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Homeless... at Home
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"Seth, we've got to communicate more. It's getting worse and worse." I finally pointed out last night, two hours into another silent evening.
"No!" Seth pronounced, as though he had been waiting for the five years of our marriage, for me to say that. "That's exactly where couples run into trouble! They talk about every little thing. A problem isn't really a problem until you state it in words."
I was stunned to silence, realizing that none of my supporting evidence was relevant after this.
"When people talk," he elaborated, "it only turns into a fight, and the same person decides in the end, anyway. To have things peaceful at home, we just need to avoid talking."
"But ... so ... how are we supposed to ... communicate, then, Seth? I mean, how can we let the other person know what we want or need?"
He huffed. Annoyed. "There are plenty of non-verbal ways to communicate, Shlomit. Not everything has to be just yapped out. One person can send hints that the other picks up. If you are doing something I don’t like, I shouldn't have to say anything. It should be obvious to you from my reaction. If I seem to be upset with you, just figure out why, and change it. If you want to tell me something, just send the right hints and I'll understand without having to get it all out in the open where it hurts everybody's feelings and gets everybody upset."
I pondered a moment. Even though he’s saying creepy stuff, at least he's talking!
"Seth, I don't know. I'll try this technique, but I'm pretty sure I won't be good at it. I'm just not so people-oriented." I can tell, from what my computer sounds like, what part of the program it has gotten to. I can tell when a dog wants to be greeted and when she wants to be left alone. But I often don't 'get' what's going on with other people unless it is spelled out.
And, in the other direction, I feel sneaky trying to transmit non-verbal hints. My old low tolerance for ambiguity.
OK. I'll try harder to send hints that are clear but not too clear, and to have longer antennae for receiving his. Now that I know that he is sending signals, and not just being generally glum, I will know to look for something I'm doing, and change it.
Sigh. I have never been good at charades.
Well, a month later, I'm still giving it a try, but this gag order has only led to misunderstandings and isolation.
Frankly, I don't see that Seth is a candidate for ESP. His psyche is so different from other people's that you wouldn't expect communication on a psyche-to-psyche level. His certainly hasn't connected with mine.
The way it works out, the whole burden of this experiment rests on me. Because Seth defines policy around here, it's irrelevant whether I know what he wants. He doesn't have to communicate what he wants - he just does what he wants. If he doesn't want to buy apples, or if he wants to turn on the radio, he just does. Or doesn't. But if I do want him to buy apples or to be allowed to turn the radio off, I'm trying to deviate from the status quo, and I have to walk a tightrope trying to find a nebulous way to let him know indirectly what I would like, short of coming right out and being too blatant, and having the encounter wind up an angry one where he attacks my way of asking, and the whole issue of the thing I wanted in the first place, gets lost in the shuffle.
That's if I'm too forceful. If I'm too timid and round-about, of course, he just ignores me. Convenient, huh? I sweat it out, and in the end ... the same person makes all the decisions, anyway.
In the other direction - his communication with me - things are even more disastrous. I'm always wondering, 'What am I doing now that is making him so grumpy?' He storms around tisking, muttering, grimacing, glaring - looking as though he's trying to hint at something, but I can’t figure out what. There might be something I'm doing unconsciously that's driving him crazy, and I would gladly stop if only I knew what it was. And equally likely that some of the restrictions I have placed on myself, because it seemed that that's what he wanted, are not helping his moods at all, just restricting me for nothing.
Usually, when someone seems to be upset, you can say to yourself, 'If he were upset with me, he would have said something.' With Seth, since I know he wouldn't tell me even if he were angry with me, I just always assume he is.
I don't know when we would talk, anyway. He enforces his isolation with his radio. He walks into the house with his hand outstretched to turn on the radio, and he only turns it off to turn on the TV. So there we sit at meal time. Just munching away, with the radio going. He'll listen to whatever is on. We've munched through talk shows in Yiddish or French or Arabic. Bee-bop music. Doesn't matter, so long as this cocoon of sound envelopes him so I can't penetrate. So in addition to officially cutting off discussion, he also cuts off any casual words that might pass between us. Noise pollution. Blaring jazz or bouncing Lithuanian polkas color my whole environment, just as a particular smell would. If there’s a call-in show, even if I don’t understand the language, it’s like always having strangers chatting in my living room.
Be careful what you wish for.
I somehow communicated to Seth that I don't always like to have the radio on, so he went and bought himself a 'walkman' - a little radio/tape player that he straps to his arm and listens to with earphones. He is plugged into this thing when I get home, and he leaves it on all evening. Sometimes he doesn't even notice when I get home.
If there is something I need to tell him, and I tap his arm, he jumps. He beams me his deadly hate-face, and asks why I have been sneaking up on him. I guess he has forgotten that I exist.
Now I really feel as though I'm living with a golem. We are really in two parallel universes occupying the same physical space.
Some evenings I find the shutters open as I walk up through the park, and the evening is pretty much as they used to be.
OK. Seth is never going to smile and say, "Hi, it's good to see you." There are never going to be spontaneous hugs or sharing.
But on these 'good' evenings he seems like a normal person. We eat together and though the radio prevents any real conversation, at least there's a "Please pass the salt," or "We're almost out of ketchup." I talk more and he often seems to be listening. It's like having another person in the apartment.
I have to help Seth. I need professional advice. I think he is in a depression or something, and I don't know what to do.
Until recently, I have managed to find excuses for the way he is - stress from one thing or another. But our life has quieted down. The marriage is five years old, we have been in Israel for three years and in our own apartment for two years. He is settled in to his job. We can communicate pretty well in Hebrew. I've run out of excuses.
I didn't know where to start, so I wrote to Marketing with Martha, the Jerusalem Post consumer columnist, and she sent me the name of an English speaking social worker in Tel Aviv.
It's Friday, and Seth is at work, so I called this counselor, Talia. I told her the situation, and she agreed to meet me next Friday.
I can't believe I'm doing this. I feel terrible, going behind Seth's back like this, but I've got to do something.
Seth would kill me if he knew. Not only for the huge unauthorized expenditure, but for talking about his problems outside the house. And for consorting with a psychologist - a wishey-washey non-technical non-professional 'professional'. And for just plain doing ANYTHING he hasn't ordered me to do.
Well, I'll go up once, and if it doesn't seem as though she can help him, and if he doesn't find out, I can just forget the whole thing.
I’m writing this on the bus to my second meeting with Talia.
I was incredibly nervous, last week, by the time I got to her beautiful house.
"So," she said, pad and pen on her knee. "Spill the beans. What's up."
"Well, OK. There are ... there are many things wrong in the marriage, but they're all pretty trivial compared to this ... depression, or whatever it is, that he's in. I would trade everything for just having Seth happy. Not happy as in smiling and joyous - that's just not his personality - but just ... not seething with such anger all the time."
"Can you give me an idea of some of your other dissatisfactions with the marriage?" Talia asked.
"OK. Like, he seems to want to totally control me, but even though I'm going along with everything, he's angry at me all the time. Well, I don't even know if he's angry at me, or just stam angry."
It's so refreshing to finally be able to talk about everything. The worst part of all this has been the isolation.
