I remember him chiding her (more than once), “If somebody stuck a $20 bill on you, nobody would pick you up.” The idea was for everyone else to laugh at your expense. I watched you get devalued.
I remember sitting in the back seat of the car with my friend Caroline and you saying to her mother, your wife, “Do me a favor, Beth. Close your eyes, shut up and pretend you’re not here.” I wish I could have closed my own and not heard you say these words to her. I never listened to another word you had to say. To anybody.
I remember his inability to pay a compliment and how he seemed to derive perverse pleasure in finding only negative things to say. He couldn’t tell his daughters that they looked pretty or how proud he was of them. Instead, he said things like, “Is that another new outfit?” or, “You’re sure lucky he married you.” I shopped to my heart’s content and refused to get married so that he could never say that again. At least not to me.
I remember her pitch-black, brooding silences. Caught up in her own darkness, incapable of seeing or accepting any light, she became paralyzed by her own self-centered destruction and showed no gratitude towards those who gathered around her again and again until she rejected them so many times, that one day, they no longer showed up. A simple, “thank you” might have changed all that, but by then, she was too busy complaining about how everyone had abandoned her. And a whole new crowd had gathered around.
I remember overhearing the couple at the restaurant arguing and the woman saying to her husband/boyfriend/lover?, “You’re not listening to what I’m saying. I don’t think you care at all how I feel.” For a longer time than necessary, there was complete silence. And then I remember being equally stunned when he responded, “You’re right.” And he didn’t complete the sentence. My dinner remained untouched.
I remember being sick in bed with a high fever and the flu, unable to move my body and him asking me, “What’s for dinner?” and me telling him that I would fall over if I stood up. “This isn’t a fucking hospital,” he said without emotion. Several months later, he found himself in one alone, after I had finally found the strength to leave. He died on an MRI table in Switzerland.
I remember my asking her why she had put up with his emotionally dismissive, elusive, abusive behavior and allowed herself to be berated, belittled and ignored for so long and why she kept signing up for the same relationship dressed up in a different man. And then I remembered I was asking myself the very same question.
I have been the witness to or recipient of enough dismissive words, veiled invalidation, fear, jealousy, humiliation and emotional impotence over the years that I wanted to set my hair on fire to make sure that I was still capable of feeling anything else at all. Instead, I chose to cut it at the end of each relationship. As a result, I’ve kept it short for 15 years. My hair, too.
I’ve seen and heard countless exchanges where one of the parties is left with nothing but emptiness and a silent pain that is so deep, it bleeds from the eyes but the other party is too busy looking at someone at the next table over so as to be totally blind to his or her responsibility for the breakdown that results in no communication whatsoever.
So many houses and lives of couples that are built on seething rage, disappointments, broken dreams and unspoken words where everyone has become afraid to say anything about any of them for fear that the whole structure of unhappiness might come tumbling down.
And when it does, all that will be left is to wonder if you can identify the exact moment where everything about you or the other person was taken for granted. It’s the invisible line you crossed where the familiarity masked itself in contempt and the beauty of that person you picked (or chose) became a funhouse mirror of your own insecurities and what you no longer see in yourself. It’s the same moment you realized that who you are, what you need or want or feel no longer matters, to anyone, including that other person or yourself.
It is the day you turn the person who matters most in your life into the very person you remember once writing about.
Or worse, you become this person yourself.
You are nothing more than the insignificant other.