You’re still the same old girl you used to be

I hate doing the dishes, and in 27 years of marriage I’ve hardly ever done them. She cooks at least two meals a day, sometimes three, from scratch, and cleans up the mess. That’s the deal.

One of the most exciting things about putting down the daily drunk was the highly anticipated discovery of the new me. And it was an exciting discovery. So much more productive, so much less moody, so coherent and responsible, and so much less having-to-be-carried-out-of-the-family-restaurant-drooling-and-howling. And dare I say it, happier and better adjusted? Yes! I dare!

The new me was ready to conquer some high mountains, and he did. Then, in January, the excitement started to wear off. No more daily self-pats on the back for having put down the beer can, rather, a kind of grim gaze off into the future, a gaze that pierced all the way to death and realized, “This is pretty much it.” Instead of being the heavily self-congratulated person successfully dealing with a horrible problem I became another ordinary non-drunk, and the stripping away of my heroic, self-congratulatory status felt like what, I imagine, one-shot TV wonders feel like when they go back to the McDonald’s day job.

This I could handle until another realization started creeping in. All the little hints and signs were there, and they all said the same thing: No, you are no longer drunk, but guess what? You’re still the same old asshole you always were.

I still remember the moment it hit me. She had hauled in ten sacks of groceries and set them on the floor, then gone off into the bedroom to take a rest. “What the hell,” I thought, “I’ll unload the damn things.”

One by one I emptied each sack. Milk. Bacon. Eggs. Flour. Kale. Quinoa. Vegetable oil. Strawberries. Spaghetti. Olives. Somewhere between the cans of tomato sauce and the bags of celery it hit me. Out of all these groceries, none of the things inside were for her. Left to her own devices there would be two bags, not ten, and they’d contain natto, tofu, oshinko, gobo, miso, green tea, and chocolate … not bacon and peanut butter.

Then it double-hit me. For 27 years she’s been cooking for me, not for her. For me. I wasn’t the same old asshole I’d always been, I was worse. More than six thousand nights of her life on earth had finished with a mountain of dirty dishes, and six thousand magical mornings later they were all clean, no matter that the labor of scrubbing scalded curry off the bottom and edges of a giant pot was the cherry on top of four hours’ labor over a stove. And the next day’s round of servitude in the kitchen never started until all the things that were cleaned got put away the following day so that they could all be used again.

So, it’s not completely true that I hardly ever did the dishes. To come clean, I hardly ever even bothered to set my own plates in the sink because, man.

Alcohol, not sobriety, was what allowed me to see a better me. The un-drunken picture in the mirror, un-hungover and un-looking like a dead cat, was the real picture, and however clean and clean-shaven that face now was, it was dreadful compared to the drunken, haggard one.

So that night, I think it was in mid-February, I did three things, all of which attracted extraordinary notice and eyebrow raising. I placed my dishes in the sink after eating, then washed them, then put them away. I didn’t touch anyone else’s, but after I finished she looked up at me with a gentle smile and said, “Thanks.”

To which I answered, “You’re welcome.”

For one week I did this, and the second week I took all the plates off the table, rinsed them, and loaded the dishwasher. Each time dinner started she was waiting, curiously, to see what would happen at the end, and when it did, each time she said, “Thanks,” and that word made me shiver inside.

To which I answered, “You’re welcome.”

The third week, because I awake before everyone else and make my coffee, I set the kettle on the stove and opened the dishwasher, pulling out the clean plates and cups and glasses and silver and stowing them in drawers and cupboards, and I wondered this: Is there anything more humiliating than realizing that at age fifty-one that your narcissistic, assholic self is just beginning to acquire the slight veneer of decency that most people have acquired by age ten?

There is, of course, and easy answer to that — yes. The more humiliating thing is to realize you’re still the same old girl you used to be, and not to care. I could do that, actually, but only with the help of a good stiff drink.



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43 thoughts on “You’re still the same old girl you used to be”

  1. Kalos Sthenos

    Seth –

    I’m always foiled when trying to comment on your blog b/c I don’t do WP, Twitter or FB (quit alla them). And Google+… meh.

    Anyway, this was my comment on your blog today which I couldn’t post:

    “It’s okay. I know how embarrassing it is to realize that you (I) am such a slow learner. But at least you are learning. Better late than never. Forgive yourself. Keep going. Best thing to do for everyone.”

    Have a good one and keep your eyes open for big waves on Sunday – should be pretty!


  2. Lissen Wank! The very first post I ever read by you was you talking to the homeless man outside your work and you had a photograph of you and him. I thought, and my friends agreed, “What a good man!”. So, enough of your “I am such a shit,” ’cause it ain’t true!

    1. Some is true, some isn’t. It’s deciding which is which that’s the hard part!

  3. The point is, dude, that you WERE an asshole to your ever-lovin’, and you are NOW better…still aware of your proclivity toward assholeness, but clearly aware that how are and what you do is pretty friggin’ important, especially with your CHOSEN PARTNER IN LIFE!

    The day that Mrs. WM doesn’t (or forgets) say “Thanks” will be a great time for you to analyze your own soul. How will you feel? Will that be okay? Is that ‘shared’ life so good that the unspoken efforts you do for her and she does for you the resin that holds the crabon together, seamlessly?