All week, since talking with Talia, I'm seeing things through Talia's eyes, and nothing seems quite as serious. Anything that happens, I can think, "Hmmm. I'll have to mention this to Talia and see what she thinks." No wonder all the people on TV have a shrink they can call any time life gets to be too much for them.
Of course, a friend, even without professional training, would fulfill eighty percent of what Talia does for me.
One thing about Talia makes me uncomfortable. She thinks that Seth is doing all this on purpose. That what seems to be depression is really just an act to make me so afraid of him that I will do everything he wants me to.
But she hasn't seen how he looks and acts. When I think back to a couple of years ago, like at the absorption center, OK maybe then it was just tantrums, because he was 'normal' except that sometimes he was mean. But now, he is really strange. Sleeping twelve or more hours a day, hunching over the way he does, and drinking a couple of glasses of wine every night. (Talia calls it 'self medicating'. Seth is right - this whole 'soft science' of psychology is kind of flaky. All they have to do is attach a name to something, and they feel they have explained it.)
Seth is in trouble. He's not acting. If he is, he missed his calling.
It's frustrating having only my own perceptions to go on. Even Talia takes 'my side'.
There must be a better explanation for all of this than just that Seth is a creep. Rabbi Ezra, the rabbi from Seth’s parents’ synagogue, is in Jerusalem for the year, so I called and asked if I could come and talk to him.
I went an hour before I had arranged to visit the Ezras, because I wanted to go pray at the Kotel - the Western Wall. I pray to myself every night, of course, and often during the day. But it felt so special to actually stand there at the wall, amid women praying for health for themselves and loved ones, for husbands, for children. Maybe my prayers for Seth's health and the health of the marriage will swirl up to G!d with the prayers of these good women, and pack more of a punch?
When I got to the Ezras' apartment, I asked the rabbi and his wife if they could, from their long association with the family, and knowing him for longer than I have, shed some light on Seth's troubles. They said that davka since Seth is married he seems happier and more emotionally healthy. Yikes! I wonder what he was like before! Seth's cousin had said the same thing, when we visited them. Seth's mother has also told me she's so glad I married him. That I'm so good for him.
After we had talked for awhile, the Ezras recommended that we start a family. Have children.
I must have looked very uncertain. "I can't imagine a child in the house. Seth is so ... " I didn't mention the obvious obstacle - that we don't have sex often enough for pregnancy to even happen.
"You are living in an unnatural situation, Shlomit," explained Rabbi Ezra. "You have been married for almost six years. It's no wonder that the relationship is too intense in some ways. Fatherhood would very likely cause Seth to behave in a more mature manner. He would feel responsible for all of you. He would get out of 'little boy with Mother' mode, if there were real children who need you. I'm sure you play your part, too. A woman without children tends to look for someone else to mother, and it's often her husband that she spoils. Maybe, also, the cats you mentioned. You need real children to mother, and he needs to become the husband you need. You both need to realize he's not your child. The very fact that you came here alone, trying to solve his problems for him ..."
On the bus home, I tried to imagine how it would be with a child in the house. It would be wonderful to have baby chores and baby company in the evening instead of boring loneliness. I imagined some of the homey scenes my friend David at work tells about, with Seth instead of David smiling and doing things with a couple of little blonde children. Being mature and fatherly - talking with them and helping them. The two of us smiling fondly at their cute comments and antics.
But what if Seth challenges me to decide between him and the baby, as I'm forced to decide between him and work, family, friends, hobbies, and even my own nutritinal needs? I can't just decide that it isn't working, and put the baby back where it came from.
But if it does work - if he does become the kind of husband and father Dad is - that would be so wonderful! Rabbi Ezra has obviously had years of experience with people. And, of course, if you ask a Rabbi a question, and he gives you and answer, you have to go by it, right?
And it certainly is a more normal thing - to have children when you're married.
As soon as Seth is back on an even keel ... we’ll see.
Talia says I feel more trapped than I really am, because I only utilize a small fraction of my ‘activity space'.
That even though Seth restricts me, I am also restricting myself. I could yell at him or lock him out till he promises to behave better, or report him to Psychological Services (which I hadn't known exist) so he'll be forced into treatment. Or just say, "Seth, what is the problem? Why do you act like this? What can we do about it?"
Or I could get my parents to arrange plane tickets, and I could just fly home to Ohio. I have no children to complicate things legally or emotionally.
Since I'm her client, and Seth isn’t, Talia is more concerned with my problem which is my irrational behavior in staying and letting him tyrannize me.
"But, who would take care of Seth if I left him?" I asked Talia. "If I were the one having problems, I wouldn't want him to just run off and abandon me."
"Shlomit, for all your devotion, I must point out that you're not doing very well at taking care of Seth. I don't see that he would be any worse off without you."
She's right, of course.
"Anyway, Talia, I don't want to upset my parents."
She nodded and asked innocently, 'Your parents like Seth, then? They think he's a good husband for you?'
"Well, probably not, really. But I don't want them to worry. To think I'm unhappy."
"But you are unhappy."
"Yeah, but I can deal with my unhappiness better than I can deal with theirs. Plus, they don't believe in divorce. They might say I should try harder."
Talia shook her head. "Shlomit, I have a teenage daughter. If I found out she was going through a tenth of what you are, I would get her out of there so fast ..."
"And also, well, they might ... both sides of the family might ... think it's the religious thing. My family might think it's because Seth is Jewish, and Seth's family might think it's because I'm a convert. But of course it's not that at all. It's certainly not a Jewish thing to treat your wife badly. And Seth doesn't seem to think of me as a convert."
"How can you know, if he never talks?"
"It's true that Seth doesn't want anyone to know I'm a convert," I admitted. "I can see his point. I don't especially want to be a convert. I'm not that different from anyone who was raised Jewish, but if people knew, they might see everything differently. He once said it would be better for the children, if we ever have them, if they just felt like everyone else, and if people treated them like everyone else."
"But you're not comfortable with keeping it a secret?"
"Well, as it turns out, I can't really relax and be friends with anyone who doesn't know. My childhood and first family are a big part of my life. You would be amazed, just in talking to someone, how many things could give you away. Anyone who knows Ohio knows that the town where my parents live, doesn't have a Jewish community. People are always referring to their bar mitzvahs, or where their grandparents came from in Europe. I don't exactly lie, but I do verbal gymnastics to avoid saying something that wouldn't be consistent with a Jewish upbringing. When you have a friend, you shouldn't have to always be on guard.
"Once I wondered if Seth's whole reason for dating me was to annoy his mother," I laughed. "He planned for weeks just how he would drop the bombshell that he was dating a shiksa. Maybe, when she welcomed me with open arms, he was disappointed that she didn't get upset.
"And also ..." I paused. Talia isn't religious. She's one of those non-religious Israelis who are almost anti-religious. She might scoff at what I was going to say next.
"Well, they say that Hashem. ... that G!d ... doesn't give you more burdens in life than you can bear. And it's true. If He needed somebody to take care of Seth ... well, at least to stay with him through this ... I'm doing pretty well. I'm holding up. I had a good healthy childhood and good examples of how a family should be. It's flattering, that G-d feels I can do it. You said, yourself, that anyone else would have given up by now, or would have been driven crazy by Seth's craziness."
