The Green Peppers and Sausage Incident

(TL:DR  Yes Jennifer is a magical unicorn, but unicorn’s have a long horn and occasionally it gets inserted up my ass and I’d like to break the damn horn off and shove it up her ass.)

I’ve tried to write this post about six or seven times now, but it always comes out being too angry and too blaming of Jennifer, so I’ve trashed it every time I’ve tried to write it. Anyway, some important bits of information before I begin.

(1)  My least favorite house related task is raking leaves.

(2)  My least favorite meat is sausages. I believe I have eaten my quota of these growing up, I do not wish to eat any more of them.

(3)  My least favorite vegetable is green peppers. I hate them. They taste bad and give me heartburn.

So… anyway…

In August 2010 we fly to New Zealand because dad has crossed the threshold from “really unwell” fighting his cancer, to “the doctors finally let slip that he’s totally going to die”. So we winged our way to go see him before the end. Our last conversation together was how if he didn’t in fact die after all the travel and expense, that it would be socially awkward next time we saw each other.

About a month or two later mum Skypes us and turns the camera on dad for a bit. He looks at the screen and says “hello” with a tone of expectant but polite confusion. My father is a very bright man… and that’s all gone. I can’t react to that though. I don’t really know how.

The Friday before Thanksgiving in 2010, I’m at work and my cellphone rings. The incoming number being a long line of numbers scrolling across the screen leading off with the 0064 meaning a call from New Zealand. Thus I know dad is dead before I even answer it. It’s mum, dad had a really rapid decline at the end and it’s over and both sad and a relief.

My work day is planned to be over in about five hours, but I know I’m not going to be coming back at the start of next week, and then it’s Thanksgiving. I’m somewhat sole charge of my area and effectively just got handed a nine day vacation. I stay at work for about another seven hours tidying it all up and prepping for me being away. I can’t remember when I called Jennifer, but I do remember holding off on telling everyone around me and my boss until later in the day. Just didn’t want to deal with people trying to “support” me, when I just needed everyone to say out of my way so I could crunch out a whole bunch of work and then not come back for a week and a half.

Now because Jennifer and I are so much in step with each other, having a mild form of telepathy after then 16 years of marriage, when we miscommunicate it’s like a tire blowing out on a NASCAR Sprint Cup car at 200mph. It’s bad. Really really bad. The corner goes left and the car goes right. The wall comes up at you so fast and you hit it so hard. After that you’re just a passenger on a badly maintained rollercoaster.

At some point on the Friday, I told Jennifer that I would be okay by myself. What I meant was, on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I would be okay staying home by myself. We had the weekend together and then Thanksgiving was coming and after that was our wedding anniversary too. So plenty of family time and stuff around me. I would be okay. Not like dad’s passing was a surprise out of the blue, it was just here finally.

Unfortunately what Jennifer understood was that I’d like to be… by myself. So she very dutifully gave me a lot of personal space all weekend, including shepherding the girls to friends places and she had work events on the Sunday she kept as well. This I experienced as being totally abandoned by my family.

I can’t remember much of the Friday night, or the Saturday… but I do remember that by Sunday afternoon… raking fucking leaves all by myself… that I stopped feeling upset about dad and started feeling upset squarely at Jennifer. Plus I seriously hate raking leaves. Hate it , hate it, hate it… and as the sun went down, I raked leaves into the darkness.

I can’t imagine I was pleasant to look upon when Jennifer got home with the kids, because I think she scampered fairly quickly into the kitchen to cook dinner. She knows by this point I am really off balance and is simply trying to recover the situation. Immediately cooking something is a great idea. What’s not so great however is what she cooks…

…sausages.

Whatever.

I bite into one.

There’s actually little pieces of green pepper inside the mother fucking sausage.

I do remember being sorely tempted to simply bat the entire plate across the room, but resisted it in favor of coolly getting my car keys and driving to the nearest McDonalds. I purposely left my phone at home to punish Jennifer. I know she’s going to be freaking out and don’t want to let her off the hook. Anyway I eat and about a hour later I go home and we don’t even have an argument because that would require communication skills on my part.

