When I was a child, I loved playing with blocks at the after-school program I attended. I would pull out the wide variety of differently-shaped and sized wooden blocks and build with them for hours. Most often, I would create a zoo, which I’d then populate with plastic animals, so each species had its own habitat. I’d finish it off using the wooden train set, building an elaborate track so visitors could ride on the train around the entire zoo and see all of the animals. I loved building this structure.
Until, invariably, I would need to use the restroom. I’d leave my creation unattended for a minute and, invariably, someone would knock it down. When I returned I would find a giant mess where once there was a carefully-crafted zoo – which, by the way, I probably hadn’t had the chance to play with yet, at least not as much as I wanted to. I would get so upset, but the only message I remember getting from the adults present was that now I had to clean it all up. My zoo was reduced to a scattered pile of random toys cluttering up the floor. I didn’t even have the chance to mourn it, I just had to put all the toys away and make the room look like my creation had never even existed.
Never do I once remember the kid or kids who knocked down my creation being scolded, or required to help me clean up (or rebuild, that would have been nice), or stopped before they had a chance to do it. I doubt they were ever taught that knocking down someone else’s building is mean. I had no advocates, no protection, no empathy. I was wrong for wanting something as simple as control over how long my creation lasted; when and under what circumstances I took it down. Maybe, just once, I wanted to be the one who got to destroy it! – preferably after showing it off to my parents?
Fast forward a good 20 years, and I feel like I’m staring at a scattered pile of random toys where once my zoo had been. Except that the “toys” are hopes, dreams, accomplishments, skills, fragments of my sense of self, and fragments of my confidence. And the “zoo” is me, or at least the me I’d spent my whole life thinking I was building. Now I’m just a scattered mess cluttering up the room (literally, this whole apartment is quite cluttered). And the only thing I was ever taught to do is clean up the mess, to make it look like I never even existed.
Enter the folks who addressed things to “Mr. and Mrs. Fox Tamesis” – where once I was a person worthy of my own first name, I’ve been condensed into a minor extension of Fox’s identity.
We got married, and marriage is an ancient tradition, and everyone has their own ideas of what it means. I get that. But it’s also a personal thing between me and my equal partner in life, and it’s hard for me to accept another kid putting his giraffe in my zebra habitat.
Someone told us to “keep the Lord in [our] marriage,” which seems rather invasive to me. I know it’s a reminder to stay in touch with our spirituality / the Divine but that’s just the thing, my spirituality / connection with the Divine has always been deeply personal (and divergent from mainstream organized religion). Someone I maybe met once has no business saying anything about it, especially not using language I’m not comfortable with. I’m not even sure how much of my spirituality I want to share with Fox! That’s something we need to work out, using our Fox-to-Ziya / Ziya-to-Fox dictionaries, in our own time, and in the privacy of our own home thank-you-very-much.
During our ceremony, we had time for the loved ones gathered there to offer us blessings. Most of the blessings were really beautiful, but there is one that bugs me and took me a bit by surprise because it was a younger person (a few years younger than us) who said it: “Put God first, your wife second, and yourself third.”
I’m gender-bending enough to want to interpret that as a message to each of us, with the other taking on the role of “wife” just so the quote still works. But pretty much everybody sees Fox as the husband and me as the wife in this relationship, regardless of our behavior and anything we might say, due to our biologically-determined secondary sex characteristics. So, this blessing we requested to be for both of us ended up being addressed solely to him. He gets to be the active party, making and acting on priorities while I
sit here looking pretty clean up the mess that used to be my ability to do things for myself and be recognized as a person in my own right.
And then there’s the comment someone made on a picture of me and my mom, who for all her faults has been trying to be there for me all these years and at the very least has provided for my material needs. Fifteen years – over half my life! – since my father abused me and hurt her and wouldn’t give up an addiction to try and save his own life, someone has the nerve to bring him into a special moment between my mom and me by saying “he’d be proud to see his daughter joined in matrimony.”
Excuse me! I have no idea what my father would think of me or Fox; I might’ve been a completely different person if he were still alive. Of course, any father would be proud to see his daughter married – isn’t that what daughters are for? Marrying off?
But my relationship with my father is and was more complicated than that. He always encouraged my intellectual growth and never primed me for marriage. Whatever I need to work through to be able to forgive him for the mistakes he made, that’s personal. Whatever Mom’s going through – if she’s thinking about it at all – is her business. No one has the right to pull our relationships with my father into the public sphere.
In that moment in the picture, Mom and I were sharing something special. My mom was giving me her blessing on my wedding day; she was proud to see her daughter actively join with a wonderful person who will make an excellent lifelong partner. And unlike my father, she’s had the opportunity to meet Fox and butt heads with him and come to respect him and see how good he is to and for me.