I had been staring at the rug that I stare at every week. For anyone who is going into the shrink business, I highly recommend getting a brightly patterned rug for people to 'play with' as they talk. I followed the Indian zig zags with my eyes, and made patterns with the location of Talia's chair leg each week.
I looked up, and sure enough, Talia was looking skeptical.
"Plus, what I'm going through is nothing compared to what ... Seth has to deal with." I had been about to call him 'poor Seth'.
"I do know something about Jewish practice, Shlomit," she grinned, "I know that there's no merit in sitting in the succah if it's raining, or in fasting for a day and a half for Yom Kippur. Of course, you should be patient and caring with your husband. Up to a point. But it would be more constructive to get him to stand on his own two feet. Or, if that's not going to happen, to leave him, Shlomit. Instead of helping him, your TLC might just be hindering him. OK, think about this for next time."
Could I / should I leave Seth? Why stick with the person who has given me the six worst years of my life? But we're married. I had intended to stay married for my whole life. But I hadn't imagined that it would be like this.
Seth is at a conference in the US for three weeks, and I'm going completely bazooie!
I went to the shuk on Friday morning and bought some of every fruit and vegetable I saw there. (Including something called tamarind. I stewed it up and it's so sour and good!) I made a huge vegetable soup and a huge salad and a huge fruit salad and a compote and I just eat and eat. What Seth doesn't know won't hurt him, right?
I went to synagogue Friday evening, which we never do because it’s just a social club, and Jessica and Fanny both invited me over for supper during the week.
I played a game called RummiKub with Fanny and her mother. I think they play every evening. Fanny says that in South America people drink tamarind juice.
I'm playing my guitar and singing in this echoey radio-free apartment. (Hope Seth doesn't check for calluses when he gets back!)
I went to the library and got "Anna and the King of Siam" and some other classics I've been wanting to read. I READ IN BED!!!! It's so cozy. The cats and I just hunker down after a HOT shower! (Well, I take my bath before I get in bed and they take theirs after they get in bed.)
I'm sewing curtains for the kitchen windows. Seth doesn't seem to like me to sew when he's home. I was thinking of sewing the slipcovers, finally, from that beautiful fabric we bought, but I think he might see that as too much of a defiant act, since he seems to get upset every time I start working on them.
I even put up a shelf in the kitchen, made from some boards from our lift. I made a pretty good dovetail joint. Now we have a place to display knickknacks. Something to make the place a little bit interesting. I always feel sorry for the few people who do visit, when they look around in vain for something to comment on.
With all of these projects to work on, I actually look forward to coming home from work in the evening. It’s been years since that happened. During the day I plan my evening. Daydreaming about how cozy and homey the house is getting to look.
And we're going to have pictures on the walls! That's the real surprise. Maybe Seth would be more cheerful if the house were interesting and pretty. So I found some things around the house that could go up on the walls, and I had a framer cut pieces of glass to fit them. I'll just put cardboard on the backs and clips around the edges.
In the living room I'll put up the unicorn tapestry poster we got at the Cloisters. There are several little pictures I'm framing for our room - from greeting cards or pen-and-inks Kay or Mom did. The real surprises are two schematics I found in cartons Seth brought from the university. Framed, they look like modern art and look great over the bed.
And over the desk, the one thing that will cost some money - I'm having our ketubah framed - our marriage contract. Seth spent so much time and effort writing it, back when - I was about to say 'back when he loved me'. Back before we got married and everything started to unravel. I hated to leave the ketubah at the framer - it's irreplaceable! I go every couple of days to check on it.
Speaking of 'back when Seth loved me ...' I was thinking of cutting my hair. He has ordered me to let it grow, but I keep remembering that I had short hair when he used to love me. He used to call me 'Little Shlomit'. I want to do whatever I can, to turn back into the woman he used to love. But I don't think it would be a good idea to cut my hair unless he tells me to, at this point.
I'm torn among all the things I want to do. There's just over a week left. The time is going so fast. Usually the weeks creep by.
I want to perfect some new chords on the guitar, paint the shelf, and put up the curtain rod. But it's so nice to get out and see people. And I've got to stay home for supper a few nights, to finish up all this contraband food. Or maybe I shouldn't. Maybe he should see how I would live if he weren't deciding everything for me.
Jessica said something tonight, as I was packing up my guitar to go home: "You must be lonely all by yourself, without Seth."
Here, I had just had a warm, friendly evening full of laughter and conversation and children and hot food and music and friendship and life. Night-and-day different from a typical Shlomit and Seth evening.
Now I was heading home to finish that letter to Jeanie, have a bowl of compote with vanilla pudding, luxuriate in a hot shower, and then hunker down with my book and my cats to read until I felt tired, and then let myself turn off the light and sink into sleep. Instead of having to force myself to stay awake, sitting at the cold table, with the radio shredding the air.
"No, not really ..." I answered. And then the truth sank in and I said, "No, I think I miss Seth more when he's here than when he's not here."
"How could that be?" Jessica laughed, surprised.
"Well," I answered slowly, "When he's there in the apartment, but he's ... so silent and out of reach, and I have no idea what he's thinking and he has no interest in anything I'm thinking ... I miss him. I yearn for him. I feel, in my heart, the sadness you feel when someone you love is far away. This past week ... well, I really haven’t been thinking about him at all."
How can you be with someone all but fifty hours a week and not feel a flicker of loneliness when they leave? When he's out of sight - he's truly out of mind. It's like a weigh being lifted. A stone taken out of a shoe. I don't even want to think about him.
Seth is back. And I'm back to the old lifestyle. He didn't mind - or didn’t notice - the pictures on the walls, and the shelf and curtains in the kitchen.
Wow. I realize that at the height of my intoxication with freedom, I had actually hoped he might react positively to the changes. Then a couple of days before he got back, as I sank back down to earth, I just hoped he wouldn't be furious when he saw them. I fought the urge to just undo everything. Of course there's no need for him to know about the guitar and the hot showers and the books in bed and the food, or the evenings with Fanny and Jessica. Luckily they don't go to synagogue on Shabbat morning, so he won’t wonder why I’m greeted warmly by people he assumes are total strangers.
I'm so embarrassed. I totally lost my temper yesterday when Ruthi and Nahum were here. I guess my sessions with Talia aren't doing any good. I set out to try and make Seth happier, but I have only started losing control of myself. And those three weeks out from under his thumb made me even more discouraged about the way things are in real life.
We were having a nice weekend. Seth and I have known Ruthi since college, and have gotten to know Nahum since they got married. Seth and I were playing that card game Ruthi taught us, that we're so addicted to. Ruthi sat behind me and watched me play. I don't know why that bothered me - I'm used to being under Seth's constant scrutiny, why should it bother me to be under someone else's? Ruthi is brilliant, and doesn't have a lazy mind as I do. I play to relax and to watch the patterns go by, and to be sociable. She revels in strategizing. I was feeling her eyes on my cards with every play. Then I played a card and she cried, "No! You have a Queen!"
