Who We Used To Be

A few days ago, PC and I found ourselves in the lobby of a private school we are hoping to send one of our kids to. As with everything, this decision and process has been fraught with arguments, threats, misinformation and PC’s ever-present need to use everything as a negotiation tactic. Nonetheless, there we were, and as our son went back to be interviewed and the lobby cleared of students, we found ourselves in a most strange situation of being alone in a silent room.

I picked up my phone, hoping to invest some quality time in Wordscapes, but PC had other ideas. He opened a conversation–our first in 2.5 years–by asking me about the house across the street from mine, which is for sale. He wanted to know how much it was going for.

“I don’t know. Why, do you want to buy it?” I laughed to myself but I guess PC missed the humor.

He then went on to tell me that it would not be wise for me to cash out the IRA that I was awarded in our settlement. Internally, I wanted to say none of your business what I do but externally, in the lobby of a private school, I simply nodded and said I know.

“And just so you know. It took me 20 years to save that money. It would be foolish to piss it away.”

Okay, PC. First of all, you haven’t been saving for retirement for 20 years. Second, its not like you did me some personal favor by “giving” me this money. It was my money all along, and you fought tooth and nail to keep me from having it. And thirdly, just a few months ago, in court, you tried to negotiate that I should use this money (i.e. cash it out) to help pay for private school. Please, shut up.

But instead, I nodded and said something along the lines of “I’m good.” I found myself watching PC, watching the looks of angst and discontent floating in his eyes, the uncomfortable way he shifted, the always defensive and arrogant expression on his face. I tried to go back to my phone, but he wasn’t done with this fake little song and dance.

With a big sigh and a throat clearing, he announced to me: “Trollup and I are getting married.”

I nodded. “I figured. Congratulations.” I went back to my phone.

Another big, heaving sigh. “Come on, Charlotte. You knew it was coming.” As if instead of hearing a polite congratulations, PC heard me say Oh my god, I’m crushed! I can’t believe it!

I smiled, again. Again, I said “Congrats.”

“I mean, its been a long time coming,” he added. This time I simply offered a smile. What I really wanted to do was give him a sarcastic thumbs up and say, “Wow! Trollup’s a lucky girl!”

While relaying this tale to friends, I wondered out loud, “Was PC always this annoying?” I tried to imagine what on earth we had talked about for seventeen years. The answer, of course, is that we talked about PC. Or we didn’t talk at all. When I tried to talk about myself it was always like attempting to push against a concrete wall. Either PC was blatantly uninterested, refusing to look away from his phone or the television or he simply refused to engage.

Sometimes, he would pretend to be interested, usually if he was bored. But even then, he would turn the conversation to himself, somehow. Or he would insert opinions and parameters on what I was saying, as if he knew my thoughts and feelings better than I knew myself. Which, in a way, was kind of true.

Listening to him talk to me in the lobby I realized something very profound. PC is exactly the same. And the way he spoke to me, the subtle condescending tones and bullshitting blah-blah-blah made it clear that he actually thinks that I, too, am the same person.

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This is astounding, in a way. How could a person, any person, go through a divorce and a dissolution of life as it was known; a trauma, betrayal, a change of residence…and be the same? The answer, of course, is that PC wouldn’t understand that because PC himself has not changed, grown, or learned anything from his choices and his life experience.

He still does exactly the same thing he’s always done. He “works”. He drinks. He lies. He assumes everyone is against him. He offends people. He only thinks of himself. He’s focused on “things”: cars, clothes, money. He’s turned on by combativeness, discord, and risk. He may have said he deserved to be happy and I deserve to be loved back in the weird days just before he left, but whatever he was seeking hasn’t come his way. All he did was remove one dutiful, controlled wife and replace her with one dutiful, controlled girlfriend.

And me? Who I was when I was PC’s wife and who I am now are two sides of a coin. Forever bound, but each facing a different way. Then, my feelings were quietly pushed down. Then, I had no voice. I deferred to PC and I painted that illusion as trust and dependence instead of what it was: lack of control.

I covered up things that were important to me, and I minimalized how badly I needed to let those things breathe, in particular: writing. Forever I will remember PC’s words when he complained that all I was doing was banging away at my laptop (read: not giving him enough attention.)

When you publish something, then I’ll be impressed. And I know I’ve written about this before, but I cannot stress enough how warped PC had me. I took this as ENCOURAGMENT. I took it as SUPPORT. When really what he was saying was he would only be impressed by my talent when it was accoladed. And under that, he really didn’t want me to succeed at this talent, even if that success was simply personal joy, because it would take away from my attention to him.

Listening to him blather on and on about his upcoming nuptials, the house he just bought, how he owns “the flattest land in the valley” now (who cares, PC? No one fucking cares) I could see that he actually thought I cared. I do not. Not even a tiny bit. PC’s expression of self-importance, the way he doesn’t actually look a person in the eye when he talks…I genuinely believe he thought it was Charlotte of 2016 sitting there, raptly listening to him go on and on about…himself.

