By my last year of college, I’d been dating a fellow for most of five years. It was getting to a point of deciding if things were going to be “made permanent” (a phrase from the guy who was unwilling to use traditional words like engagement or marriage or love) but always feeling like I was the privileged one to have his attention or time, I certainly never would have pushed for a commitment, or even a discussion about it. So one day, when he brought up the subject and timeframe, I was thrilled. It was a dream come true, something I’d waited for with only a tiny friable hope over so many years. We were getting close to college graduation. The following year, he planned to be out of the country on a mission trip, with one visit home at Christmas time. He said then, when he was back over the holidays, was when he expected it would work out that we could make a commitment to “make things permanent,” code for getting engaged.
At the time, I was in nursing school and jobs were scarce. All indications were that to get good fulltime employment, the best bet was moving to the east or west coast. As I was looking into possibilities, I connected with the former head of my nursing school who had moved to Alexandria, VA, and was head of Maternal Child Care at Alexandria Hospital. She said she’d do whatever she could to help me get a job if I came out. At the same time, my boyfriend’s parents had also moved to Alexandria and they offered to let me housesit while they were gone and then stay with them for a bit as I got settled. All the pieces fell in place. Two days after I graduated, I drove out to Alexandria. After a couple of weeks—during which time I took classes at American University in D.C. to prepare for Nursing Boards—my boyfriend and his parents came back from his graduation and a vacation and joined me at their home.
We didn’t have a lot of time together before he left again to start his year away and we enjoyed what little there was and spent every minute together that we could. Once he was gone, I spent a lot of time with his folks. We got along well and I felt like we were building good relationships for the future. While I lived in their guest room, I took my boards, found a job, passed my boards, and then found an apartment. Somewhere in the midst of all of our time together, his mom talked about all the things he was going to do with his life when he returned—and none of them sounded like they included me. I couldn’t help but begin to worry about it.
But over time, I thought about everything and remembered all he’d said and how well things had gone over the previous year between us. Somehow I came up with the clear understanding that his mom and I were just not on the same page about what was going on. Somehow, I was able to reason that she might very well be in for a shock when her son told her our plans, I also realized deep down that if not her, if there was any way she was right, I’d be the one in for a shock and it would only be fair for me, or for her, to be told now and not several months later. This type of insight was well beyond my usual processing, but it was a baby step toward higher thinking and healthy communication. So I wrote a daring letter to my boyfriend and sent it all the way to Mexico. I said that I just wanted to make sure he knew that his mom and I had very different understandings of how things were, and I asked him to talk to one of us about it or someone was going to be hurt come Christmas time.
I didn’t hear from him for a long time. But no one knows how fast mail is delivered in Mexico, and phone calls were always difficult and expensive, so I tried not to worry. Finally he called me. He said that when he’d received that letter from me, he was so mad he couldn’t even talk to me. He couldn’t believe that I would say such a thing. So I swallowed it and apologized for upsetting him. He forgave me and said he wasn’t so angry anymore, since he’d taken a few weeks to respond.
More time passed and it seemed that things were okay again. His mom didn’t seem angry at me, so it was like everything was okay again. I figured he’d talked to her and straightened things out—or I was just crazy and paranoid—because he’d said no more about it to me. Before Christmas came, his mom even asked me for my work schedule so she could make plans for when he was back in the country. I was so excited for the holidays and the chance to spend time with their whole family. I gave her a copy of my calendar and started counting the days for his return. I worked extra days ahead of the holidays so I could have off more shifts for the two weeks when he’d be home.
Not long before he was due back, I was over at his parents’ house (I’d moved into my own apartment after about a month of staying with them). I asked his mom when he was due back. She told me the day. After there was no more information offered, I said timidly that I’d like to be there too, and I asked if I could go with them to meet him at the airport. She laughed. A sudden, mean laugh. Not an isn’t that cute laugh, but a are you stupid? laugh. I was shocked. It was like: how could I be so foolish to think I could intrude on such a sacred moment? She didn’t say anything more. And so I just swallowed it. The hurt. The humiliation. Because that’s what I did.
With communication so difficult with someone in Mexico, I couldn’t make definite plans with him about his arrival. Though I knew the day his plane would land, I didn’t know what time. I took the day off from work (all my shifts were from 3:00 to 11:00 pm) so I’d be available whenever he got in and called. Excited, I woke up early and did everything I needed to do to get ready, to be as pretty as I could be, to have my apartment perfectly decorated for the holidays, and celebration food prepared. Then I sat and waited. And waited. Of course I realized he’d probably want to spend some time first with his family, so I kept factoring in time for that. And I stared at the phone. And it didn’t ring. Minutes turned to hours and pretty soon the day was almost over. Finally at about midnight, I figured something must have delayed them, or something I couldn’t imagine had happened, so with a heavy heart I gave up my vigil and went to bed.
The next morning, I got up and once more began my wait. By midday, I was about to go out of my mind so I finally mustered up the courage to call their house. When he answered the phone, I said Hi? He said hi back like it was the most natural, casual thing, like I hadn’t been dying for over 24 hours to hear from him. There was no great urgency or enthusiasm that I could sense coming from him. Nervous about overstepping, I went ahead and asked why he hadn’t called, telling him that I’d been waiting to hear from him for a while. He said they’d enjoyed some family time and it just had gotten too late. I asked if we couldn’t see each other. He agreed to meet, saying that he had a little time before his family was going to visit some friends. He came to my apartment and to my relief, it seemed like I’d just imagined it all. Everything was really okay.
We talked about when we’d be able to be together over the coming days. We compared schedules, his created by his mom on his behalf. My heart dropped when I saw that every single day that I had taken off from work, his family had plans for day trips out of town or at family friends’ houses. Every day that I was scheduled to be at work, their calendar was empty and they were planning to stay home together. I was beginning to understand. Handing over my work schedule was my first big mistake. I’d delivered myself right into the hands of a master. Before that moment I’d never suspected that I was her enemy. But now I knew. I wouldn’t be spending any of the Christmas holiday with the guy who’d all but told me we were going to get engaged. And sadly, I also learned, this woman was used to getting what she wanted—and her son was used to giving her what she wanted. I didn’t have a chance.
(To Be Continued…)
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