One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

June 2, 2010

Charmed

He brings me coffee in bed before leaving the house. It is Saturday morning and he has let me sleep in until his friend is on the doorstep, ready to go. “Hannah’s downstairs watching a movie, so I think you have some time before you have to get up,” He says.

I swim toward consciousness through damp, noisy thoughts. The roaring static in my head becomes the hard rain on the roof as grey unconsciousness resolves to cloud-soaked light.

I still feel sick, but I’m determined not to whine. I have already given myself the talk about the break he deserves.

“Hey, don’t feel that if you don’t fish you have to come home. Maybe you’d like to go for a drink instead.” He is mostly out the bedroom door.

“Hah! At 9 am?” He is as guarded against taking breaks as I am and his defense is to mock me.

“Or maybe you want to go to a movie?”

He is noncommittal. And gone.

* * *

I push myself out of bed on determination. I have done this before. Remember? Have actually spent weekend after weekend alone with a two-year old plus five-year-old-Ethan.  I was a single parent once and I managed to keep our three ragged-raft lives afloat. Even when I got sick.

Don’t you dare treat this like a hardship when for many this is routine, I warn myself. My determination and I have made a list: there is a pile of laundry in the livingroom to be folded, groceries to be fetched and Rachel’s birthday will be celebrated on Sunday so the house must be cleaned, at least enough to entertain.

I drink my coffee and clean the kitchen. Fold laundry. Chide myself for inappropriate self-satisfaction. Some people clean often enough that they can’t delude themselves into feeling virtuous for it, I remind myself.

I am running out of pep and so I turn my attention to wrestling Hannah into an outing. I out-stubborn her into a raincoat, run around grabbing everything we need and hustle us out the door. With rain in her face, Hannah’s stingy willingness turns cold. “I need up,” she demands and hides from the rain with her face in my neck. I carry her to Broadway, make three stops increasingly laden with things to carry, and return home fretting my precarious hold on a box of baking, balance it against the arm that also balances a toddler.

My arms are shaking with fatigue and my come-and-go breathing pain is back in my chest, but I can’t make myself set her down. The comfort of two-year-old arms wrapped around my neck and a warm body to carry is infinitely preferable to a slow cold walk, coaxing and chiding all the way.

* * *

On Monday, I take Hannah in to work to explain to my coworkers that, with no daycare, I will be at home for the week.

I put Hannah at my desk with crayons and paper. Reschedule meetings. My Wednesday meeting with Firefly will have to wait weeks – she is leaving for a week and a half of trips this Friday. She lists the causes – three back-to-back business meetings and conferences in various cities – and I mime wiping sympathy sweat off my brow.

I was thinking about that, she tells me. This is actually no big deal. Remember at our first job together? Being gone for a week was routine. We did that twice a month.

Now I am really sweating. I remember.

We touch the conversation to some significant cities we have been to, long trips we endured. I was a single-parent and I managed to keep three lives afloat.

Our conversations often come around to this. It was a time that shaped both of us. And though we are very different people, have very different backgrounds, we have been through the same forge. Sometimes, I think, we are like retired military officers, trading big stories for the benefit of others. Behind the big stories, I am quietly touching my dog-tags, acknowledging what cannot be told in words.

* * *

Today a ragamuffin Broadway-kid in bright colours and pale dreads flashed a peace sign at Hannah as we walked out of the local grocery store. He and his Broadway-kid girlfriend were sitting on the curb of the parking lot, doing whatever it is east-side ragamuffins do. Some elaborate form of nothing, I guessed, having never been an east-side ragamuffin, myself.

Hannah looked sideways at him and scooted after me. I love the toddler-walk. Her short legs, her little trot.

“Are you going to give him a peace sign back?” I asked her, knowing the answer. Lately, when strangers smile at her or speak to her, she comes close to me to whisper in my ear, “mum, I’m shy of all these people.”

I smiled at them as we departed. And they smiled and nodded back.

I have friends who try to be very cosmopolitan who like to say that for all its city-ness, Saskatoon is still a small town. They say it derisively, to distinguish themselves as someone who knows the difference. I think of the cities I have seen, how I measured each against Saskatoon and I feel that difference acutely. And comfortably.

* * *

I have been planning for writing again. I have been turning over my characters. I stopped writing my book when it came time to introduce my villain. Because he was supposed to be charming, but dangerous, and I didn’t have the experience to convey it.

What does it mean to be charming?

* * *

At that old job, I had a boss who was charming and a supervisor who was villainous.

My boss was affable, genial, conversational. He asked your opinions. He listened as if they mattered. No idea was dismissed before he had asked questions and explored it.

My supervisor enjoyed intimidation. He swore, lectured and insulted me. He impugned my sales performance and threatened to make me travel full-time if I didn’t sell more. He knew that would require me to essentially give up custody of my children.

I’d come from a string of one-sided, sometimes abusive relationships. Though I was newly single, I’d been well-trained in passiveness and for two years, I’d rolled over for him every time he came at me. I think that like an abusive husband, he’d reached the point of pushing and baiting for no more purpose than a cold fascination with the sport of seeing how much I would tolerate.

But I was newly single and I had learned to leave.

When it came time to give my notice to my charming boss, I choked and cried.

Now I wonder why I gave him that much. I confused charm for morality. Like the other side of the abusive husband, he charmed me to compensate for the abuse, but he never stopped it.

* * *

I have been reading accounts of battered women. “He poured boiling water on her face.” “He ordered her to kill her lover.”

