Christmas was coming and it was going to be our first one as a married couple. There was no money for decorations, much less a tree but I don’t think it mattered to either one of us.
I had managed to get some fabric and made him Jay long caftan and a new shirt. He had gotten me a Kodak Instamatic camera, a tin bowl that was decorated with Delft blue designs and a set of cordial glasses.
We had been walking through K-Mart one day and I saw those little glasses. I had no idea what they were or what they were for but I thought they were so cute. He went back and got them for me. I couldn’t believe he had remembered.
Even though there were few presents, I thought it was a wonderful Christmas because the gifts he gave me were so thoughtful and we were together. Forty years later, I still had those gifts.
It was a brand new year and a brand new tradition was beginning. Somehow, it was decided that we were going to travel to his parents’ house every week-end and I mean EVERY week-end. He never asked me if I wanted to go. We just went.
We would get there and his mama would already be drunk, of course. She would have fixed the usual lunch, those hot dogs, cold pork n beans right out of the can, and this horrible slaw made from cabbage and mayonnaise. I hated it and I hated cold beans but I didn’t say anything.
We would go out on the back porch and as soon as we sat down, she started her relentless criticisms. Even when his daddy nudged her under the table, she sniped “I don’t care how many times you nudge me, I’m going to have my say.” She spewed out her venom with complete and utter abandon.
I sat there as if listening to a death sentence being imposed by a hostile judge who had decided that I should be slowly ripped apart piece by piece and fed to wild dogs.
Jay sat there like a stump and said nothing. He didn’t come to my defense and was, with his silence, showing me that she was more important to him.
The only relief came at night when it was time to go to bed. Before Jay and I got married, his childhood furniture was still in his room, which included a double bed. After we got married, the double bed disappeared and in its place were two twin beds. I don’t think she could bear the thought of her precious son in the same bed with a woman under her roof….even if that woman was his wife.
I couldn’t wait for Sunday because I knew we would be going back home. We’d get home and I would still be upset. Jay didn’t understand. Those were his blessed, revered parents and everything they did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say, was sacrosanct. To him, whatever his precious mama said had already been said, it was over and I should forget about it because he had.
This went on for months and months and months. We started having huge fights about it. He refused to believe, much less admit that she was an abusive drunk.
Being a journalist, metaphors were easy for him. I told him that I wanted to stop going to their house every weekend. When he almost innocently asked me why, I offered my own metaphor.
I said “try to imagine how you would feel if every single day you got up and started to cross the street and every single day you got run over by a Mack truck. Every single day you would think to yourself ‘maybe I won’t get run over today’ but you always did. Don’t you think that eventually you would decide that you were not going to cross that street again? That’s what being around your mama is like for me.”
He just looked at me with a contemptible, disgusted smirk that would become so familiar to me and second nature to him.
Our birthdays’ were only four days apart and they were coming up. It was the first year we were going to celebrate them together. I had planned exactly what I was going to do for him and I had that little girl excitement.
I had gotten up early and put little notes all around the house. The first one was beside the bed, next to his cigarettes (where I knew he’d find it.) It said “go look in the bathroom.” The one in the bathroom said “go look next to the coffee pot.” The one next to the coffee pot said “go look in the living room.” By the time he had gotten to the coffee pot, he wadded up the note, tossed it on the counter and almost at the point of being infuriated, said “just tell me where the fucking present is.”
I knew then that he was never going to be playful and I never did that again.
After a while, he was back to his regular self. He had said it, considered it no big deal, forgotten it and I was supposed to have done the same. Obviously, I didn’t forget it but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell him how he made me feel.
I knew he was still driven to get to the top of his profession and he had been at that newspaper long enough to start looking for bigger and better horizons.
He applied at the newspaper in his hometown and where his daddy ran the mail room. He had given his references and smiled broadly when he told me what they had said about him. His current editor said “he’s definitely headed for management. It’s just a matter of when he gets there.” One of his former editors said “oh, Hell. The son-of-a-bitch can do anything, but he’s not as good as he thinks he is…yet.”
He got the job of course and we started getting ready for the move. I had been bleeding heavily again so I told Jay that I thought I needed to the doctor before we left. Jay showed his usual annoyance but was okay as long as I was able to do all the packing and cleaning.
The doctor told me that I was pregnant and was apparently trying to abort. He told me to go home, rest and wait. Instead, I went home and finished packing.
I didn’t tell Jay anything about the warning the doctor had given me. He didn’t even ask how things went. I finally told him that I was pregnant.
There was no hug. There was no kiss. There was no “WOW.”
All he said was “that’s interesting.”