I’m just mentally cycling through all the times I was there for her… pregnancies, miscarriages, bad mammograms, surgery, another bad mammogram, another biopsy, the death of her grandfather… and now it was finally my turn getting something nasty happening… and Jennifer was a no show. So decided in that moment to divorce her. If you cannot act like my family, you cannot be my family. I couldn’t actually tell her though, because after I decided that I completely, totally and utterly lost it. I met the wall at 200mph.

I remember feeling at the time completely disconnected from my body, just a passenger as my body convulsed in the most appalling crying I could ever imagine. It was more like throwing up than anything else I can describe it as. Just so far beyond anything I thought myself capable of. I don’t remember really anything else of that night. Just an emotional cartwheeling that never seemed to stop.

The Monday morning I’m still hazy on too. I think Jennifer went to work for like 30 minutes to do something vital and then was back home again in full panic mode. Meanwhile the first twinges of intellect started returning to me as I simply didn’t understand why Jennifer was acting as she was acting. It all simply didn’t make any sense. Why would she ignore me all weekend? That’s not like her at all. I’ve never seen Jennifer screw someone over… why would she do that to me of all people?

There were still more leaves to rake and haul to the curb. I forget how, but somehow in that process of trying to figure out why she avoided me, her coming back home from work and immediately helping… and looking like she had accidentally run over a box of kittens… somehow it all started to come out. She had been trying to do the right thing all weekend… it was just the wrong thing. By the time she figured that all out, it was too late as I’d already flipped out on her.

We made up and went out for lunch together. Later that evening Jennifer and the girls gave me/us all a big long group hug. That’s all I really wanted and needed.

I’d love to say everything was peachy right after that, but it wasn’t. This one really hurt. It really hurt both of us too. Jennifer put sausages and green peppers on the banned substances list, then forgot her own rule a month later and burst into tears cooking dinner with green peppers. It took a while to work through and stop smarting, plus dad’s passing was much harder on both of us than either one of us suspected it would be.

This time last year everything kind of bubbled up again. I was kinda mentally off as I was raking leaves but Jennifer was around, so didn’t really get bad bad. I tried writing about all this last year and basically devolved into framing Jennifer as a cunt, so tossed it. This year, I’ve raked up most of the leaves myself and haven’t felt that cycling down into darkness. Had a little sad moment writing about dad during the post, but that’s it. I haven’t had a random tear up about losing him for a long time now.

Anyway…I know I’m meant to have some kind of wondrous point to all this, so here goes. Jennifer and I have a really good marriage, but no one is perfect. Of all the people in the world, I think we can hurt each other the most. Almost always it’s been accidental though, one of us hurt, the other horrified at what happened. It’s also not like I’ve been brooding about this for two years, it’s only when I’ve tried to write about it that I get sucked back into the emotion of the moment. If there’s a bright side to all this, Jennifer and I have such a strong relationship, that it survived this colossal wreck of miscommunication.

Jennifer: And we’ve also been reminded that we cannot, in fact, always read each other’s minds, so it’s important to have that “Did you mean…” or “Did you really want…” conversation just to be sure.

Athol: You just figure out what the problem was and correct it. You slowly build the Relationship of Tomorrow.

Comments

  1. I hate that I have to say this on my first post, especially since I just bought and read your book, but what an idiot you were. Loved the book.

    Glad that you liked the book. Dad died, things fell apart, that’s about it.

  2. Actually, I think the cock-up was more Jennifer’s than Athol’s. He was the one grieving, and it was Jennifer’s job to reach out and provide support that time of all times. She didn’t reach quite far enough, and the shortfall turned out to be grievous, though not catastrophic. Both did err in that either one of them could have closed the communicative gap, but neither did. And no, Athol was not an idiot. In the middle of massive emotional turmoil, his mind insisted on cranking out the conclusion that the notion of his wife being that malicious or callous just did not add up, as indeed it didn’t. My kudos go to both Athol and Jennifer for building a marriage that survived this incident.

  3. @Charles – basically agree, though I also under-estimated how much she was saddened by my dad passing too.

  4. “So decided in that moment to divorce her.”
    Yeah, that’s shitty.

  5. “So decided in that moment to divorce her.” Shitty luck, but not so unlucky as to cost the marriage. They got better.

