Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A String of Broken Stars

"You want me to be a tragic backdrop so you can appear to be illuminated, so that people can say 'wow, isn't he so terribly brave to love a girl who is so obviously sad?' You think I'll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I'll swallow you whole."— Warsan Shire

One of my favorite relatives of all time was my Uncle D. Uncle D was not really my uncle—he was my father's uncle, which would make him my great uncle. But back in the day, Uncle D was one of those people who always seemed to be "walking awesome." He had the best stories to tell, and he knew how to tell them well; he could keep his audience captivated for hours on the edge of their seats. He was well traveled, and had done a lot, but more than that, things always seemed to be happening to him—things that (usually) ended up having a happy ending, or at least a riveting one.

He was a good-natured guy, and was always volunteering for his synagogue and other charity groups. He often took the jobs no one else wanted and somehow, turned them into the funnest jobs in the world.

I remember watching a video of him one time of him playing the lead part in his synagogue's play. He had taken the leading lady's part, because nobody else had stepped up. The whole video had him wearing a dress and a wig, dancing around the stage like Peter Pan. You could hear the audience roaring with laughter in the background.

The thing about Uncle D was that he wasn't very good at relationships. I believe he was married four times—it might've been more, I don't know. (In my family, a marriage that lasted less than a year wasn't a "real" marriage, wasn't anything more than an embarrassment, and was best swept under the rug.) Every one of his breakups and divorces had been bad, filled with drama and horror.

Of course, since it was Uncle D telling us the stories of these breakups, he was always the Good Guy, and the exes were always the Crazies.

When I was little, I took his stories at face value. Of course Uncle D was a good partner; of course his exes were to blame for whatever had gone wrong. Uncle D was Walking Awesome. How could anyone not want that in a partner?

And yet...and yet, he broke up with all his girlfriends and divorced every woman he married, and not one of those divorces was amicable. They were messy, courtroom affairs, with stories of shouting matches in restaurants and TVs landing on sidewalks, dishes broken and police called.
All his exes seemed to wind up being Closet Crazy Women.

They didn't start out that way. They started out as nice women.
He couldn't say enough nice things about them, in fact. Every time we heard from him, the conversation would inevitably turn to how amazing the woman in his life was. It was sweet how he spoke about them; it certainly made him seem more endearing.
But eventually—sometimes it took months, and sometimes it took years—but always, the women turned into harpies and shrews, and Uncle D was left wondering what the fuck had happened.

The last time I went over to Uncle D's house, it was a short while after he married his latest wife, J. I had never met J before, but of course, I had heard great things about her; how caring she was, how soft spoken and gracious.
I went to visit him with my father, who keeps kosher. Uncle D knew this, and he asked J to plan the meal accordingly.

J bought my father a kosher dinner meal. She made sure to keep it double wrapped in the oven, as one is supposed to do, made sure to serve it to him still closed, so he could see she had not touched it, and gave it to him with plastic utensils, since hers were off limits.
The meal was great, with J serving and Uncle D regaling us with more stories that had us laughing off our asses.
Then J brought in dessert. My father immediately saw that the dessert, while kosher, was also dairy. Since my father had eaten meat during the meal, he could not eat the dessert—and politely told J and Uncle D the reason why he had to decline.

Uncle D started scolding J in a way I had never seen before. He turned to her and asked her what she was thinking, how could she not have known. She replied—softly—that she'd forgotten, and made a mistake. Uncle D continued to berate her in front of us, apologizing to my father for J's stupidity, telling him he should have seen to the matter himself instead of trusting her, and all the while, shaking his head at J like she was no more than an errant child.
Finally, J snapped.
"It was a mistake, OKAY?" She said. "I forgot, now can you please just LET IT GO."
Uncle D stared at her in amazement. An uncomfortable silence blanketed the room. Finally, Uncle D moved the topic of conversation onto something else...but the rest of the visit didn't seem so fun anymore.

Years later, I reminded my mother of what had happened that day. She just shook her head and sighed.
"It's amazing to me how Uncle D can take all these nice, wonderful women, and turn them into something so different," she said. "Living with him must be very hard."
I had never thought of it like that before, but immediately I realized the wisdom of her words.

Uncle D's ladies were not somehow hiding their crazy—or if they were, they were hiding the same crazy we all have, each and every one of us, when pushed hard enough. They had been fine, lovely women when he had met them.
It was Uncle D who had twisted these women around.

He had berated them, mocked them, made them think they were stupid, made them think he was doing them a favor by staying with them for as long as he did. They constantly had to walk on eggshells around him, always second guessing their words, always wondering how he would take what they said and how he would react in kind.
No woman can live like that forever—not without turning into a bitter, cynical fishwife.

Uncle D wasn't bad at picking women. But he was very good at picking the right women, and then turning them into exactly the type of women he couldn't stand.
I think there a lot of men like this out there.

These day I start to grow suspicious when I hear some guy's tale of woe  about how ALL his exes turned out to be crazy, how he's had such "bad luck" finding "good women."
All I want to say to him is, Dude, maybe it's not all your exes. Maybe it's YOU. 

They won't hear it of course. It sounds good to say "My wife/girlfriend/Significant Other pretended to be so nice, but once we were well established, man, did she become a total bitch, I put up with her for theees looong cause I'm such an awesome guy, but I just couldn't take it anymore and I decided I had to move on, and that's why I'm single."

That sounds a hell of a lot better than "I acted the great guy until I got my woman well established and man, once I had her in my grips I totally treated her like shit and made her think she was so worthless not another guy would have her and she was lucky to have me. She didn't put up with my crap for very long though, the bitch."
...Yeah, I've never heard a guy own up to this truth.

I'm not saying every guy out there with more than one "horrible ex" story is like this. Some people really do have bad luck.

I guess what I'm saying can never really know what a person is like in a romantic relationship based on how good a friend they are, or even how good a person they are.
Some people are just very good at bad breakups.

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