Friday, November 30, 2007

A Hostile, Barren Environment

A friend I made in St. Louis moved out to the west coast with her husband and daughter, to a city about 4 hours away. She is someone I felt an affinity with very quickly when we were new to her hometown, and I was delighted to have her within visiting distance.
When we had a reunion in Astoria shortly after their move just over a year ago, I found an ease and simple happiness in being with her that I hadn't felt for some time. They came for a visit just this past Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Gary had hesitated a little when I proposed her visit. Once it became clear that there wasn't going to be enough snow to make a ski trip worthwhile, and his father said it wouldn't be a good weekend for us to come visit *him*, he said I was free to invite her.

On Friday when she was within an hour of arriving Gary said he didn't want company. This was the 'only time' we'd be able to 'have our time as a family'. I said it was too late to withdraw my invitation. It was 5:30; he'd offered to 'get' dinner (warm up Thanksgiving leftovers). I said I wanted to wait dinner for their arrival so they could eat with us.

When they arrived he made it very clear that he'd been inconvenienced by having to wait dinner. The presence of his resentment was the elephant in the room and a fact for the duration of the visit.

Sun 941

Helena and Emma are here; arrived Fri evening. Gary very resentful and a negative presence. The kids self-centered and restive. Not quite what I’d hoped for in terms of atmosphere with Helena. I’m sorry, because I feel like this subjected her to some real discomfort, coming into this atmosphere where Gary’s attitude was more of a weight than I’d expected. I just feel sad, and have with just about every hourly check-in.


I feel really low. I feel about as low as I did at Christmas in 2004. I feel beaten down. Ground down.

Yeah, this visit with Helena sat heavily. Part of it because Gary was truly unfriendly and passive-aggressive, from the start when she asked him how he was and he said he was “not in a good mood”. I’m not sure it entirely recovered, the visit, from the spectre hanging over, that Gary resented the presence of my guests and didn’t do much to conceal it. Helena asked me about it and at first I denied that Gary’s behavior had anything to do with their presence, that he was just mad at me in general, but a part of me felt uneasy in denying her perception and experience of the truth. I felt weird lying about it and conflicted: would telling the truth be indulging MY uneasy feelings at the expense of hers? Would telling her that yes, Gary HAD changed his mind about it being ok for me to invite them (but he’d done that AFTER they were already en route) be worse for her? I told her that he would have been resentful about anyone I’d invited because it was a way he could express his resentment toward me. I apologized several times for her having driven 3-4 hours only to have to be subjected to that atmosphere

There was a 24 hour hangover after the visit, where I was reminded of having slipped off a rubber raft as a child. I sank to the bottom and laid there on my back looking at the sunlight that was illuminating the lake. The water filtered it and made it appear yellow-green. I felt a sensation as if I had always been there. I had no urgency to breathe and no fear. I might still be lying there had my father not pulled me out. I had the same sensation after Helena left, of having reached some sort of bedrock from which I could go no lower.

Now I see that I was living in 'a hostile, barren' world. And the contact with it sapped my will to a point where I lost the will to keep myself from sinking. I guess I have to have respect for Gary's personal power, to have been affected to this extent by his smoldering anger. How did he do that? For that period of time it was as if the very atoms of the world were constructed from a base of resentment; it was the air we breathed.

And what precipitated it was he changed his mind about whether or not it was ok with him that we have company. I have been in situations too where I've wondered what I was thinking when I gave a permission or agreed to something that I fiercely regretted. But my agitated feelings belong only to me, in that case, because I did give my agreement. I can be angry with mySELF for my short-sightedness, but I really can't legitimately be angry with the person I made the agreement with.

It seems that if this is true, then the threshold for setting off one of these cold wars is pretty low. That suggests that staying may mean more periods of nuclear winter, set off by just about anything.

1 comment:

Wordgirl said...

I was just reading a bit of your archives -- and this writing is stunningly beautiful, though I'm sorry it came out of such a difficult period.

That image of the lake is so arresting. Wow.