And I exploded! I threw my cards across the room and screamed at the top of my lungs, "Everybody just leave me alone!" I ran into our room and threw myself on the bed with my face in the pillow, and just screamed. I even bit down on the pillowcase. I've never felt such ... not even anger. Fury! I just wanted to scream and scream and hit and get away from Seth and from this house. From this life.
It was like my dreams about Seth where I scream at him and throw things at him and hit at him.
Seth, of course, followed me into the bedroom. He stood there saying I was a disgrace and should be ashamed of myself, and should go apologize to Ruthi and Nahum. His reference to them surprised me. I had forgotten they were even there. My whirling thoughts as I screamed into the pillow hadn't been about them at all, but about his eagle eye and the commands and the limitations and bossing and insults and criticizing and anger Seth has been throwing at me for years.
In my crazy, altered state, I just opened all the floodgates. I sat up on the bed and looked up at him, standing there above me, clenching his fists, the fury on his face matching what I felt trying to burst from my chest. I was breathless from OD-ing on adrenaline. I said, "Seth, I can't go on like this anymore! I've ... I've even thought of leaving you, Seth! You're always ... picking on me. Every little thing. Everything I do, you tell me to do differently. You tell me what to eat, when to sleep, what to read ... I feel as though I'm in prison! No friends and no sex and I can't do anything around the house - play my guitar or sew or clean. You read my letters, and you're always here! You're here when I leave in the morning and you're here when I get home at night ... You're ..."
"We are married, Shlomit, in case you hadn't noticed. Generally, two people who are married want to be together."
"But not all the time! I never go anywhere by myself. Friday mornings are so crammed with errands ... I try to get up a little earlier than I have to, just to have a few minutes for myself. But we go to bed so late that that doesn't make sense ..."
"No, it doesn't, Shlomit. And you're not making any sense at all. How can you sit there and criticize me when you obviously can't even control yourself. You have insulted our friends, Shlomit. You go right out there and explain yourself."
"But, can we talk, later?"
"You can talk right now - to Ruthi and Nahum."
I went out to the kitchen where Ruthi and Nahum were sitting at either side of the kitchen table, with my deck of cards in the middle.
"I'm sorry about that outburst, you guys. I'm just so ... he ... I can't move a muscle without ..."
They looked at each other and laughed. Ruthi glanced at the kitchen door and Nahum reached over and slid it closed. "That's exactly what we were saying," Ruthi said in an undertone. "We were talking about it last night. Is he always so bossy?"
"Lately, he is," I whispered.
"Shlomit, really!" Ruthi said seriously, "I don't know how you stand it!"
"Well, as you saw in there, I don't do too well!" I smiled. "I'm sorry you just happened to be here when the straw broke my back."
"Shlomit - this is no way to live! He tells you what to do and then criticizes you a dozen times while you do it. Just setting the table last night! We knew even back in college that he was a fusspot. But he demands that you be perfect, to his own strange determination of what's perfect! Shlomit, this is no way to live!"
Nahum smiled at Ruthi, "We were saying that at some point you're going to explode or run away or kill him. I guess you chose the least drastic option."
Seth slid open the kitchen door, "Did she apologize?"
"Seth!" Ruthi said, "You two need to talk."
"Oh, I'll talk to her all right!" Seth said, glaring at me. "And you shouldn't have picked up the cards. I was going to make her do that. Teach her a lesson."
"So!" said Nahum, pushing himself to a stand against the table, "We were just saying we would like to take a walk."
We all feigned great interest in outfitting ourselves with hats, canteens and cookies - deciding who would carry what.
Nahum and Seth walked ahead and talked politics. Ruthi and I hung back.
"Shlomit, you have to stand up for yourself. How can you let him trample you like this? You were never like this back in college, before you married Seth! I knew you when you were going with Gary. It was a normal give and take relationship. Even though he was ga-ga over you, and you could have wrapped him around your little finger."
I smiled at her reference to good old Gary. Why hadn't I stuck with him? He was the opposite of Seth, in that he had so many friends and activities that I sometimes felt neglected. Once he had called to say he would be right over to my dorm. An hour later, I went out to the hall to phone him, only to see him in the lounge, entertaining my suitemates with stories, or listening to someone's troubles and cheering them up. Always making everyone feel good. I was embarrassed going to movies on campus with Gary, because he always wanted to get there early, and then he would stand up at his seat, in the middle of the theater, engaging in shouted conversations with each person who came in the door of the auditorium. He seemed to know and like everybody. And everybody liked Gary. Good old Gary.
"Shlomit, you two need professional help. This isn't a marriage, it's slavery."
"I don't think he would ever go to a counselor, Ruthi. But actually, I'm going to someone. He doesn't know. That's why I feel I have to try to be so good in other respects - because I am disobeying him by going to Talia and spending all that money ..."
"But you're doing it for the good of both of you! He can't possibly be happy, going around muttering and complaining all the time. I'm proud of you for trying to get things on the right track. Is it helping?"
"It helps to have someone to talk to. I feel better that you guys know about how Seth is, now. I'm so alone with this. With him."
Seth and Nahum were waiting for us to catch up, so Ruthi started telling me that the kibbutz would start to raise sheep in the spring.
Actually, it took me a week, on the bus to work, to write about last Shabbat. Then on Friday, I went to Talia.
I feel like someone on a soap opera. Have a temper tantrum and then run off and tell your shrink all about it.
Talia asked, as always, "How was your week? Did you have an opportunity to try any of the ideas we talked about last session?"
Every week Talia suggests ways that I could get Seth to treat me with more respect. Every week I admit that I didn't have courage to rock the boat. At least this week I have something to report.
"No, but I ... had sort of a temper tantrum on Shabbat."
Talia looked pleased but incredulous. "You finally blew up at Seth?"
"No. Worse. At my friend." With great embarrassment, I told Talia the whole episode.
"How do you feel about what happened?" she asked, predictably.
"Well, obviously, I'm embarrassed that I behaved so ... inappropriately."
"No, Shlomit. For the first time since you met Seth, you are behaving appropriately. You are finally reacting to his outrageous behavior with ... outrage!
"There's a paradigm in psychology: frustration-aggression. Our animal forbears developed it to help them get out of a physical trap. If we try and try to make progress, and are thwarted each time, it's inevitable that at some point we'll get a huge adrenaline surge so that we can lash out against whatever's blocking our way. This helps a bear who's stuck in a thicket, and a deer in a snowdrift.
"For six years you've been trying everything you know how, to have a happy home with Seth. And he has always got some trick up his sleeve to frustrate your attempts. Always one more restriction or demand or complaint or correction or unpredictable reaction. It's incredible that you have lasted this long and all you did was throw a deck of cards and scream. That you haven't broken anything or attacked the bastard.
"There are many reasons that you broke through the barriers davka when we've been working, and davka when your friends were there.
"This could be a turning point, Shlomit. I say, 'could be' because it depends on what you do with it. Now that you have shocked Seth into seeing that you're not the rug he counted on you to be, how have things been between you? Does he show any more respect? Do you feel empowered? Do you assert ..."
I must have looked horrified, because Talia stopped mid-sentence.
