Day 86 - Women, Marriage & Divorce - Part Two or IGA Grandmothers & Mad Money.
I was re-reading my blog yesterday and now am kind of depressed. Not a very cheery subject, I am not even really sure what I am trying to say...
I guess what I want to own is my own failure to comprehend and understand who I am in relation to men. I think I got this really screwed up a long time ago and I have been fucking it up ever since. I have really fucked up the whole marriage and commitment thing.
I am trying to do things differently...which seems to beg for deep examination of a lot of things I would rather not talk about...
What I am really trying to talk about is this place where I went away. This place that I felt like I had to make a choice between being me and being a partner. I am not saying that anyone made me make this choice, just that I felt I had to. My invitation into a committed, long term relationship (marriage) dependent on my willingness and ability to sacrifice myself. I know that I am not alone here. I am not sure whether I felt the balancing act too great so I just gave up or whether there is really something there for women that is not present for men. Could it just be that there has to be one person who gives up so much of themselves for the relationship? I know women are not alone in getting lost in relationships. We do not have a corner on the market. I know plenty of men who get completely subsumed by their partner’s needs, desires and demands.
For this blog, I am going to talk about what happens to women. Our plight and path. It is not the same. There is an element of choice in men’s subrogation in relationships. My question to you and myself is Do women really have a choice?
I am not sure. I am positive that thirty years ago we didn’t. I am positive that one hundred years ago we didn’t. What about twenty years ago? Maybe...What about today? Probably.
There are women who choose relationship and marriage and are able to maintain themselves in a pure form...I have met you strange and foreign creatures. You are the women out there running marathons and Iron Men races while working full time, being a mom and also being a wife. When I used to participate in such nonsense (well, sort of - I ran a lot of races - just not Iron Men or Marathons) I saw your husbands and children waiting for you at the finish line. I saw you supported, cheered and prioritized. I marveled then just as much as I do now.
How were these women successful in managing all of that?!? How were they able to have husbands that worked with them instead of against them to give them the time they needed to train for the physical demands? How were they able to maintain a focus on themselves when thrown into and involved in so many other beings? How were these women able to maintain their selves while mired in the domestic storm?
I don’t know. I see their passion and drive. I see their obsessive pursuit of health and fitness. Does this need drive everything else in their life? Or are they the people who prize themselves above everyone else? They take for themselves first and then give to others? If so, how the fuck did they get that way? Do others see them as selfish? Do they care? Why not?
For me, any interests of my own: running, working out, hiking, writing, reading, camping, traveling all got placed on hold when I became a wife and then mother. I stopped going to the gym because I felt like I had to come home from work to cook dinner and spend time with my husband. I spent my weekends doing things with him that sometimes included hiking or working out but more often was spent fixing up the house or shopping for the house. Nesting became my routine, my time filler. Social time over the weekends was spent with other couples, usually just a few that did the same things. Then those same couples had babies and then that is all we did. We catered to the children and we became watchful backdrops, an extra in the stories of others' lives. Soon there was no time for much of anything else.
I used to think that this was where I disappeared but that is wrong. I left the proverbial building long before all of that. I left before it all even really started because I had this belief that once in a committed, live-in relationship that I had to give up me. I watched my mom do it and her mother before her. My grandmother married young, had two kids, became a widow. She and her sisters opened up a restaurant and were doing quite well. Then my grandfather came along and ruined that. My grandmother left the restaurant to attend to the home and the children. Then had another child which pretty much sealed her fate. She was never getting off the farm...literally.
I have always wondered what my grandmother’s sisters thought about this...were they cheering her on “YAY Mary! You got a man to take care of you now you can stop working so hard!” Which would have been stupid because no women or man that has ever lived on a farm has stopped working hard. Farm life being demanding on so many fronts.
Or did these women think “Oh, Mary! What are you doing? You got out, you were self supporting! You were free!” Were these women angry at her for jeopardizing their futures as well? I am pretty sure the restaurant was closed shortly after my grandmother married my grandfather. What did her sisters do then? How did they make ends meet? I am pretty sure my Aunt Coral never married. I am also pretty sure she was a lesbian back in a day when a small town in Indiana did not allow women to be that.
