Birk, part 4
What with one thing and another, a few weeks go by before I can see Birk again. I’m busy with work, he has to travel for a meeting, but we stay in touch by phone almost every day. He mentions that Birkette’s hives have not gone away, but gotten worse. Eventually her mother takes her to the doctor and they run a bunch of tests, but still Birk sounds pretty balanced about it: concerned, involved, but not freaked out.
We continue to make plans for our trip to Squirrel Lick State Park. To avoid the crowds and high prices, we decide to both take a day off work and go on Sunday and Monday.
Birk reserves the hotel. I’ve driven around the area a bit before but I haven’t had a chance to swim in the lake or check out the little shops and restaurants nearby. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I moved here a year ago, but I just haven’t found the time yet.
I’m still having doubts about Birk, how committed I want to be to him, if I’m even attracted to him at all, but the idea of the trip sounds so fun, and I really want to go.
On Thursday evening, Birk calls me at home.
“Hey.” He mumbles something indistinct.
Instantly, my heart starts hammering. Something is wrong.
“Birk? What is it? I can’t hear you.”
“I said, I have some bad news.”
“What?” My heart starts racing even faster. What is wrong?
“My daughter. Some of the tests are positive.”
“What? Which tests?”
“I don’t know.”
With much prompting, he tells me a rambling, incoherent story, his voice frequently trailing off. Apparently a nurse called him earlier today and said some of the tests Birkette had were positive, but the nurse wouldn’t say which ones over the phone. Both parents have to come in to discuss it with the doctor in person on Monday, which means we can’t go on our trip as planned. But it’s ok, he says, we can still go on Sunday and have at least a little time there. We can make it a day trip rather than staying overnight.
I’m disappointed, of course, but I try my best to be understanding. I know it’s one of my triggers when plans get changed at the last minute, but I’m trying really hard to take it in stride and not show him that I’m disappointed. This isn’t about me, and clearly it’s a serious situation.
It’s crazy to me that the nurse was so cagey over the phone. That just seems designed to fuel insanity-provoking levels of anxiety: it’s something so terrible I can’t even tell you what it is. Birk seems to think it might be rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, as those are also autoimmune diseases, like diabetes.
Dragging even this much out of him is painful. I have to keep asking him to repeat himself as he frequently lapses into incoherent muttering. He’s clearly traumatized, which surprises me considering how chill he was when talking about how she had a seizure. I thought he took these health scares in stride, but this has really thrown him. I try to be a good girlfriend and offer emotional support.
“You must be very upset,” I say.
“Hello?” I say, when the silence drags on for minutes.
“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters.
“You must be upset.”
Ok, so that’s not working. Maybe I can nudge him into problem-solving mode, that will help him focus on things he can control. I try a different tactic.
“So you said we can still go on Sunday. Is that ok? What time do you want to go?”
“I don't know.”
We go around and around like this for a long time, repeating these two parts of the conversation, with me trying unsuccessfully to help him either talk about his feelings or focus outside himself. He doesn’t really engage with either one. Finally we have some sort of plan for a shortened version of our trip, and we agree to talk again tomorrow once he’s calmed down more.
I hang up the phone feeling upset that our trip has been ruined, and also concerned for Birkette. I’m frustrated that Birk is being so non-communicative on the phone. If he’s going to be so closed off and emotionally distant any time he’s upset about something, it doesn't bode well for any kind of successful relationship.
I go to work on Friday, trying not to think about how weird Birk was on the phone, and hoping that it will all work out somehow. I realize that parents can sometimes act irrationally when they think their kids are being threatened, even if they have been rational about the same things earlier. Once he meets with the doctor, surely he’ll find a way to cope with whatever it is, and hopefully will be more receptive to emotional support rather than just shutting down.
At five o’clock in the evening, just as I’m getting ready to go home, I get an email from Birk, sent from his work address. I know he sent it intentionally just before leaving the office so that he won’t read any reply to that address until Monday. This is what he writes:
I am writing to let you know that I am canceling our trip this weekend. I don't feel I can spend time with you following last night's call. My children's welfare is of the utmost importance to me and I will do whatever I need to in order to be part of any discussions regarding medical issues and treatment plans. I could tell that the fact that I intend to be at my daughter's doctor's appointment on Monday upset you. I fully understand the disappointment with this as we have been planning this weekend for quite a while. I didn't expect you to be jumping for joy when I informed you that I needed to alter our weekend plans but I also didn't expect the indifference I got from you. I am sorry but this is quite unnerving knowing that my daughter likely has another serious medical condition in addition to her diabetes.
