“I don’t want to get married, James,” she was saying as he plied her with champagne. “I’ve been married…twice…and I didn’t like it. Look at me, for God’s sake…27 years old, two total-loser ex-husbands, three kids…two of whom I have no idea where they are, the other a toddler my family doesn’t even know exists because I’m afraid if my mother knows about him, she’ll show up and steal him, too! Why on earth would you want me for a wife?”
“That’s not your fault,” he soothed her, filling her glass. “Look, we’ll buy a house…you’ve always wanted your own house…if we get married you can have one.”
“I can?” she mulled that one over, sipping from her glass, wrinkling her nose at the bubbles. “That would be nice…but do you know how nasty divorce is? How much it cost? How awful it feels?”
He shook his head. “Do you love me?” he asked, dribbling more champagne into her glass. “Of course I love you, you’re very good to me…” she giggled.
“Then let’s get married. We’ll buy a nice little house, I’ll go back to school at night so I can finish my degree so I’ll be more promotable at work…c’mon…”
She shook her head to clear the fuzziness from the bubbles. “I dunno, James…I really don’t think I’m meant for marriage…some of us aren’t, you know…”
He dribbled a bit more bubbly into her glass. “Babes, we’ve been together for a year now…haven’t I passed my probation?”
She gave him a puzzled look. “Probation?”
He took a small sip from his glass, then held it up to her lips for her to drink from the same spot. “You told me that if you could live with a man for a year and he was still the same as when you moved in together…if living together didn’t change him…then you could marry that man. Didn’t you tell me that?”
She pursed her lips and nodded. “Yah…’cause a year is a long time to pretend to be somebody or something you’re not. You’d give it away before the year was over…”
It was a very small wedding just a few days after Christmas. Very small…just the two of them, in the dining room of the minister’s house, with his wife as witness. There were no vows, no promises, no rings, only a signing of documents and a pronouncement by the minister that they were married. No honeymoon followed, no reception, only a few telephone calls to family members who might be interested. Only his mother sent a congratulatory card. The morning following, life resumed its normal pace as if nothing had changed.
It was a mistake. Within three months, she knew it was a mistake. Except that he wore the same face every day, the man to whom she was married was a complete stranger to her. She was quite certain that she had not suddenly lost her ability to cook well, to iron his shirts correctly, to clean a bathroom or vacuum a carpet, but to hear him complain, you would think she was the most irritatingly incompetent creature ever to sully the earth with her presence. Every time she opened her mouth to ask a question, he told her if she didn’t know the answer, it was proof of her stupidity. After nearly a year of studying at a local trade school she had graduated…at the top of her class…and gotten her first “straight” job, as secretary to the marketing manager of a small firm. But it had been an uphill battle…James had gone from supporting her studies and praising her accomplishments to complaining that her taking a job was a gross insult to him and his ability to support his family. The fact that they could barely afford to eat…and God forbid any kind of emergency should happen because they didn’t have a dime in savings…seemed of significantly less importance than the possible opinion of a stranger upon learning that his wife had a job.
He sabotaged her at every turn, cluttering up the house, ordering her about like a servant and picking fights if she objected or even, God forbid, suggested he take a hand in the housekeeping. “It’s your job!” he would sullenly insist, “You want to take a job outside the house, fine…but that will have to be on top of your job here, which comes first!” Funny, though, that he didn’t complain about her job when she deposited her pay check in their joint account every week.
But the final straw was when he reneged on his promise to buy her a house. With her job they could afford a small house in a safe neighbourhood, a place for Christopher to have a yard to play in, a neighbourhood school to attend, a place where she could grow some flowers, put nail holes in the walls to hang pictures, and choose the carpet colour herself. A place where she could not find herself evicted because the landlord was selling the place, where there were no noisy neighbours stomping about overhead, where she could put down some roots and not be dragged off, thither and yon, moving, moving, moving, like she had done since she was thirteen years old. She had sat down and figured it out once, and discovered that she had lived in thirteen places in her last two years of high school. Thirteen moves in two years! She wanted to live somewhere that she could grow things…
It has been the promise of the house that had tipped the balance of her resistance to marriage. She had not been playing coy little girlish games with him when she said she was not really interested in marriage. She wasn’t. She had found marriage to be rather stultifying, and she found it difficult to be autonomous in a close-ended relationship. Rather than a symbol of security, marriage to her was a rather fearful state, a place in which her independence was curtailed and her individuality had to be suppressed. She had not really liked being married…it didn’t guarantee love, it didn’t even guarantee security. But it did guarantee a damned difficult time getting free and feeling safe again.
But the lure of her own house…now there was at least a modicum of true security. With her name on the deed, she had a home…a real home…not just temporary digs in somebody else’s place. He could leave, but he couldn’t throw her out. And with his name on the deed…and the mortgage…he would be less likely to just stomp out in a huff and never come back. A house…her own house…represented the kind of security she was unable to earn enough to provide for herself… And respectability…she wanted to know what it was like to feel respectable...she'd never had that. Except for some fleeting glimpses of it when she was with Nana and Grandpa, she had always been the little girl whose mother respectable ladies crossed the street to avoid passing, the child with whom other children were not allowed to play because her mother was divorced, the girl with the frizzy home perm, cheap clothes, ugly shoes, and the red, scaly, weeping rash that covered the inside of her left leg. She had spent her entire life being on the outside, looking in…owning her own home offered her, if not an entrée into respectable society, at least a refuge from which she could not be cast out. So alluring had been the prospect of safety and security in a nest of her own, she had shushed the nasty little voices in her head that had noticed disturbing, unpleasant things about James. He had promised her a sanctuary of her very own, and that was enough.