  6. I have been in Jennifer’s position and it is the worst possible feeling. Several years ago my ex-wife’s father dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 60. The next day she flew home to Puerto Rico to be with her family, for the funeral (long drawn out Catholic affair) and all that other stuff. It was decided that it would be best for me to stay home. She was going to be dealing with family and funeral stuff, all in Spanish, and , she thought , I would just be in the way. So I did. When she returned home three weeks later, life was just a nightmare. She was irrational for months. One day, I could do no wrong and was the best husband ever, the next week the fact that I was still alive upset her and I was the worst human being that ever lived.
    The worst part was she never told me (or never could tell me) what she needed from me. I wasn’t supporting her, I was smothering her with attention, I wasn’t grief stricken, my parents were still alive. Nothing I did was right. It stressed our marriage beyond the breaking point. We never really recovered from that. Combine the death of her father, with infertility problems and throw in some money issues and 4 years later we were divorced.
    Watching someone you love go through that, in my opinion, is every bit as difficult as going through it yourself. The spouse has to hold the grieving spouse together as best as possible, the rest of the family together and deal with the grief themselves. There is no manual on how to do this. The only certainty is that you will fuck it up. And there is nothing you can do about it.
    So, Athol, don’t be too hard on Jennifer. She was in a no win situation and did the best she possibly could.

  7. “So, Athol, don’t be too hard on Jennifer. She was in a no win situation and did the best she possibly could.”

    I figured that out on the Monday morning. I just couldn’t tell the story until now without it derailing into feeling that moment again.

    So sorry to hear of what happened to you.

  8. Thank you Charles

  9. First of all, this post made me laugh. Not at you or your wife or the situation, but just how you tell – with a bit of a sense of humor. I can appreciate this “miscommunication” story. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship long enough to speak has probably misunderstood the words and intentions of the other. Just a side-effect of being human.

    I think some our your readers are being a bit hard on both of you.

    Thanks for sharing – I feel for your loss, but I am glad you can find some humor in it and that your relationship is still strong.

    Well if I don’t tell the occassional icky story, people complaint we’re fake. When I do tell the icky story, people complain we aren’t perfect. It’s just predictable now. It took a long time to get to be able to write about it “light-heartedly”.

  10. Sorry Athol- that sounds like such a shitty, sucky situation.

    Hadn’t thought of it until reading, but the death of my ex’s teacher, who was like an old uncle to her, shortly preceded/accelerated the breakdown of our relationship. I think it just clarified for her that we were different people not connecting anymore, and my inability to relate to this person and the impact of his death (I met him once) just drive that wedge in deeper. Coupled with the strong emotions around the loss itself, it makes sense to me that the nuclear option rises fast to the surface, and sometimes couples pull the trigger. Glad y’all worked it through.

  11. You hate sausage? I thought sausage rolls were a New Zealand delicacy proudly flaunted in the Kay household?

    Sausage rolls are vastly different to sausages. One is almost a thick but tasty meat paste surrounded by flakey pastry. The other is a revolting sausage. It’s like confusing Cheese Whiz with a White Cheese Sauce. :-)

  12. Hi Athol, Don’t think I’ve commented at all on here and if I have, it hasn’t been more than once or twice. Been reading for a good few months after buying the PDF and realising that this site is a much more reasonable middle ground between the Chateau Heartistes of the world and HUS sites…

    Anyway… I just have to say that this paragraph is so true and right on the mark for my relationship that it is damned scary when it happens:
    “Now because Jennifer and I are so much in step with each other, having a mild form of telepathy after then 16 years of marriage, when we miscommunicate it’s like a tire blowing out on a NASCAR Sprint Cup car at 200mph. It’s bad. Really really bad. The corner goes left and the car goes right. The wall comes up at you so fast and you hit it so hard. After that you’re just a passenger on a badly maintained rollercoaster.”

