Calm and Reasonable
“I was perfectly calm and reasonable,”
he explained to his therapist
meaning that he had lost all control.
But you knew
he had been neither calm nor reasonable
and even though you are sensitive to raised voices
willingly absorbing into your being the shame of another’s anger
relieving the anguish by being
you knew that this time
this was just over the top
and it called for decisive action.
It had been a lovely Saturday morning
with breakfast on the couch and the baby
contentedly playing on the floor,
everything looking like a happy family.
But we know though that looks can be deceiving.
Perhaps you could have expressed
a greater enthusiasm for the cars on the tv
racing in circles
going round and round
without purpose or destination.
But at the time it didn’t seem
that kind of enthusiasm was necessary.
You can’t quite recall what it was he said
as he stood over you
except that it was loud,
furious and a bit terrifying
as you looked up from the couch, bowl in hand.
But something stirred inside
and you knew this moment was the moment.
So it seemed to you, at the time,
a calm and reasonable thing
to rise up with no words
and fling your comforting bowl of
instant cinnamon apple oatmeal,
in a perfectly executed overhand pitch
not a girly softball under-hand pitch,
across the room, over the coffee table, the loveseat, the drafting board.
Through the air in an elegant arc
connecting with the wall with a satisfying plop,
dripping ever so slowly down the wall.
It was a bit of a shock for everyone.
This was not how this scene was supposed to go.
Everyone expected better of you.
Yet, even then, his rage and fury didn’t stop and
so, here you are on a lovely Saturday afternoon,
sitting across from him and his therapist.
They take their familiar seats
next to each other
side by side
and you take the lone chair on the far side of the narrow room.
You listen as he tells her why you are here on her day off
she responds to him in her best therapist voice
and you sit silent
across the room
like a fly on the wall.
It is from this angle that you now see the thing you could not see before.
You see that there is no hope for this.
‘Perfectly calm and reasonable’ are words you no longer trust. When you hear those words you know that you are in for a doozy and you look for the nearest exit because you know that it is not going to end well.
The bowl of oatmeal went sailing through the air. It was a beautiful thing to behold, an overhand pitch, executed with control and skill, except that it was not done for glory. This was one of those slow-motion moments that temporarily cut through the tension in the room. The moment happened without warning and without regret. It seemed at the time the right thing to do. It still does.
I prided myself on being in control, the reasonable one, so that later I can feel no shame for my behavior. I did all the right things, even if the right thing was not the thing I wanted to do. I was overly concerned with how I looked, what would people think of me, if I would be judged harshly. Things like keeping the steady job that only offered a steady paycheck with benefits and not much else, doing all the right things a wife, a woman should be doing. I kept a clean home, budgeted to survive on poverty wages, stretching an income that was never enough. Yet somehow there was food in the cupboard, hot water and lights, wood for the stove. I did this without much support, but with criticisms many, admittedly, self-inflicted. I did my best to keep the judgements to a minimum. This all looked good on the outside. It looked like this was easy, like I had a knack for this stuff, like this didn’t terrify me. I tried to live my life without regrets for those choices and move on. I managed up until then, that moment of the oatmeal, but have now come to see I could have made better choices, given the benefit of hindsight.
The bowl of oatmeal was the climax of my husband losing his shit over my lack of proper enthusiasm for a car race on the tv. Up until that moment I was not aware of his passion for this sport, this was a revelation, something I had not previously been aware of. We had been together several years at that point, plenty of time to discover these things and somehow I missed noticing this. Or he just forgot to mention it. Anyway, its possible there was some other deep seated provocation for such an outburst, but I never did find out what it was over all the yelling. I mostly saw the rage and uncontrolled fury.
My style is quieter with less drama and more conflict avoidance. The oatmeal on the wall was my way of expressing my feelings. I’m not good with words, but I think this got the point across. It was also the tipping point after years of being silently fed up. It seemed that now was the time to say something, just let it all out.
I had not planned to do this, if I had given it more thought I might not have chosen this particular thing to do. Like I said I am averse to judgement and this certainly would qualify for a stern admonishment for inappropriate behavior. Why I did not consider the behavior of my husband as over the top did not occur to me. I was very self conscious and self centered it seemed. But, I did not think about it. I just did it. In the moment I lost all concern of my appearance, how I would be thought of. It did not quell his fury, but it was satisfying to me. I have no regrets.
He was furious, furious in a way that seemed to have no logic or connection to the moment. He stayed furious for a long time. The oatmeal seemed to make no impression, it seemed as if it had not happened, that I was incidental to what ever fury raged on in him. It was an unleashed fury that seemed to come from no where and like the cars going in circles on tv, had no direction. There was a hurried arrangement with the neighbors for our toddler, a phone call to his therapist to arrange an emergency session to bring him back down and perhaps find the source of this rage and calm it (I knew that mine would never agree to meet on a Saturday and rightly so).
We lived far from town at that time, the 45 minute ride was at least a quiet one. I believe that I drove there. The sun was shining in that early spring day kind of way it does in Northern California after a soggy winter. Everything out the window of the truck on that ride looked to be a typical Saturday with only the turmoil inside the truck. I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot of his therapist’s office. I had never been there, but it was my insurance that paid for his weekly visits. What he did there I did not know, he did not share with me. I on occasion heard complaints of me that he talked about with her, but that was it.
The office was long and narrow. She let us in. We took our seats. It was there — him still furious in a way that his therapist found startling — while sitting in a far chair watching them like an uninvolved observer, where it became clear to me this home life was not on the mend and would not end well.
He had been working with her for nearly a year at that time. It could have looked good if all you knew of them was watching this moment. All thoughtfulness and soothing voices. After watching this and realizing that this may be a typical session, I realized that no progress was happening inside that office, nor would it ever. What was happening in that office was not translating into growth outside of it. I did not see any movement forward, just skidding in place. We all wanted to believe that it was getting better, that everything would eventually work out. But in that hour I saw that was never going to happen.
This was the moment of reckoning, the light-bulb moment where everything became clear. I was the glue holding it all together for both of us, keeping up the illusion that everything in our lives was all neat and orderly, functional. I knew how much work it was and I was getting exhausted and disillusioned. This moment in the therapist’s office was one of clarity, where I saw the hopelessness of the situation. I understood the toll it was taking on me and that staying with him would offer no safety for me or our daughter.
After that day I made plans and prepped for the inevitable. I left a few months later, breathing a sigh of relief in the expectation that it was all over now, that we were safe and I could move on to a better future. Little did I know that it was only beginning and that the safety I found in this new home was an illusion and would not last. It would quickly become apparent that everything would be forever altered with lasting damage. But I had a few months of hope and courage.