She sat back in her chair and looked at me. "Don't tell me. Seth has been angry at you all week and you have been walking on eggs to try and get things back to where they were before."
Things were bad enough before I started paying this person to make me feel worse!
"Shlomit, I can't help your situation long distance. Next time we'll discuss one of two alternatives - getting Seth to come, or stopping the whole process.
"And maybe you should think seriously about leaving your husband."
I do. All the time, lately.
This past Friday I missed a bus connection, and was late getting home from Talia. As I jogged into our street, I could see Seth's back already disappearing into our building. My knees and guts turned to jelly and it was all I could do to keep walking that long plank knowing I would be plunging into the cold water of his fury when I got upstairs.
He came charging angrily from the bedrooms where he had been searching for me. There has never been a case where I wasn't where I was supposed to be. I'm ALWAYS home when he gets home on Friday.
"Where were you!" he bellowed. He charged toward me and raised his hand as though to hit me. I wished I could say, "There was a long line at the drug store - here's the thermometer you wanted!" Something to instantly make things better. But all I had to offer was something that would confirm his worst fears and make things infinitely worse.
"Seth, I ... I went ... to a marriage counselor, Seth. To someone who can maybe help us. We need help. I really want you to come, too."
He backed away from me and looked stunned and frightened. Then he looked away, breathing hard. Then he simply said, "OK."
So that's it. He will actually come with me next week.
I was so stupid to put off for all these years getting professional help. That was all we needed, I guess. An unbiased healthy person to see the situation from the outside and suggest the obvious solution.
"Shlomit, why don't you explain to Seth what your main dissatisfactions are, with the way things are at home."
"Well, OK," I explained to the rug, "Well, I know there are marriages where the two people are very close, and marriages where the two are more independent of each other. Either type of marriage could be OK. Either could work, and both people could feel that it was a good marriage.
"But we seem to have the worst aspects of both types. We're far apart," I spread my hands as far apart as I could reach them, "in terms of sharing, loving, supporting, sexual harmony, communication, friendship. But we're way too close," I pressed my palms together, "in that, Seth, you're always watching and correcting and controlling me. Expecting me to do what you do, like what you like, think what you think.
"So I guess I would like it to be one or the other. If we're going to be emotionally separate, then I want the freedom that goes along with that, to have friends and hobbies and correspondences to fulfill me emotionally and socially and everything, if this relationship can't.
"If we're going to live like Siamese twins, that's OK, too, but then I would like the emotional closeness and companionship and communication that should go along with that."
I thought a moment.
"I guess that the best case, the most complete type of marriage, would be the opposite of what we have - emotional closeness, but with enough respect for each other to allow freedom of activity and expression." I looked up at Seth.
"OK. Good. Seth?" Talia prompted Seth for his response.
Seth was looking down at the rug, too, and the room was silent for several seconds except for a squabble between some birds outside the window. Seth's hands were clenched on his knees and his breathing came in huffs through his nose. I thought he was angry, and was glad that Talia was in the room with us. But Seth just looked up at me and said, calmly but with finality, "This is how I am. I have to make all the decisions. She can take it or leave it." He sat back in his chair with his arms folded across his chest.
We all listened to the bird chatter for a moment, and then Talia turned to me and asked if I could stay with the marriage on those terms. Now that I knew Seth's position. She was leaning forward, toward me, waiting. Probably waiting for me to say, "Forget it!" and walk out the door.
Back when I was young and idealistic, I would have thought that an ultimatum like Seth's invalidates a marriage.
But the alternative is divorce. I want to keep this marriage together. Don't I? I complain that I don't have any choices. Well, here's the most important one. It's in my hands to decide if we stay together or split up. If we split up, that's that. If we stay together, there's always the possibility that things will improve. I've felt for some time now that he's testing me - always asking me to demonstrate that he can really, really trust me, no matter what. Maybe this is the ultimate test. If I agree to this, obviously I accept him 100% even under the worst conditions. Maybe the testing will be over and we can get down to a real marriage.
So I said, "I guess I'll 'take it'."
Talia was silent for a moment. Then she said, "OK. Shlomit is willing to let you make all the decisions, Seth, because that was never what was important to her. In return, maybe you can give her what is very very important to her - a pleasant, peaceful home. Shalom Bayit. Maybe you can ... be nice to her."
Seth shook his head with a little self-satisfied grin. "The only reason Shlomit does everything I tell her to is precisely because I'm ... 'not nice to her', as you call it. If I were too nice, she would be trying to get things to go more in her direction."
Talia started to protest.
"No, he's right," I admitted. "If Seth had been pleasant and cooperative, I would have protested about the fact that he controls everything."
Talia suggested that we make a verbal contract. I would agree to totally acquiesce to all of Seth's whims, because that's what is important to him. He would agree to be pleasant because that's what's important to me. "Shlomit would be obeying you because of the agreement. Not because she's afraid of you. So you don't have to behave in a manner that frightens her."
I agreed readily. This would be a vast improvement over the way we've been living!
Seth rephrased the agreement: "I'll agree that IF Shlomit does everything I want, THEN I'll try to be ‘nicer to her’."
Talia looked at me. I smiled and nodded with relief. We could stay together. I had an explanation for his craziness. At least now I know where I stand.
I got out my wallet to pay Talia. We had taken more than our allotted hour.
But Seth wasn't finished. "But in return," he said, "I want Shlomit to wear her wedding ring."
I looked at him in dismay. The ring doesn't fit me! When I'm trying to do something, and my hands are warm, it's too tight and pinches. And when my hands are cold it's too loose and slides off!
Sort of like the marriage, isn't it. Too confining when I want to live, but not there when I need the warmth of friendship.
But OK. Wearing my beautiful ring will be a good symbol that the marriage is rejuvenated.
But why did he say, 'in return' like that? In return for agreeing to the compromise? But, I guess his implication is valid. I'm the only one who gains from this agreement. He has had the total control he wants, all along, even without the agreement. I gain a peaceful homelife. He's also gaining peace at home, but he obviously doesn't value it, because he could have had it all along, just by being nice to me. But once things are more pleasant at home, I'm sure he'll appreciate it, too!
OK. This is a brand new notebook to start off a brand new fresh start. It's been a month since we agreed to Talia's compromise, and I think this could really be a good marriage from now on.
Even the first Shabbat after we came back from Talia, Seth seemed different. He just doesn't seem so far away and angry. And here, all these months, I worried that it would make him more angry if I went for help.
Also - and maybe this is why he's in a better mood - our sex life finally seems to be getting off the ground! A couple of weeks after we went to Talia, I was there by myself, and Talia asked about that, and I told her Seth has been a 'sexual dynamo' lately. I don't know why that phrase popped into my head. A dynamo generates electricity from another form of energy. Maybe this newfound energy will give power to the other aspects of our relationship. Maybe that's the whole thing. Maybe Seth needs an excuse for allowing himself to give in to sex. So if it's part of a plan - to make me happy so I'll be more obedient - it's got some purpose.
He just seems so reachable. The whole way he acts and reacts and looks at me and talks is so different from what I was living with a month ago. I still don't understand, if he could just turn it off like that, why he didn't, on his own. I guess I still don't understand anything.
