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Maybonne and Earl

Pumpins on Phone

Photo info at bottom.

Fall of 2013

Several times now, my husband and I have grown pumpkins in the long flower bed which runs along the front of our house. The southwestern exposure makes it the perfect location! We did it again this summer. Don’t you envy our green thumbs? Don’t you think we are the coolest people ever? Not only did we defy tradition and plant them in the front yard, we strategically threaded the lush leaves and brilliant orange blossoms between the blue and pink perennials to create a work of art. Close your eyes and picture it!

Can you see it? Good! Now let me admit my deceit.

Each year we buy (or grow!) at least one pumpkin to put on the front stoop for Halloween. We usually forget to carve it. That isn’t a problem. It’s so cheerful sitting there that it doesn’t really matter. But then we just forget it’s there at all. Until a putrid stench brings to our attention the fact that it has liquefied into a skin-covered bag of slime pudding. The solution: Kick it into the flower bed…and forget about it.

One warm day several months ago, I noticed a darling little tendril creeping out of the flower bed and onto the sun-warmed sidewalk. At this moment, I understood Wilbur’s excitement at the hatching of Charlotte’s babies. I tenderly turned it and pointed it back into the flower bed. It continued to grow steadily.

At some point, my husband began making diplomatic comments about the difficulty of mowing around the vine. My (notice I have become possessive) little runner was picking up speed. It had sent its suckering tentacles out onto the lawn in a reconnaissance mission which was soon followed by a full-blown invasion. Not wanting to cause a fuss but unwilling to sacrifice the vine, I repositioned the growth so that it fit within the footprint of the flower bed.

My devotion was starting to resemble a gambling addiction. I checked for baby pumpkins daily. I rationalized the smothering death of our perennials with the thought that the next time I looked, I would surely find the start of a pumpkin.

My husband is a patient man; however, it was clear that my project was starting to kill off large swaths of lawn. I had been reshaping this explosion so that it followed the contours of the bed, but it had long since billowed out of bounds. Mature and understanding couples’ therapist that I am, I admitted my burgeoning affair. The vine had to go! Just as I was poised to start yanking, I discovered my Beloved had given birth to two darling offspring.

I compromised. I removed parts of the plant “downstream” from the pumpkins. Would this buy me enough time to harvest them? I knew I needed counseling when I started neglecting my hygiene in order to spend more time searching for new buds. I dispatched them in short order. I had to save the plant’s vital energies for my wards! My husband has had years to figure out he married a madwoman, so I guess my compromise was sufficient. He didn’t say anything further.

Soon we had a couple of vibrant orange pumpkins sitting on our kitchen table. Please understand “couple” in the literal sense. I sent my husband and daughters a wedding invitation with a photo of the happy pair posed side by side in front of a pale turquoise wall. What a lovely color combination. I swooned!

The groom was taller and thinner with a slim, curving stem. I called him Earl. A few weeks younger, the bride was short and round with a thicker, stubbier nub. I named her Maybonne. I conducted the ceremony and pronounced them man and wife.

When I went to rip out the vine a few days later, I found a surprise addition to the family. I christened him Junior and placed him by his parents. Day after day, I sat at the kitchen table enjoying their companionship.

At about the time the table started to feel a bit cramped, the weather began to show the first inklings of Fall. I decided to put Junior out to decorate the front stoop. He looks great out there! Unfortunately for him, history foretells a rotten end.

The chill in the air got me started thinking about chili, stews, and squash. Squash…

I surveyed Earl and Maybonne with glassy eyes as I recalled the delicious oven-roasted Kabocha we had eaten a few years back.

Earl ended up on the dinner table, wearing olive oil and herbs. He also volunteered for a mighty fine pie. Maybonne watched, traumatized, but otherwise intact. Until the arrival of the power company newsletter. Which just happened to feature a recipe for chicken pumpkin stew.

I wanted to remember the happy pair so I saved their engagement photo and made it my phone wallpaper. Here they are on our kitchen table in 2013.