I also think that it would be best for us to end our relationship. I have come to the conclusion the past few days that I in no way intend to produce another child. It is quite apparent that I pass along serious autoimmune deficiencies to my offspring. I will not do this again. I realize that it is very important for you to have a child in the next year. I am not prepared to be dating someone that will be seeking options to become pregnant and I don't see myself ready to get married anytime soon.
The difficulties my daughter has had recently also has made me realize that I want to remain close to my children and don't see myself relocating until they are older. I intend to remain in Ogdenville for the foreseeable future.
Yes, I am quite the coward and ass for writing you with this stuff. I don't intend to have a conversation requiring me to defend me wanting to be with my children while serious medical issues are discussed. I also don't intend to defend why the appointment was made for Monday and not another time not conflicting with our weekend plans. I can assure you that Monday wasn't selected by my ex-wife to wreck our plans. I have a good relationship with my ex-wife and the main goal of that relationship is the care and well-being of the children. There are no lingering feelings toward her and I don't regret for an instant getting divorced.
I am not breaking off our relationship solely because of last night's call. The bottom line is that I don't want kids whether fathered by me or through any means for the foreseeable future and I don't intend on getting married. It is not fair to you to continue this relationship when we don't desire the same things from the relationship.
I will apologize to you for choosing the cowardly way of letting you know how I feel. I do poorly communicating my feelings directly and don't do well with confrontation. These are not excuses as I have no excuse for doing things this way but it doesn't change the way I feel. The phone call last night between us was quite painful and distinctly uncomfortable for me.
I do wish you good luck in whatever you pursue and that you remain well.
What the fuck is this?! I am beyond furious. Excellent cowardly move, asshole, not only avoiding a confrontation in person or even over the phone, but sending the email from work the minute before leaving the office on Friday, the very pinnacle of avoidance.
So he starts off saying he’s canceling the trip ostensibly to punish me for having been so "indifferent" to his and his daughter's suffering when we talked on the phone. What? I thought I was the one trying to draw him out and he wouldn't respond, but no, apparently from his perspective I was selfishly only concerned with my own ruined vacation.
But it’s that last bit about me trying to come between him and his kids, trying to poison his relationship with his ex-wife, that really makes me hit the roof, because it’s EXACTLY what I said to him when we first met. I said over and over, from the very first date, that I don't think this will work because we're at different stages in our lives. He’s already had kids, and I still want to have them. Also, I said it seems like you have a good balance with your ex and her family and seeing the kids, and I don't want to disrupt that. You also have a steady job in Central City, and because of my work I can't move there, I have to stay here. His reply every time: "I've always wanted more kids! Don't worry about my family, they're ok! I hate my job and have been looking for a new one! I'll move to Craptown! I'll have your kids and stay home to raise them while you work!" I foolishly believed him, because he kept saying it over and over, and he seemed genuinely excited about the idea.
Now I feel like I've been suckered. I'm sure he meant those things when he said them (repeatedly), so from his perspective he wasn't lying. But clearly he wasn't self-reflective enough to know he actually had no intention of doing any it. So even if it arose from stupid self-deception rather than conscious scheming, he's still the asshole guy who said whatever I wanted to hear in order to have sex with me. Every time we met, I said, "I feel like I'm taking you away from your kids" since he sees them on the weekends. But no, he said, they're fine, it's ok. Now suddenly it's not ok, what a surprise.
As for the part about not wanting more kids because his genes are defective, it wouldn't take a fucking genius to figure that out. His father, brother and daughter and who knows how many other people in his family are also diabetic. How is he only realizing this now? It pisses me off that he's projecting his personal guilt over his daughter's health onto me, and making it seem like I’m the bad guy.
Although I must admit that in addition to all of that, lately a lot of smaller, superficial annoyances about him have been getting to me. His dorky clothes, with his shorts and tube socks, and his dumb-looking baseball cap up high on his forehead. His big fat gut. The fact that he eats too much junk food and never exercises. I know we are supposed to learn to see past such things to the great person inside, which I did at first, but as more time passes it’s bothering me more and more. It’s got to be a sign that something deeper is wrong if those trivial things bug me so much.