Now we are talking late 1930s and early 1940s. My grandmother did what was expected of her. She did what she had to to support herself and her children until she found another man and then when he came along, she remarried and started the whole deal all over again. But was she happy? Did she long for the independence the restaurant and her sisters provided?
Even though she died when I was nine, I am pretty confident when I say she regretted that decision for the rest of her life. I feel confident because whenever I would visit her (which was often because she was my favorite and she lived on a farm! best Grandma ever in my childhood opinion). I feel like I can say this because whenever we would go to the grocery store together and I do mean that this happened every single time, we would have the following interaction:
We would stand in the checkout line. I would help her put the items on the conveyer belt. We would finally arrive at our turn to pay the lady or man (usually a lady) at the register. My grandmother would pull out her checkbook and write the check. I would usually begin to wander off in search of chocolate or gum to add in at the last minute without her notice. She would always grab my arm and say the following:
“Erin, when you write a check for the groceries, you always write the check for over the amount of what the groceries cost. Always! Write it for as much as the store will allow you. Take the cash. Never tell your husband. Keep the money hidden and safe. Never squander it. Never tell anyone you have it.”
I would reply:
“Ok, but why?”
She would lean into and down to my level, she would say the following in a conspiratorial tone:
“This money is your mad money. If you ever get mad and need to leave, you have the money to go and you don’t have to worry about it. Never depend on a man to support you. You earn your own money. You pay your own way.”
I would always look at the serious look on her face, the earnestness and intensity and know that she wasn’t playing around. This from the woman that would walk ahead of you in the grocery store, fart and then hide just around the corner and watch you walk into the stench and then laugh her ass off.
The checkout Grandmother was a completely different person. She was intense, driven and passionate about her cause. She was a woman to be reckoned with. It was always hard for me to reconcile the two grandmothers. We would get in her car drive back to the farm and I would not see this other grandmother until the next time we went to the IGA. The IGA grandmother replaced by the grandmother everyone expected to be behind the kitchen counter: cooking, cleaning, feeding and attending to all the others in her home.
I was seven, or younger. I was just a kid. I would be a liar to say that this didn’t effect me. I was a precocious child. An only who was raised with adults. I thought deep thoughts and asked hard questions. I read a lot. I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile the two women that were my grandmother. Little did I know but I would still be walking the divide between the two well into my fifties.
What happened to her? Why did she re-marry? Why did she give up her independence? Was this just expected of her? Is it what she really wanted? Did she really love my grandfather or was he just convenient? Did becoming a wife seem easier than running a restaurant? Did she live every day pissed at herself for selling out? Did she even see it in those terms? How much of herself, her IGA self, did she deny on the daily? How small did she wake up every day? How hard was it to keep that fiercely independent woman in her role? Did she feel like she missed her life?
I will never know how she felt because she died long before I was old enough to formalize those questions. But I still have them. My mom and I talk. We discuss this grandmother person and I get new insights into her through my mom’s memories. But my mom experienced a different person. She was not a granddaughter. She was daughter. She was also a woman that went to college and then married and became a mother. I wonder if my grandmother really supported my mom in this. Was she secretly upset at my mom for following in her footsteps?
I have spent most of my adult life single. I was married for eleven years. Other than this time, I have usually lived alone and been in some form of singledom. I have always felt that this time alone made my grandmother proud. This independence, the home I own and pay for, the career I have, the raising of the children on my own...a kind of anthem for Mary. I picture her standing in her farm kitchen, blue owl dress on, apron tied in front, cooking for others but with one arm raised in defiant solidarity to my aloneness. Sometimes she raises a middle finger. Sometimes it is just the fist.
I see you grandma. All of you. Even though you are long gone, I see you and I understand. Perhaps, that is what all of us are really searching for...a partner who understands and can weather this need and desire to be more than just the other half. To be someone complete and whole alone while still being loved and supported by the other. Perhaps that is what we all want. Why then does it seem so hard to achieve?