I was talking to my cousin Austin the other day — he’s 81 — and has been more of a grandfather figure in my life than a 2nd cousin, once removed. He rambles on about of a lot of things, but I enjoy his insight to life and I hope that when I’m that age someone describes me as I would describe him. He is one amazing man.
Through the course of our conversation, we came to this:
Austin: I think my German genes are starting to kick in finally.
Austin: Yes. I just call things what they are. I don’t sugar-coat it. I just come out and say it, without pretense or drama. I say exactly what I’m thinking. I’m told this is not the way to go about things, so I bought a book on social graces, hoping to learn how to be more gentle and less direct. But I lost the book and I can’t find it now! ::laughs::
Ah, Germans. We’re a secretive bunch, but also quite blunt. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, such as my Oma. She was too nice to say anything to one’s face. What’s strange is lately I’ve been doing the same thing: calling things as I see them. I didn’t tell Austin — it’s hard to get a word in edgewise sometimes — but his words rolled around in my head for the rest of the afternoon.
In the past year or so, it’s really become apparent that I’m doing this, too. I’m not 100% sure what changed, but I’ve become rather straight forward with people. Part of the reason, I believe, is because I want to be treated the same way. And I’m noticing that I wasn’t.
For instance, the other weekend my friend Pat, who’s known me since I was 10, came over.
“I’m so glad you’re not taking your work home with you anymore,” she said, alluding to the previous year where I started to crash and burn at my job.
“I was really that – ” I started to say.
“Yes. Yes you were,” she replied with the tight smile of ‘Please don’t make me go into detail of what a mess you were.’
It happened at work too. A few months ago I was having lunch with one of my old co-workers. I listened to all her grievances about how things were there now – they were worse – my stomach was in knots just listening to it. I confessed to her how unhappy I was, how burnt out I was, how depressed I was, and how that job was the source of all my stress/acting out/slaming-down-the-phone-yelling-the-f-word.
“Well, that explains a lot then, ” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“You were so stressed out, upset, and so unlike yourself, we figured you and The General were breaking up.”
Wow. The General was the one solid rock in my life. Despite my turbulence, we stayed close and things were good with us. But her words haunted me: we thought…. We. My behavior was discussed among everyone and they assumed it was my home life. Makes sense, I suppose. What hurt the most was no one, not 1 soul, said anything to me. “Hey, you’re acting like a complete idiot and that’s not like you. What’s going on?” or “WTF Carrie?” Or my supervisor saying, “My office. Now.” after one of my outbursts. No one held me accountable, and as it goes, you’re not always aware of how your behavior comes across to other people until you are called out on it. No one called me out. They let me just run myself into the ground, acting the fool in a professional setting. I assume it was easier, no one likes to confront others, many times it backfires. Historically, I avoid confrontation at all costs. But I feel some of that changing now.
These realizations lit a fire under me. When I love someone, I love hard. That goes for husbands, friends, family – I don’t do things half baked. It upsets me greatly to see people hurting their bodies, become complacent in bad situations, and live life without actually living.
Case and point: my mom. My parents did a great job of demonstrating a bad marriage. Last time I was home, my dad went off on my mom, about dry cleaning pants: screaming, swearing, putting her down — my heart skipped a beat and I suddenly remembered why I live in North Carolina and not Illinois. I longed for my quiet life with The General.
When my mom came back into the room, I could not stay silent (there is no point in arguing with an enraged man, so I let my father be).
“You know that’s not normal.”
She looked at me.
“Seriously, you do not deserve to be treated that way. You deserve better.”
“I know,” she said.
She had amble opportunities to leave him in the past 35 years – her mother being one of the harbors offered. I felt as if I needed to remind her that this isn’t okay. I think it’s amusing how the bad stuff becomes normal and we stop fighting against it.
I continued. “If The General ever spoke to me that way, I would leave. I wouldn’t be with him. I will not be treated like that.”
At this point, he started up again, yelling for her to get back into the bedroom to help him figure out this “mess” she created. In actuality, it was his fault for not pre-planning when and where the dry cleaned pants were for this event. That was her job, apparently.
“Don’t go back there,” I said. “Do not help him if he’s going to act like that. You only encourage it.”
(I would like to add here that my dad is a very generous and kind man — he just makes an incredibly lousy husband.)
I know I can’t undo the years of verbal abuse or her catatonic emotional state. But I can speak the truth into a situation. Calling things as I see them, good and bad. This is new territory for me. And I haven’t decided yet if it’s a good thing. I guess it depends on the situation.
I will tell you if you have something caught in your teeth – physically or metaphorically. I can only hope I can have the same thing in return.