Notice the title? This is exactly what an astute French woman said to me, while pointing her beautifully manicured finger at Chris, my husband, at Le Mairie de Boulogne Billancourt (town hall of Boulogne Billancourt, France). She was the one woman standing between me and my freedom. I was not a happy wife. I just spent 10 months in Houston without a work visa and the only thing that kept me sane was knowing that I’d get a work visa in Paris! I had envisioned myself working in a posh research lab, maybe at the Currie Institute….ok that might have been an unrealistic fantasy, but the sheer joy of dreaming about the possibilities was the pinnacle of life so far! This was my big chance to finally make something of myself!!
We had just received back our passports with our visas at the Mairie. I had examined my passport and the visa laminated inside it, but it didn’t have the word “travail (work)” on it like my husband’s had. I knew instantly that I had been duped! “Ou est ma carte de travailler (where is my work visa)?” I calmly whispered through my clenched teeth. “Non, c’est une carte de famille (no it’s a family visa)” the French woman sharply stated staring down her nose at me behind her lunettes. “There’s some mistake, I’m suppose to have a work visa!” There was no interpreter there this time to convey my meaning as this woman was obviously confused or deranged!! We were only picking up our visas so we didn’t think we needed an interpreter. I needed more than an interpreter! I’d need a lobotomy if I didn’t get that work visa!!! I blabbed on and on in French and English and back to French trying to tell her there was some mistake. I must have gone over the line…..
Within that span of about 15 minutes max. I was launched into a blinding vortex and my Grandmother’s words screamed in my ears. I was being utterly destroyed within that short period of time, but I see it all now slow motion. All my dignity, independence and all my hopes and dreams for my chance to prove what I could do out here in the big world was being peeled away; like my skin being ripped apart to expose core in that dark cold Mairie. All I could do was seethe in anger as we walked away because otherwise I’d have been washed away in my own tears. The Executioner Lady (as I had nicknamed her because she killed my hopes) spelled out clearly for me what my Nan had tried to tell me nearly a year ago, except this woman said it as if it was the guillotine she was throwing down on me, and in a very bad English accent: “NON!” she exclaimed while pointing and wagging her impatient finger at me, “you are ZEEEE wife and he is ZEEEE worker.” Luckily there was about two inches of plexiglass separating me from her bony neck that I wanted to strangle! That was that. She slammed her window closed.
HEY!!! Did my Nan call you or something??? I was defeated that day.
Flashback to the summer of 1997 just days before our speedy little wedding (no bun in the oven!) when I was having a nice cup of tea at my Nan’s house and talking with her about our upcoming nuptials. Truthfully, I was bitterly complaining about how suddenly old fashioned my husband-to-be was being about marriage etc….imagine! Me taking someone else’s name just because we decided mutually to spend our life together!
Unexpectedly, my Nan stops drying the dishes and looks me straight in the eye and says “Rhonda, your marriage is going to be like the taming of the shrew”. Damn! I never read that piece of Shakespeare!!! I knew I’d regret it someday! I also knew it couldn’t be a complement by the look in her eyes. Well, I wasn’t about to give away the truth that I really had no idea what she meant by that. Besides, my Nan was one of the most loving and caring people I knew, so I wasn’t about to have a hissy-fit and be on the outs with Nan before my wedding.
I loved my Nan. She was better than a mother, like all good nannies, because she could be someone other than my mother. She made me tea and toast, listened to my woes, fed me some more, tucked a blanket around me and let me watch TV and then sent me off home, eventually. When I was much younger and Pepsi was banned by my parents, in large quantities, she let me have as much as I liked. Sally, my Nan, was the smartest woman I knew, and if she said Pepsi was ok, it was. Now I know that she was spoiling me because she loved me more than anything in this world. I loved her too, more than anyone. Still do, even though she’s gone from this world. And in parallel, because I’m a mother now, I know my parents banned things like Pepsi because they loved me more than anything in this world. Funny isn’t it! But parents have to be parents and grandparents can be otherwise, that’s the beauty of having Grandchildren I guess.
Sometimes I wish I had discussed marriage with Nan a bit further, but I figured she wasn’t modern enough to understand. In hindsight, she might have passed on some good advice about how to live equally as husband and wife, not that she lived it, but I learned over time that she was wise beyond her own life’s circumstances. She might have saved me from a few battle wounds whilst fighting the war on marriage equality.
Hey, what can I say? I’m a dreamer and what appears to be “reality” is not my thing; I find it ugly and distressing most of the time. Usually, I live with my head in the clouds, it’s much more entertaining and everyone is happy; funny. Is it so wrong to want equality? For all people regardless of what it is? Live how we want, love who and how we want and accept that we are all here under the same sky just living and dreaming of a good life. Inequality brings doom and disaster to all of us. Well! That was quite a tangent! If you knew what was in my mind, you’d go blind! ha! It overwhelms me most of the time.
Ok….so back to the discussion at hand…
You have just read (if you’re still with me…) a very small sample of writing meant to indicate how much I desire equality between the sexes and especially within a marriage, and yes, I did keep my pre-married family name. The idea that we would not be equal in marriage has been a point of contention for me from day 1 and it’s why marriage scares me to death (even though Chris has truly wanted us to have equality, I think). If I’m honestly divulging the truth here, I’d have to admit that my first thought upon waking – in the most beautiful room in a Victorian Heritage Bed and Breakfast – the morning after our wedding was “what the hell have I done” and then had a complete panic attack, quietly so that Chris couldn’t hear me. However, I must clarify here that I was also taking off to Houston in less than 48 hours to live away with my new husband for, quite possibly, the rest of my life as we didn’t know if we would ever return home to stay. As it turns out we didn’t return home to stay, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. So, please allow me a little wiggle room here for panic post I-DO’s. That said, here I am today, still married and most definitely financially dependent on my husband. Can you imagine then, how much that French woman’s words has bothered me, taunted me and haunted me for years even to this very day. Perhaps writing about it will give me closure and I can let go. Letting go is my trouble.
No other words uttered in my lifetime were ever truer. I am “zee wife” and Chris is “zee worker”. I believed she had cursed me to living a life of marital inequality, not that Chris wants it that way or likes it that way, it just is that way. At the very least, she put into simple yet cutting words what I feared the most; the loss of my independence, of myself and to live a shadowed existence as someone’s wife. What I know now is that it was the first of many lessons in letting go; to give up control and just let it all be….
It was a gift to me not to be able to work. My curse was a gift! I was literally given the time to find myself and really live my dreams, not the dreams I thought would get me the approval and praise I craved, not the kind that proved I was clever enough, but the dreams I had been creating since I knew I existed.
Just a year after our wedding, Chris surprised me with a 2nd honeymoon! All I knew was that I was going to Ajaccio. Not having a clue where that was, I was utterly delighted to see that we were in Corsica!!! I was in heaven and for the first time that year I forgot about not working and my loss of independence and just allowed myself to be happy: This is what came from forgetting who I thought I was and what would make me happy and just enjoyed my gift!
The beginning of a watercolor life and so much more!