But what really repels me the most is his bland suburban lifestyle, his boring tastes in books, music, pop culture, and the featureless place he lives in. I'm so conflicted: I want that kind of stable family lifestyle, but not in that environment.
I fume in the car all the way home from work. How dare he cast me as the villain, and try to lecture me on taking care of his kids. He should never have even introduced me to his kids so soon, as I tried to tell him. It kills me that now that I’ve met his entire family, they will all ask about what happened, and he will tell them that he had to break up with me because I’m a selfish bitch who didn’t understand how he has to put his kids first.
When I get home, I write him a scathing email and cc it to his personal email so he will read it right away.
First, I wasn't indifferent last night. That's you projecting and making assumptions. I kept trying to get you to talk about how you felt, and maybe try to get you to work out your anxiety, but you were silent and when you did speak it was in an incomprehensible mutter. If you are not going to open up emotionally and ask for help from me when you need it, then there is no point in being in a relationship. If you only want to talk to me when you're happy, then I'm not a girlfriend, I'm just some girl you're fucking. The hell with that. But don't accuse me of being indifferent when the real issue is your inability to communicate.
Of course I expect your family to be your main priority, but it was very clear to me from my last visit that you were never going to make any place for me in your life at all. I had anticipated these issues, but you lied to me and lied to yourself, starting a relationship under false pretenses, and wasting my time. I trusted you and believed the things you said to me, but to find you can change your mind so easily is very hurtful. I could have been there for you, but you have pushed me away, all over a misunderstanding. And if you had chosen a less clumsy and hurtful way of ending our relationship, you could at least have had my friendship and moral support, but now you don't even have that.
Clearly you think the only thing I valued from you was your sperm, how sad. Well enjoy your lonely, sexless life. You are not only cowardly, you have no integrity at all, and I have lost all respect for you. You have brought nothing to my life that was real or sincere. I wish I had followed my first, and second, and third, instincts; I wish I had never met you.
I don’t expect a reply, and I don’t get one.
Sending the email is cathartic. He’s not dumping me, I’m dumping him, which I should have done months ago. Or better yet never even started dating him. So in spite of the fact that I'm really angry at him for being such a pathetic loser and for jerking me around, I'm not at all heartbroken. I refuse to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I’ve been set free. Now at least I don't have to futilely try to work through those things about him that were bothering me so much, and I won't be haunted by doubts that I perhaps sabotaged a potentially workable relationship with my own neurosis and superficiality. In spite of his accusatory email, I really don't think I did anything wrong. I was always honest about myself. He was the self-involved, self-deluded loser. Cowardly too.
I recall suddenly that the last time I went to Birk’s apartment, I forgot my sexy leopard print panties. I was planning to ask him to bring them on our vacation, or to pick them up myself next time I visited. Oh well, I suppose he or someone else will throw them out. I feel a pang of remorse for losing my favorite sexy panties. Once again, I’m projecting all my human feelings of connection onto physical objects, but whatever, I hate to lose things.
That same evening, shortly after I send the email, I get a phone call from Bebe asking me to go with her to the county fair. Yes, I say, I am in desperate need of a distraction and company.
I calm my rage and frustration by looking at bunnies and pigs and chickens and eating lots and lots of deep fried food: potato chips, sweet potato french fries, deep fried cheese, elephant ears, funnel cakes, etc. etc. Bebe of course is happy to listen to me rant about asshole men, and add her own thoughts about how much they all suck. By the end of the evening, I feel a lot better, if a little sick to my stomach.
Saturday night I go with Bebe to the going-away party for our friend Anna, who got a better job at a less horrible company in another state. If I had gone on the trip with Birk, I would have missed that. I’m glad I get to go and see Anna one last time and wish her well. Bebe will be moving to Central City soon too, to attend culinary school.
The weather on Sunday and Monday is cold and rainy, so it’s just as well that I’m not at a resort.
