My mother was once again angry with me. My decision to sleep in a dorm on campus, walk to the library, print my papers ten minutes before my deadlines — It warranted a constant “You owe me.” Not that my family paid for these things, but I wasn’t there to clean, pay her E-bills, naively leave my laptop for Mom to abduct, explore, deconstruct. Takes the $3,200 she needs for a landscaping project to honor the Virgin Mary, but this is filial piety. No one is in a place to question. However, I’ve always objected.
I had a presentation to give as part of my summer research fellowship, the topic I now so loathe. Anyway, the presentation date was nonnegotiable, and the presentation itself was contingent upon receiving my stipend. I didn’t want to return to my summer job as a tour guide, straining my vocal chords ragged amidst sweltering guests, screaming kids. It wasn’t a decision anyone favored, but I didn’t feel like discussing any plans for an advanced degree. I was already asking for a bit much, attending a four-year college thirty minutes away.
“Are you driving me to the pharmacy Friday?”
I thought we had discussed this. I told her there was no way I could. In a way, this fellowship was my summer job.
“I thought you had told me – ”
My cellphone rang. I answered. My mother’s friend – really, a fixture she set aside for fluorescent small talk every Sunday morning – wanted an update on my availability. I told her I’d be able to help with her electronic photo album. Really, uploading Facebook photos. Heaving, sighing, twitching. My mother was crafting her latest blow.
“You can help her with her Facebook, but you can’t drive me to the pharmacy?”
I had tried explaining the conflict. I suggested she ask a friend to help. Always, I knew she had a valid license. But never would she drive herself. It was a combination of anxiety and an expectation of service, and she rarely returned the favor for those who gave her their time. There was always some justification for this. Enviously, my mother would tell herself, and all of us, that it would be no sweat on Auntie So-and-So’s brow, that Auntie So-and-So’s husband makes so much money, that Auntie So-and-So stays at home anyway, with nothing better to do. My mother was always so certain.
Usually, these arguments would result in some scuffling. She’d smack me across the face, pull my hair, drag me by the arm if I was sitting on the floor, chair, stair steps. I got used to her pushing me down the stairs as a consequence of my disrespect. It wasn’t really anything compared to other things I’d later talk about in therapy, my apathy in recounting these deeds somewhat unsettling for the person who was helping me sort things out.
But on this day, she did nothing dramatic. She said some ridiculous things, and smiled as she thanked me for the $3,200, but simply asked me to leave her home.
To this, I did not object.
There were options I could have explored, options I resorted to after the dissolution of my first romantic relationship. I very well could have used $900 of my $2,500 summer stipend to live on campus, complete my research there, perhaps make something of that paper that I now sorely regret. But I didn’t. I could have lived comfortably at a women’s home. Not necessarily a shelter, but a halfway house at $75 a week. Or where I live now. $360 a month. But I didn’t know these places existed. I didn’t bother to look. I asked, but no one really knew. But never did I have initiative.
* * *
And with that, I relied on the kindness of a high school friend, stayed with them for several days, put my presentation together, gave my proposal well, received my check. My boyfriend’s parents, they saw through it all. The kind to criticize and censure nonverbally. But I lived with them for a month as boyfriend and I looked for apartments. Haphazardly, frantically, reluctantly. We were not compatible, and we were scared. I sensed this, and it was indeed confirmed a good two years later. At the time, we just ignored it, like a tire not at its fullest that still doesn’t quite impede on your daily commute. His dad only rolled his eyes at me, muttering, “One dependency for another.”
Now, I didn’t like his dad and gave him little credibility, but I knew he was right, and I regret not feeling any more offended than I was in June of 2011.
So, if I resorted to the aforementioned options, would I have been better off? It’s really hard to tell. At the time, this relationship held me together, albeit in maladaptive ways. He was like craft glue holding a flimsy bookshelf. The substance, materials, the weight – It doesn’t quite match. It doesn’t fit. But of course, we fear change. Dating a different guy deterred me enough. I don’t think selecting the other housing options would have ruined our relationship. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so belittling. Maybe he wouldn’t have seen me as such an embarrassment, a sad little stereotype to bitch about to coworkers, that friend and “lover” who’d always be there. Or perhaps no matter the situation, I would have always been some sort of pet. Even in retrospect, I have difficulty describing him, his tendencies, his doings. This guy was truly odd.
I do know, inarguably, that I would have entered a situation that forced frugality, welcomed urgency, shunned any sort of complacent malaise I had as a typical student at a small liberal arts university. I may not have been a wealthy child but I certainly was not unspoiled. When I did have to downsize, and gave my friend a grimace of thanks when he walked me to the laundry room I rented out after college, it was clear to those around me that surely, I lived a convenient life. I drank more than a reasonable amount of Starbucks Coffee, we had pizzas delivered three times out of the week. These winsome tales married couples in love tell friends at parties about living through graduate school on sardines and Ramen? That wasn’t us. I was in school. He had a career. I saw no need to want for myself.
This isn’t to say that I deserved the things that were done and said against me. There are still bits of cyclical thought I need to dispel regarding that stretch in time. Eat beyond the point of 145 pounds? Loyalty gone. Suggest options unimpressive, nor financially lucrative? Get branded a liberal whore. Read books, newspapers, and watch documentaries with a political slant divergent from his? Get the fuck out of my home. Curiously he told me I had a tolerance problem, but never could I bring him to a social function where he wouldn’t trash my friends, reasons including messenger bags, bumper stickers, and T-shirts branded with causes and figures he so detested. These trinkets, they tell you the full extent of their owners. Right.
I wasn’t so angered by the fact that his older coworker had gained his attention and eventual affections. It was just a bit unsettling to come home, hear him speak on the phone with her, sit at the dining table to do my homework, and be told, We’re having a conversation. Please leave until we’re done. Repeatedly, robotic, he stepped away. I was there when he needed, but again, I was just a source of shame. I studied too much for things that were silly, and I wasn’t putting forth my fair share of our expenses. While I could see why this could frustrate him, and I was constantly alert to his parent’s warnings of “gold digger” and “she won’t take birth control” (and they too were a Catholic family!), I wonder if he would have been a bit more supportive if I majored in, say, mechanical engineering. I think he and the coworker would have still carried on, but I would have likely been able to peaceably spend more time in a place to which my name was attached by lease. I had a place, but it wasn’t my place. It was referred by others as “your apartment.” But it wasn’t. One dependency for another.
I wish I lived on in my ignorance of extreme political thought, the weakness of systems, abuses and crudeness I really should be more sensitized to. I wish I wasn’t so questioning, so hypercritical, pathologically suspicious of even the kindest of people. But are they truly kind, or slyly condescending? I thought he was kind. He may have been at one time. I do declare that under the circumstances in the summer of 2011, our moving in together was a poor decision. It reflected on my fear of independence, my comfort in complacence. Like others with limited dating experience, I’m awfully awkward, skittish, so uncoordinated in my attempts to connect. But frankly, I still do not wish to connect, at least romantically.
When I called him to ask, “Can we live together?”, it was a question of haste, an impulse. Maybe if I asked, “Can we take a walk?”, we could have explored other options, without being so terrible. I’d like to think we’d still take walks even today. Even if not romantically.