    You have a wonderful woman in your life…good on you to grasp another facet of her!

  4. The acceptable protocol in our house evolved over time is that she cooks, I wash. It’s worked out pretty well most of the time….

      1. Both of us eat, and we eat better with Linda preparing the food and me. If food preparation was up to me, it would be PB&J sandwiches or cereal for dinner every night.

  5. I know it’s no consolati!n but it took me three marriages to learn how not to be an asshole. I thank her constantly and she does the same. And we’re happy now for 15 years.


  6. Michelle Landes

    Proof is in the reflection of your children and how they have grown. So I’m not believing this a- hole thing! My hubby cook’s but dishes never!!

  7. It’s the baby steps, man, I tell ya. The baby steps we take every day to be a better person than we were the day before. Over time they add up enough that when you look back at the person you were just five years ago, you shudder and think, “Man, what an ass I was!” Congratulations on your many baby steps and giant steps in the Mother May I game of Life.

  8. Well, I just read something on the wwwebternet that showed me I’ve been running the dishwasher wrong for all these years, including loading the silverware basket improperly. I could have just gone on, blissfully– and maybe I will, anyhow! I mean “Glass Erosion”? Screw that, I’m still gonna wash everything *before* it goes in the machine, for at least three reasons. Including being able to use the Heated Dry cycle without finding encrustations after.

    What can I say– Life is complicated. We are all just pilgrims, and we just have to do the best we can, and learn Forgiveness– for ourselves and others.

    PS: Dang. After all these years! You’re supposed to *alternate* up and down on the silverware, so the like-shaped pieces don’t “nest” and not get sprayed properly– unless of course the handles are so small they slip down through the holes in the basket, and keep the rotator thing from going around. That’s always bad!

    1. A whole new level of complexity to navigate. And there I was, thinking I was a pro for loading it from the back first.

  9. I don’t understand this whole doing the dishes thing. You have kids, after all, to paraphrase Henry Fonda, “what’s the point in having dwarfs if they don’t do chores?”

    1. That’s a whole other blog. You see, kids have this terrible habit of imitating their parents.

      1. So long as they don’t have-to-be-carried-out-of-the-family-restaurant-drooling-and-howling then you’re doing fine.

        I have to battle the black dog, it’s hard to nail down what causes it to visit, but I do know regular exercise, in my case riding, be it road, MTB or commuting, is enough to keep the dog at bay.

  10. It takes a particular type of courage to reveal your faults to others. I think Catholicism saw this when it developed the confessional. In that windowless private box you were allowed to tell your darkest (and not so dark) deeds and receive penance and forgiveness while limiting your revelations to a single person. Even within the privacy of that place, talking to someone who has sworn never to reveal what he has heard, I still remember feeling both ashamed (for my transgressions) and relieved (for forgiveness).

    We spend so much of our existence obscuring who we are and what we are feeling that I think we forget the power of sharing our failings and errors. You are like most of us with our various and sundry faults and transgressions, but you have an extraordinary gift of being able to eloquently express your perceived failings in a way that allows the rest of us to constructively reflect on our own imperfections. I suspect that reflection makes us all better people, as it clearly has made for an incrementally better you.
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I’d never thought about the connection with Catholic confession, but clearly it’s there …

  11. The first step is always admitting that you have a problem. The next is proactively doing something about it.
    You need to be careful about being too nice all of a sudden though. Your “mrs” will become suspicious that you’re guilty of some misdeed other just being a regular a-hole and your new found niceness will bite you in the ass.

  12. Seth,
    I’m on my second marriage in fact, we both are, plus we work together and share the same office. We often say we are both more tolerant because it’s the second time around, but you stopped and made me think that perhaps I need to change things up. I think your openness is at the same time both very refreshing, and a gift.
    Thanks again

  13. Guess you know that some drunks don’t get off the wagon (or “on”?) until they end up in the gutter face down, or somesuch.
    For you it took a merely wakeup call from the offspring. You and the boy are quite the team.

  14. “If I exorcise my devils, well, my angels may leave too. When they leave they’re so hard to find”
    –Tom Waits
    You are finding your angels coming back to you.
    Good post

  15. I can relate. I have been sober for 30 years and I am 53. I am not tooting my horn only laying the groundwork, One of the things I heard was an analogy that went like this. ” If you have a drunken asshole and you take away the alcohol you still have an asshole!” The key was for me to change from the inside out. Welcome to the other side of life. Enjoy the ride!

  16. Perhaps the next goal is your shopping being an equivalent two bags of tofu & natto? Won’t hurt your bike racing.
    Thanks for sharing such a personal journey, its very humbling.

    1. Thanks. We eat Japanese food from time to time, actually, and it’s fantastic. But the time it takes to prepare is double. She will spend six to eight hours in the kitchen for a Japanese meal, which is eaten just as quickly as all the others.

  17. Is there anything more humiliating than realizing that at age fifty-one that your narcissistic, assholic self is just beginning to acquire the slight veneer of decency that most people have acquired by age ten?

    Meh. Some never acquire it. Not kidding.

    You are where you are. Feel bad for a minute, then like you did in this situation, and then do something about it. Action is the only way forward.

    Good stuff. Welcome to the other side of life.

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