The Whole Kettle of Fish: A Study in Emotional Exhaustion

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We have returned from a trip to the Chicago-land area to visit the in-laws. As it always ends up, it was challenging.

The Thursday before we were to leave, I took  a very old, very sick dog to the vet for the last time. I had been up all night with him, setting me up for going on “vacation” (and I use the term very loosely) exhausted. It’s never easy to decide to euthanize a dog, and I don’t judge others whom I know love their pets dearly, as do I. We do the best we can.

I had only just returned from the vet, and the child and I were weeping in the hallway (without hugging, since I had dog poop all over me) when my doorbell started ringing over and over again. A peek outside confirmed it was someone with whom I want no contact, and from whom I fear violence. Unlike a normal person, this one chose to ring the bell over and over and over again, pound on the door, ring the bell, etc, for around 15 minutes. The child and I retreated to the back of the house and called the police. They just missed our unwelcome guest, but will now be watching for her. I was so stressed that the responding officer took both my violently shaking hands in his and said, “I can tell you are really frightened. Take a deep breath.”

——

The next day should have been for resting and packing, but I had bought tickets to see Wicked in a nearby city for that night, the night before we would leave for Chicago. We went, but I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I’d have liked–I was too caught up in feeling like I wronged the dog, angry with the unwelcome visitor (who should know better), worried about packing and, oh, the fact that I find flying terrifying. I found that at each musical number, I was beset with an almost overwhelming urge to ugly-cry. We got home late, got up the next day, packed, and headed back to that same city’s airport to fly out.

We were fine from El Paso to Austin, where we circled and circled and due to storms were diverted to Dallas. We sat on the ground in Dallas for three hours, while our flight to Chicago left without us. We flew back to Austin. I had quickly booked a hotel online while we lingered on the tarmac, paying an outrageous sum of $200 for a near-to-the-airport La Quinta. By the time we arrived in Austin (Trapped in Texas, Chapter 1), the airport was all but shut down. They booked us on a morning flight that would go through Dallas once again.

La Quinta refused to accept our distressed passenger voucher because they are total dicks and I hope they are someday financially ruined. We stayed in a room with a shower so gross none of us were willing to use it. The bathroom door wasn’t a door, per se, but two cabinet type doors with shuttered vents (like closet doors) that couldn’t be locked and the knob fell off. The hotel was full to the brim of loud, shouting, running people all night. I had not packed any wine, so I spent the night dozing and hallucinating to the tune of six Benadryl, while also berating myself for my needs.

We made it from Dallas to Chicago, and went directly to the Huge Family Gathering that the in-laws had scheduled so we could “see everyone.” It was raining. They did not, therefore, move the party into their house, they moved it into their filthy garage, next to the truck they for whatever reason did not see fit to move to better accommodate their guests. The first thing my FIL said to my husband was not, “How are you?” or “You must be exhausted.” It was, patting stomach, “Getting a little bigger, huh?”

My MIL informed me in whispers that she hadn’t told my husband but she had developed a serious spinal condition (Spinal Stenosis) and had been unable to walk and might need surgery. This is par for the course. My FIL explained to me and the child that the reason it was raining here but California had a drought was because “the liberals” got rid of the smog, which used to hold the rain in California. The child is 13 and he was baffled by this amazing, magical bullshit. We met cousins with whom we had nothing in common. We talked to other people about themselves and no one asked me much about me (also par for the course). Oh, except for when my FIL told my husband’s cousin that she should have me make her wedding dress, and also that I make, “Crazy weird costumes with funny legs and stuff.”

Oh yes, I know that this is what the FIL considers “praising” but I am far too evolved to accept that being passive aggressive is anything other than what it is. Which makes it hard for me with them, since I won’t play pretend.

The evening goes on and on and on until I finally say, “I am too tired. I must go to bed.” Then I am stranded in the filthy, moldy basement because not only are there stairs, said stairs have a pretend railing that threatens to fall off should one use it. My husband realizes this belatedly.

There are stairs at my BIL’s house, which means I must carefully plan my ups and downs. There is also an atmosphere of suppressed rage that I am especially attuned to, and which my spouse can’t notice. It takes us forever to get our shit together the next day, sitting in the ‘burbs in the rain, and we finally meet up at a Dave and Busters. I drink. I can’t help but simply order two drinks per encounter with the parents-in-law. The child balks initially (look at all those KIDS, he says, in disgust) but then has fun. Then we all retire to the BIL’s to sit and stare at each other.

The BIL disappears to the basement to play video games with the child. The MIL asks how my hands are (it has been two years since diagnosis, they still can’t stick with a conversation long enough to find out what I have). I say they aren’t very good. I mention that since it’s genetic, I have to just try to pace myself. My FIL asks me if changing my diet would help. I say, very evenly, that this is a GENETIC disorder, meaning my GENES are flawed, and the GENE that is flawed is present in 90% of the body’s structures, so NO, it’s not an issue of changing my diet. He falls back to his climate change theory and then they spend 45 minutes giving us an intimate blow-by-blow of my MIL’s recent, very scary MRSA infection. The MIL can hardly tell her own story because the FIL is trying to talk over her. My silly story is left far behind.I go to bed at 8:00 pm, alone, which is how it always works there.

Everything we eat is gluten. I give up and accept that I will just take immodium every day and gain five pounds.

Day three it rains. The BIL takes the child to the movies and the husband and I go to a nearby suburb’s charming downtown, have an expensive lunch and a bottle of wine, wander about, then collect them. We later meet the in-laws for dinner at an Italian restaurant they like. I stick my FIL with buying my dinner and two glasses of wine. My MIL mentions that we aren’t staying for very long. I resist mentioning that it feels like a life sentence. We planned four full days–not our fault one was lost to travel, but that one still would’ve been spent sitting in their goddamned garage. I mention that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. She agrees gaily, entirely missing the point, which is that we are staying four and when they come out to see us, they never stay less than an entire week.

Day four we go into the city. The in-laws refuse to go with us, but resent that we aren’t, I guess, sitting in their living room. We take the train, and are planning to take a boat tour of downtown architecture. The BIL leads us on a forced march that despite claims of, “We’re almost there” is far, far too long and too fast and too many stairs for me. My husband weakly mentions maybe a cab but is overruled by the BIL.

I should have stopped. I should have insisted on a cab. I relied on my spouse who cannot function or be decisive around his family. So it’s my own fault that every step I go up now, my left knee snaps and then grinds.

The boat tour was fun. Then we faced another forced march through the city, where we couldn’t find anywhere to eat, where the husband couldn’t make a decision, and there were words in the business district. I was hangry, exhausted physically and emotionally, and as usual, he didn’t have my back.

Upon returning we declined meeting the inlaws for dinner, and I went to bed. Alone. Early.

We met the inlaws the next day for breakfast before our flight. They, predictably, chose a place that could be called “Breakfast in Anywhere, USA”. They aren’t gourmets. Any anecdote I related about things that interest me was met with a complete lack of understanding, being talked over by my FIL with his penguin laugh, or silence.

Soon, the husband and I will have a little post-mortem, and I will explain that this trip we just finished? It’s the last one I’m taking to Chicago.

Someone’s got to have my back, because it hurts right now, along with my hips, my knees, my ankles and my calves.

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