Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kindness Happens

We had been married six weeks when they invited us to spend a weekend with them, she having declined to attend our wedding. They had known Demetrios for something like thirty years. Of course we went.

I brought her a loaf of homemade bread. She didn’t thank me; she said, “Oh, you must have one of those bread making machines.” She sliced it for the dinner she gave in our honor and covered it with a pretty linen cloth and set it near her on the table. But she never passed it around.

She introduced Demetrios to her guests as, “our very special, very dear friend” and glowed. About thirty awkward seconds later, after everyone had begun staring at me, she added, “And this is his lovely wife, Anastasia.”

She offered me housekeeping lessons, explaining such things as that she moves her furniture by a half inch or so every day to keep the carpet from becoming dented and uses chlorine bleach on the brick sidewalk to get the green off.

She proposed to teach me all about Demetrios, but I said if there was still anything I didn’t already know about my bridegroom, I’d really get more enjoyment out of learning it from him, so she more or less desisted.

She offered us separate bedrooms, or we could use the sleeper sofa, except that it was barely wider than a twin bed. We chose it anyway.

And then before we departed, they both presented us with a large, wrapped wedding gift. “You open it,” she said, handing it to me with what looked like a smirk. “Tell us what you think before you show it to Demetrios.”

It was two framed prints. “Do you like them?” they both demanded to know.

I said they were lovely.

“Let Demetrios see them!” they urged, giggling. “Let’s see what he thinks!” More glee.

So I turned the prints toward my new husband and his face fell. They shrieked with laughter, clapping their hands and leaning backwards; it was all too funny for words!

Nobody explained the joke to me. He told me a little later, in private, he had given them those prints once for Christmas.

I forgot to take them with us when we loaded up the car, but she brought them out to us.

She had made me promise to arrange for us all to spend New Year’s Eve together at the Jefferson Hotel. We would all dance the night away and have a champagne breakfast, and sleep there. So when the end of the year drew near, I made the reservations.

Demetrios cancelled those reservations the same day. And we never saw them again for some ten years. Demetrios never returned their calls or answered their letters. Their letters were almost always in Greek, although his mother tongue is English and hers is German.

Six months or so after our weekend with them, Demetrios asked me what had become of those prints? I said they were still in the trunk of the car. He said, “I think I might take them to the [mental] hospital and hang them there.” I said I thought that would be the perfect spot for them.

He left them there when he retired.

Then, one year, their son got married. He is Demetrios’ godson, so we attended the wedding. After that, we exchanged visits with these people perhaps once or twice a year, for they live an hour and a half from us.

His manners improved greatly. Her rudeness continued, on each occasion, without fail. It was always aimed at me, not Demetrios, and was carried out in ways he wasn’t likely to recognize (and indeed didn’t) because it was all quite petty and because it probably would take another woman to understand these sorts of little insults and humiliations.

Last night, she called. When I saw on the Caller ID who it was, I took one phone and handed Demetrios the other. I had a theory I wanted to test, which was that if I weren’t present, she might not pull any shenanigans. If that were the case, if she would behave herself in my absence, then the solution would be simple: he could go to their birthdays and weddings and wine tastings without me from now on. Otherwise I'd have a problem with that. So I pressed the “Mute” button and went into another room to find out.

There were about 20 minutes of chit-chat as she told him all about her latest doings. Demetrios asked a question about one of her sons and his situation, and she replied, "I don't know. I don't ask those questions. It's his marriage; I don't worry about it."

And then she added, "Just like I don't worry about your marriage any more."

Had she stopped right there, I would have been glad to hear it, but she added, "I used to. I worried a lot that you had made such a huge mistake. Now I just say to myself, 'Oh, well, he screwed up and now he's living with it.'"

There was this stunned silence, while Demetrios fished around for what to say. She filled the silence with a playful, "Am I bad, or am I BAD?"

Finally he spluttered something lame about our marriage being just fine, and the conversation moved on.

After another 10 minutes, having run out of news about herself, and having diligently inquired and been told all about his broken foot, she asked, "How's – um – how's – your wife?" avoiding to use my name.

"She's okay," said Demetrios. "Did you know she lost her sister a few days ago?"

"Yes," was her reply; her husband had told her.

By now, 30 minutes had passed without her extending her condolences to me – or to him, for he loved my sister as well. I waited, but she still didn't. She said, "But it was expected, wasn't it?" as if that made it of very little consequence, and then she asked other questions, such as the ages of the motherless girls. And as he answered the questions, she never said anything like, "How awful!" or, "I'm so sorry!" It was, "Oh..." and, "Uh-huh..." and, “I see…”

And I’m so pleased! I hope I would never presume to demand my husband cut off long-time friends (?), any more than I would expect him to demand that of me. But the beauty of it is, she has now done it for me. At last, although unwittingly, she has shown me a kindness. And I value it rather highly. Or I would, at least, if Demetrios' disillusionment weren't somewhat painful for him.

Lord, have mercy!



Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Goodness !
What an appalling position for you and Demetrios to have been put in by this woman and her unkind behaviour ........
We have a relative who is like this too!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Elizabeth, have you found any spiritually edifying way to deal with such circumstances? Any ways to turn this to spiritual profit? If so, please share! I have not, so far. Other than to keep forgiving; I'm aware of that part. What else???