And now he was reneging on that promise. It was time for a showdown.
“James,” she said above the noise of the TV. “James, we have to talk.”
“Uh huh,” he said, eyes glued to the tube. Who was that pompous ass with the iron-grey finger wave pontificating on the TV about stocks and bonds? she wondered. Jesus, he should be walking the streets in San Francisco…
Knowing it would piss him off but seeing no other way to compel his attention, she took the TV remote off the coffee table and clicked the set off. He was off the sofa like a mad bull, advancing on her. “What the fuck did you do that for?” he roared, waving his arms threateningly.
She held her ground. If she could face down Big Tiny when he was threatening to deck her, James was no real threat. “Because we need to talk and I need your full attention…”
“Give me back the fucking remote,” he snapped, feinting a grab.
She narrowed her eyes. “Do not fuck with me, James. Do us both a favour and just sit down and talk.” The very softness of her voice was sufficiently unnerving to make him sit back down.
“Whut?” he grunted, crossing his arms over his chest defensively.
“I want to know what is going on,” she said.
He gave her a puzzled scowl. “What do you mean.”
“I mean that since we got married, you are not nice to me any more. You yell, criticize, and insult me when you deign to acknowledge my existence at all, the rest of the time you ignore me or treat me like some kind of appliance. You weren’t like that before…I want to know what the fuck is going on.”
“Nothing,” he said. “You talked, I listened, now gimme the remote.”
She scowled. “You are pushing me, James…not a good idea.” He crossed his arms over his chest again. “Now tell me what is going on.”
“Nothing, I told you. Nothing. Now give me back the fucking remote before I get up and take it from you.”
She stood quite still at that moment, only the fire in her eyes showing any animation. There were times that even she was afraid of her temper, and this was one of them. She forcibly banked the fires of her rage and spoke to him as calmly as possible.
“I’m not giving it back until you have satisfactorily answered my questions. And if you try to take it from me, I guarantee that you will live to regret it.”
He seemed to turn this over in his mind for a moment, then gave her his best glare. “Fine,” he said, his eyes flinty. “What do you want to know?”
“First of all, I want to know what has been going on with you over the past three months. You are like a stranger anymore…sarcastic, critical, rude, domineering…what has happened to you? Why aren’t you nice to me any more?”
The smile he gave her could not be described as anything but evil. So much so, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. He raked her contemptuously with his eyes. “I don’t have to be nice to you anymore,” he said coldly. “I married you.”
If he was hoping to provoke an outburst from her, he was disappointed, for she stood beside the sofa, remote hidden in her crossed arms. “One more question,” she said. “What about the house you promised me?”
“I can’t afford it,” he said dismissively. “Besides, I didn’t say when I would buy a house…maybe next year…” that evil smile began creeping over his face again. “Maybe in five years…maybe more… you’ll just have to stick around to find out, won’t you?” The smile was smug now, self-satisfied, triumphant.
She curled her upper lip. “Don’t hold your breath, bucko,” she said, tossing the remote at him and walking away. “Don’t hold your fucking breath.”
It took about ten minutes for the curiosity to build sufficiently that he got off the sofa and went to look for her. He found her in the bedroom, the drawers of her dresser open, clothes neatly folded and arrayed on the bed.
“And just what the fuck to you think you are doing?” he bellowed…but it came out more like a bleat.
She looked up, expressionless. “Packing.”
“And just where the hell do you think you are going?”
“How the fuck you gonna get there?”
“Wait a minute!” That had gotten his attention. “That’s my car! I paid for it!”
She shrugged. “Paid cash. Pink’s in my name. My car.” She continued her packing.
“You can’t do this!”
She stopped and stood up straight, a shell pink sweater in her hand. “Why not?” she asked, her face a mask of calm.
“Well,” he spluttered, “…well…because we’ve only been married for three months! What will people say?”
She shrugged and smoothed the sweater into a neatly folded shape. “I don’t give a fuck.”
“Well, I do!” he shouted, waving his arms over his head. “I care what they think!”
She looked up, eyes narrowed to slits, her lips rigid. “I see. You care what 'people' think but you don’t give a fuck what I think or feel? Figures.” She looked back down at her packing.
He stood there stiffly, looking around the room. “I’ve got both sets,” she said, correctly divining that he was looking for the keys to her car. She straightened, putting her hands to her lower back.
“There is one way to stop this,” she said. “And one way only.”
He looked at her suspiciously. Why hadn’t she noticed that shifty-eyed set to his face before, she wondered.
“And that would be…” he said slowly.
“You’re supposed to be the fucking brains of this operation,” she said scathingly. “Figure it out.”
“The house,” he said after a long pause.
She straightened up from packing and raised one eyebrow. “Well, halle-fucking-leujah,” she said sarcastically. “He figured it out.” She bent back to her packing.
“OK, OK…we’ll buy a house.”
She continued packing.
“We’ll go house hunting this weekend…” she was still packing… “…every weekend until we have something…”
She stood up. “I’ve found a house. No money down with VA, brand new, corner lot, ready to move into first of June.”
He looked nonplussed for a moment, then the balky look reasserted itself. She bent over and resumed packing.
“OK, OK,” he said, holding up his hands. “When can I see this paragon of a single-family detached dwelling?” he asked, his anger only barely leashed.
She reached into her waistband and pulled out the keys to her car. “Now is a good time.”
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.