by Madeline Laughs
When Teri Hatcher wrote the book Burnt Toast, I knew exactly what she was talking about. The title translates to the woman in the house always serving the bread toasted just right, to the family and scrapping the burnt piece off for herself. Her point is that happiness is a choice we should make for ourselves. And she’s right about that.
Before you discount this post as being chick oriented in it’s message; you should settle your brawn into your seat and hang on. There’s a little something in here for both genders because what I’m going to talk about is a two way street. Perhaps you’ll learn something about your own relationship, or even about yourself. It would behoove many men out there to take heed because I have a feeling that this kind of stuff happens all the time.
My first relationship was one I entered with my eyes squeezed shut. Not literally, and not even consciously, but they were closed to every red flag that shot into the air over eight long years. It wasn’t until years after his death when I had finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, that I realized that maybe he wasn’t the Prince Charming I had raised him up to be.
As I rode that elevator to the towering top of the pedestal I had placed him on, I came eye to eye with a huge pile of my own lack of self respect.
He wasn’t even up there.
On laundry day I loaded the clothes basket into the car and drove to the closest laundry mat. I always did the laundry, but admittedly, I like doing laundry, so I was okay with that. Looking for extra quarters, I opened the glove box of the car he and shared and found a stack of fifty dollar bills. They weren’t just laying right on top, they were squirreled away in the back of the glove box, under the car manual. I was thrilled to find them! Especially when we had been eating mac and cheese for a week because we were teetering on being broke.
Rushing home after doing laundry I placed the money on the table in front of him with grandiosity. Did I notice the look of “Oh shit!” that crossed his face? Nope, stupid, trusting little me, did not. He feigned shock and delight, curled the bills into his pocket and we continued with our mac and cheese diet.
Years later I found out that he had been padding his own personal bank account by sending cash deposits home to his Dad via Western Union. I came home from our cross country trip flat broke and he only claimed to be broke.
I remember when the Sony Walkman came out like it was yesterday! He brought home 2 boxes of the electronics. One proudly emblazoned with Sony Walkman, the other read Radio Shack. “Look honey! Now you can listen to your music in private while you work out or sit on the beach!” I remember reaching for the Sony Walkman box, which he quickly moved out of reach. “No, I got this one for you.” and he handed me the Radio Shack box. I pulled this knock off out of the box and looked again at the box he now protectively held in his lap. “But, I want that one. Or one like that one.” Do you know what he said to me? He said “Honey, this one is too technical for you to use. You’ll like the one I got for you better, trust me.”
Well, if you were sitting in the room with me right this moment, you’d see me cry. That memory still makes me angry and frustrated every time I dredge it up.
I didn’t argue! I didn’t press him! I just nodded and put those cheap headphones on while I read the manual that came with it.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking; it was just a thing. That’s where you’re very wrong. It was more than just the Walkman, it was the intent, the lack of respect, the dismissal.
It was the thought that I wasn’t good enough to receive the best, as he was. There was no equality, no level ground. I was to settle for whatever he chose to give me, even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.
Well, he didn’t come to that conclusion all on his own, now did he? Of course not! I helped him decide. I reinforced his decision by putting up with the second rate behavior for a long time. It became normal for us.
I worked while he finished college. The deal was for him to reciprocate so I could complete my degree. When that time came along, he decided I should work and finish school. We’d need the income because he wanted a newer car. Did I remind him of our agreement? “Of course you deserve a better car sweetie! You’ve worked so hard finishing your degree. I don’t mind!”
Our entire relationship was all about anyone, but me. I was a willing participant. I did whatever I was told. I don’t know if that was blind love or just naivete, but it was wrong. I know he loved me, but he loved himself more. I wonder what it would have been like for us if I had loved myself too?
Do you know when I realized what a loser I was in that relationship? It wasn’t any time during the relationship. I worshiped the ground he walked on. I met every single need he ever had. I was too busy to think of myself, besides, who was I? It wasn’t shortly after he died either. After he died I was more concerned with how to take care of myself. I hadn’t managed my own money in years. I had no idea how to rent an apartment or turn on utilities or how to even write a check. I balanced feeling sorry for myself with grieving his absence. Oh no, it took a long time for me to figure it all out, but I finally did.
I realized it the day I met someone that showed me what I was worth. She had been with me all along and she was starring back at me in the mirror above my bathroom sink.
It was me.
Happiness and being happy with who we are is a choice we make. Knowing what we will stand for and how much we will allow someone to use us is a choice we make.
When I met his father for the first time he picked a fight with his son. They were an upper middle class family and I was shocked when it broke out. Seeing his father’s huge, burly back take off after him down the hallway as he ran to get away from him was all it took to move my feet. I skirted his father and got between them. I held up my hands in case he swung his fist. I was terrified, but I stood my ground. “If you’re going to hit him, you’ll have to go through me to do it!” His father laughed, spun around and left the room. I turned to see my boyfriend, catatonic with fear. He had wet himself.
Whatever he learned about how to be with a mate, he learned at home. I know that now, but I didn’t know it then. Maybe not knowing is not such a bad thing? We were both young then. I think being with him is what finally gave me permission to discover who I was and what I was worth.
Being with him gave me the good husband I have today.
There is one gift I can take away from that time in my life that no one can steal away from me. I was his one safe place on earth. I was his champion. If I never do another good thing in my life, I made his time here a loving and nurturing one. There are good memories I have tucked away and I am thankful because he taught me so much about who I am and who I want to be.
Since then I live by one rule; You are lucky to be with me.
When you choose to set your toaster on the darkest setting, you either have to pay attention while it toasts, or be prepared to scrape off the burnt parts. Whatever choice you make, be sure to treat yourself to some strawberry jam. You deserve to be good to yourself.
I’ll see you guys for breakfast tomorrow morning! *wink*
- I Smell Burnt Toast (cottonbombs.wordpress.com)