But who cares. What's done is done. I shoved that crabbing complaining diary notebook up on the shelf in my closet where nobody will ever see it again, and I'm starting this new one.
I just had a daydream. Ten years from now, when we have our three or four children, and we're so used to each other, and we're living a full, loving life together in a lively happy family like the one my friend David describes, and when Seth trusts me enough to relax his restrictions, one day he will come to me with that old 'hard times' notebook that he'll have found while cleaning out the storage room or something. He'll say, "Shlomit - pardon me for reading some of this. I know we never talked about those first six years when everything was so bleak. No," he'll shake his head as though to clear it, "When I was so awful to you, Shlomit. I never thanked you for sticking with me and doing all the right things, even though I wasn't receptive to most of them. You never stopped loving me, and you had more faith in me than I had in myself. Shlomit, when I look at our wonderful life now, with the children, and the warm, loving relationship we have, and realize that I have no right to still have you here with me after the way I treated you - I get chills. At that marriage councilor, I gave you a selfish, childish ultimatum. Oh, Shlomit! What if you had called my bluff and left me!"
"Oh, Seth," I'll chide him fondly for being so hard on himself, "You would have done the same for me if I had had a few bad years at the beginning ..."
"No, Shlomit, I don't know if I would have been able to stick it out for six cold hateful years. And I'm sure no other wife would have given me chance after chance as you did. You're great, Shlomit. Thank you so much!"
Wow. I'm bringing tears to my own eyes!
It could just be, that agreeing to stay with him, and conform to the kind of marriage he needs to have right now, was the most important decision of my life.
Everyone, lately - our doctor and Talia and Rabbi and Mrs. Ezra and Jessica and Yehuda - have all suggested that Seth might be better after we have children.
It's hard to imagine bringing children into this household, because it’s still not a normal home. Even though his general mood is better and he talks to me, the restrictions we agreed on still make for a strange relationship. I still toe the line and obey him every inch of the way. Still don't initiate conversation or anything else. That's all the same as it was.
So maybe if he gets a huge vote of confidence from me, like wanting to start a family, he'll relax even more and give me some freedom, too!
On our next Shabbat walk, I'll talk to him and see how he feels about having children.
I worry about my health, though. Physically, I'm drained from years of not eating right and not sleeping enough. Seth has let me cut my hair, as part of being nice to me, I guess. So at least I'm not going to bed with a wet head, which I think was one cause of the string of colds I had last winter. But still - I just don't feel healthy. I'm always tired. I'm living on less than six hours of sleep a night. The sight or smell of fruit or vegetables brings on such longing. If I do get pregnant, he'll have to let me take better care of myself.
Seth agreed. Of course, he's nervous, and so am I. I try to imagine a little kid always around, always needing attention. At first, Seth said it won't work because we don't know anything about daycare centers. I said that when we're seventy and someone asks why we never had children, won't it sound stupid to say, "Well, we didn't know where the daycare center was, so ..."
Wow! I never thought of this aspect of begetting children, before. He is taking this 'getting pregnant' project very seriously - as he does anything he sets out to do. After all these years when sex was a monthly occurrence, if I was lucky, we finally seem to be on a normal schedule.
It makes things so nice between us, having a normal physical side to our relationship. I'm starting to feel we really do have a real marriage.
Is this a new cloud on the horizon? Seth doesn't seem to be eating anything I cook.
Until a few months ago, we alternated weeks of cooking for Shabbat dinner.
We have only a half dozen different menus. Basically the same things Seth knew how to cook before we got married. But I kept remembering that delicious big pot of vegetable soup I made when he was away last year, so one week, when it was 'my turn' to cook, I said I wanted to make vegetable soup for dinner.
He didn't seem to be impressed. Didn't think soup would be a whole meal.
I stupidly didn't take the cues, and barged ahead, buying vegetables and soaking beans. When I opened the pressure cooker, it smelled wonderful.
That night, after saying Kiddush over the wine and hamozi over the hallah bread, I brought in a big steaming bowl of chunky soup, and served it out, with soup nuts and grated cheese and sour cream. It was so good! All the vegetable flavors pressure cooked together. The beans all soft and beany.
Seth was poking and prodding at his bowlfull. "There's a ton of potatoes in here."
"I'm sorry! But you like potatoes!" I said through a mouthful.
"Not in soup." he declared, as though it should have been obvious.
He picked the largest hunks of potato out of his bowl and splatted them onto his plate. Ate a mouthful of soup. Added salt. Tried another, smaller, spoonful. Put down his spoon in disgust. "This is awful! You can't just throw together all different vegetables like this and expect it to taste like anything!"
"Oh ... I like it ..."
"Well, you can eat it, then." He pushed his bowl away and went to the kitchen, crashed around for a few minutes, and came back out with a cheese sandwich.
So I ate soup all week. I didn't mind, except that he glared at me with every mouthful I took.
The next week he cooked, and the week after, though I thought we had agreed on a menu and agreed that I would cook, Seth started scrambling an egg when I was well into making Shakshuka.
"Oh - you're making eggs?" A stupid thing to say, but what do you say?
So he ate his eggs and I ate the shakshuka.
All that week he didn't touch the shakshuka, which I ate at every meal because I had made enough for both of us. Which, again, was OK - it was way more vegetables than I usually get per week, but he seemed to be angry at dinnertime every day, and his anger lasted for the rest of the evening.
The next time I cooked, it was the same deal, only this time I noticed his uncooperative attitude throughout the whole discussion of what to make for dinner. I would have just gone with the flow, but I didn't know which way we were flowing! I don't care what we eat or who cooks, as long as we stay friendly toward each other. I wanted to shout, "What's going on???" But how do you shout a nonverbal hint?
So I baked the cornbread and cooked the chili, and Seth came in toward the end and made himself a toasted cheese sandwich.
"Seth ... it doesn't make sense for both of us to cook. Just tell me if you're going to cook, and I won't."
"Well, in case you hadn't noticed, Shlomit, the things you cook never come out."
They don't? "What do you mean?"
"I mean what I said. It doesn't taste good."
"OK. So you want to cook every week?" Is it bigger than a breadbox?
"It seems as though that would be a good idea, Shlomit." he said sarcastically.
So the kitchen is Seth's province these days. I miss it. There's something basic and rewarding about preparing food to feed a person you love.
And how could I have gone along all those years thinking that what I cooked tasted OK, when it's really so consistently awful? I used to cook at home, and everybody ate it. The year I was in charge of the Hillel kitchen, nobody complained.
I wonder what else I'm merrily bopping along doing, when in fact, I'm doing a terrible job. Maybe my guitar playing sounds awful, too, and that's why he doesn't want me to play. That slipcover material that we bought three years ago still hasn’t been turned into slipcovers. Every time I start, Seth says it isn't a good time or a good place for me to be sewing. Maybe that's coming out badly, too, so he doesn't even want me to do it. Maybe I’m so socially inept that I embarrass him when we’re with people and that’s why he wants us to stay home alone.
It's creepy to think you're doing OK, and suddenly be plunged into the cold realization of failure.
While I'm talking about Seth eating my food, there's another strange thing.