    It takes a bit of time to repair but it is so hurtful when that communication is misunderstood that I/we/you seem to take it super personally and hurtfully. This has happened a couple of times to us and it is a clusterf*ck of all proportions, and we question the relationship no end… I suppose it just took time to get over fully, and talking it through… Case in point my partner goes all solitary and wants to end things while I insist we talk it through (at least eventually) and both admit that is was almost purely a communication error…

    The people you love the most can hurt you the most and so on…

    As a side note I think it is also a good sign that a marriage can survive this – I think that a situation like this is inevitable between two people who love each other unless one is a complete doormat…

  13. I would like to think that The Relationship of Tomorrow, based on overt communication could work. As a male, overt communication is my go to, but women’s default is covert communication, so even if you logically explicate exactly what you mean to a woman, she will interpret your message to mean what the context of the situation communicates. I would like women to just up and adopt overt, logical communication, but its counter to their nature. Ultimately its more fruitful as a man to just become more skilled at covert, subconscious communication.

  14. MrBurgundy says:

    That must have been hard to write. But thank you. This post is timely for me, on a personal level.

  15. I think the story was told perfectly. No ones “fault”, just a massive clusterf*** of miscommunication. My FIL died in 2011, and though I loved him dearly, my grief was mostly for my husband. It pained me to see him in so much pain, and to have no way to make any of it better. It’s such a sensitive time, all other emotions feed off the intense grief.

  16. Thank you for writing this, I know it was hard. I can so related to both sides. The NASCAR reference was spot on… It really does feel like hitting a wall at 200mph when that level of miscommunication occurs.

  17. Days of Broken Arrows says:

    Can’t you get your kids to rake leaves? In the old days, the whole point of having kids was so farmers would have free labor. We need to bring that back.

  18. practicallyperfect says:

    What a great example of what a good working marriage is really like. I will be asking my daughter, who has just entered the dating market with serious intentions, to read this. It’s good to have other shining examples out there, other than just her parents. ;)

  19. Alpha_BeatSpectrum says:

    There’s actually little pieces of green pepper inside the mother fucking sausage.
    I seriously LOL’d right when I read that! It’s like one of those bad days (understatement to losing your dad) but its just that last thing that goes wrong!

    Thanks for posting, very insightful…

  20. I think the first time we experience the death of a very near and dear loved one, everyone is really in the dark as to how to react. Some cultures have very specific mourning traditions that center around the grieving relatives, but I have noticed that here in the US lots of people do not know how to react at first, and lots of times there is no standard ritual or rules of engagement with the mourners. I have a good friend mourning the loss of her mother who recently told me one of the hardest things for her is that close friends who knew her mother well will not mention her at all (it’s been a few months now). It brings her sadness when people seem to have forgotten. I think it is most likely that people are gunshy for fear of making the hurt worse, they are unsure of how to help. Like you say, what we have is a failure to communicate.
    What I take away from this story and I have also seen in a couple of real life examples is that in the face of deep grief it is always better to err on the side of being there for the grieving person too much and getting pushed away than to err on the side of not bothering them.
    It takes a very strong marriage to get through the deepest sorrows in life, thank you for sharing your hard times and your strength.

  21. Yeah, there’s no way you could possibly write this to make Jennifer look bad because it’s pretty obvious that she was trying her damnedest to be what you needed right then and that through the fog of shock and emotions you weren’t able to correct her perceptions and tell her what you really needed. I mean, you “punished” Jennifer for trying to be nice to you and failing and then you decide to punish her again by divorcing her for not being able to read your mind for a whole 48-72 hours. No wonder that destabilized your marriage for a while.

    Translation: When a husband and wife miscommunicate, it is the husband’s fault. The husband having a recently dead parent is not a pass.

  22. I have a funny reaction to shit situations. When things get as bad as they can be, when I think there is no further down to go, and then all of a sudden I find that green pepper in the bloody sausage, I react with complete and totally, helplessly insane laughter that will not stop until I’m too weak to move.

    and then I’m all better.

    I can feel just how shitty you felt, but when I got to the pepper, I lost it. Completely.

    I’m sorry you had a bad time, but I’m not sorry you told the story.

    Thanks.

    We can laugh about it now. It is funny, just hurt like crazy at the time.

  23. In my experience, grief makes reason, logic and sanity immaterial. It runs everything off the rails. It makes you see things that aren’t there, feel things that aren’t true, creates unrealistic expectations and changes your personality. It changes you and those you love. One doesn’t even begin to realize any of this until you surface days, weeks and years beyond it. If grief has a gift, it is that it makes the light seem so much brighter. In your case, the light is Jennifer.

