Chapter 6: The In-Laws And The Mother of all Grudges

My close family and friends were in the loop, but I hadn’t heard a peep from Mr Ex’s family.

Has he even told his parents?!

Mr Ex’s parents are divorced. An experience which was incredibly painful for him to go through when he was younger. And I think it is fair to say that, at this point, he wasn’t truly, honestly, genuinely close to either of them.

I sent a text message to his mother, a yoga instructor, and asked if we could catch up. She agreed. To drive to her partner’s house near the beach, she would be driving through our area. So, she said she could drop by the next day.

She knocked on the door. I answered.

We hugged for about a minute in the kitchen.

It made me cry.

I showed her our garden. A couple of months prior, Mr Ex had masterminded a new rear garden for us. He landscaped a new garden bed and planted a range of flowers and bushes. Not a cheap endeavour, but the garden had never looked better! His new lime tree was also starting to grow fruit. We spent big bucks chopping down some rather intrusive overgrown trees, which opened up a whole section of our garden and brought in the sunlight. My mother-in-law admired Mr Ex’s efforts. She could see that Mr Ex had put a lot of effort into that garden over the past six months.

My mum had bought me some decorative bird cages to hang from the pergola out the back.

“It’s a reminder that a caged bird can still sing,” I told my mother-in-law. She smiled.

I made some tea and we sat down on the sofa.

“I still love him and I know we can get through this,” I told her. “We are the real deal. Our love is special. We will get through this!”

She didn’t know any details.

She’d had a phone call from a distraught Mr Ex the day before. He had said to her, “Mum, you know how I’m the child you never had to worry about? Well, that’s changed.”  And then he broke down in hysterics and began stuttering through a few sentences which she couldn’t understand.

She told him to call his best mate, Tom.

It’s true. Tom and Mr Ex were very close.

So, I explained to my mother-in-law what had happened. She didn’t seem overly surprised. I guess she had evaluated by Mr Ex’s distraught phone call that something pretty drastic had happened. And she has probably lived through enough to know that anything’s possible.

Mr Ex and his mother didn’t have a typical mother/son relationship. They were more like mates who catch up every now and then for beers and swap halloumi recipes. No deep conversations. Certain taboo subjects. And, in particular, as Mr Ex always warned me, “Never, never, NEVER talk about Christianity around her because that will end in disaster!” That kind of thing. He told me about a time when he took a Bible to her house and she literally threw it out the front door.

But I always really liked my mother-in-law.

I enjoy her fun-loving and vibrant personality, her down-to-earth generosity, her humble acceptance of all people (albeit people who aren’t holding a Bible), and I love that she is the kind of person who will give you the shirt off her own back.

“He says that we are too ‘different’,” I explained to my mother-in-law, relaying my email conversations with Mr Ex. “He says he likes camping and I don’t. But I’m happy to go camping more often!”

She looked skeptical.

“Do you really think going camping will fix this?” she asked.

I explained my thinking, “Einstein is quoted as saying, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results’. I’m sure we can do things differently and get better results!”

She still looked skeptical.

“Do you think you can ever trust him again?” she wanted to know.

“Oh yes!” I affirmed without hesitation, in true half-dead kangaroo style.

“But what about the other woman? Even if you think you could trust him again, it sounds like he has made his choice and we both know how stubborn he can be.”

She has a point.

“No!” I exclaimed. “The affair is just a cry for help. He’s very unhappy – maybe even depressed or suffering from a mental breakdown – and this is how he is trying to find happiness. But it won’t work. Their relationship is not sustainable long-term. This is all just his cry for help. And I am committed to helping him and pulling him through this dark patch.”

As she left, she looked incredibly sympathetic and sorry for me.

“It’s not looking good,” she told me, as she hugged a mournful goodbye.

