Better late? Or never?
Mr. J. has an . . . unusual family, to say the least. He has been a part of this unusual family for 37 years, so he is used to their, um, behavior. I have only been around for about 4 and a half years, so I am still shocked (although I should know better now) when they don’t show him the courtesy I show my dog groomer. Or my nail technician. Or the lady who waxes my eyebrows. You get the idea.
One family member, in particular, seems to have failed to ever grasp the time-space continuum. Or the concept of cell phones. Or manners. Mr. J.’s sister, Helena, is just a few months older than me. She is 36. She has a 15 year old daughter, Lena. She dropped out of high school and got her GED in her late 20s (I think) due in large part to the constant proddings of Mr. J. (Believe me. That one I get. There’s not a lot I won’t do to get that man off my case when he’s on a mission.) I write these facts not to make Helena out to be some ill-educated criminal, but to illustrate the fact that she has, perhaps in many ways, taken the “road less traveled.” She works at a gas station. This is fine with her. Sometimes I wish I could find her level of career satisfaction. There's something almost zen about it.
A few weeks ago, Mr. J. invited Helena to come out and see our finally finished place. Then he planned to take us all out to dinner to celebrate Helena’s birthday. She and Lena have never been here and we’ve lived here for well over a year. They live about 45 minutes away. Mr. J. always takes Helena and Lena out to lunch or dinner for their birthdays (Lena’s was last month.) Sometimes H. & L. remember to call Mr. J. on his birthday – sometimes they don’t. They can always find our phone number, however, when they need someone to come over and fix their 700-year-old computer. No charge for parts or labor, ever.
So, today is the birthday dinner. Mr. J.’s niece and sister were supposed to be here at 5:00 p.m. It is now 6:31 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. They are officially late. A phone call? No. Why would that be necessary? This is standard behavior. Since I met Mr. J., I have seen Helena not show up for Christmas Eve dinner (after we all waited an hour for her, we finally gave up and started eating), birthday gatherings, (hers and other people’s), etc., etc., etc., The list is long. The problem is, this behavior infuriates me. Because guess what happens? Do you think for one minute that anyone ever picks up the phone and reads Helena the riot act for being amazingly rude and inconsiderate? Nope. Because when she does this, she obviously on some level knows she’s done something wrong (much like my students who know when they’ve missed a critical part of an assignment, but they’re not sure which part) and subsequently does not answer her phone for months at a time. Until everyone clearly has forgotten (or at least forgiven) her blatant rudeness. And then we all move on like nothing happened.
Except. I was not born into this family and I. am. not. used. to. it. I don't find this acceptable. I don't find the words, "That's just Helena. What can you expect?" to be soothing balm. I do not like seeing my husband treated with less courtesy than one treats the maitre’ d. at a really nice restaurant. I mean, when I’ve had reservations at nice restaurants and for some reason can’t make it, I call to cancel.
Mr. J. claims this doesn’t bother him, and doesn’t understand why it bothers me. “I fail to see how this affects you,” he says. Well, gosh. I can think of a dozen ways it affects me. Maybe on some very selfish level, for me it’s the unfairness of the thing. If I treated people like that consistently, I don’t think I’d have anyone left in my life. I know for a fact that I couldn’t get away with treating Mr. J. like that for five minutes (not that I’d want to, but you see where I’m going with this . . .) And from Helena, there is never any embarrassment. There are never any apologies, never any shame or feelings of guilt for blowing off her brother yet again.
And we all know that we (or you or me) can rage on about our families ad nauseum, but heaven help the innocent bystander who finally dares to agree with us. You just don’t go messing with people’s families. Even when their families are messing with yours. Because that's the thing nobody else seems to get. Helena isn't just jerking her brother around with her rudeness. She is now treating my husband like a piece of crap. And while that may be okay with her (and even okay with aforementioned brother - i.e., Mr. J.) it is not okay with me. If she were some random woman in a store or club, I'd probably get all sassy and in her face and say, "Listen, bee-yotch, ain't nobody treating MY MAN that way!" And instead? I'm just supposed to shake my head and smile in amusement. Throw up my hands and say, "That's Helena. What are you gonna do?"