I received a package in the mail recently from a woman I shared a fleeting, blink-and-it’s-gone romance/friendship a few months ago. Scrawled on the box, above the address label and as a bit of an after-thought, was a note: “Thank you for letting me borrow the book & travel mug.”
In a Facebook private message, I acknowledged receipt of the package but I was bummed that mailing it became an easier way to return the items rather than arranging a meeting. I apologized again that things between us proved insurmountable even after such a short time. At the very least I saw a promising friendship. I also expressed a hope that she enjoyed the book, at least.
About an hour later, I received a somewhat angry response — and if not angry, perhaps a bit huffy — calling my message passive-aggressive and disrespectful by not honoring a wish that we not talk about why it ended. (To be clear, I wasn’t trying to get into something regarding a misfired romance. I was just expressing a misgiving regarding the friendship.) Her note went on to say that she wouldn’t accept the guilt trip my words conveyed but that she also realized the guilt trip was likely subconscious for me but that if I read my words again, it indicated a “poor me, you hurt me be not setting up a meetup, you’re wrong for making an assessment of us after such a short time” attitude. She then gave me a “more appropriate, emotionally-healthy response” to receiving the package: “Thank you for sending back my things. I hope you enjoyed them and that you are doing well. Take care.” She acknowledged that it seemed harsh and that she was sorry for that but she didn’t want to be friends with someone passive-aggressive who plays the victim and continues to disregard wishes not to rehash things.
To be fair, I know that the written word can be interpreted with varied inflections. As a person with performing experience, I know that the heaviest of dialogue can be played for laughs, just as comedy can be also be played with a hint of melancholy. Perspective matters. Even so, I assured her — or tried to, anyway — that any negative feeling she had was not my intent, subconscious or otherwise. Our chat seemed to end on an even note but even so, I’m not expecting any future interaction, friendly or otherwise.
Being called passive-aggressive gave me pause. I had heard the term before but had yet to be able to describe it aside from that old joke,
Q: “How does a grandmother change a light bulb?”
A: “That’s alright, I’ll just sit here in the dark…”
So I looked up the term — Passive-aggressive: of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands (or wants) of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.
Ha! Interesting. Either there is something in my demeanor that puts off this air or — based on her prior experience in the male/female dynamic — she is simply reading what she feels is there already, and further interpreting my action to fit the bill.
I also don’t get the impression she acknowledges the possibility that calling me passive-aggressive in any way dismisses that she too, was exhibiting some of the same passive-aggressive behavior by avoiding direct confrontation with me by mailing the package and also pouting/reacting to my note the way she did. While my book and travel mug were not of extreme importance to me, there was a bit of a procrastination on her part in returning the items, especially if it would have involved any face to face interaction. It also seemed more than a little odd to me that a person who had initially expressed such interest and desire in spending time with me now wanted absolutely nothing, nada, zilch to do with me. Again, even though the chat seemed to end on a civil tone, I’m not expecting any future interaction.
I also realize that by writing about this now, some might consider this passive-aggressive. Perhaps. But only if she reads this column. Chances are, no. My readership figures, assuming I have any readers, are not that high.
So it’s been more than two months since I’ve written anything I wanted to share. I’ve been in a bit of a creative cocoon after my brother’s passing and both of my folks had elongated health issues over the holidays. They are doing better now and are back home recuperating, adjusting to some new challenges. And re-adjusting, re-designing, and re-structuring some old habits.
When I was younger, I recall my father, Po, often describing himself as a creature of habit. He knew what he liked and stuck with it for a long period. His first sip of beer at dinner time was not complete without the phrase, “Ah, nectar of the gods.” Po enjoyed his foods but rarely veered off the menu of what he knew. That describes Mo, as well. They knew what they liked and liked what they knew. If I were a betting man (and had the money), I would lay $1,000 down that neither Mo nor Po have yet to experience a burrito, enchilada or chimichanga, three simple but tasty Latin dishes. They have nothing against the Latin culture — that sort of thing is not my parents’ way — but if a choice is given and a burrito is one and a filet is the other, they’ll have the filet, because they know that.
I also recall Po noting that I was stubborn, often fussy, and a picky eater. It makes me wonder if he realized that — being cut from the same tree — I was also a creature of habit. (“I am my father’s son,” my adult self, often said.) Case in point: For a few years, whenever I ate pasta, it was not with tomato sauce but with butter. I think this was because Bobby, my brother, made me laugh and spaghetti sauce came out my nose. I was very young at the time and it burned my nose. I made a stubborn, fussy and picky vow to never again have that feeling. So, my creature of habit menu for a few years was spaghetti or macaroni with butter.
