Saturday, November 11, 2006

"A medium vodka dry martini - with a slice of lemon peel. Shaken and not stirred."- Ian Fleming's James Bond

L and I went out last night. She was pissed at this guy she’s been (casually, CASUALLY!) dating, I - well, yeah, I’d had a long day – week – with all three kids at home, but I am always ready to go drink. We required a gentlemanly escort, so we prevailed upon Hair-in-his-Eyes-Guy’s roommate (whom we shall call M, in my usual original naming conventions) to meet us for some beer and some darts.

The dart board was being hogged by two men who very well may have been professional darts players, so seriously did they take their game and their equipment. L put her flirt on and finagled her and M’s way into a game. They got demolished, but they had fun; I stood around, drank beer, and smoked the last of M’s cigarettes.

The bar we have been frequenting closed at midnight, so we made our way to another bar in a trendier part of town, one that should be open till at least two. Carnivale was crowded, but with an admirable ease and confidence M made his way to the bar, ordered us drinks, and found us a relatively quiet corner in which to drink and talk.

He had ordered us what turned out to be pretty much vodka on the rocks, with some lemon squeezed in to cut the alcohol a tad. I can drink a lot of the right stuff – for instance, I can slurp down rum like there’s no tomorrow, and with no ill effects, then or tomorrow. I can generally handle with equanimity several beers. But vodka, vodka is poison to me.

The first thing I think of when offered vodka is the Swedish – or was she Russian? – exchange student at my little brother’s high school. D thought it was soooo cute that Ms Swede pronounced that venerable alcohol ‘wodka.’
“I’d like some wodka, please.”
It may have had something to do with her long legs and blonde hair, but, gosh, he found that mispronunciation endearing and charming. The amount of wodka he had consumed prior to conversation with Ms. Swede may also have influenced his judgment

The second thing I think of is my in-laws’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary party. Both the fact of the wedding anniversary, and the occasion of the party.

My father-in-law does not especially like my mother-in-law. I have to say, while I do not support his meanness and sarcasm, I do completely understand it. She’s not even close to as smart as he is, and she’s fucking annoying into the bargain. She must play the hostess wherever she is, and her sense of self-worth lies how she compares to her biddy friends: housecleaning, number of grandchildren, etc. I swear to God you’d think they tally points; who knows, perhaps they do.

She is perfect at saying exactly the wrong thing (about my wedding dress: “It’s plain, but…so are you.”); focusing on stupid things (fifteen minutes before a party at my house for forty-plus people: “Oh, the piano is dusty. Give me a rag and some polish and I’ll clean it.”); and making you feel like crap (six months after Terzo’s birth: “You should eat grapes. Grapes are supposed to flatten your stomach.”)

On the other side of the coin, however, my father-in-law does probably drink too much, and I would venture to say that he is clinically depressed, especially since his retirement.

But because most people of that generation do not get divorced, and especially not in my in-laws’ circle of friends, they are still married. In the years of their marriage, they have set a stellar example for their children re: marital bliss.
H’s younger brother H4 is married to a woman who is more or less my mother-in-law’s clone. They have four children and oodles of money, but H4 is never ever home. He travels a lot for work and for many years, he lived in another city during the week, coming home only on weekends. H’s sister H2 is sweet and kind and generous; however, her lack of self-esteem is astounding and she is married to a boorish idiot who treats her like she’s the moron. And the marriage of H’s youngest brother has already morphed into his parents’ marriage – they tolerate each other because getting divorced just is not done; it’s far better to live in misery or apathy.

And H and I? We thought we were the ones who were going to be different. We thought we had a passion for the ages. We thought we had it all figured out, we smug bastards. We met, got engaged, and married in a whirlwind eleven months. Yes, we fought like cats and dogs but oh, the making up was sweet and wonderful and oh, how we adored each other.
Except- we didn’t, after a while. After a while, all that effort and passion and feeling gets tiring. You wonder when the sweetness and content will begin, when you can be friends, when you can develop a healthy and communicative relationship. I thought it might be after my mother died, and I had spent almost a year in weekly therapy sessions. I felt strong and good and sure of myself. And it turns out that H wasn’t all that into that, not really. He said he was but when your spouse says to you, “I married you because I thought you were broken, and I could fix you” and then you fix yourself – it doesn’t work out as well as one might hope. We nearly divorced in 1999 - almost entirely my fault - but didn’t, and through months of intense marital counseling and heartfelt effort, made our marriage better and stronger and good. Truly good. Good enough that we considered having children a reasonable idea. But five years and three babies later, H is three years into what I consider the world’s longest ongoing midlife crisis and I am fed up to here with his distance, his meanness, his arrogance, his assumed superiority – in short, him.
During the crisis years, H pushed for trial separation – not in separate houses, but separate bedrooms. And I fought it. I saw it as the death knell. But when we bought our big old house, I gave in, because there was finally room and I thought it might help, that he would have more to give if I backed off. Now that we’ve had separate bedrooms – and as fast as we can renovate the third-floor bathroom, separate bathrooms – for three years, I would never ever go back to sharing my space.
I didn’t have my children to fix my marriage; at the time, it didn’t seem broken. And I adore my children and would not trade them for anything, not for all the romance of the perfect relationship, nothing. And never in a million years could I deal with not seeing them every day – not snuggling with them in my bed each morning, not kissing them goodnight every single night. (I’d even miss making their countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.) Plenty of people do deal with it, but I don’t want to. It is worth a lot to me to be able to be with them as much as I am; crazy as they make me, to not have to put them in daycare all day, or send them away for weeks or weekends with their father. And it is worth enough to me to make me stay in what is, at its best, an amicable roommate situation, and at its worst, a verbal and psychological battleground.

Every once in a while, H will make a clumsy attempt to make things better, to address his concerns and the issues that he feels impact our marriage. But when his idea of reasonable honesty is, “You’re 40 pounds overweight and I am not attracted to you when you are so fat” or “I can’t be excited for you that you are thinking of writing a novel because I am concerned that the house will not get cleaned, the laundry will not be done, and my meals will not get cooked,” I find it increasingly difficult to want to spend time with him, to put any effort into caring for him, to even consider spending the rest of my days with him. And it breaks my heart that a relationship entered into so optimistically, so idealistically (he would not live with me before we married, he wanted to “start out right” because he was convinced living with his previous girlfriend is what had ruined their marriage prospects) has evolved into a tired and sad cliché. One that his parents played out before us, one that his siblings seem to be playing out alongside us, and one that we will continue to play out until we figure out either how to fix it or how to be done.

So, then – the vodka. The in-laws’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary party. Planned and thrown by the offspring and their spouses. A gathering of emotionally stunted and/or dysfunctional marital participants, celebrating what is in my eyes essentially a farce, a trick perpetuated knowingly upon the next generation. You’d have drunk too much vodka too. Although you might not have been so aggressive about it; you might have eaten something before sucking down countless Ketel One greyhounds, you might not have passed out on the bathroom floor at home after the party and awoken with the worst hangover you have ever had. You might have been mature enough to cope with all the hidden or ignored undercurrents flowing through that crazy and ill-conceived party, mature enough not to drink yourself defensively into oblivion, mature enough not to stare into the abyss of thirty-five years of apathy and antipathy and self-medicate accordingly. I wasn’t, I wasn’t nearly mature enough, and I paid for it in innumerable ways, a lesser one of which is my absolute inability to drink vodka in any way, shape, or form.

Probably, in the long run, a small price to pay for the insights garnered that evening, into coping mechanisms and survival strategies for the maritally challenged and the matrimonially crippled, God help me.