Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's graduation season!


Apologies if I've posted about this before… I probably have, but I think it's a story that bears repeating. This is not a happy story, so skip it if you prefer something cheery.

Since it is graduation season, I feel impressed to write about an incident that occurred in the year 2003, when I had the great "fortune" to attend two graduation ceremonies.  My own grad school graduation from the University of South Carolina occurred in May 2002.  I guess 2003 was the payback year.

Picture it.  It's late April 2003.  Bill and I live in a shitty apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Bill is about to get his master's degree from Webster University.  My sister, Becky, was about to get her master's degree from American University.  Both ceremonies were going to be held at the American University campus.  American University also happens to be where Bill got his undergraduate degree back in the mid 80s.

My parents were still mostly functional in 2003.  My dad's mental state was starting to slide a bit, but he was 70 years old and still pretty "with it".  Though my parents had lived in northern Virginia for a couple of years, my mom didn't feel comfortable driving up there anymore.  Becky realized that Bill and I lived close enough to the DC area that she could call upon us for a favor.  She asked us to play chauffeur for our parents.  They would drive to our shitty Fredericksburg apartment and Bill would drive us to Becky's graduation ceremony at American.

Now… I knew what was up.  Becky had phrased her "invitation" in such a way that it sounded like she cared if we were there to celebrate with her.  And, I'm sure on some level, she did want us there because we're family.  But really, it was about her wanting our parents to attend and knowing they wouldn't show up if Bill and I didn't drive them.  At that time of my life, I was less assertive than I am now.  Still, I knew what she was up to.  She was asking a favor of us and expecting me to say yes out of familial obligation.  And Bill, being a brand new son-in-law wanting to make good with my parents, was all too willing to be the driver.  So though I knew we were being used, we agreed to help Becky and my parents, knowing that we were going to get a lovely lunch at 1789 for our trouble.  1789 is a very nice restaurant in Georgetown; in fact, it's where Bill presented me with my engagement ring the previous year.

So, graduation day rolls around.  It's early May and the weather is fine.  Mom and Dad come to our apartment and Bill drives my mom's land yacht to Washington, DC.  We park and go to a gymnasium, which is where the ceremony is being held.  My parents seat themselves a couple of rows ahead of us.  Bill and I sit with Becky's boyfriend, Steve.

We were chatting quietly among ourselves.  It was a gym, after all, and people were yelling, clapping, ringing cowbells, and using air horns to congratulate the graduates.  Somehow, we had the misfortune of sitting near the single biggest northern Virginia/DC area cunt on the planet.  Apparently, our quiet conversation bothered her.  She complained to my parents, specifically about me.  I was surprised she knew we were with them, since they weren't sitting with us.  But my mom said, "We can hear you." in my direction.

We quieted down; but again, it wasn't exactly a dignified event.  We listened to the graduation speeches and then the noise level kicked up again.  The massively cunty woman in front of us objected again and said something to my parents.  Why she didn't just turn around and speak to me personally, I will never know.  It would have been the smartest and most adult thing to do.  But she didn't… she took her issues to my parents, who felt compelled to correct me.

Anyway, my father suddenly turns around and roars at me loudly enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear him, "Shut up!  You're DISTURBING people!"


How I felt when my dad screamed at me at my sister's graduation...

At that moment, I was completely consumed with fury.  I gave what Bill has described as an absolutely murderous look to my father and the bitch who was sitting near us.  I'm pretty sure if looks could kill, they both would have died instantly.  As it was, I'm certain the look in my eyes conveyed to that horrible bitch and her pansy male companion that I hoped she got into a fiery car crash on her way home from the graduation.  I then got up and stormed out of the gym, mortified and livid.

Here I was, dressed up and sitting in that fucking gym, not even really wanting to be there, but doing a favor for my parents and my sister.  Moreover, I was being no more disruptive than anyone else at the graduation, including the two men I was sitting with; and I was almost 31 years old, being spoken to like a six year old by my father in a way that was absolutely uncalled for.

