Friday, April 06, 2007
The Road Northward
Over there on the right, and again way down on the bottom, I have my ticker, counting down the days until Paris. We depart five weeks from today, and you're darn right I'm excited. We still haven't made any firm plans about agenda, or even where we're going to stay, and any input you all could provide would be greatly appreciated. And that's not what this post is about, but I'm so uncomfortable with the actual topic of the post that I really just want to dwell on Paris for another few moments, okay?


What this post is actually about is another countdown, once for which I have not created a ticker but which remains in my consciousness no matter how hard I try to ignore it. It's for the trip to northern New York, really northern New York, for my husband's fraternity's 40th reunion, happening one week prior to my trip to France.

Not everything about the trip will be bad. Sure, it's a lot of driving, but my mother is taking the kids for the weekend, so that creates a lot of uninterrupted conversation time between Willem and me. And Potsdam, while being almost entirely devoid of culture and entertainment and enrichment that doesn't involve alcohol to excess, is oddly overburdened with unreasonably good food. There's the Bagelry, Caroline's, Tardelli's, the Cantina... plenty of places to gorge and enjoy it. We're staying at a reasonably nice place and Willem's looking forward to seeing a whole big mess of friends all piled into one spot.


And yet, as is always the case with these jaunts northward, I am increasingly anxious and averse. I've written before about Willem's infidelity. It's an odd thing, how firmly I associate his flings (for lack of a better, or more curse-laden, term) with Potsdam, seeing as how I never actually knew about them when we both lived there. I did know about the one roommate of ours that he dallied with at a party at the frat house, a party to which I had been explicitly uninvited, but that was it.

In retrospect, of course, there were signs, and maybe I did know on some level. It was odd, for instance, when the somewhat aggressive but friendly Erica came up to me in the bar one night and congratulated me on how cool I was about her "thing" with Willem. I thought she meant they were friends. It was uncomfortable when the bubbly and cute Michelle randomly hugged me on the dance floor and told me how great it was that I trusted Willem so much. I thought she was drunk. It was freaky when Willem got a huge bouquet of flowers with a love note attached. I thought he was telling the truth when, at first, he told me that he didn't know who they were from. Then I thought he was telling the truth when he said he had once had a one-night stand with this girl Christine, but it was over long before he and I got together.

I never knew, on a conscious level, what was going on. But maybe I knew underneath, and maybe that's part of why I was so unhappy, and unhealthy, when I lived there. Whatever.

What matters is that now, in my memories, the knowledge that I had then and the knowledge that I got later have merged. Now, when I think about going back to those places, it's with a conscious awareness of just how much I was hurt, and just how little I want to go back to that emotional space. It's a physical thing - my heart rate increases, my stomach clenches, my breath gets shallower, my head aches. I entertain fantasies about the whole thing being called off; storms or arguments or finances all getting in the way, and oh, what a shame, we'll just have to get a hotel in Montreal for the weekend instead.

So, then, why go? Why not stay home with the kids and send Willem off to play with his buddies? Or, if the pain is that acute, why not have a tantrum and insist that he doesn't get to go, either, because the whole reason I don't want to go is because he couldn't be bothered to treat me with an ounce of respect through two and a half years of a so-called relationship?

Well, there's three reasons. One is evolved and mature, one is of the neener-neener-adolescent type, and the other comes from the delusional lizard-brain.

The grown-up reason is, that was all almost ten years ago. We've moved far, far beyond that, and we've built a strong marriage and a good family and I need to be a big enough person to allow what is important to Willem - time with old friends - to overcome my own personal discomforts. It's the compromise that happens in marriage; usually we can work together to find something that makes both of us happy, but sometimes our priorities are in direct contrast and then one person wins. That's fair, because it's not always the same person who wins, and oh-by-the-way I'm going to Paris for a week without him. Balance, and all.

The second reason is brought to you by the adolescent Kate. Many of his fraternity brothers knew full-well about Willem's infidelity while it was happening. Some of them actively helped him hide it from me. Others just watched with the passive and cowardly "protect a brother at all costs" mentality that makes me want to carry a flamethrower, just in case. They all knew, and this is in the post-AIDS age, so their lack of cojones by hiding it from me literally put my life in danger. Sure, I'm bitter. And now, I want to present a united front. I want to show them that people can change, and we're still together and doing fine. And, frankly, I take a little credit for whuppin' Willem into shape. Yeah, yeah, I know, he did a lot of that work on his own, but this is the same adolescent part of my brain that believes that if I hadn't gotten back together with him, he'd be that guy, living in a trailer with his inadequate and slovenly girlfriend and their 6 big dogs, drinking beer and stagnating.

Then there's the delusion. It stems from an actual incident. For the first few months after I found out his whole laundry list of flings, Willem was still living in Potsdam to finish his master's and I was living in Boston, working on mine. We alternated, he would spend weekends with me and I'd drive up there, and it was such a horrible, insecure, dark time in my life, and I avoid it when I possibly can.

But one of those weekends, I was in Potsdam, and we were at the bar. There were four of us sitting in a booth - Willem was on the outside next to Jason, and Joe was on the outside next to me, across from them. We were playing Euchre, so Willem and I had to sit diagonal if we were going to be partners. As we played, and chatted, and generally had a good time, a girl approached the table. I knew her by sight, and had recently learned that she held a spot on Willem's laundry list. She leaned over and started to whisper in his ear. He sat, stiffly, and didn't do much of anything.

Jason, who was directly across from me, gave me the sympathetic look of "I know that you know," which only served to piss me off because he'd never bothered to do anything about it before. I ended up standing up in the booth, stepping on Joe's leg, and launching out of the booth and out of the bar. I was in no mood for a confrontation with this girl. I just wanted - needed - to get out. My heart cracked open, once again, and wept. Once outside, Willem caught up with me as I walked to his apartment. He was all clueless and awkward, "I didn't know what to do." We argued, I shut down, it never got resolved.

So, returning to the present, here's where my lizard-brain fantasy comes into play. I want a repeat situation. I want to be sitting there and have one of his many flings come in and talk to him. And I want him to stand up, defend me, get all knight-in-shining-armor on the situation. No yelling, no violence. Just saying the words to prove that he's willing and able to stand up for me, instead of me needing to stand up - and walk out - for myself.

I recognize the intense stupidity of this fantasy. Let's revisit the "it's been ten years" part of the scenario. Chances are very slim that any of those girls remain in town, and if they do they'll have long since moved in. Him standing up and pronouncing his love and fidelity now, well, that would just look defensive and bizarre. And I know that he loves me and would defend me now, that he's stronger and more mature.

Whatever. Don't mess with my lizard-brain.

So, we're going. And I keep waffling on whether I should start drinking heavily now, so as to build up tolerance and be able to carry myself through the weekend fuzzily without the threat of the wrath of grapes, or whether I should continue not to drink until we arrive, so that the alcohol has the maximum possible impact. At least we know I'll have to behave myself in the legal sense, because I'm pretty sure that doing anything arrest-worthy would damage my ability to fly to Paris. And we can't have that.