The morning after I spoke to Martha, it only seemed natural to then talk to my father-in-law, Randy. I had been journaling at the kitchen table all morning while Martha and Randy sat reading in the coffee chairs. I texted Martha, who was a solid twenty feet away from me, and asked if she’d shared anything with Randy yet. She replied that she’d mentioned the possible diagnosis, but hadn’t given him details. I moved from the kitchen table to the fireplace hearth so I would be closer to them.
Martha followed my lead, and opened the floor by saying, “Let’s talk about Olivia’s doctor appointment, Randy.” Just in time, Ethan walked down the stairs to join the conversation.
Randy, who I affectionately refer to as “Papa Rans”, clung to his empty, “I miss W”, political statement of a coffee mug. He perked his eyebrows just a tad, let out a heavy breath, and offered me his gaze.
I chose to use as few words with him as possible, in an attempt to keep my emotions at bay and keep his attention. I had to backtrack and give him some information about my lack in birth control and issues within my cycles. I watched him transform from “dad” to “doctor” in the same fashion Ethan switched from “husband mode” to “doctor mode” a couple of days prior. “Doctor” listened to details of my irregularity and painful cramping without it being viewed as anything abnormal for Saturday Morning Coffee Talk, whereas “Dad” couldn’t have possibly heard those things. I told him what the gynecologist had said about infertility and endometriosis. He asked more questions than anyone else did about what I was experiencing, as a result of his occupation, I suppose.
Papa Rans seemed to feel the effect of my words more intensely than I thought he would. I hadn’t even considered that he might go through some of the sad, “parental” feelings that Martha had to process when I spoke to her.
Eventually, he ran out of questions and I ran out of unemotional, short answers. He gave some thoughtful grunts and sympathetic smiles. I watched as he lifted his coffee cup halfway to his mouth before remembering it was empty. Then he lowered it, and stared into its empty bottom. “Well, I’m sorry, Liv. I didn’t know you guys were going through all of this.” He said, not breaking eye contact with his coffee cup.
My heart sank. Empathy. Why is it so hard for me to accept empathy?
Unable to withstand the sad look on his face, I said, “Oh, well, we didn’t know we were going through it either. I’ve been off birth control for a while, but it’s not like we’ve been ‘trying’ all this time. Like I said, it was my cycle irregularities that brought me into the doctor’s office.”
Ugh. There I was lying, again, to one of the most important people in my life. I’ve never had an issue with being brutally, borderline-inappropriately honest with both my mother and father-in-law, but I just couldn’t handle him thinking that I was in the midst of emotional disturbance. Or, it could’ve been that I didn’t want him to think that his son had married a girl who was somehow broken. Whatever my reasoning, I felt completely sick having not been truthful while talking to him.
Martha and Ethan both listened to me blurt out this lie, without correcting it. I’m not sure whether this was because some part of them also wanted to believe the falsity that I told, or if it was because they knew this denial was part of my “grieving” process.
True to his style, Papa Rans decided the conversation was over by announcing that it was time to mow or move piles of rocks or woodchip the landscaping or some other typical Saturday-Workday activity around the Brown House.
I couldn’t help but to walk away from the encounter feeling shameful and unresolved.
That evening, we had plans, as a family, to have dinner with Ethan’s grandmother (Randy’s mother). On our way to her home in Bloomington, Ethan and I ended up riding with Randy separately from the rest of the family because of a timing conflict. Somewhere along the hour-long car ride, Papa Rans brought the Endometriosis likelihood back into dialogue. He gave the impression of agreeing with this diagnosis without explicitly saying those words. The conversation was strangely only taking place between he and Ethan. I was riding in the backseat; so, naturally, I felt left out of the discussion. But it seemed more intentional than that. Part of me wondered if Ethan took control of the talking because he didn’t appreciate that I’d lied to his father that morning, and therefore, decided I shouldn’t have the opportunity to lie to him again. Ethan gently straightened out the timeline, without blatantly making it obvious that I’d been dishonest. I listened to Randy carefully ask more questions and consider Ethan’s answers. I pressed my head against the window of my car door, closed my eyes, and held my breath to keep tears from forming.
Ethan must have sensed my discomfort. He reached his hand behind the passenger’s seat to grab mine. I tried to communicate through the connection of our fingers that I needed this analysis of my health and truthfulness to be over.
Papa Rans caught glimpse of Ethan’s twisted arm in his peripheral vision. He did a double-take before he said, “Hey now, what are you kids doing? Hand check!” I laughed, louder than I should have, because my mind rushed back to my and Ethan’s “dating” days. We would ride around in the backseat of Martha and Randy’s Toyota Sequoia during family day trips. If the day trips turned into evening or night trips, Randy would sometimes flash an interior car light on and shout “Hand check!” It made 13, 14, and 15-year-old Olivia beam with embarrassment if he ever caught us holding hands. It was a sweet memory to embrace. Especially now that we were approaching five years of marriage, yet still being toted around by one of his parents and being called out on our Public Displays of Affection.
So, this is where I lose understanding of my own feelings from this day. I know that before the Hand Check, I was tearful with guilt and shame. After the Hand Check, I felt loved and free.
Here’s the equation, best I could work out:
Existing Shame + Rejection of Empathy = Lying
Lying = Falling into Deeper Pit of Shame
Shame Pit = Realization That I Couldn’t Stoop to Any Greater Amount of Shame
Realization + Hand Check/Laughter/Sweet Memory = Reset of My Shame Emotion
= Freedom from Shame?
I don’t get it. I don’t think I’m supposed to get it. What I’m beginning to come to terms with in this journey is that I don’t get to understand everything. I don’t get to know God’s plan; I don’t get to be aware of the reasonings behind His timing. I just have to accept that He is in control, and be thankful for the peculiar equations He writes to set me free and teach me lessons in life.
It was in the backseat of the car that evening when I started brainstorming on how to backtrack in conversations with so many people and give them the truthful answer to the question: “When do you guys plan on having kids?” Now, I’m not trying to justify my lying, but if I wouldn’t have indulged in the shame I felt during our first chat that day, I wouldn’t have later processed everything on the way to dinner. It’s interesting to me that the freedom from this emotion didn’t come directly from words that another person shared with me. It came from the process of talking to and eventually getting honest with my dear Papa Rans. With this, I get to be thankful that God has placed me beside loving and forgiving family members who are so kind as to let me work through my lunacy without calling me out on it.
Liv – Authentically