My future mother-in-law’s permanent eyeliner makes me uncomfortable. Half-open slits that already look at the world suspiciously the eyeliner makes her eyes look even more calculating. Ted always talks about what a great lady she is. I find her icy, narcissistic and shrill. The three-hour tour of her thrift store crystal exhausts me. She has to tell me how much everything costs. I sense that I’m supposed to be impressed so I ooh and aah on cue. She informs me that she has a real flair for decorating, pointing to a wall arrangement she put together as evidence of her talent: a chicken wire-covered farm scene, a rusty hook, an antique egg carton. The three objets d’art hang there on the dirty wall, dusty from neglect. “These are $400 chairs. They’re Ethan Allen – -English Oak – and when Ted rocks back in them it loosens the glue. See? I have to have that fixed now. These are not meant to be rocked back in.” I think the chairs are dated and hideous and I wouldn’t pay $10 for them at a garage sale. Her house depresses the hell out of me.
It also happens to be the house Ted lives in. That’s because love is imperfect. It sparkled immaculately for the first month or so. But gradually the truth came out: about jail, about his speeding problem on the motorcycle, his ulcer, his bitter divorce, now his joblessness. Taking him to see his probation officer last week was no picnic either.
On my future mother-in-law’s faux-brick mantel are framed studio photographs of her grandchildren. “Who’s this?” I ask her innocently. “OH, that’s Ted’s oldest son.”
I knew he had an 8 year-old daughter from his previous marriage. But I knew nothing of a 19 year-old son. “He didn’t tell you? That’s Nathan. They’re not very close. He lives in Connecticut now.” Apparently my boyfriend got his Guamanian high school girlfriend pregnant. Gradually the weight of his world has settled onto my shoulders. Do I love this man? I don’t know. I enjoyed falling in love with him. But sometimes I look at him and wonder, “Who the hell are you? And how did you wind up in my bed? In my life??” I don’t know you and I miss my old boyfriend. The familiarity. The safety of knowing it would never work out. And the comfort of being chronically dissatisfied. But I want to get married so in spite of his rap sheet, Ted remains a strong candidate for life partnership – a fact that terrifies me.
An overnight camping trip on the beach temporarily restores levity to our relationship, but back at his mom’s house reality has its way with me. His mother nags him about getting his name off some tax paperwork from the failed business he tried to launch with an old friend. If only I could strip his bathroom of its 80s pastel wallpaper, maybe I could save this relationship. Its generic watercolor pattern makes me want to heavily medicate. While brushing my teeth I realize this wallpaper represents what I’ve been running from my whole life: a staid, lifeless, cheap motel lifestyle. And here, at the age of 36 when other people my age are having their second babies underwater, I am living half the week with my boyfriend’s mom, washing my face in a carpeted bathroom wondering when my life is going to start.