She wasn’t in the mood.
In fact, she hadn’t been in the mood for months. And James did nothing to put her in the mood anymore. Actually, it was kind of disgusting, if you thought about it…he would lay back on the bed, propped up with pillows, holding a magazine…usually one of his financial wizardry magazines…in his left hand and, while he read, fondle himself with his right. She could kind of ignore it while the covers were pulled up to his waist, but of course, his manipulations eventually made him warm and he would push the covers down and continue…his eyes never leaving the pages of dollars and schemes. Finally, when his penis was more demanding than his desire to find a way to get rich without any effort, he would put down the magazine and reach for her.
She was not in the mood. And tonight she told him so.
At first he seemed surprised. Then nonplussed. And then he was angry. “I don’t give a fuck about your ‘mood’!” he sneered, his free hand rough on her shoulder. “Now come here.”
“No!” she shouted at him, actually relishing the opportunity to sink her teeth into a fight that she had a chance of winning. She had been far too passive for far too long. “No! I don’t want to and I’m not going to! I have the right to refuse and I am exercising it!”
He sprang from the bed, standing beside it, naked, erect, and furious. His whole body was red and trembling with his rage…his eyes practically bulged. “You have a right?” he roared indignantly. “You have a right? What about my husbandly rights?”
She couldn’t help it…she giggled. He looked so ridiculous with his pulsing hard-on and the rest of his body trembling with impotent rage, and when he topped it off with that ludicrous antediluvian tripe about “husbandly rights,” she couldn’t help herself. That giggle, of course, sent him right over the raving edge, complete with arm waving and bits of spraying spittle as he raged incoherently for a time. Eventually the incomprehensible tirade subsided and he stood beside the bed naked, his arms crossed resentfully over his chest. “Well?” he said, his demeanour hostile and intimidating.
“Well what?” she asked, suddenly serious.
“What about my rights?”
He was getting really angry now, but for some reason she was neither frightened nor intimidated. Surprisingly, liberatingly, she actually felt quite angry in return.
“My husbandly rights!” he demanded indignantly.
She looked at him coolly. “In a state that recognizes the concept of spousal rape,” she said smugly, “there is no such thing as ‘husbandly rights.’”
For just a moment, she thought he was going to hit her. Then, without warning, he returned to the bed and began to masturbate with great vigour while staring at her belligerently. Taking her book and cigarettes, she rose and left the room, slamming the door behind her. She waited until the light no longer showed under the door before she finally returned.
* * *
“Get me some coffee,” he said, eyes on the TV, one of his ubiquitous finance magazines spread across his lap. Why couldn’t the man just work to make a fortune? Why was he so fixed on finding some kind of get-rich-quick scheme?
“Can you get it yourself?” she asked mildly, gesturing to the sewing spread across her lap.
His baleful glare was her answer and, with a heavy sigh, she carefully set her work aside and went to the kitchen.
It had been one of those days…she dreaded weekends because he was home and he did nothing but complain. Today he couldn’t find a spoon (in the drawer where they had been for the last 5 years), he couldn’t find anything to snack on (in the breadbox where it had been kept for the last 5 years), he couldn’t find the shirt he wanted to wear (in the laundry, he’d already worn it this week) and a thousand other little things. He had been annoyed with her since morning because he was out of shaving cream…although he had neither bothered to tell her he needed some nor had he written it on the shopping list that hung on the refrigerator door…and the day had gone downhill from there.
She put the steaming mug on the coffee table and returned to the rocking chair, picking up her sewing and spreading it across her lap to resume. She picked up her needle and took a stitch.
“I can’t reach it there,” he said, nodding towards the coffee mug.
She raised an eyebrow. “So sit up, lean forward, extend your right arm, and you will be able to reach it.” She knew that sarcasm was probably not her wisest move, but sometimes it just popped out of her mouth that way. Sure enough, he snapped his head in her direction and fixed her with a venomous look.
“You are the one who put it in the wrong place, now get off your ass and move it,” he growled.