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Hypothetically Speaking

Hypothetically Speaking

What would you say if I told you….

It had been an exhausting day.

I changed out of my work clothes and into my shorts and t-shirt so I could get dinner on the table and take care of some (euphemism alert!) deferred housework. I was an itchy mess so I removed my glasses and stopped to splash cool water on my puffy eyes. Ahhhhh. Our area had had its rainiest June in recorded history, and I am allergic to mold.

Henry rolled in, exhausted as well. He had a meeting in an hour and wanted to eat something before he headed back out.

“Go ahead and take a quick nap,” I reassured him. “I’m just heating up last night’s leftovers, and I’ll call you in a little while so we can eat together.”

He made himself comfortable in his favorite chair, and it was lights out.

I reheated the salmon, couscous, and asparagus and set the table for two. We were empty nesters this week, and things were quieter than usual. I’d let Henry rest a bit longer since his meeting was close by. What else could I do to make his night a little easier?

His Father’s Day coffee! Of course! Our daughter Bec had given him a bag of delicious beans: Banana Nut Cream. Their only drawback was his having to work for every cup. Our electric mill had broken down years ago. We had never replaced it, and Henry disliked grinding by hand. I knew he would want a mug of coffee after dinner to get him through his meeting.

I like hand grinding! I love the aroma and the contemplative, tactile experience. Since I had a few minutes, I got our old wooden grinder down from the shelf where we display it. I miscalculated a bit in trying to funnel the upturned bag of beans into the mill, and the next thing I knew, beans were spilling in every direction.

The dog! I had heard that coffee is toxic to dogs.

I invoked the five second rule, dropped to my hands and knees, and frantically swept the beans into a pile. These beans were too special to waste. A little dust wouldn’t hurt anyone.

I sat down and started grinding.

The old coffee mill is a thing of beauty as well as a reminder of all the good times I shared with my German friend, Hanna. Her grandfather had owned two of them. After his death many years ago, she had given the best one to me and kept the other for herself.

I checked the clock. I still had time before I had to wake Henry. There was something soothing about this process. I decided I’d surprise Henry by grinding the rest of the beans and securing them in an airtight container.

Done!

Henry, grateful for the extra moments of rest, gulped down his dinner, grabbed his mug of coffee, and bounded for the car. I ate in peace, savoring the homey smells and gathering momentum to tackle the housework.

I was already in the kitchen, so I might as well start there. I cleared and wiped the table, washed the dishes, and wiped the counters. Time to sweep the floor. Daylight was fading, and I hadn’t yet replaced the missing bulb above the table. Hmm…where had I left my glasses?

I retrieved them from my dresser and returned to sweep. Now that I could see better, I realized I had let things get a little grungier than usual.

Oh. I had missed a handful of coffee beans. I swept them into the dustpan and was just about to dump them into the trash when I realized that a few of the beans were…mummified June beetles.

What would you say if I told you….

I have decided to cut out coffee for a while. Henry agreed that I seemed a little agitated at breakfast. I am sure the coffee is to blame.

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Credit for coffee bean image here.

Infidelity II

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

Summmer and Fall of 2012

There are many kinds of unfaithfulness.

As I examine my failed relationship with Hanna, I can trace the beginnings of my own infidelity to a time long before things between us reached a crisis point. I hadn’t wanted to see this. I felt too ashamed.

I can explain it simply: I pushed and shoved until I got my way. I didn’t appreciate what my agenda might cost my husband and children. In some ways, I think it cost Hanna and Niko as well.

She was my oldest friend, my first soul mate. She had the prior claim. When it came to Hanna, I just couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to say no. We saw each other so seldom that I wanted to spend every moment with her. I would have done just about anything to please her. Fortunately, Hanna was modest and demanded little. It was I who offered. My husband Henry knew this when he married me. He knew it would be easier to dig his way to China than tell me no when it came to Hanna. When she visited, he played host from a safe distance while Hanna and I ruled the roost.