Driving home down twelfth street, I turned that horror over in my head. How an abuser could induce someone to kill the only person who offered her a hope of escape. The horror of abuse in relationships is not precisely in what the abuser does to the abused, it is in the effect it has on the abused. Who it makes her. What it makes her capable of.

I don’t doubt for a second the capacity of every one of us to do unspeakable things, given the right abuses, the right circumstances.

* * *

So they went and stood out in the rain for a couple of hours not getting a nibble, Ian calls to tell me, and they decided they should go see a movie instead. But his friend said, “if I go to a movie, I should really go home and get my kids.” And Ian said, “why don’t I get my older kids.”

So after a leisurely lunch, Ian will come home to get the kids for a movie. But first I must coax Hannah out again to pick them up from their father’s house.

Hannah nods off on the drive. The older ones converse with me in undertones.

With everyone else fed lunch and bustled off to a movie, Hannah refuses to continue her nap at home, instead slouching into the armchair to watch Cars.

At 4 o’clock I am suddenly so, so, so tired. Exhausted enough that as I move around the house, trying to clean or at least settle on what I’m doing, I shamefully give serious thought to summoning Ian home. Don’t be foolish.

Then he’d have to drag two kids away from a movie. A movie that he probably just paid $50 to get into. Surely he’s turned his phone off anyway.

I have gravitated to the back of the house to avoid the drone of the movie. Faded old Jerk-Makes-Good trope.

Hollywood thinks everything is resolved when the self-interested jerk admits that he needs you. I have too much experience in the failure of those epiphanies to actually resolve anything.

With my head pounding, I sit down on the floor at the back of the house, and then stretch out on the floor, and then doze off.

I wash up on gravelly consciousness. Hannah is calling, “hey mommmmmy, where arrrrre you?” from the front of the house. “I’m here, Hannah,” I croak so she can follow my voice.

She is running through the house, toddling steps on chubby legs. “Hey I need some water.”

I push myself off the floor. Make it to the kitchen to find her most-recent half-drunk glass. And then I sit down and fall back asleep on the kitchen floor.

Asleep again. My eyes won’t open. There is only sound and movement. Hannah-sound. “Hey, you open your arm so I can lie down too.” Hannah-movement. A warm body pushing at my arm, pressing her little back into my side.

Darkness. Darkness. Then Hannah sitting on me and climbing over me, sliding down my shoulder to land on my neck. “Hannah that hurts,” I think I tell her. But I don’t know if she answers or stops. I am asleep again.

* * *

I am preparing to go on a trip for writing workshops with my aunt and my mother, to join my other aunt in Edmonton.

I stopped writing when it came time to write this charming villain, I tell my aunt. I didn’t know how to convey that.

It’s like Gavin De Becker says, she tells me. Charm is something you do intentionally. It isn’t a quality of the person.

Yes and it relates to the interest a person takes in you. Like when Meredith talks about how compelling mental illness can be. Someone who is mentally ill, when they are interested in you, they are so interested in you. And it’s elating. And when they tire of you it’s devastating.

And when they come back, it’s that same abusive cycle, my aunt says. It feels like falling in love.

I am stumblingly trying to explain how at ease I have become with  Ian, because we don’t do that, falling back in love. Though once I thought I wanted that. I am struck with memories of that sensation. Falling in love. Forceful and vivid. The manic upswing. Charmed. The relief from darkness and rejection. He will love me again. If I can only find how to sustain this. If I can only be the right way to keep him feeling this about me and not the other way.

It is not a good feeling.

What does it mean to be charming?

It’s the wrong question.

What does it mean to be charmed? I am an expert at that.

* * *

I had managed to get conscious enough to will myself into sitting up in the kitchen, but I hadn’t moved off the floor, by the time Ian and the kids got home after six.

There was no dramatic rescue. Just a certainty, that had always been there.

I went straight to the couch, curled up against him and went back to sleep.

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6 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Deb C

     /  2010-06-02

    oh, man, you are such a good writer.

    (Apologies if my html code doesn’t work.)

    Reply
  2. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Alison

     /  2010-06-02

    I totally agree about your writing. But seriously this is not normal Megan. It is not normal to be falling asleep on the kitchen floor after a full night’s sleep. You are sick with something and instead of using your energy castigating yourself about how normal people don’t find it hard to do ordinary things, you need to put your energy to finding out what is wrong and getting better.

    There. I could feel an auntly lecture welling up in me and I thought I’d wait til I saw you tomorrow, but I guess I couldn’t. Please, please be safe driving tomorrow. Don’t overdo it; don’t push it – Judith is there to take over. Driving is hard. I’m always exhausted by the time I get here and I’m in robust health. Love you.

    Reply
  4. Alison I love you so much! You always call me out on stupid self-castigating talk.

    I know. I mean I do, really, know that falling asleep on the kitchen floor is abnormally tired. I promise I haven’t done it since!

    And I fully intend to take good care of myself on this trip. Though I do fear, slightly, that that will mean less party-all-the-time.

    Reply
  5. P.S. This was about an out-of-the-ordinary day, where I was motivated to exert willpower to attempt normal function. If I had written about my regular days that would have been SOooo boring. My internal thoughts would be all, “dude, I’m tired. I’ma go lie down. I feel guilty for it – BUT ONLY FOR AS LONG AS I’M CONSCIOUS! Hah.”

    But that’s why letting myself be useless as soon as Ian walks in the door is such a certainty. Because that is pretty much what he’s allowed me to do, any time I even slightly need it, for the last few months.

    Reply
  6. Alison

     /  2010-06-02

    I love Ian too.

    Reply

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