Personal Column: Real Men

This story discusses my relationship with men, a relationship that is twisted and confusing to even me.

(Courtesy of Danielle Yampuler/Pixabay royalty-free images.)

This story discusses my relationship with men, a relationship that is twisted and confusing to even me.

I’m in a car. A car. Any car. Sometimes it feels like it’s every car- my own personal liminal space, never quite the same but always identical in feel. Sometimes it’s a big white minivan- those guys probably had kids at some point or another, ones they’ve either lost custody of or ones that have outgrown dependency. The story’s always the same with them- if they had kids at some point, they’re not there anymore. Maybe my mom should’ve taken that as a red flag. Sometimes it’s a small, stuffy car. The AC is never working, the man never had the money to fix it. One drove a car that was just as old as him- still stuffy and small and hot, but at least it was interesting, white with red leather seats. The worst car was a mix of both car types- a big, old, red minivan with no AC, the Texas heat amplifying the smell of weed that would never quite leave the car.

I was in eighth grade for that one. It was suffocating.

One thing always stayed the same about the cars, though- He always drove it. It always belonged to him, whoever that may be at any given moment.

My mom had a lot of boyfriends as I grew up. It started when I was young, I’m not sure I remember all their names. Usually, the relationships lasted at least half a year, but maybe some lasted shorter. Time always takes longer when you’re young. 

Most of the men were nice. My mom would make almost all of them drive my sister and me to and from school, girl scouts, wherever we needed to go- she’s always hated driving, always been bad at that, and the men always seemed happy to help. Men like to drive. However archaic and traditional that sounds, the men always liked to drive. The nice men would let my sister play her music, would ask us about our day. We would respond. 

My day at school was okay.

Just okay? Nothing else?

Yeah. It was okay.

It was always the same conversation. My sister and I doubted they would last anyway, whatever their promises.

Even if I break up with your mom, I’m gonna stay in your life. I’m gonna go to your graduations, give you birthday presents.

No, you won’t. They didn’t. It was never surprising when they broke their promises, and sometimes it felt like that’s what men were made to do. I always liked it better when there were only women in the house anyway- just my sister, my mom, and me.

There were the indifferent ones. I won’t spend much time on them- they never did on us, but I don’t blame them. It’s not like we were their kids, it’s not like we ever wanted him to be our dad. The indifferent ones were quiet in the car. They would do what they were asked to- drive us from our location to our destination, sometimes picking up dinner on the way. No small talk. I think my sister liked it better that way, I’m genuinely not sure if I did.

Then there were the bad seeds. Only one or two, it’s not like they ever abused us or anything. But they were bad- maybe not bad, but they weren’t good. Those were the ones who would raise their voice, yell over small things, treat us like their own kids but never in a nice way. I never yelled back, I would usually just cry. My sister’s the spitfire- combative, especially towards any adult man who would try to imply that they held any power over her. Any adult, for that matter. Sometimes she would be the one to yell first, but the bad ones were always the ones to lose their temper and yell back. Sometimes they were bad in less audible ways. One- who had long lost custody of his eight-year-old daughter, which, again, probably should’ve been the first red flag- was tasked with watching after us. My mom wasn’t there. He took us to some arcade & sports bar type deal, probably Dave & Buster’s if my memory serves me correct. He gave us some of our mom’s money, let us go ham with the arcade machines while he sat at the bar and watched the game. By the end of the hour, he had about seven empty beer glasses sitting on his table, his breath smelt strongly of fermented wheat. My mom decided to drive us home after calling and hearing the slur in his voice. He broke up with her not long after that, she cried for months.

Then there was the worst one. My sister and I disliked him right away, something that was not uncommon for my sister, but I usually gave my mom’s boyfriends more benefit of the doubt. Not this one, though. He had a military background, and it came off him in waves. He was strict, he was commanding, and he seemed to want every woman in his life to do whatever he said. His son (an adult, of course) was nice; we would talk about shows like RWBY together- but his son was raised by his mom. 

My sister fought with him the most. Small things. To me, it always just felt like they were fighting for control- my sister, over herself, the man, over her. He would always try to give me a nickname, I would never let him. I think even then, we both could feel that this wouldn’t end well.

It didn’t. 

He moved in with us after barely a month, apparently, he was living with his mom to take care of her before. His stuff appeared at our home, and that seemed to be that. He stayed for maybe a month.

That relationship didn’t end loud- it ended quietly. Too quietly. One day he was at my home, politely asking my mom to help him load his car with things that he claimed he was putting in storage. The next day he was just gone- he had entirely moved out while my mother was hanging out with friends, didn’t even text her a goodbye, never messaged her again.

He had yelled at us, weakened the bonds I had at home, and then conned my mother into helping load the car he was using to abandon us.

Whatever. Men are fickle, anyways.

My mother didn’t cry over him. He didn’t deserve it. Barely a month later he posted a photo on Facebook about his happy engagement to a Chinese mail-order bride. I guess she was easier to control than my mother.

When I got older, when both my mom and I matured (she’s happily remarried with four cats now), when my sister moved out for college, I asked her about it. Why she was always so boy-crazy when I was growing up. I’m not sure if it was out of resentment or curiosity- probably a mix of both. My mother confessed to me that throughout her life, she’s had a fear of falling out of love. She told me that she felt like nothing without an infatuation, someone to be with. She’s long grown out of that fear now, as most eventually do, but the remnants of it stick around.

Stick around in my sister and me and how we view relationships, echo in our distrust of any too-close connection, rattle in the many objects they bought for us, still in the house: the couch, the table, the gold-plated rose. My mom never understood the idea of throwing everything somebody gave to you away as soon as you break up with them. If you try and forget entirely about them, how will you ever learn from them? From what they did to you, what you did to them?

Nobody learns to grow without first learning how to remember.