When I was at my parents’ house last night, my mom pulled a little yellow envelope out of a pile of mail on the counter. She’d had it hidden there, and was waiting to open it until after my brother went out for the night. As she’d suspected, it was a letter to her and my dad, from my brother’s now-ex-girlfriend.
The letter didn’t mention anything about the nature of the breakup; it was simply to thank my parents for their kindness and generosity over the past several months, and to acknowledge what wonderful people they are (because they are), and how much she appreciated their having opened their home and their hearts to her.
After we read it, the mood around the dinner table shifted. And our conversation shifted from which shiny new MacBook I’ll be getting, to about an hour of straight Joey-bashing.
“Is this how everyone felt when I split up with [ex-husband]?” I asked at one point.
“No, when you guys broke up, no one knew what the hell happened,” my dad said.
My ex and I broke up in November, and his family had already planned a visit for the week of New Year’s. When they arrived, I still wasn’t talking to anyone, and I think our two sets of parents were still hoping there was something to be done to save the relationship, so they got together – twice – to reason and argue and try to figure things out.
In the second of these two meetings, on the night before they were headed back to Wales, my ex-father-in-law mentioned that he’d been going for walks around the neighborhood where they were staying (with my ex, in my old apartment), and that on these walks, he’d passed by the grocery store I was working in, and considered coming in to say hello.
“Why didn’t you?” my mom asked him. “I’m sure Marie would have liked to see you.”
And funnily enough, this is true. Of all of my ex’s family, his father was the one I was closest to – the only one who I ever felt genuinely liked me, rather than just trying to like me as his mum and sister had done. (It’s making me want to cry just thinking about this; I was so doomed to fail as a daughter-/sister-in-law to them, almost before I’d even been given a chance to try.) If my ex’s dad had come into my store on one of these walks, I would have been happy to see him, because it would have meant that someone understood that what happened was not entirely due to my being a horrible person; that maybe it just didn’t work out, and that I was still a person, worthy of sympathy, or at least acknowledgement. I’m sure I would have broken down and cried, and apologized. I don’t know what I would have said – that was a hard time for me, and certain topics were so sensitive that I was (obviously) avoiding them altogether. But I know it now as I knew it as soon as my mom relayed the conversation to me: I would have wanted to see him, would have wanted to be given the chance to say something, even if it was just – like my brother’s girlfriend wrote to my parents – thank you and goodbye.
All these years later, it still makes me sad to think about what I lost when I lost this man. I don’t harbor any of the same resentment toward him as I do toward my ex and the rest of his family; I saw him, within that family dynamic, in the same situation as I had been: he was the outsider, doing his best to fit in. He was fun, jovial, talkative, and enthusiastic – and yet, he had very few friends. His wife would forbid him from going out and doing things, just as my ex had tried to do with me, and over the years of their relationship, he’d probably learned that it wasn’t worth it for him to face the consequences of disobeying her. But then, when he’d come out to visit by himself, which happened a few times before the wedding, we’d gotten to see what he would be like without restriction. My dad remembers, in particular, his enthusiasm at the prospect of going to Target.
So all these years later, I still wish I’d had the opportunity, or the guts, to say some final words to him. I guess I was afraid – am afraid – that if I mailed him a letter, he wouldn’t be as respectfully surreptitious as my mom had been, and his wife and children would get their hands on it. And then… I dunno, they’d all talk shit about me from across the ocean. I’m sure I’d never hear about it, but I’m too sensitive to take the risk.
But if I could…
I’m so sorry for the way things ended between me and your son. I believe we both did and said things we weren’t proud of, which made it kind of hard for us to maintain any decent sort of relationship, with each other or each other’s families, afterwards. I’m not sure your family would have been interested in a relationship with me anyway, but I would have preferred to remain on good terms with him, and with you.
I just wanted to say thank you for your kindness and understanding during the brief time that I was a part of your family. You welcomed me right away, and I felt like you and I had something of a kindred spirit.
You are a wonderful man – quirky, enthusiastic, and kind. I would have been honored to have known you for many years. If this speaks to you, please don’t hesitate to look me up next time you’re in San Diego. I would love to see you.
Maybe not as perfect as my other unsent letters, but it’s hard to express how much I liked him without comparing the sentiment to how ostracized I felt by the rest of his family – and I’m not trying to cause controversy.
With that out of the way, though, I think I need to get away from this subject for a while. Thinking too much about my past relationship/its end/the losses in its wake may well be what’s causing my weird mood lately. And I cried my way through this post, even though I was just supposed to be cranking something out so that Doug and I could leave to go to dinner with his family – my next set of inlaws, who I’m sure can recognize my faults, but seem to think I’m the best thing to ever happen to their son anyway.