--"Maneater", Hall & Oates
I love my cousin Katie like she was my own sister. I've felt like that for quite some time, ever since I came to the realization that the relation I thought would be there for me wasn't as loyal as she feigned to be. I've known her all my life. In that time I've come to learn a few things about her. For instance, I know how embarrassed she gets when she's put on the spot. I know how she still kisses your hand when she's especially grateful, the way they do in the movies. And I know--I just know--that Katie's always been upfront with me, "as open as a highway in the dead of night," and I've felt it's my duty to be as honest with her.
There was a time, though, where holding up to that duty wasn't exactly easy. A few years back she was completely smitten with a boy that seemed the perfect gentleman. He seemed to dote on her, say all the right things and did his best to be thoughtful of her every need. He palled around with all her friends. He was affectionate, kind, and funny when he was around her. And when he met with her kin (including me) he was especially charming. To the right kind of eyes he seemed the perfect gentleman. As things go in our family, it wasn't very long before talk of marriage had spread through the phone tree like wildfire. Most of it was prompted by Katie herself, but some of it was fanned by my mother, bless her little heart, as well as the other matriarchs of the extended family.
Most of us gals knew we wanted to get married young. Hell's bells, I got married right out of college so I suppose part of the blame can be laid at my feet as well. Katie was no different. It was a game she couldn't win. She felt the pressure to find that right person as soon as possible and, to be kind, it really did seem like she had found the tree that bore the golden fruit on her first foray into the woods.
The trouble was all was not it appeared to be with Katie's beau. The more he came to call on her while she was with her family, the more most of us saw through the chinks in his armor. He was presumptuous, taking liberties with our hospitality in ways most boys saw occasion to be more well-reserved. He would give his opinion on personal matters that he did not have the whole truth about to people as varied as Katie's dad, my cousins. Even my daddy was no stranger to getting an earful of his "honest opinion." It's one thing to chime in now and again to participate in the conversation, but Katie's beau would full-on dominate the proceedings as if he were the expert we all were in desperate need of. He was clingy with her to the point of distraction. There would be times where I would want to take my favorite cousin out for dinner or drinks, only to be rebuffed at the last minute with the weak excuse of him "needing" her right then. Granted, I expected most of her time to be spent in his company. That's to be expected with any relationship. I wasn't asking her to give up any more of her time than she was willing to give to me. But there came a point where his sudden need for her managed to coincide with my plans with her without fail. He started to look like the petulant boy who raises a fuss to keep all the attention on him at the exclusion of everyone else around him. Worst of all, he seemed to be settling her down in all the worst ways. She became more reserved, more timid, and more apologetic. Granted, Katie's always been shy and respectful. But she's also always had a fire that's common in the women of our extended brood.
The truth was the more she was around him the more that fire seemed to be less and less brightly.
We all came to the conclusion around the same time, all the cousins, all the aunts and uncles, everyone... except Katie and her parents. On the outside we all were hugs and smiles at the prospect of her settling down with a husband. On the inside, though, it seemed nothing but a mistake. She might have found her life with him content and pleasant, but I knew she was never going to be happy. She would never find the bliss of true love with a boy whose only thought was to keeping himself happy.
I know what it's like to get married earlier than you need to. While I wouldn't go so far as to say I married the wrong man, I could say now that if I had to do it over again I would have waited another few years to make sure. I wouldn't have allowed the idea of being married to outweigh the considerations that a successful marriage requires. I jumped in whole-hog, as I'm wont to do, because I'd been convinced that once you've found the right guy and he asks you that you don't keep him waiting. I didn't take as much time with the decision as I should have.
I didn't want to see Katie fall off the same horse.