And, at the risk of spoiling the plot of my story, that is sadly the last time I saw her.

~~~

The next day, my mum had a phone call from my father-in-law. He had been shopping in a supermarket and bumped into Tom’s mother, who offered her condolences to him. Only problem was that my father-in-law had no idea what she was talking about because he hadn’t heard anything!

So, HOW did he have no idea that his oldest son had done a runner from marriage?

Well, the short answer is that several months earlier, my father-in-law, his second wife, and their young children had set off on a soul-searching, back-to-nature, out-of-range-from-technology journey across Australia. Mr Ex and I weren’t aware that they had returned home.

The long answer is slightly more complicated. And considerably more uncomfortable for me.

Mr Ex’s father: I really didn’t like him.

When I first wrote this chapter and I was reflecting on my feelings towards my father-in-law at this point of my story, I wrote, “With 20/20 hindsight, I can’t even be sure what my resentment and dislike hatred was based on.”

But, a few weeks on and I remembered!

I’d much rather just skip this whole thing because, goodness me, this seems so ridiculous now. But I’m going to tell you anyway.

When Mr Ex and I were planning our elaborate, ornate, dream wedding (which, by the way, featured in an Australian weddings magazine; invitations alone cost $27 each… did I mention we were the Titanic?!), Mr Ex’s father made demands. He wanted to preach a 15-minute sermon at the ceremony as well as incorporate the singing of a psalm, and he wanted his new babies to attend the wedding reception even though we were having no children attend. And maybe some other stuff. I can’t remember exactly. He also said that if we didn’t do these things, he wouldn’t come to our wedding.

And that was one of the only times I’ve ever seen my mum cry.

I was LIVID.

My father-in-law was a professing Christian. Others called him “a strict Christian” or “a fundamentalist Christian”.

Or a fundamentalist dickhead, as I would’ve happily told you.

He was instrumental in an uber-conservative church. He preached about adhering to strict rules and regulations. He wore a suit and tie. He prayed with thees and thous. He was anti-alcohol, anti-girls-wearing-jeans, anti-hymns, anti-reality, ANTI-FUN!

I remembered when Mr Ex’s younger sister, Maddie, received some play make-up for her 13th birthday. Maddie and her older brothers went into automated ‘Hide this from Dad’ mode. They navigated this small box of purple eye-shadows and shimmery lip-sticks from sibling to sibling through the house, hidden under a jumper, to get it into a backpack that would be going to their mother’s house in a couple of days.

He placed emphasis on purity and ticking the right boxes of God’s law.

And he rejected diversity of opinion. In other words, if you disagreed with him on any level, you’d never hear the end of it. And you’d be assigned to the outer.

Anyway, in the interest of Mr Ex having his one and only father at our wedding, we adhered to his requests, he attended the wedding, he preached a sermon, and it was all OK in the end. On the surface, at least.

But deep-down, I was holding a grudge. The mother of all grudges. And to be honest, I was probably definitely giving him daggers behind his back at my wedding.

So, I discovered that I’m actually pretty awesome at holding grudges!

But, come on! I mean, he hurt my family. He got what he wanted because he made threats like a 3-year-old. I’m holding onto my grudge because fair’s fair! And what’s the harm in holding a grudge, anyway?

That’s an in-built human instinct: Punish the people who hurt us! Get justice! An eye for an eye!

And I didn’t see any problem with that attitude, because it didn’t seem to impact on our day-to-day life.

After all, Mr Ex and I rarely saw his father, stepmother and half-siblings.

And if we ever went to their house – as rare as that was – I would sit upon my throne with the expression of a cat that swallowed a sour mouse. And that somehow made me feel better. Or did it?

So anyway, back to the story at this point, my father-in-law had heard from Tom’s mum in the supermarket that Mr Ex had left me, so he texted asking to see me. I agreed, but I said that I wanted to meet at a cafe.

I don’t want him coming over here! Maybe if he’d actually shown some level of interest in his first-born, this would never have happened!

Bitterness is never pretty.

I was hurt. I was angry. I blamed him.

I was guarded. I liked to keep him at a distance.

And we actually ended up in a conversation about schooling versus homeschooling.

Go figure.

As a teacher, I am obviously in favour of children going to school, but he (an ex-teacher) is in favour of homeschooling and had recently made the choice to homeschool his ‘new’ children, Mr Ex’s half-sisters.

My father-in-law also told me that Mr Ex’s time at school must have corrupted him. School must be the reason for him going off the rails and having an affair, he told me.

BULLSHIT!

And then he relayed the story of his own marriage breakdown with Mr Ex’s mother.

Maybe she had the good sense to run as far away from you as possible, I thought. And maybe I don’t blame her one-ounce for being anti-religion. I mean, maybe religion is the overarching cause of all pain and bullshit in this world.

RELIGION IS THE PROBLEM! Religion causes hatred, judgment and CRAP!

But the truth is, we were both still in absolute shock. Trying to digest this whole affair. Pardon the pun.

When we said our goodbyes after that cafe meeting, I deliberately only lifted one arm to hug him. A cold, this-is-how-I-have-to-farewell-you-but-I-don’t-mean-it hug.

I drove home pissed off at the professing Christians in my life.

I’m over it.

I’m not buying what they’re selling.

Bland. Boring. Judgmental. Why would I want to spend eternity with them?! And I decided that I was actually drawn to ‘anti-religious’ people, like my mother-in-law.

There are so many we-live-in-a-bubble-and-we-don’t-know-how-to-have-fun Christians.

God, help me to make sense of this. Please show me YOU. The real you. Not cloudy, murky, DULL religion, but the real YOU.

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