Whenever Hanna stayed, Henry trudged off to work while Hanna and I shopped together. We cooked together. We cleaned together. In time, we tended the children together. Our daughters adored Aunt Hanna, and the feeling was mutual. Life was a vacation when Hanna was around! Occasionally we went visiting or sightseeing. Mostly, though, we talked, and talked, and talked. We started when we got up in the morning and finished in the wee hours over a glass of wine. This worked fabulously for many years.

My husband was a real trooper. Henry is good natured and generous, and he loves Hanna. He managed these finite periods of neglect with good humor–not that we gave him much choice since all of our conversations took place in German.

Hanna and Niko married in 2004 after several years of togetherness. When they asked to come from Germany in June of 2006, it was with the intention of permanently relocating to the U.S. I know now that both parties suffered from a case of Wishful Thinking.

Our friends hadn’t properly researched what was necessary for success and were ill prepared when they pulled up stakes (and burned some bridges) to come live in our basement with their cat Schnurzel. They didn’t have the proper visas, and Hanna was unable to work. I hadn’t considered the negative potentials should their bid fail. More to the point: I hadn’t been willing to consider anything beyond the delicious promise of a visit–indefinite in length–from my best friend and her husband. Who cared how long it might take them to get established? I was all in.

Henry had examined the situation levelly and made his concerns known. This is not to say that he had attempted to bar the way. He saw how much Hanna struggled to provide, and it was clear to him that they both felt isolated and stigmatized because of Niko’s mental illness. They complained about their lack of opportunity and the poor treatment they received in Germany. They were certain life would be better here.

Henry was all for lending them a hand or two or four. They were his friends too. All he asked was that I come down from Cloud 9 long enough to participate in an adult conversation. He wanted to discuss how best to help them, to consider the pros and cons of open-ended cohabitation, and to partner in some advance planning. I refused. I bullied and stomped: Why all the catastrophizing? You’re always so negative!

As it turned out, Henry had predicted the outcomes nearly perfectly. I imagine he felt quite alone as they unfolded, one by one, before his eyes: Within a few weeks, Niko relapsed into psychosis and ended up in the state hospital hours away; and Hanna began dividing her nights between our house and the parking lot of the state park nearest the hospital. We got her a phone, loaned her a car, and helped with the cat. She mastered station wagon camping, perfected the art of bathing at McDonald’s, and tried to make the best of her unscheduled “vacation.”

I feel weepy when I remember Hanna’s loyalty, patience, advocacy, and tenderness for Niko. She was a rock. She remained cheerful and determined even when her visa ran out and she was forced to leave Niko here while she returned to Europe for a period to straighten things out.

All of these happenings were predictable and manageable.

What was predictable but not manageable was my absence during this period. It tore at the security of my family. I gave my smiling best to Hanna and Niko. I denied them nothing. I gave Henry and the girls whatever I had left over. And not always gladly.

This went on for months.

I can see this now, and I am sad. I paid lip service to my marriage, and I shooed and shushed my children when they sought me. I set myself up as the perfect friend, and I set up Hanna and Niko to expect a level of availability and care which no healthy friend could sustain. I think I did harm.

My neglect of my family was easy to justify. I was being a good hostess. I deserved to spend time with my best friend. Our friends needed help, i.e., they needed my help. Mine, mine, mine. Me, me, me. Henry and the girls could wait until after Hanna and Niko were gone.

This is how I kept the family rule—”Friends Before Family”*—and betrayed my husband and children.

Both Hanna and Niko said many times throughout the years leading up to our painful parting in 2011, that their 2006 visit had been an incredibly positive experience. They said they had felt so safe and loved and welcomed. Inclusion in the hum and rhythms of family life had warmed them. At first, I wholeheartedly agreed: The visit had been a smashing success despite the complications. It was true. I wasn’t lying. There were many beautiful things about that summer and fall. But it is also true that my mind did what had to be done in the moment. If it had allowed me to feel my stress and fear, I would have fallen apart.