The problem was how to tell somebody I loved deeply that she deserved better than what she buying into. There's no easy way to damn that river, even if you have the best intentions. Not one of us--not my folks, not my cousins, not my aunts or uncles--wanted to be the person who threw the first stone. We all knew whoever made the first move to straightening her out would receive the lion's share of the scrutiny. It wouldn't matter that the rest of us agreed. It wouldn't even matter if she eventually came around to our line of thinking. Whoever said the first word would be branded as the instigator of her heartache and loneliness. That was one title I didn't want to be bestowed on me. I liked my cousin. More importantly, she liked me, you know? I wanted to insure that things stayed that way for as long as possible.
Yet in time I began to see that the only gal who could deliver the blow was little 'ole me. No one else was close enough or understood the situation for all its particulars like I did. If someone was to be the scapegoat I had the requisite stubbornness to pull off the transformation convincingly. That's what I did. I took her to lunch one day. There, I told her in no uncertain terms that I didn't like her boyfriend and that the rest of the family didn't approve as well. I told her, "sugar, I'm not telling you what to do, mostly because I know how well that works on me. I'm only saying you should consider the facts that so many of your kin disapprove. We all can't be wrong, you know?" She was stunned. To her it seemed like my proclamation was a complete turnaround from my previous position on the matter. I had turned my back on her and her happiness, which couldn't have been farther from the truth. If anything, it was entirely her happiness I was considering. It took her a few moments to compose herself. When she did she kindly thanked me for my opinion and then walked out of the restaurant one short tiptoe away from tears.
When I caught up to her at her car she'd already taken a dozen steps over that line. I hugged her from behind before she could drive away. I didn't let go as much as asked to be released. I didn't let go as much as she struggled against me. When she finally calmed down sufficiently I told her what I should have said in the restaurant.
"Look, Katydon't, you know I love you. There's no one in my family I love more than you except my folks. Whatever your decision--not just in this marriage--I'll support you. I'll support you till the day I die. So if you can tell me that this is what you truly want, that he's truly what you want, then I won't say another word. And on your wedding day, when I see you up there with my future cousin-in-law you won't see a bigger smile than mine. And when I walk up to you to congratulate the two of you you won't hear a louder voice than mine. Your happiness will be my happiness.
"I just want to see you happy. That's all that matters to me."
With that I let her go. I watched her drive away unsure as to what my little 'ole speech's effect on her was. It would be almost thirty-six hours later that I would receive a phone call from her, telling me she had decided a few things with her beau. These few things, she would explain to me, would involve ironing out how she saw their future together and the steps he needed to take to make that future happen. She would also explain to me how calm he seemed and how reassuring his voice sounded... a little too calm and a little too reassuring, she would tell me.
A week later they were broken up and she was devastated, to say the least. I felt every bit the instigator and every bit the scapegoat. I only hoped that had enough room in her broken little heart to forgive me. Aside from that fear, though, I had confidence that what I had said was right in its clarity. I didn't mince words. I told her exactly what I felt and the reasons I felt them. I didn't sugarcoat that I had a strong dislike for him or my opinion that she was far too good for him. Never once did the notion that I was being overprotective of my faux-sister enter my thoughts. My only thought was how she was my blood and that meant something to me in a way that those who don't come from a close-knit family can't ever understand. It wasn't that I wanted to interfere with my cousin's life, or that I wanted to take over running it. The only thing I wanted, the only thing I've ever wanted for her, was that she have a full, healthy life where she ultimately finds happiness and never lets go of it.
When people say they had to be cruel in order to be kind it's usually an excuse for their own inherent venom. When I had to be cruel to be kind, however, I went into with a heavy heart. Sometimes I reckon that's the only difference between thinking of yourself as wicked and being truly wicked. When you're wicked you do things devoid of personal investment. When you're only pretending to be you feel each and every tear right along with them, you hurt just as much as they do, and you die just as much as they do.
Killing Katie's dream in order that she may find another one to fulfill was probably one of the hardest tasks I've ever been asked to undertake. But I don't regret doing it. Not one inch. Not for even one second.
Labels: family, Hall and Oates, honesty, Katie, marriage, propriety