Zinburger, 6:00 on Monday. The last night my parents are in town. Mom and I had hot stone massages and mani-pedis at one of the fancy spas up in the Foothills. The cost for the both of us was almost more than my husband brings home every two weeks. We thought it would be fun to have dinner with them somewhere distinctly local.
The past seven years I've lived here, we've taken them to nearly every affordable "distinctly local" restaurant there is in town and then some. We've been to Casa Del Rio, La Parilla Suiza, Little Anthony's, Guadalajara Grill, and Poco & Mom's for New Mexican style breakfasts, and Frank's on Pima & Alvernon because I think they should experience the places the locals go. The only "distinctly Tucson" restaurant we haven't gone to is the McDonalds on Grant & Tanque Verde, which is only distinct because of the T-Rex next to it that looks as though it's eating a stoplight.
So, Zinburger it is.
Dinner is quiet and uneventful. It isn't until the meal is eaten and the bill has been paid that the cracks begin to show.
"I really wish you'd make up with your brother," my mother says casually as she finishes her water. "If you're still so angry at him for something he did twenty years ago, maybe you should just let it go and move on."
"That's not even what I'm upset at him about," I say, startled. The incident she mentions is a painful one to recall, but it has nothing to do with why he and I have been estranged for the past several years.
"Don't you remember what he did at our wedding dinner?" I ask angrily. Just the memory stirs up fury inside of me. Never content to let anyone else be the center of attention, he crashes our post-wedding dinner at the Luxor, supposed to be a fun night with family and friends, and shows up with a drunk Filipino girl he met at Coyote Ugly. "You inspired me so I got married too!"
The happiest day of my life has been ruined. I didn't want him to come anyway. I saw what he did at my other brothers weddings, getting a DUI after Kevin and Andrea's wedding even after my parents pleaded with him not to drive, then giving an obnoxious drunk best man speech at Keith and Angie's wedding about how much he disliked the bride.
"Your brother has changed," my father says angrily from across the table. "He has kids now and maybe if you did too, you'd understand."
There it is. That dagger to the heart. The reminder that I, as a woman, and my husband, as a man have failed. Failed miserably. All my miserable brother has to do is look at his bitch of a wife and she's pregnant again. The last thing we need is a reminder of this. As if we don't live with it every day, as if it doesn't hang over our heads like a dark, gray cloud day in and day out.
"Fuck you," my husband explodes. "How dare you say that to me?! How dare you say that to her? You don't know what this has been like for us. How DARE you?!" He pushes his chair away from the table. "Come on," he says to me. "We're leaving."
I sit across from my mother, my whole body shaking. I resort to a familiar defense mechanism, my eyes covered with my hands, which are clasped together. But I can't move. Maybe it's because I don't want their trip to end with this awful moment, but I feel like my feet are cemented to the ground below me.
"Go talk to him," my mother tells my father. It is not a request.
I think I hear him yelling from the parking lot. "Come on," I think I hear him say. "I'm done with this."
Shortly after, they come back. "I'm sorry I went off like that," my husband says, again taking his place next to me.
And the conversation takes off.
If you can call it a conversation.
I do what my therapist has asked of me and I am vulnerable. My guards of self-deprecating humor and anger are gone, and I'm completely and totally emotionally naked in front of them. My eyes are blurred with tears, and my heart hurts.
"I used to have a plaque that said, 'Believe in yourself and anything is possible'", I tell my father. "And you know what, you said that might be true for some people but it's not true for me."
"I NEVER SAID THAT TO YOU!" he yells, nearly as loud as my husband's previous outburst. "Your problem is that because you're adopted, you have a rejection complex. And that taints everything that anyone ever says to you."
I remember at that precise moment how he once said, "If someone says something that upsets you, it's probably because it's true."
I think he must remember that incident, or have a vague recollection of it. That explains his anger. I don't think he's angry so much about telling me that as he is about me remembering it.
More cracks. More fissures. It's like the San Andreas fault here.
The rest of the night goes on - anything that my father did or said that hurt me was tainted by these "rejection issues". To hear him say it, he's been the world's greatest dad and never did anything wrong. My mother tries to understand. She cries when I talk about the spelling bee in eighth grade and winning in front of the entire school and not having either of my parents there. She says she showed up late and missed it. I tell her no, my cousin was being induced and she was at the hospital. March 3, 1993.
I cry when I talk about how my fears of never reaching parenthood were brushed away like an annoying bug. "Just be a good aunt, then," my father had told me.
"Well, you had all those nieces and nephews then," he says, trying to defend himself.
Another wellspring of tears comes up. I haven't - I can't - look at either of them across the table from me. I keep my head down, because it's easier. I look at the table, because it's not judging me.
"The boys weren't married then," I inform him. "Keith was still in high school. Kevin and Andrea had just started dating. You know what that felt like? It felt like you were telling me to just be happy with that."
He brings up "rejection issues" again. He uses it to counter everything I say. Rejection, rejection, rejection. "So-and-so, with all the kids that she brought into their house, every last one of them have rejection issues and you do too, and that's what taints everything anyone ever says to you."
I had hoped, after he told me he was proud of me just a few days earlier, that maybe there was some groundwork laid and maybe, just maybe, there could be a good relationship between the two of us yet. But no. Constantly defending my brother for his thoughtless actions, continuing to be an enabler, resorting to psychobabble to make himself feel better about hurting me emotionally throughout my childhood.
My mother can at least admit that she's made mistakes. And she's been the best mother that I could ask for. She didn't verbally abuse me growing up and make me feel like nothing. She didn't scream at me about stupid, ridiculous things or yell at me for making too much noise trying to heat up lunch after I had smashed my ankle a few days earlier. She didn't accuse me of wanting preferential treatment after hurting myself. She didn't threaten to put me in a group home. She may have made some mistakes, but the majority of those mistakes are his.
And he'll never own up to them.
I feel like a piece of eggshell pottery. I've been shattered and broken by so many different people in my life - starting with my father, classmates, bullies, my first husband, his brother, his mother, managers at previous jobs. Through the past couple of years of on and off therapy and my husband's love and the support of my in-laws as well as our church and many wonderful friends, I'm getting better. My broken parts are being repaired.
My father is not entirely to blame for my cracks. But he keeps stepping on them, justifying the pain he causes with an all purpose one-size-fits-all excuse.
My therapist told me to be vulnerable...</a>