Once Hanna and Niko were able to return to Germany that November, the dust began to settle. The protective anesthesia wore off. In no time, Henry and I were at each other’s throats. It became clear, too, that the girls needed help to process Niko’s frightening descent into psychosis and the fruition of our family dysfunction. We required therapy and several months to recover.

Well being was restored but something was shifting. My skyrocketing panic when our friends asked to visit exactly five years later told me we could not afford a repeat. The cost to all of us was just too high. Henry and I wanted them to come but we decided we had to approach this visit differently. Do you hear the we in this?

I’m not sure I communicated this shift to them as well as I should have, and as the politicians in D.C. are wont to say, “Mistakes were made.”

This is the eighth installment of The Story of Hanna. Please see the tab of the same name to read the others. Installment seven is here. Installment nine is here.
You can find Infidelity I, a very silly post, here.

*You can find this Family Rule here. Please see the Family Rules tab for more rules.

Full Plate

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

I created a rule for myself called “One Friend at a Time.” I had to.

This is one of the junctures. It’s one of the joints where Family Rules and The Story of Hanna dovetail. They lean against each other like a house of cards.

I have explained trying, and failing, to create closeness and safety within my family of origin. You can go back and read about it if you want but I’ll sum up here: I was never going to get everyone in my family to get along at the same time AND the effort was taxing AND I kept trying. Just call me Sisyphus.

This dynamic is one I have played out many, many times: finding, or happening, or arranging myself between two individuals–or as a hub for several–who then begin to relate to one another through me. I try to be all things to all people. I don’t do it on purpose. At this point, I have become so conscious of this trap that I rarely get too far into it before I smack myself silly.

I see my counselees doing this all the time: they unknowingly recreate their painful pasts in the hope that their story will eventually end happily. This madness even has a name: repetition compulsion. ‘Round and ’round and ’round she goes. Where she stops, nobody knows….It can’t be an accident that I sought specialty training in couples therapy. At least now I use my damage for good. And in most cases, we all get a better outcome.

Back to the rule.

I knew how to be a friend. That wasn’t the problem. I just had a hard time being friends with more than one person at a time. I sought one-on-one interactions because they were the safest. Being with one person made it less likely I’d disappoint, annoy, or get stuck in a triangle in which I had to manage more than one relationship at once. I do mean manage. Parties gave me palpitations well into my 30’s. I had to have a single neat box for each friendship. On my plate, the peas; carrots; and mashed potatoes weren’t supposed to touch. Mixing them could get too messy.

The best way to work the one-at-a-time method was to have only one really close friend. I took the title “best friend” as gospel. I had to find one person—Karen was my first best friend–and squeeze close enough so that we practically heard each other’s thoughts.

I don’t think I would have betrayed my family in any serious way; but in in day-to-day matters, I chose my best friend over my family every time. When Karen came over, I played cruel pranks on my sister and made rude gestures at my mother’s back while she stood at the kitchen sink. When Karen went home, I behaved differently. My conscience troubled me but my best friend thought I was funny; and securing her was paramount. I needed a sure thing.

Hanna was my last best friend. I am no longer willing to use that designation for anyone except my husband. I’ve retired her jersey.

I always said my husband was my best friend because that is what wives are supposed to say. I’m not sure I was completely truthful. Maybe I crossed my fingers behind my back because he was my best male friend and there was no competition.

Hanna and I had been “family” for over a decade by the time I met Henry, and it was as though we agreed to shove over a bit and make room on the plate. Did I love him? Yes! Did I want to want to spend the rest of my life with him? Yes! Did I want to have his babies? Oooooooh, yes! He was and is the only guy for me. But did I actually leave and cleave?

Well.

Yes.

It just took me decades to complete the process.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the trouble this hanging chad has caused. Maturity came late in this area of my life. I’m glad I’ve grown up a bit but the collateral damage has been considerable.

This post belongs both to Family Rules and The Story of Hanna. You can find the prior post in the Family Rules series here and the next post in the series here. You can find the prior post in The Story of Hanna series here and the next post in the series here.

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