Once I realized what I was missing, it was sauce ALL the time. To me, eating is all about the sauce or dressing. I even save those for last as I soak them up with bread. Yum and a half.
Also, as a fellow creature of habit, I enjoy beer. Over the last 18 years or so, I’ve taken quite a liking to IPAs and beer from microbrews. Po hasn’t quite understood my attraction to them. To his credit though, he will try a sip if I offer one but he just doesn’t like them. Who’s the stubborn, fussy and picky one now?
Mo, bless her heart, likes white wine. Her flavor is white. Mo likes her jug of Gallo at home. Rotgut, I call it. I’m no wine snob but white just isn’t a flavor. So when we have eaten out I’ve tried to lead her toward Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Fume Blanc. Personally, I enjoy Malbec, Shiraz or Merlot for my wine. Though I drink less Merlot in recent years. Every once in a while, just not that often. I can’t be certain but it may be tied into Paul Giamatti’s line in Sideways when he exclaimed, “I am not drinking any [expletive deleted] Merlot!” Funny at the time, but perhaps it worked on me subliminally.
Note to self: Vineyard Idea — Research marketing for brand of Giamatti’s [expletive deleted] Merlot.
Po has been an all-around fix-it man throughout most of his going-on-91-years on this planet. In the homes I grew up in, Po built bookshelves and staircases, patios and ardors, painted and wall papered, re-aligned, re-designed, re-structured, and established an infinite number of electrical outlets and light switches … just to name a fraction of the projects he immersed himself in over the years. He considers himself an amateur since these projects were not his life’s work. (He was a pattern maker in the textile industry and that was how he made his living and supported his family.) For him, the building and fixing were recreational … but he still took pride in a job well done.
Po enjoyed these projects and knew what he was doing but did not make his living at them, so in his mind, he wasn’t a professional at his craft. He has been, however, a perfectionist in his planning and execution, lining up even the minutest of detail to the measurement. As kids, Bobby & I were infrequent helpers and assistants. But when we did, we would watch Po struggle to make that last quarter turn of the screw — followed by a fart — and Bobby and I knew that railing was not going anywhere.
(Thank you Bobby, for that last-quarter-turn memory you shared oh, so many years ago.)
Po also had a place for his tools and each tool went back into its place. He did jobs in the past in the only way he knew how — by having them perfect, even if his outlook of perfection made the job more difficult or time consuming. He took pride in his strive for perfection and rarely veered from the plan he set out to do. He never complained — or at least I don’t recall if he did. He did the projects because he wanted Mo and his children to enjoy their surroundings.
Both Mo and Po have slowed in recent years, particularly since I’ve moved to Manchester after so many years in New York City. While she was ill over the holidays, Mo did less creative quilting and sewing and coloring, but has been getting back into the swing in recent weeks. It’s very encouraging to see her with more pep in her step. I was concerned as she just wasn’t keeping any nutrients into her system while she was ill.
Po is also recovering but some old habits hang on … and Po is doing his best creature of habit to hang on.
One of the recurring habits we Trahan creatures have is that we have often teased each other over the years. But at the same time, we have sometimes taken offense when we were teased in return, not realizing or acknowledging that we had just done some teasing, ignoring the parry and thrust of friendly or familial relationships.
Playful and loving teasing — no matter who is doing it — leaves a sting when it’s not received well. My late brother Bobby and my sister Peggie teased me, and I’d cry. Bobby and I would tease Peggie, who would pout. Po would tease us all and would also tease Mo. And Mo or I would tease Po, who would then get quiet. My other sister, Nicky — even though learning disabled — often got the innocent and loving truth of the tease. Then she’d boisterously laugh at us all, easing some of the tension.
Or as the Mills Brothers once said, …if I broke your heart last night, it’s because I loved you most of all.”
Sometimes the loving teasing just isn’t taken as loving and the person being teased gets quiet, perhaps even offended, either not understanding the love or the truth in the tease. Or … they do acknowledge the truth in the tease but don’t feel the truth of the love. The much more important truth of the moment. You always hurt the one you love.
It’s an interesting paradox to me, especially as one who has at times dished it out but not been able to take it. In a passive-aggressive way, of course.
Ahh, the truths of love. Drink them in. Nectar of the gods…
Gary Trahan of Manchester, NH, has written and performed throughout New England, Colorado, Florida and New York City. Gary has written plays, sketches, screenplays and humor columns, including for almost three years as part of a rotating team of humor columnists submitting for the Encore section of The Nashua Telegraph. “Gare” received his BA from UMass/Amherst another lifetime ago, and has been learning lessons ever since. Writing and other forms of creativity help to keep him sane, uh, sanER. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.