The one real tragedy in all this is that I held off on seeing the Simpsons movie on opening weekend like I wanted to. I’ve been waiting because Birk wanted to go with me. I'm mad that I still haven't seen it. I send a long email to my friends back in Raser City explaining what happened with Birk, all my doubts and frustrations. I end by saying I wish I was with them because I don’t know anyone here who loves the Simpsons and would go see it with me.
I’m pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of support from my friends.
I'm sorry you're going through another round of hell with a narcissistic fuckhead, but I also feel conflicted because I'm glad you are not going to end up with a junk-food swilling suburban blandomat.
I’m strangely touched that William is so concerned for me. I worried that I was being too judgmental and snobby about my, ah, cultural differences with Birk. It feels good to know that my friends agree that suburban blandness a legitimate deal breaker.
I tell William not to feel conflicted on that account; I feel relieved too. I was hoping that the more suburban family type would be less flaky than the urban hipster type, but no, they're both equally flaky in the exact same way.
I also get an email from the Mantis’s email address with the subject line “From Titania.” She writes,
First of all, I'm sorry that you had to go through that. I've been in similar situations (many times!) where the guy said all the right things in the beginning and then at the end I just kept thinking, "but he SAID...". I agree with you about the reasons, though. I don't think they were being devious or malicious, just saying what they "felt" at that moment, with no thought to the reality of the future. Your (ex) guy, however, takes the cake!
Now to address your petty concerns about him:
1) Being fat isn't just about looks. I dated a fat guy once because I thought it would be shallow to not go out with him just because of his weight. All we did was go out to eat and drink lots of wine. No physical/outdoor activity at all. To me, it's a health and life style issue as well (but you're right about if things were really good between you, it wouldn't bother you as much).
2) White knee-socks with shorts??!? Ugh.
3) Mantis has tried wearing his hat up too high a couple of times. Just one particular hat, and just a little high, but I push it down and tell him he looks like a total dork and I won't be seen with him if he doesn't keep it down! Superficial? I don't think so. (okay, maybe, but you have to have standards!) Would you date a guy that drove a sparkly, gold colored 4-wheel drive van with round bubble windows that had Harley Davidson stickers all over them? I said no to a seemingly nice guy because he drove said vehicle. I just couldn't imagine being seen getting in or out of it!
I just wanted to chime in 'cause I love your letters, even the misery-filled ones and Mantis never writes back. Oh, and I think it's totally possible to raise a family in an interesting, creative, as alternative as you want to be, yet stable, environment.
Of all the messages I get, Titania’s is by far the best. I’m practically crying tears of relief and gratitude as I’m reading it. I reply,
Hi Titania, thank you so much for the message, it really made me feel better. You're right, outward appearance can be a sign of bigger lifestyle choices, so it's not necessarily superficial. Anyway it's over, and I'm moving on. And I'm glad you enjoy my emails.
To the Mantis: 1. you suck for never writing or calling 2. you suck slightly less for passing on messages from Titania. Anyway I really enjoyed seeing both of you in June, it was one of the highlights of the trip. I've been telling everyone I know how you got to meet Paul McCartney because he thought you were retarded. :D
Having poured out my heart to my friends and received encouragement back, I feel like I can put the break-up behind me quickly. The patronizing tone of Birk’s email still lingers for a few weeks like a bad aftertaste, though. I keep imagining what he must be saying to his family about what a terrible, selfish person I am, saying in martyred tones how he had to end our relationship for the sake of his children. I’m longing to set them all straight about what really happened, to really get closure. But I realize how ridiculous and petty that is. After a few more days, I decide that closure isn’t something you get or earn, it’s just a matter of making up your own mind. It doesn’t matter what his family thinks of me, or what Birk is saying about me, because I will never see any of them again. And just like that, I achieve closure.
That’s it, I think. I’m done. I’m never dating anyone again. I’m not going back online or searching for people or any of it. There’s no one to date in this shitty town or in my toxic workplace, the guys I met online were all nightmares, and I’m not doing long distance again. I’m sick of being a dev and searching for guys who are my physical type but never ever a match in any other way. I no longer feel that intense drive to find a person with a disability. My dev attraction is never enough by itself to maintain a relationship. But I don’t feel like searching for an able-bodied guy either. I don’t really want to date anyone at all.
I’m just going to be single forever. I start thinking seriously again about how I could have a kid on my own. Step one, I need to buy a house.