A swift shaft of irritation pierced her and she gave it voice. “Pardon me? You think I’m a fucking robot or something?”
He fixed her with a cold stare. “Wives are supposed to be utilitarian...good wives are.”
* * *
She couldn’t remember how many times they had had this argument. And every time she felt like they were about to reach a point of resolution, he would say “I don’t want to talk about this anymore” and refuse to communicate further. Until the next time the subject came up.
And so, as they stood in the dining room enmeshed in yet another déjà vu quarrel, she suddenly decided to throw in something new. “You know what the problem here is?” she asked.
“What?” he asked warily, looking for the hook. His suspiciousness stuck out like antennae.
“You aren’t willing to compromise,” she said.
His response was righteously indignant. “I do so compromise! I compromise all the time. All the fucking time!”
She shook her head. She knew better. He was like her mother… “my way or the highway.” He didn’t even know how to compromise…how could he believe that he actually did it?
But then, like a lightning strike, it came to her…perhaps he quite literally did not know what compromise was, what it meant, what it involved...maybe his definition of compromise was not the same as hers...
“James,” she said, sitting down on the sofa, certain in her own dictionary-definition. “Define ‘compromise’ for me, please.”
He looked at her as if she had suddenly grown a second head and with a perfectly straight face he said “Compromise is when I get what I want and you get what’s left.”
* * *
She was exhausted. She’d fallen asleep in the rocking chair again, when all she had intended to do was take off her shoes and rest for five minutes.
But today should be a turning point…today she had a fat check to wave under James’ nose…a check that rose to his challenge and should now shift the burden of household work. She trudged out to the kitchen, slipped an apron over her clothes and opened the refrigerator.
They always fought over the household chores. The argument was a simple one: he didn’t do any. When she left the trash bins for him to empty, they overflowed. When she left the lawn for him to mow, it went to seed. He didn’t even see to the maintenance of the cars, that was something else she took care of, taking his in for work whenever he was on a business trip.
Nearly a year before they had had a stupendous battle on the subject, with his point being that he earned nearly twice as much as she did, so he was exempt from household chores…he contributed in cash what she had to contribute in kind. “Sweat equity,” he had called it. She was livid. She commuted as many hours as he did, she worked as many hours as he did…they were both away from the house for the same length of time each day…so why didn’t they both allocate roughly equal time to the household? He did…quite literally…nothing. In fact, on their first Christmas in the house she had bought him an electric drill as a gift…now, five years later, she had worn out a set of drill bits on it and he didn’t even know where the thing was stored!
That had been the seminal argument on the subject…they had screamed at each other for half the weekend, him refusing to even put trash in the bin…he left used tissues, empty cigarette packs, discarded wrappers, wherever he happened to be when he discarded them. And her requests for him to take the bin to the curb on trash day fell on deaf ears. She was tired of trying to get him to participate in the household and he was adamant that his greater salary “bought” him out of the responsibility. “When you bring home a pay check as big as mine,” he bellowed at the end “then I will help with the housework…but not one second before!” And he had adamantly refused to discuss it again.
The chicken parts sizzled in the pan, browning nicely as she readied them for braising in the wine sauce. Tonight! she thought. Tonight! In my purse is a pay check for more than he earns in a month and tonight things are going to change!
He tucked into the Coq au Vin and steamed broccoli, nearly inhaled the roasted herbed potatoes, and shoved away from the table without a word. She couldn’t remember if he had ever commented on her cooking except to complain that something was not the way he expected it to be, although he did refrain from comparing her to his mother, whom he considered to be a dreadful cook. When he settled into his chair in front of the TV, but before he could get one of those attention-robbing financial magazines open in his lap, she stood by his chair and handed him her pay check.
“What’s this?” he asked, his eyebrows going up slightly as he looked at the amount.
“My pay check for last month,” she said, finding it difficult to keep her smile under control.
“OK,” he said, handing it back to her and reaching for a magazine.
She felt a bit deflated. “Hang on a minute,” she said. “It’s time for you to keep your end of the bargain!”