When I get a sack lunch at work, along with the cheese and sardines and drink and yogurt and cookie, there are three big fluffy rolls. Israeli bread is wonderful, and these rolls are even better. Of course, I can't eat three rolls for a meal, so I usually eat one, leave one at work for tomorrow's breakfast, and take one home. I don't eat much bread at home, but Seth eats a sandwich every night. But he won't use my rolls. Old penny-pinching Seth goes out and buys bread when we're throwing out rolls at home.
Sometimes he even buys rolls identical to the ones I bring from work! Funny guy!
Well, I really am pregnant. The baby will be born just before our seventh wedding anniversary.
Things are so good between us, now, compared to how they were. It's still a nonstandard marriage, and not what I would have chosen. For all my doubts about Talia - that she wasn't being sensitive enough toward Seth's problems - I guess she was right. What seemed like depression was just his technique for controlling me.
I’m realizing that when I agreed to let him make all the decisions, in return for his being pleasant, there were things that I was putting into the wrong category. Like if two people agree that I'll get all the big ones and you'll get all the red ones, what do we do with the big red ones, that we both expect to get?
I was assuming that his restrictions - on my eating and sleeping, books I read, what I do with my time, who I have contact with - were meanness and would stop because of the agreement. But he seems to see the restrictions as 'Seth's Decisions' - things I agreed to go along with.
Ah. OK. I see how I'm dividing it. I expected him to relax his restrictions on things that don't impinge on him - things that a person usually decides for himself. I realized that, based on the agreement, he would continue to decide things that usually would be decided together and compromised on - how we spend money, or how the house looks.
We didn't really iron out the details, did we. I guess that's why lawyers wind up with so much fine print.
The real problem at home, more serious than whether I dare put a persimmon into the shopping cart, is that his ban on communication is still in effect. So even though I fully intend to obey him, I still never know what he wants. He is still annoyed when I don't do what he had in mind, and that's within the restrictions of the agreement, but it's nearly always because I misinterpreted. I don't think there are cases where I know he wants one thing, and I just go ahead and do something else, on purpose.
But anyway, in between times when I cross that invisible line, he's relatively cheerful. We've done a 'reset'.
I'm hoping that the Ezras were right - once we have the baby to think about, he won't have the energy to monitor me so closely.
I haven't written for a couple of months; I've been knocked out with a really bad case of mono. I guess I was so run down from lack of sleep, and my poor diet, that the virus just took over. The first couple of weeks I was feverish and often delirious. I just lay in bed trying to move to cool parts, having long, involved half-dreams. Swimming in and out of reality. Even though that stage has ended, I just can’t get my strength back. I still have feverish episodes in the evenings.
Seth and I went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art last night. I just slumped on a bench in each room and waited for Seth to be ready for me to stagger to the bench in the next room. All I could think about was getting home and lying down. The drive home was torture. I'm lucky I didn't crash into anybody. And this is two months after I first got sick.
And this pregnancy has just finished the first trimester. This can't be good for the baby. I was already worrying about how my physical condition would affect her.
I started bleeding two weeks ago, and it just doesn't stop. The tests show I'm getting less and less pregnant every day. It's supposed to be a joke when the girl tells her boyfriend, "Um - I'm a little bit pregnant ..." Well, you can be.
It's like a nightmare.
Or, rather, it's like when you're having a nightmare and you dream you wake up, but that bogus reality turns out to be part of the nightmare.
I thought I had woken up from the nightmare of Seth's depression and strangeness and alienation, but it's all back in spades from this miscarriage.
Of course I didn’t expect any emotional support over losing this first baby. Seth just isn't that type of husband. Maybe a man can't really understand, anyway, how it is for a woman to be pregnant. I'm sure it's a fact that he can forget about for hours, and then when something reminds him, he thinks, "Oh, yeah ..." For the woman, it never leaves your consciousness, waking or sleeping.
So I'll have to handle my sadness on my own. But I hoped that now, since Talia, since he seems to be better, at least I wouldn't have to worry about him, too. But since I started bleeding he's been taking it really hard. He seems depressed again. Avoids me or shoots me disgusted glares as though I’ve disappointed him.
Then yesterday evening I dragged myself home from work and just lay down on the sofa. I've had two weeks of what feels like the worst menstrual cramps imaginable. I lay there exhausted, hurting. Physically and of course emotionally. The near-tears emotional level I've been in for two weeks parallels the crampy feeling in my womb.
I could hear / feel that Seth had come to stand over me. I was wishing he would just reach out and put his hand on my shoulder. Just a touch would have meant so much. Since we haven't told anyone about the pregnancy, I have no one but Seth to look to for comfort, now.
But instead of getting that yearned-for touch, I heard his huff of annoyance. No, it was the stronger huff by which he announces that he's trying valiantly to keep from exploding. As I opened my eyes, he did explode.
His fists were at eye level with me, clenching and unclenching. I looked up to see his face contorted with anger. His voice quivering with rage, he said, scathingly, "I think we've had enough of this Sara Burnhardt act, Shlomit. Just get yourself up and stop moping around. Get back to your life and forget all this."
"Seth? I'm having a miscarriage! It hurts! Seth, it hurts so much!"
"And you can stop saying that, too!" he shouted, "You are not having a miscarriage. You thought you were pregnant, and now that you realize you weren't, OK, you're disappointed. But that's no reason for you to go crazy!"
"Of course I'm pregnant ... was pregnant, Seth!"
"You skipped a period or two. That happens. Probably because you went off the pill. And now that you've gotten your period, of course it's taking longer than usual. And the cramps might be stronger. But you've got to stop pretending you're pregnant. It isn't normal!"
There's an old home movie Dad filmed when I was a kid where he started to put the camera down on the picnic table before taking his finger off the 'shoot' button. We used to joke, 'And then Daddy tumbled down the hillside!' when the picture suddenly became a blurry swirl of color. Well, that's how you would film my thoughts if you were making a movie of that scene in the living room. Just a confused, helpless, tumbling swish.
"Seth, what are you saying? Of course I was pregnant."
"YOU WERE NEVER PREGNANT, SHLOMIT! YOU WEREN'T! YOU WEREN'T!"
He stomped into the bedroom and left me lying there.
Of course we had another non-speaking evening like the bad old days that I had hoped were gone for good.
I'm writing this in the doctor's waiting room. I hope the test I did on Sunday is negative enough that he can send me for a D&C and get this over with.
Where do I go from here, though? If Seth is still on such a thin edge of emotional health, maybe it's a good thing we're not having a baby. If he can't deal with a miscarriage, how will he deal with eighteen years of fatherhood?
I'm at the hospital. It's past midnight. I'm sitting all alone in the dimly lit lunchroom in the OB/GYN wing with my diary and pen and a pile of library books Seth brought me. I don’t want to go to bed because I won’t sleep at all, dreading the D&C they'll do tomorrow morning. I guess I'm foolishly hoping that suddenly my baby will give a little shudder and come back to life. Once they do the D&C, it will be final.
Seth surprised me by coming with me to the hospital this morning, and he came with me into ultra sound. As the technician poked that slimy probe at my ultra-full bladder, Seth watched the screen. The guy pointed to a roundish blob, and said, "There it is."
