After Art and Agatha went to bed, Fierce and I had a long whispered conversation in the room we are temporarily sharing with our son Wolfie. Eventually Fierce fell asleep and then I ruminated for over two hours. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Angry that Art had been drinking so much without my knowledge, angry that he had been such an ass about the pizza he shared with Agatha, angry that his selfishness gets rewarded so frequently, but angriest of all at the verbal violence he inflicted on me. I thought of how I would respond to his half-ass apology, realizing that I was not willing to “split the blame” with him. Eventually I drifted off to sleep, and got up for work six hours later.
Fierce and Wolfie joined me in the kitchen as I put away the milk and frozen foods that had been delivered that morning. I was in the garage putting things in the deep freeze when I heard the rumble of Art’s voice in the kitchen. I thought what I overheard was, “I’m not going to apologize,” or “I’m not going to apologize for everything.” My heart started pounding, as I considered how to handle this turn of events. As I walked back inside, Art was continuing about how he was sorry that things had gotten so out of hand, and that all he had to do to stop the argument was shut up. He said something about regretting leaving, and that the stakes were too high for that sort of behavior. He was addressing everything to Fierce, and then looked over at me, expectantly. I stated simply, “I’m sorry too that things got so out of hand.” Which of course, is not really an apology at all.
I left for work a little while later, and when I came home at 2:15, Art and Agatha were leaving for a shopping excursion. After cleaning house for an hour-and-a-half, I laid down with Wolfie and we took a two hour nap. When I awoke, Art had already left for the dinner he had planned with old work colleagues. Agatha helped me make dinner while Fierce worked in the garage. After dinner, Fierce started bathing Wolfie and I went to the gym for a quick workout. Coming home about an hour later, Art was back, and watching a movie with Fierce and Agatha on the couch. I managed to say hello to everyone without looking at Art, took a shower, and then did paperwork in the kitchen for the next two hours. After Art and Agatha went to bed, I sat talking to Fierce for a long time; first we talked about his dad, who had apologized to Fierce again, and more specifically for the things he had said. Then we talked about our plans for keeping the house peaceful during the school year, and our desire to build in more creative leisure time for both of us.
In the morning, I was surprised that Art and Agatha were still sleeping when I got up for work. I had feared they would make an effort to see me off, knowing I had to leave by 8:50. Fortunately, they slept through the sounds of our morning starting, and I left ten minutes early so that I could grab breakfast and coffee, and thus definitely avoid any awkward goodbyes.
I don’t know how to deal with the fact that I am not really ready to say, “It’s not okay,” or “Let’s get specific: for what are you taking responsibility? Are you acknowledging that a.) it’s not reasonable to blow up at someone who is repeating your own words back to you? b.) that you shouldn’t get drunk at other people’s homes? c.) it’s wrong to scream obscenities at other people, particularly children, women, pregnant women, people hosting you? d.) drunk driving is wrong? e.) you’re the most selfish man alive?”
I would accept an apology for all of those things, but right now I’m just not ready to accept an apology for “things getting out of hand,” since it allows him to blame me for the same thing, even though there is no comparing our behavior.
Things learned: Art is probably drunk in the evenings; Fierce grew up in a much, much worse environment than I ever understood before; Agatha is the longest-suffering person I’ve ever known and I give her credit for staying in a marriage that is so hard on her.
Things to grapple with before our next visit: knowing that at his core, Art truly believes that he is entitled to have his way as often as he can get it, and that any concessions on his part are magnanimous and not just par for the course of life, how does one act politely but not get trampled? How does one assert boundaries with someone whose response to disagreement is, “you can have your way when you’re paying for it”? Do I have to say, “Fine, I’ll get my own dinner and you go to dinner where you want, I would rather not eat food that makes you think you own me”? Do I simply refuse such treatment without explanation? Is it prideful that I couldn’t swallow another bite paid for by him, under such conditions? What do I do if he throws around the “it’s my house”, leaving me the option of humiliating bondage, or packing my bags and finding friendlier lodgings?
The fact is that I don’t want to have fights like this with Art, and Fierce has asked me to avoid them at almost any cost. He understands that may mean avoiding Art for the most part, and that’s fine with him.
I don’t know where the boundaries are or how I would enforce them if I did. I do know that I’m exhausted from six years of listening to Art pontificate, brag, blowhard, and grab. Maybe a few days off will clear my head. Maybe six years will.