He looked at her blankly. “Bargain?”
“Yes,” she said, holding up her check. “You said when I brought home a pay check as big as yours, you would help with the housework.” He continued to stare at her blankly. “Well,” she said, waving the check,” I earned more than you, so it’s time to sort out who is going to do what around here!”
“Hmf,” he snorted dismissively. “That’s not a pay check, that’s a commission check. It doesn’t count.”
* * *
“I’m damned tired of you driving my car. Every time I want to use it for something, it’s full of baby crap and girlie shit…and it’s out of gas!”
She shrugged. “Then I need a car of my own, don’t I?” he had been resisting buying her a car, which was OK with her. As long as she had something to drive to take the baby to the pediatrician, the cat to the vet, and get to the grocery store and school and back, she was fine. She didn’t have to have a car of her own, but if he objected to sharing his, then that was the obvious solution.”
“So, what are you going to buy it with?” he asked. There was an unmistakeable sneer in his voice.
She looked up from her textbook. “I’m not. I don’t have a job and I don’t have any money, and until I finish secretarial school, that’s not going to change. I figure you can share your car, chauffeur me around, or front me the money for a car of my own. I’m OK with any of those options, so you choose.”
He was clearly annoyed, but he picked up the classified ads from the floor and spent some time poring over them as she continued studying.
“$2,500,” he finally said. “You can get a decent used car for $2,500. I can stand you that.”
“I don’t want a used car,” she said, not looking up from her book. “I don’t want to buy someone else’s bad driving and poor maintenance habits.”
“You want a new car?!” he asked incredulously. “No fucking way am I going to buy you a new car!”
She shrugged. “Sharing your car works fine for me.”
In the end he agreed to pay up to $2,500 for a car for her…and if she could find a new one for that money, he would buy it. And the very next Sunday she began poring over the new car ads, that Sunday and every Sunday for the next three weeks. And then one morning she shook him awake early. “Get dressed,” she said. “And bring the money. I’ve found the car.”
He snoozed in the passenger seat while she made her way to the Ford dealer in La Luna, an upmarket suburb of trendy fern bars, natural cedar siding, and chic boutiques. He shook his head, wondering what she was up to...you didn't find a cheap anything in La Luna, but she was already out of the car and marching up to the showroom door, newspaper ad clutched in hand.
“I want to see this car,” she told the salesman, pointing to the newspaper. James looked over her shoulder at the ad and his eyebrows nearly went into orbit…holy shit! She’d found a brand new Pinto for $2,442!
They added a radio for $50 and she was happy…and eight dollars under the limit he had set for her. The car would be ready for pick up the following day, the salesman told them, counting the hundred dollar bills James had placed in front of him. James glared out the window in a sullen, sulky silence all the way home and continued the gloomy visage for the rest of the day.
“OK,” she said that evening over the meatloaf, “What is eating you? I would think you would be happy…I not only found a car, I found a new that comes with a warranty and nobody else has had a chance to screw it up. So what is bothering you?”
He muttered something into his plate that sounded like “pail” or “mail,” but she couldn’t quite make it out. “What did you say?” she asked.
He looked up, glowering, his mouth full of baked potato. “You were supposed to fail, goddamnit! Instead, you went and made a fucking fool out of me!”
She put her fork down incredulously. “What?” she asked. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“You did this to prove me wrong,” he said, almost hissing at her. “Instead of taking a decent used car, like I wanted you to, you spent all this time and effort looking for a new one just to prove me wrong, just to spite me, just to humiliate me!”
She was incensed. “I did not! My father is a mechanic and I know very well how people can screw up a car by driving it badly or not taking care of it. I have a baby to drive around and I have appointments to keep…I just didn’t want a car that would break down and strand me with him or make me late for school!”
“You did it to prove me wrong!” he yelled, slamming down his fork and storming away from the table. “You did it to make me look bad, to prove yourself right, to show how superior you are to me!” The door slammed behind him as he went out and she sat at the table staring at the remnants of supper, wondering exactly what had just happened here.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.