Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not My Battle To Fight

Last weekend we drove a few hundred miles down the Natchez Trace Parkway to visit my husband's favorite uncle and aunt in Jackson, Miss. The uncle has always been a bit of a mentor for my husband and they email regularly.

They're in their 80s now and not in the best of health. He was always energetic and robust, but developed a lung condition that requires supplemental oxygen at times. She suffered a stroke in January. She's made a good recovery, but is frail with upper arms the size of my wrist.

Their only child lives half a country away in Connecticut.

I've always been aware of his chauvanism and conservative political leanings, but this time they just got to me more than others.

"Hon," he'll say to his wife as we're sitting outside, "the Wall Street Journal is sitting on my desk in the office."

That's her cue to jump up and fetch him the paper.

"Hon, I think some chocolate ice cream" he says while she's clearing the dinner dishes.

Those are the obvious manifestations of his nature. There were others...

The week before, he had been in a traffic accident which very well may have been his fault according to what he told my husband. Now he's nervous about driving. (But won't admit it.) Because of her stroke, my aunt is taking blood thinners and the slightest bump causes her to bleed. My husband noticed that she had been wearing the same bandage for two days and inquired. She told him she was out of bandages, but didn't want to trouble her husband to drive her to the store (she can't drive). Naturally my husband took her to the pharmacy immediately and helped her stock up.

Because my uncle can't stand to be cool, the air conditioning stays at 80 degrees without regard for anyone else's comfort.

They've moved to a downstairs bedroom so we stayed upstairs in the master suite. When I got into the bed that night, I almost rolled right out--the box springs were broken and I hate to think of how long my aunt slept there uncomplainingly. I know that was her side because the air conditioning vent over the other side was closed.

But I think the thing that got to me most was when we were walking to the car on Sunday morning to go to church. He walked right up to my car and got in the front seat like he owned it. It's such a small thing, but it pissed me off beyond belief.

"I'll get in back," I muttered, knowing he'd never hear me because he's deaf as a post. After church we had an amazing breakfast with other parishioners. The men at the table kept up a lively conversation with my husband about his work. No one even asked about my job.

As much as I wanted to challenge him and tell him to get his own fucking ice cream, I didn't. It wasn't worth it. He's been this way for 84 years. In fact, the only time I questioned one of his pronouncements was when he called Clinton a draft dodger. My husband and I both jumped on that one.

What I wonder is whether or not the aunt ever wished for something different. She's never had to work outside the home and has always had housekeepers and gardners to take care of things. Did she trade her ambitions for financial security? Did she ever even have any ambitions? I wonder if he was this way when they first married or did the behavior increase along with his bank account?

This good woman would never, ever, consider herself abused. But I'm not so sure. I believe that if you asked her, she would profess perfect happiness with her husband and her life.

But I'm not so sure.


  1. This sounds nearly identical to my grandparents. I was always so infuriated with how Poppy treated his wife. And that's how it was, too, she wasn't her own person: she was his wife and the mother of his children. Not hers. His. God, they did not like having me and my sisters for granddaughters.

  2. But there's also a good chance that she's just a submissive, and she's happy fulfilling that role, which is so hard for me to accept because I am not good at it. I have a friend like that, who's a social worker and constant caretaker, and I used to get mad at her husband for saying bullshit third-person husbandy generalizations, and I said something to him about it once and she pulled me aside and explained to me that she likes it. And you know, some people wear dog collars and ball-gags, so if that's what she likes, then that's what she likes.

  3. You know what? This post really relates for me to Rassles' previous post. This man may be 84, but I can assure you that there are plenty around much younger who are still the same, one way or another.

    I think a lot of women of an earlier generation didn't expect any more, and in return, they were "looked after", and the relationship "worked", i.e. there was no overt conflict. I see it all around me in my village. Most of the women aren't happy, at least, not with their husbands, but then, they never expected to be. They expected to have a roof over their heads, food available, respectability and children and grandchildren to adore.

    For those of us from later generations, it stinks, because so many men still hanker after this (who wouldn't like a personal, obedient, socially sanctioned slave?), whereas many women have different expectations now. I think that until feminism is more firmly embedded in society, we're just doomed to have really difficult relationships thanks to this mismatch. Unless we have the luck (and desire) to hit on the one in 10,000 or so who is different.

    Which is why I felt so heartened to read Rassles' post, one woman who isn't compromising and swallowing retorts so as not to offend. Although I'm sure a lot of the contributors here are equally uncompromising.

  4. This post has been resonating with me for the last few days. The dynamics of my own mother and father were very much what you describe here. Yet, perhaps even worse as my dad could be viscous, even tyrannical while she was dutifully submissive.

    It makes me who I am today - a woman who went to the opposite extreme where I have yet to figure out how to take even the tiniest infraction from a man. I'm intolerant to an incorrect degree.

    But here's what keeps me up at night. In the end, when my mom lost my dad - she lost her will to live. Her love was uncompromisingly true. In her mind, she was happily married to a wonderful man who provided her the life she desired.

    They met and married when she was 18. He was married with two children. They had to drive to Texas because he couldn't legally marry in Oklahoma yet. He cheated on her, I suspect many times, though once we know of for sure as we recently met a sister who was born one year to the day before me.

    He put her through hell but she just loved, and loved and loved. I found the things she wrote about him after she died. They were all about how magical and wondrous he was. WTF?

    I guess what I'm saying is, your aunt probably is happy and the title of your post essentially says it all. It's not your battle to fight, now will we ever be able to fully grasp why.

  5. My parent's marriage except for certain abuse. Having such an example growing up, I think, is exactly what causes me to have my say with such voracity. This does not, of course, always work well for me. I have absolutely, at times, had my "say" with such force that it comes off as obnoxious, rude, unrelenting and lacking in flexibility and acceptance. The more I've come to realize that holding my tongue does not always equal subserviance, the more I seem to be able to make good decisions about what I want to say (if anything at all).

  6. Rass--I have to just bite my tongue and I think she is a submissive type. This uncle and both his brothers act the same way, so I imagine they learned it from their mother. But that was 80 years ago, hard for us to stomach today.

    Cat--how sad that the women in your village have no expectation of happiness. I can honestly say that among my colleagues and friends, no men act this way. They may be assholes in other ways, but they get their own ice cream.

    ZenMom--I think she's happy too. And it sounds like your mother was as well. Hard to argue with that.

    MG--I agree that holding your tongue can make life easier. Something I(and I suspect you) learned the hard way.