But Charlotte of 2019 is not the same as the person he knew, the person he molded and stunted and pushed down to the point that she didn’t even feel as if she had a place in her own home, let alone the world. PC has no idea the mountains I’ve climbed to get away from the things he imposed on me. He has no idea the amount of self-work I’ve put into myself.

He has no idea of the depths that my friendships and relationships have grown to, once I was allowed to fully invest in them. He has no idea how the relationship with our children has changed. He has no idea that I’ve been kissed in a such a way that my knees have gone weak and he has no idea what it feels like to end a romantic relationship and know that that person will always, always have your back. Because of course, in PC’s world, if someone isn’t 100% with you, they’re 100% the enemy. There is no gray area.

He has no idea what its like to slowly pull back the blinds and realize the safety I thought I felt when I was with him only came when everything in our lives blew up, when “our” life became two separate lives, when control dominated everything in PC’s world and nothing in mine. That it was only after a free fall into hell that I realized the only “hell” was the one in my head. And thus began a climb, a slow one, out of the ashes and into a place of…peace. Home. Myself.

When we were called back to speak with the admissions counselor, I watched PC put on his performance, as always, when in situations where he feels he needs to impress someone. Before, I had always found him to be intelligent sounding, professional, competent. Now?

He answered questions about our child with answers about himself. He name-dropped in embarrassingly obvious ways. He went off on wild tangents that had nothing to do with her questions. He wasn’t doing this because he’s crazy but because he genuinely believes that he sounds impressive and educated. Meanwhile, I did my best to counteract the monologues about his college experience with the answers she was looking for: insight into the kind of person our brilliant and special kid is.

But the thing is, PC, that’s exactly how this would have played out 3 years ago as well. So perhaps the great Joan Didion is right in this respect as well:

joan-didion

Because the Charlotte that was morphing between then and now would have been so disgusted by your puke-worthy arrogance that she would have inserted rash comments. She would have erupted into a hostile, fiery explosion of interjections. Her words would have come laced with poison, as they have every single time we have spoken in the past 2.5 years (which has been seriously limited to court, counseling, and the occasional public accosting at the country club.) Her display would have been just as embarrassing as yours.

This time though, it was easier to slip back into the person you once knew, the one you could count on to keep quiet while you spewed on and on (and on) and who you could trust to say something human and relatable, to garner smiles and nods. The difference between then and now, however, is what I see. Then, I saw myself as your supporter. I saw as a team, which is heartbreaking in so many ways because you were never, ever on my team. I saw us as an well-rehearsed act that people liked.

Now? Now I see what the admissions counselor saw, whatever everyone has always seen: you’re full of shit. You’re boring and self-centered. The difference also lies in knowing that the admissions counselor took this with a grain of salt. That PC’s personality has nothing to do with our child’s academic performance. And the answers she wanted to find out, what type of student our kid is, what frustrates him and how he reacts to challenges…she got from me.

That on some level she understood that PC’s main concern was making sure our son looked good (this isn’t public school, he texted me the night before after announcing that he would be “providing” our son’s outfit.) And she understood that my main concern was encouraging my kid to be himself.

A simple enough concept, words every parent has probably uttered at one time or another. Just be yourself. Something that’s taking me a lifetime to learn. Little things, tiny little things that are really inconsequential in the grand scheme but so important in the fabric of our minutes and days. These things about me, PC always tried to stunt, degrade, or dismiss because, of course, they weren’t about him.

Getting up super early to drink coffee and write. Lame. Doing puzzles. Also lame. Having a dog in my bed. Disgusting. Taking an afternoon power nap. Lazy. Going to bed at 9pm. Boring. Mentally decompressing. Weak. Having a lazy weekend day. Pathetic. Reading. Uncool. Choosing not to get smashed. Party police. Needing to be outside.Why? Being in the company of someone else without talking. Waste of time. PC always made me feel like I needed to apologize for the things that made me me…creativity, punctuality, a desire for order and routine. A love of words and good conversation.

Reminding myself that that me, the one who covered up all the real stuff as important, was the me who lived with PC, who had to listen to his self-centered talk and deal with his absence and his gaslighting and his constant drunkenness…the person who sat in that office and watched his face while he we repeated several times that he knew so-and-so who’s kids went here…thinking to myself, dear God. Thank God I do not have to live with this man anymore.

PC’s betrayal spawned a wild roadmap of tangents: events, disasters, money wasted, hurt, anger, fear, guilt. It put me in a place of financial destitude and opened up fears in my mind I didn’t know existed: fear for myself, my children’s upbringing. The inherent, intense, fundamental fear I have of being alone that was impossible to escape any longer.

And at the end of those tangents, where they feathered off and became almost obsolete, blessings evolved. PC’s initial betrayal was, in the end, a blessing. I don’t think I ever would have left. I don’t think I ever would have “lost touch with several people I used to be” and I mean that in the best of ways. I would never have pursued therapy and I would never be living in this house that is full of spirits and warmth and good juju.

So hey. Thanks for 17 years of disfunction, PC. It was a grave loss of time, yes, but its only increased the ability to appreciate what lies ahead. So you go on with your life, change or don’t change, it makes no difference to me. And I’ll go on with mine: completely free and independent of you. Peace out.

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