When I hugged Mom after the ceremony, she said she’d always prayed for me to be happy, and now I am – I was beaming throughout the entire ceremony – and she’s happy for me. For that moment, at least, she could actually see me.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. On the car ride home, I was exhausted. It had been a very hectic and exciting day; though I’d been happy and joyful through most of it, I also felt every other emotion I’d felt in my entire life. That’s not an exaggeration. I just wanted to relax, reminisce, and bask in the joy of what had just happened – preferably while cuddling with my husband.
But Mom asked me to sit up front with her and navigate; I didn’t even pause to consider the possibility of saying “no.” Throughout nearly the entire ride home she kept talking about things we need to do for the big family celebration we’ve been planning for next year. (This year was a small affair with the primary purpose of signing the legal document.) Worst, she kept bringing up bridesmaid dresses, which is between me and my bridesmaids. (Duh!) I told her I was tired and let’s talk about that later. Fox told her we don’t need to make those decisions yet. She kept saying, “I’m just talking” until finally I said, “Please stop!” She drained all my energy from me until there was nothing left. I’d just gotten married and I could feel nothing, I saw no future, no purpose to being. I couldn’t bring back the happiness I’d felt during the ceremony and I felt like I’d never feel it again. I just wanted to stop existing.
Once we were alone we felt energized, happy and excited, and more deeply bonded. We were able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The well wishes we’ve been receiving since a day before the wedding have brought a lot of joy and helped me to feel very, very loved. They’re still trickling in and each one brings a smile to my face; better yet I can look back on all of them and remember that joy.
But our loved ones went home and they’re hundreds of miles away again (especially Kit and Banji). We’re back to our scattered life – the need to find jobs especially. Last night I found out that one of my student loans has gone into repayment and my first payment was actually past due; thank goodness I had the money in my checking account to pay it right away! But I don’t know what I’m doing with my loans and school, and I don’t know how much “encouragement” I should be giving Fox to be on top of those things for himself, and my account balances keep dwindling. I’d love to just go out and get a job today but I’m not sure I’ll be able to maintain the confidence I need to follow through with the whole application process (including interviews). If I get a job I’m afraid depression and/or anxiety will get the best of me and I won’t be able to keep it – or if I do manage to keep it I’ll still be miserable. And there’s still the sense of “but I still need to take care of myself; I should focus on my own mental health treatment.” Except that I still don’t know where to go to get the treatment I need, and I hate the idea of calling to make appointments, and I don’t have health insurance.
Every interaction I have with Mom convinces me that I’m wrong. Whatever I was doing before she interrupted me that I’d really like to continue with and/or get back to, wrong. When I finally get my act together and order groceries online, she tells me I should go to the supermarket where the items cost less, even though in my experience I tend to spend more. I can tell her that until I’m blue in the face; I can show her my receipts, but I’m still wrong. I haven’t done this list of things I keep saying I need to do, so I’m wrong – and I’ve been depleted of the energy I need to do them. I closed the door to my apartment, so I’m wrong. Fox enforced the boundary we need to stay sane by asking her to leave us alone, so I’m wrong.
Hello person who can afford to discriminate among a plethora of potential employees based on the time of day, the color of your socks, or the straightness of the applicant’s part. I’d really like this job, but everything I do, say, or think is wrong. I’m probably wrong for wanting a job in the first place. Oh, the information on my resume is factually correct, I’m just inherently wrong. I breathe wrong. I think wrong. I am wrong. Will you please hire me?
Most recently Mom’s told us that if we have money in our names we might not qualify for affordable health insurance. Worse, the corporations behind our student loans can freeze our accounts and take the money away. I have to imagine that would only happen if we really fell behind on payments, but I can’t say with confidence that we’ll be able to keep up with them. We need jobs for that – even though we’re both still in school. I might be able to take enough credits in one semester to defer my loans again, but to my knowledge that isn’t an option for him.
Mom’s solution is to put the money we’ve received as wedding gifts into an account under her name. I trust her not to spend the money; I’m less confident that I trust her to give it back to us no strings attached and not try to influence what we do with it. Even if we were to do that, we still need to create a joint account so we can deposit the checks that have been made out to both of us – some “Mr. & Mrs.” and some using my first and “maiden” names. There will be a paper trail. I barely have the emotional energy to get dressed in the morning – never mind worrying about what the consequences might be if someone investigates money coming into our names, just to go into someone else’s soon afterward.
That was the plan the last time I talked to her; for some reason I find it immeasurably difficult to say “thank you, but Fox and I will handle this on our own.” We’ve talked about it and made our own decision about how to handle our finances. I just want to follow through with that decision and have it be respected. I don’t want to have to dread telling her what I’ve done, like a disobedient child. And I want – need! – to know that any money in an account under my name (whether it’s joint or solo) will only be removed with my consent. Is it so wrong to ask for that security?
The walls of my zoo have been knocked down and I don’t know where the lionesses went. There are giraffes in my zebra habitat. My train track has been scattered. I can’t find the train.
At the very least, I need someone to look me in the eye and tell me they understand why I’m so upset. Some help finding things and rebuilding my zoo would be really, really nice.
Just don’t tell me to put these toys away. I’m not finished with them yet.