    My condolences for the loss of your Father. I hope you and your family have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

  24. If that’s the worst thing your wife has done to you, you have a LOT to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

    It wasn’t even intentional, and definitely involves some shared responsibility. She was doing all kinds of things to go out of her way to help you. She ignored her own grief and made a special effort to do things she thought you needed.

    For me, this kind of miscommunication is VERY easy to deal with, maybe not in the moment, but definitely long-term. She’s showing her affection and caring for you–just doesn’t know how. A slight tweak of communication and you’re fine.

    The hard times are when you DO understand each other–and still totally disagree–when it involves an important, fundamental issue.

  25. ….my entire childhood was spent raking leaves…leaves with dog shit hidden inside.

  26. If you want to be Captain, truth and the reality of the situation must supersede how you feel. Doing so is not easy, and can be almost impossible at times, but not being unjust is a primary qualification of leadership.

    Allowing yourself to nurse a grudge, especially when no one was malicious or even negligent, is a serious problem. When you create confusion, it is your responsibility to say “oops”, and then to be nice.

    If you spend a day crying on her shoulder, being in great pain over loss (but not something that you can still prevent or repair) should absolve you of “irredeemable beta”, but it can never absolve you of lashing out because of something completely innocent and unintentional.

    Being Captain means being in control, especially of yourself, and especially when things go wrong. Intent is critically important, and no one can read your mind.

    The problem with miscommunication is that you believe there hasn’t been a miscommunication.

  27. So true: “The problem with miscommunication is that you believe there hasn’t been a miscommunication.”

    Isn’t this fodder for most sitcoms….eg Frasier Crane

  28. Natalie, you are a ***-******** ****. A mild mis-communication happened at maybe the worst possible time. I myself have already addressed how the blame should be apportioned, and why. Reports from the front indicate that any such blame has already been replaced by forgiveness, as well it should have been.

    Reader, it wasn’t that Athol lashed out at Jennifer, it was that they hurt each other. Thankfully, there was no malice in it, and they got better. Absolution has been granted for both of them, despite your claiming that there is no absolution for Athol.

  29. I’m really sorry to hear about your dad. That majorly sucks.

    Just a few months ago my husbands grandfather died (more like a father) and he went through a really tough grieving period. I remember several near misses on the comunication front. Almost exactly like what you’re describing. Luckily in our case each time someone managed to cross the bridge early, but I can think of half a dozen instances where we would have been in the same boat, so my heart really goes out to you guys, that’s so tough.

    To everyone here that hasn’t been through this, the most important thing I learned from all of this is BE THERE. Just be around. You don’t have to say anything, you dont have to do the right thing, but if you’re not there, people remember that. There were several people, like BigRed above, who’s spouse told them “stay home, it makes no sence for you to come, etc” and you could just taste the resentment as time went on that he didn’t come (even though she told him not to). I even know a couple who divorced bc the wife couldnt get over the fact that her husband stayed to finish his finals in school when her dad died. And I can’t tell you the number of people who said to me “thanks for being here; it really means a lot” even though i felt COMPLETELY out of place and useless. I took a week off work when his grandpa died. Everyone around me thought it was way over the top, but I tell y ou, it’s the best way I have EVER used my vacation time. Just go even if you think they don’t want you there.

  30. @Athol

    “The problem with miscommunication is that you believe there hasn’t been a miscommunication.”

    That is true. And there was a time when I might have had the same initial reaction.

    My point was that seeking the role of Captain requires accepting a higher level of responsibility, during whatever may arise.

    A purpose of this site is to show how to identify and avoid classes of problems, in this case: the more something seems out of character, the more one should question and investigate, immediately.

    What I really don’t understand is this:

    “I’ve tried to write this post about six or seven times now, but it always comes out being too angry and too blaming of Jennifer, so I’ve trashed it every time I’ve tried to write it.”

    “This time last year everything kind of bubbled up again. I was kinda mentally off as I was raking leaves but Jennifer was around, so didn’t really get bad bad. I tried writing about all this last year and basically devolved into framing Jennifer as a cunt, so tossed it.”

