This is a really bad time of year to be someone's mom.
It's fallen to me to buy a whole bunch of Christmas gifts, for the kids and all the relatives I've barely met and to that extent don't really like. Getting over my recent cold, I was still so exasperated that I finally broke down and called up "Julia."
We went to Wal-Mart and she picked out all the clothes and stocking-stuffers she'd normally get the kids in addition to whatever toys and junk they put on their lists (damn these brats are spoiled!) Around me, she was notably less guarded than the previous times I'd seen her in person... which was only the two times I previously mentioned. The first, it was such a shock for her to see her own body in person. The second, she was avoiding direct contact with me, and we couldn't talk as ourselves. This time it was all out there.
I pulled up to her apartment in her SUV, which I still don't like driving but have gotten used to. I buzzed her, and she came down to the lobby with "Kalli," also known as her niece Ellie. I was surprised - I don't know why, but I'm used to seeing "Ellie" as a little blonde girl, and here's this very mature-looking young black woman standing next to Julia.
She smiles at me, "So you're... Todd?" I nod, red with embarrassment, and she just giggles. "Omigod, aren't you, like, dying?" Julia smacks her on the arm and shoots her a look that says "be polite." I just shrugged and sighed, "Yeah, some days."
So Julia and I go. I asked her what she wanted to be called and she said I might as well call her Julia, if I'm okay with being called Anne-Marie. I said if it was at all possible, I'd like her to call me Todd when we're alone. "Todd it is," she said.
On the drive over, we made what might be considered polite chit chat in other circumstances, "How are the kids, how is Hal?" but are really probing questions between the two of us. I told her that the kids are doing fine, and that they don't seem to notice anything's wrong. She seemed to grow depressed at hearing that, and I reminded her about the "Magic of the Inn" theory. Then I added, "Plus, you know kids... they never listen anyway." That got a laugh. She started to brighten up. It made me want to hold off on the really heavy stuff.
"I'm so sorry, Todd," she sighed, staring out the window, "It can't be easy for you."
"It could be worse," I said. It's something I tell myself every morning. "No, I wouldn't have chosen your body, or to have kids, but... well you're a healthy woman with a good family, and a good life. If it weren't for that one little problem, I might be really tempted to keep your life and just freeload forever." It was intended as a joke, but didn't land as one.
"Is that what you think?" she asked. "That I'm some kind of freeloader? That I just live off my husband and make babies?" I wanted to say "No," but she continued, "You've been running that house for almost half a year. You know how hard it is. And I wanted to work, too. I'm happy now, for the first time in years, because I have my own job and my own life, and I'm not just a good housewife, but I'm a good woman. And that's all I ever wanted to be. And you don't need a job to be that, but I... I had a habit of forgetting that."
She seemed really on the brink of some emotional moment, the kind that, as a psychological male, I'm still uncomfortable with. I kept my eyes on the road as her eyes started to water a bit. "I'm sorry, I just... I had some issues last year. Before the inn."
"...marital issues?" I asked, like slowly, painfully peeling a band-aid.
"You could say that..." she sighed and trailed off. I got the sense she still wasn't going to talk about them, and went quiet for a while. I pulled into the parking lot and did a bad, angular parking job.
We sat there for a while, but as she put her hand on the door handle, I took a deep breath and broke the tension. "When I said freeloader, I... I didn't mean you were one. I mean... that's what I am. I'm a university dropout. I worked a string of bad jobs, mooched off a rich girlfriend. I took her for granted, and after she and I broke up, I decided to run off to another country, where I could find new strangers with roofs to sleep under and food to eat. And you know what? If I hadn't been such a goddamn freeloader, I wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be having this problem. I'd be back in my own country living my own life."
She leaned over from the passenger's seat and wrapped her arms around me. She said softly, "It's... nice to be needed, isn't it?"
I blinked back some tears (what can I say, it was an emotional moment) and said, "Yeah. But I guess right now, we need to put some presents under the tree for your kids. So let's go."
If it weren't for the fact that I'm in her shoes (among other garments) Anne-Marie's issues with her husband would fall for me under the umbrella of "None of my business." But knowing some of the stuff she later told me - which I'm not ready to share, sorry - really puts my current situation in a new perspective.
Besides, we ended up having a lot of fun. From pictures and everything, I got the sense that Anne-Marie, only in her early/mid-thirties, was locked into that "Mom" phase, serious and responsible - but she showed herself to be a very fun, very intelligent woman. She really seems to be the woman she looks like.
But having said that... not much has happened to allay my fears that she doesn't really want to switch back. But I guess it's better just to deal with these problems one at a time.