Three Little Words


He had no idea the maelstrom of emotion that would blow in behind one short, declarative sentence. 

On a day when I was supposed to get a make over at the Clinique counter, with a particular interest in the “Dark Circle Corrector” and a new, natural look, which for me is code for “get out of the 80s”, but I cancelled due to too many competing demands for my squeezed-into-two-precious-days life now, I went to the gym instead. The gym was just one entry on my unrealistic list of things to do. After my whopping fifteen minutes of exercise I laid on the floor and stared up at the bolts and beams of the exposed ceiling, fan blades turning and I launched an intergalactic message-in-a-missile to the universe:  “Do you see me here? Do you see me? I’m open.” It is one of deepest and most urgent messages being dispatched from ground control these days.

The night before I arrived back in St. Louis after a delayed flight, along with about 193 other folks who got stuck on a plane with a busted bathroom. Overhearing many of them letting the folks back home know not to wait supper, it occurs to me I have nobody to call. My dogs are smart, but not THAT smart and all they care about is their supper. After we land, where I observe aforementioned travelers greeting and hugging said loved ones, I hold my head high through the baggage claim area, smugly thinking that at least I’m not being met by a morbidly obese, bald guy in a St. Louis Blues sweat shirt and white tennis shoes. And then I quickly own up to the fact that at least the gal behind me with the Dolce and Gabbana designer glasses and the animal print cell-phone cover had somebody waiting for her back home on a Friday night. I muscle through the melancholy, roller bag and backpack, keys now fetched, focusing on “Purple D, Purple D” where I’m parked, as the drowning hole of terminal sadness rises. Once inside my Subaru escape pod, I lay my head against the steering wheel and sob, “I’m so tired of being alone.” (I did not sing it.) Even though I derive great solace from my doggies at the door and I’m more overjoyed to see them than they are me, they do not give me the same satisfaction over dinner or in bed. I am lonely.

You see what I mean?

You see what I mean? I mean, they’re nice and all.

I shrug it off, grateful for plans the next evening, with my up-and-coming journalist son, who is in town to cover NCAA basketball. This gives me something to look forward to, until I agree, a decision made from the more magnanimous side of me, to let him also extend an invitation to my ex-husband to come to dinner at my house too, where sonny boy, cub reporter, is going to cook, (on my dime, but who’s counting? Let’s see, there was $26 for salmon, plus another $78.32 for all the rest, with wines and dessert, so I guess I am.) Between the residual pangs over a tough break-up with a man I called my “occasional boyfriend” (gawd, for two years!) back in January, followed by the death of my little brother just three weeks later, plus a punishing winter during which I gained  four pounds, compounded by forking over $100 for dinner on a Saturday night with a date I don’t want, the ex has caught me on a bad night. I was getting a stock pot out of the pantry, because darling son did need some help after all, I remarked that I was somewhat tired, after a long work week capped off by a delayed flight due to an overflowing toilet. The ex said, “you look tired.”

Telling a women she looks tired is tantamount to saying, “you look like crap.” I shot back, “gee thanks for that” and he said, “well I didn’t say you were ugly or anything.” Fair enough. But I was already not in the mood. Then he made a tenuous situation even worse, while sitting at the bar, eating Boursin cheese and crackers, by happily exclaiming “I just can’t believe how well all the kids are doing!” This made me want to rip his head off.

“Yeah, you can believe it, buddy and I’ve got the dark circles under my eyes to prove it! It’s called parenting!” I wanted to scream it out loud. “It’s called putting their needs ahead of yours and not ending up in prison for seven years! They’re doing great because they had a parent who kept showing up! A parent who went to hundreds of parent-teacher conferences, football games, soccer matches, traffic court and campus visits. Somebody who spent thousands of nights waiting for them to get home and hundreds of thousands of dollars on college and cars and computers and counseling! It’s called taking care of the people you brought into the world, you idiot!”  Instead, all I could muster was a “yeah.”

It’s not like I didn’t want to raise my kids, of course I did! I love my children with ever fiber of my being and I’m enormously proud of them. I just hadn’t envisioned doing it solo. So what? Big whoop. No harm, no foul. They’re grown. I’m grateful. This is ground I have covered through many a paragraph and page. It’s all resolved, a fait accompli. The bigger part of me, which I have humbly and genuinely walked around inside for many a mile, many a day, basking in its healthy expanse, wants to be king of the mountain on this day too, rising above the latent anger over dude getting sent to the big house.

Ah, but I backslide.  All the positive energy and goodwill and blessed affirmation about who I am and what I endeavor to represent gets snapped back, trapped and stuffed into the smallest, most rancid part of my being, when I am forced to admit that I still harbor resentment towards the ex-husband feasting on wild caught salmon sitting at my dining room table, which I have struggled mightily to keep a roof over. He is unaware, unless he can read my mind, that it’s me right now who feels caught in this net of trapped anger. The “b” word has reared it’s ugly head. After I have proselytized about how bitterness is a killer, here I am sit chasing it with Missouri wine that he bought that I don’t even like! On a good day, I rise above this. But on a bad day, when situations and people align to make me sad or pissed off at the world, suddenly, this man, once my adored husband, who figured I would not ask him into my home unless it was cool with me, becomes the epicenter of all my misery. Bitterness reigns. It’s the three pointer at the buzzer and it fucking wins. I lose.

But not for long. Because the higher part of me has already discerned that, as one of my favorite authors Dave Eggers wrote, mistakes were made. Somebody made grievous mistakes with my former husband somewhere along the line. I made a mistake by not listening to my gut 30 years ago when I suspected he was hiding something. He made criminal mistakes which left him cooling his jets in the pen for seven years, missing out on a significant chunk of his children’s lives. At least I had the good fortune to have those blessed kids to muddle through the trauma with. Then I turn around and provoke a PTS flashback with my youngest son, by ragging about his dad, instead of just speaking directly to his father about my unresolved stickiness.  And all of this drags my boy  back to unresolved stickiness in his own life, thereby making me feel like an idiot and it all adds up to enough mistakes being made to prove that sometimes we’re just a fucking mess.

I’m the only one who can clean up my own, though. This leads me to think I just might be willing to relocate. It’s beginning to feel like the next chapter. Stay tuned.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Jean – your writing is incredible. It is amazing and emotion filled. Love it and you.