    Okay, I can see that in the moment you were grief stricken and overwhelmed, and unable to analyze the situation properly.

    The initial reaction, in the moment, was the little problem. The bigger problem would be if you have not dealt with whatever allowed continuing bad feelings that were completely baseless.

    @Charles

    “Reader, it wasn’t that Athol lashed out at Jennifer, it was that they hurt each other. Thankfully, there was no malice in it, and they got better. Absolution has been granted for both of them, despite your claiming that there is no absolution for Athol.”

    Jennifer did not actually hurt Athol. He misinterpreted her actions in a way that seemed hurtful to him.

    By “absolution” I meant that an action in one context does not mean the same thing as the same action in another context. A man breaking down and crying from the loss of a loved one is not the same thing as his breaking down and crying because his boss at work was mean to him.

    Absolution, in whatever way you meant, is not really applicable here. Once they both understood the true situation, everything should have canceled out immediately, but for some reason it did not.

  31. I purposefully avoiding assigning any blame when I was writing my comment. Jennifer could have double checked to make sure Athol was getting what he needed. Athol could, theoretically, have looked at Jennifer and said “Why the fuck are you avoiding me?” People could have done things differently. Big woop. That’s at least one quarter of marriage. I just don’t believe that this story reflects badly on Jennifer or that Athol should believe it reflects badly on her.

    Hi Charles! I don’t speak asterisk. Could you maybe explain what you meant by that? As I said, I wasn’t assigning blame. I merely disagree with the idea expressed in the post that this whole incident reflects badly on Jennifer. That doesn’t mean I think Athol was wrong, wrong, and damned wrong. As you said, it was a minor miscommunication that blew up badly for all concerned.

  32. That was awesome. We’ve been here/there. We’re actually just coming out of one. Experienced a lot of the same. Thank you for writing this.

  33. Reader, pain *hurts*. A giant dollop of pain hurts a lot. An accidental kick to the gonads is still a kick to the gonads. The bright part of this tale is that their goodness saved them, and saved their marriage. Specifically, Jennifer’s discipline of benevolence and Athol’s implacable reason shined through and did what goodness does. Even the grief, compounded by error, became a lens for something beautiful. I see this and rejoice, and I’m just a reader of the blog.

    Natalie, what is pitiable is that you cannot see this. Your original comment makes this clear. Despite your later back-pedaling, you blamed Athol for the incident with gusto. Jennifer did not look bad here; Athol accomplished that parameter of his mission. If he had failed to portray Jennifer’s discipline of benevolence, however, she would have looked bad. If he had failed to reckon with it, their marriage would have likely been dissolved, or else in much worse shape than it is. Athol, Jennifer, I’m sorry. I may be dredging up even more of your pain, but I cannot bring myself to let Natalie go unanswered. Not being able to see Jennifer’s admittedly minor error, and instead seeing Athol’s even more minor error as the sole cause of the incident, means not being able to see what difference her goodness made in mending all, and that is a pitiable blindness to have.

    The nasty invective behind the asterisks is my reaction to your original cheap shot. I am not dead certain that I would not be overreacting by revealing said invective, but I doubt it.

  34. Don’t worry about it Charles. Every time I write a deeply personal post about imperfect moments in our marriage, there’s always a few commentors who like jabbing the knife back in the wound and seeing if it will split open again.

    The point of the post is pretty simple. Miscommunication sucks, and even very calm rational people lose it after their close family member dies. There were a couple comments along the lines of “yup, that’s where my marrige blew apart”. Yet we didn’t.

  35. Hi Charles,

    Looking back over my comment you must be reacting to my use of the word “punish.” It’s an accurate use of the word. Athol reached a point where he was willing to take punitive action against Jennifer for a mistake she made. If my husband said he’d decided to divorce me over an honest (albeit drastically ill-timed) mistake that would certainly destabilize our marriage for a while. That’s just how the grass grows. And has grown. Obviously emotions are still running high over this.

    I never said at the time I wanted a divorce. I said I decided in that moment I wanted out. Emotions aren’t still running high about this, which I made clear in the post. Though you seem determined to make them so.

  36. Thanks for sharing, Athol and Jennifer. A post which reminds me why I love this blog.

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