Bill came after me and found me absolutely beside myself with rage.  I was so furious that I told him I wanted to leave right then and there.  He was trying hard to get me to calm down while at the same time trying to figure out how we were going to escape the graduation without a vehicle.  Getting back to Fredericksburg without my parents' car would have involved taking a train or bus or renting a car.  Owing to the massive child support Bill was paying, we were pretty broke at the time and really didn't have the money to rent a car or buy train tickets.  So he was trying hard to get me to calm down and go through with the lunch at 1789.

After about a half an hour of deep breathing and venting, I finally calmed down and we found my family.  I was still feeling really pissed at my dad.  I went to the ladies room and Bill was left there with my mom, who went into damage control mode.  She suggested that we sweep this under the rug and just try to have a nice lunch.  Bill, being my biggest supporter, explained that I had a perfect right to be pissed off at my dad for the way he treated me in public.  His reaction was unreasonable and he humiliated me.  Even Becky's boyfriend, Steve, stuck up for me and said he felt my father's reaction was way out of line.

Somehow, we got in the car and I was sitting in the front seat.  Bill was being nice to my dad, but I was still enraged.  Poor Bill got my claws at one point as we were making our way to the restaurant.

It happened to be Mother's Day, and the restaurant was giving out potted impatiens flowers to all mothers.  When they gave one to me, my dad helpfully piped up with "You're not a mother."

I said, "I am a stepmother."  I took the flower and proceeded to have a sumptuous lunch on my dad's dime.  I had steak and eggs, champagne, two whiskey sours, and dessert.  Bill caught my eye as I casually ran up a big bill.  I made sure my father literally paid for being an asshole to me in public.  Bill knew exactly what I was doing… and I think he approved, even though today I realize it was a pretty passive aggressive thing to do.  Talking to my dad rationally about what he had done and how it made me felt would have done no good.  In my dad's eyes, he had the perfect right to discipline me in any way he saw fit, even though I was almost 31 years old and married.

This is the same man who, while roaring drunk, felt it was appropriate to slap me across the face when I was almost 21 years old and the whole family was staying together at a beach house.  He slapped me because he felt I needed to be knocked down to a lower level.  To my credit, I did tell him that he had no right to hit me and if he ever laid another finger on me, I would have him arrested.  To his credit, he never has struck me again, though there were times when he threatened to.  My reminder that I would be calling the police always seemed to get him to back off and simmer down.

The following week, I attended Bill's graduation by myself.  Afterwards, we went back to 1789 and enjoyed a more modest celebration lunch, but it was a hell of a lot more pleasant, even if we had to deal with a couple of drivers near the Key Bridge who were intent on cutting in front of us.

I do love my family, but variations of the above scenario has happened to me more times than I can count.  Someone in my family will ask me for a favor of some sort or want me to attend a family event, and then it turns into a huge drama.  I find myself in a situation in which I feel forced to swallow abusive or embarrassing behavior or I find myself regressing to that kind of behavior myself.  They wonder why I don't want to do things with them anymore.  The scenario I just described is why I avoid family gatherings whenever I can.  I'm just getting too old for that kind of shit.

2003 was an exceptionally dramatic year, but it did give me the balls to stand up to Bill's ex wife and anyone else who seeks to treat me with disrespect.  Of course, at this point, I realize my dad was probably in the early stages of dementia and that was likely affecting his behavior.  But truly, he has treated me like that for most of my life… with disrespect and condescension.  I simply can't tolerate it anymore.


Awkward family photo…  I think my dad must have threatened us with the belt.




2 comments:

  1. That's an intense post. But I'm glad you broke free and don't let anyone disrespect you!

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    1. Thanks Dave. Maybe it seems crazy that I still get mad when I think about that incident. On the positive side, it did sort of mark the beginning of my personal decision to avoid all avoidable family dramas. It doesn't make me popular with my immediate family right now, but it has spared me a whole lot of angst.

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