At that time, it was all I could ask.
I remember one special Christmas several years ago. A holiday I spent at home with my ex. He was a man who was not quite a decade older. He was a man who studied literary theory. A man with a beard and spectacles. A man with a cross-body bag and diesel jeans. A man I brought from our east coast apartment to my parents’ suburban split-level in the upper Midwest. Things were not going too well between my ex and I that winter. Things were never going too well between the two of us. But I didn’t like people to actually see that. I didn’t like the threat such a witness might bring to bear on my illusion. I preferred people think of us as fun, smart, renegade, hilarious drinkers. (I almost said “cagey.” Ugh. That word.) Was that too much to ask? To be thought of as genius-level party animals? I didn’t think so. But somehow I feared we didn't come across that way. I feared we came across more as burned out losers: as a co-dependent female with her ego-manic male—which of course was more accurate. This man and I had been going together for a while. This was not the first time he’d been to the frozen land of Minn-ee-SO-tah. He’d been before. He’d even met hometown friends. And so, one night, during the holiday week we were all at a watering hole called the Bryant Lake Bowl and drank a few rounds and shared a few stories from the last year before landing at an old friend’s apartment in Uptown. This friend had a balcony. There was a strand of Christmas lights strung across it in a very haphazard fashion. I mention this because I remember my friend was out on the balcony, smoking a cigarette with his new girlfriend when I realized my own boyfriend was acting a bit out of sorts. He was sitting in a chair, alone in the living room, scowling. Now this kind of a stunt had become essentially de rigueur, yes, but as mentioned, I liked to keep it in the home. Here was the critical question: was he just generally pissed off? Or was he mad at ME. Had I done something specifically to elicit the menacing glower? Upon inspection it was evident he was upset. Oh yes. Very upset. In fact he was upset with moi. He wouldn’t say what I’d done of course (one of his favorite tactics). He insisted on burying his head in a random art book he’d plucked from the bookshelf, maniacally staring at a reproduction of “The Wreck of the Medusa.” When my friends asked if all was well I made light of it and decided we suddenly had to go, “thanks for the good night!” and “see you soon!” and “come to Philadelphia some time!” etc. When we got into the car I tried the old ‘I don’t have to talk if you don’t have to talk,’ but at some point he gave that shit up and started talking. A lot. Yelling, actually. Somewhere around the place where 35W North meets County Road E2 he was in a full fever pitch. I can’t even recall what he was upset about. Oh, yeah. I think he thought I had questioned his intelligence or something, which, I mean, I probably had. Anyway, by the time we pulled into my parents’ driveway he was furious. He’d barely put the car in park and killed the engine before he’d clamored out, hustled into the house through the kitchen and into the liquor cabinet where he grabbed something brown and dusty and poured it into a tumbler. I watched in silence. Then he turned out of the house, hurled an insult at me, and headed down the street, on foot. Shortly after that I heard the sound of a glass shattering. OK, I thought, let him walk it off. Just please don’t let anyone hear this. Please let my parents be asleep. Please don’t let anyone know that I’m being treated so roughly. That I’d let a man speak to me in such a manner. I expected my mom to come down the stairs and ask what was going on. I expected my dad to tell me: look, enough is enough—you’re done with this. But my dad was asleep. I could hear him snoring. So my parents didn’t come. And I didn’t make excuses for the monster marauding my neighborhood that winter night. I didn’t say all the things I used to say in defense of him. And I didn't promise everyone that everything was OK. And I’m glad. That night I got my Christmas wish. That the only one to witness my shame and horror and disappointment, was me.
December 10, 2013