And that was that. Once Seth saw it with his own eyes, I guess he was convinced.
But no apology for the way he has been treating me. He just got wrapped up in the logistics of having me admitted and getting himself home. I doubt that we'll ever mention his reaction to the miscarriage again. Probably won't mention the miscarriage, as we haven't mentioned Talia or the agreement, or the bad times that went before it, since we left her house for the last time.
Isn't your husband supposed to be the one who is there with you when something like this happens? Isn't the whole point of marriage so the female will have a big strong male around to help her during the years that she's bearing his children, and to protect them all afterwards?
I've been so worried about Seth that I haven't had time to properly mourn my little dying baby inside me. I feel so empty, now.
Well, as it says in Desiderata, "many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness." I'm probably as tired and lonely as I have ever been, so I shouldn't pay attention to my fears.
Believe it or not, it's the middle of August, and I'm sitting on a stone wall, at noon, in the sun, in my new woolen sweater, trying to warm up.
We're in St. Andrews, Scotland, and it's wonderful. All the unpleasantness of a month ago seems so far away.
I love the lush green scenery and the town and the university that's hosting Seth's conference. For breakfast every day, of course, I have a big bowl of oatmeal to get my strength back after the mono and the miscarriage.
Seth is at conference sessions all day, and I wander along walking trails or among ruins, and go to the little shops in town and wade in the foot-freezing sea.
Except that I actually spent the first two days messing with the rental car. I’m the only adult in the known universe with no credit card, and without one, you can only rent a car for one day at a time. I spent the first morning in a picturesque Scottish phone booth, trying to find out how I can extend the rental period without a credit card. We made an imprint of Seth's credit card at the noon break between sessions, at a travel agent up here, and I drove all the way back to the airport at Edinburgh to take them the imprint. After some strange looks, and consulting with head offices, they grudgingly let me have the car for one more day, but said I would then have to actually produce a credit card in my name, or else produce Seth. Seth drove down with me the next evening. So the first two days of renting the car, all we used it for was to drive back and forth to arrange to pay for it.
Oh, well, I'm getting to be really good at driving on the 'wrong' side of the road.
Seth seems to be doing really well. He's been so nice to me since I got back home after the D&C. I look at this normal person, and I can't reconcile him with the angry one who tried to deny that I was even pregnant.
Every once in awhile, when someone learns that our last name is Dekel (it means palm tree in Hebrew) they say, "That sounds like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!" Then I say, on queue, "Actually, my husband has his Ph.D., so he really is Dr. Dekel!" And they invariably say, "Hey - you'd better watch out that he doesn't turn into Mr. Hyde!" I tell them that I plan to get a big shaggy sheep dog, and name him Mr. Hyde, so that when Seth takes him out for walks, people will say, "Hey, there goes Dr. Dekel and Mr. Hyde!"
And we both laugh.
But the last few times someone has made that pun about our name, I've gotten a cold shiver down my back. Because it hits so close to home. He can turn into a monster. The awful thing is that the good Seth and the bad Seth don't, either of them, seem to know the other exists. At least, in the book, the two aspects of Dr. Jekyll are aware of each other. The silent slouched-over Seth who throws me the cold gray-blue hate look doesn’t see me as the woman he married, and supposedly once cared for.
And when he comes out of his bad times, there's never anything like, "I'm sorry I was such a bear all month." It's really as though the bad Seth walks out the door and the good one walks in, and I'm left to wonder how long I've got until they switch back.
Once, a friend in college seemed to be down in the dumps. He told me that it had nothing to do with me, and if I would give him a day or two, it would pass. So for a couple of days we spent our time together reading to ourselves or walking in silence. And it was OK. In fact, it brought us closer.
Should we even try to have children? If Seth can just flip out at any time, what will I do when I have a child to protect?
I haven't written any diary entries for... wow... over three years! Instead, I write pages and pages to Mom and Dad telling them how wonderful their grandchildren are. Finally I have things going on in my life that I want my family to know about. These two babies are so absolutely wonderful.
Things with Seth have definitely been better since our 'peace at home' agreement at the psychologist. Since then, we have moved into a row house with a little yard, and the stresses of buying and moving, and of the arrival of the children, didn't throw Seth for a loop.
Then soon after Leora's birth he basically disappeared. After all his tantrums back when I needed to work overtime, Seth has taken on a moonlighting job. He goes there straight from his day job, every evening, and comes home after the children and I are in bed.
I pick Eli and Leora up from day care on my way home from work, and we have the whole evening together. I love having these two little guys to talk to, smile at, make eye contact with, love. Eli loves books, and they both love singing with the guitar. Evenings now are full of hubbub and chores and life! It's so nice to have two normal people in my life. People with whom I have a relationship.
Eli is starting to be company by now, so to be alone with a pleasant toddler and a sweet infant is preferable to the cold, lonely evenings I endured before we had children. When I think back to that life, it's like looking at old black and white snap shots.
I don't know why Seth has abandoned us. We don't need the money. You hear about men going crazy after the birth of a child; maybe it can happen after the second child, too. Well, he has frequently abandoned me by sliding into psychological remoteness. This is just a physical variant.
Would it be wise to have a third child? Seth has never behaved like a husband. I shouldn't be surprised that he doesn't behave like a father.
I can only depend on myself. I must always be ready to take over when he abandons us - emotionally or physically.
I guess I'm a single parent.
Wow. I feel so modern. Today we went out and bought a clothes drier and a color TV!
With two babies in diapers, a rainy week could mean damp laundry draped all over the racks in the guest room. And now that Israel has started broadcasting in color, this big color set will be really nice to have.
But it was so strange how the shopping trip went. This morning, Seth asked me, in a strained, nervous voice, if I would like to go buy a drier. Of course I jumped at the offer and we went down town. We picked out a drier, and then Seth mumbled, "I want to ask the guy something." Next thing I knew, the salesman was showing him TV sets and a few minutes after that, Seth was handing over his credit card to pay for the drier and a TV.
Now, a TV costs four times what a drier does. It was just funny that we discussed the drier - well, it wasn’t exactly a discussion, but he mentioned it as a reason to go to the store. But he didn't say a word about getting a TV. I wouldn’t have objected. It’s a normal thing to have, after all. And if I had objected, well, then my objection should have been taken into account, no?
Actually, if we were going to spend that kind of money, there are quite a few things that I would have put it toward before I would get a second set. But Seth obviously values a TV more than I do. As I value a clothes drier more. But I can’t say I’ll get the same kind of pleasure from the drier as he does from the TV.
Does he think I’m unreasonable or stupid or both? Oh, well. I should just enjoy our new toys.
I keep thinking about something that happened when Seth's parents were here, right after Leora was born.
Seth's father was holding Eli, age one and a half. Eli put his arms around his grandfather's shoulders and kissed him on the cheek - maybe because I kiss Eli and Leora whenever I pick them up.
Seth's father put the little boy down on the floor, and as he did, he said, "We don't kiss in this family."
Sometimes, now, when Seth seems so remote, I remind myself that he grew up in a house where family life is a non-contact sport.
Copyright 2020 by Shlomit Weber
Homeless at Home