award from adoring fans or respectful peers. You can't help but look at the adults your children become and wonder - how much of that, good and bad, am I responsible for? Was there ever a chance to have any influence at all, or was it all predetermined at birth? Would I have been a different parent if he had been a different kid? These are questions that haunt me. The one question that doesn't haunt me anymore is the one I struggled with two years ago: do I really love this kid? My broken heart is answer enough.