The first time of two times I am genuinely angry with him it is because of his legs.
He is standing in a kitchen and we have just come in from running the kids around in the snow and now that they are upstairs, asleep, he has taken his pants off because he’s hot, he says, wandering around the kitchen in his underwear.
I want to take my own off in turn, to see if it would make him as uncomfortable as he is making me but I don’t, because there are boundaries in a friendship even if he doesn’t see them, and I want to follow them.
I’m staring at his legs and his feet and I am angry at the way I feel he is making my presence in this place a weapon, a way for him to inch closer to ending a relationship he no longer wants to be in. His reasons for this have nothing to do with me and nothing to do with her and everything to do with a woman he thinks he is still in love with whom he has already left months earlier.
I am angry at those legs, the way they walk around the kitchen unhurriedly, crossing and uncrossing, the way they lean against things, taking up space. I am angry at those legs without their pants and the man they belong to for not knowing me well enough after all these months to be able to tell that I am, in fact, angry.
In the morning, I try to pack up my stuff early enough to leave the cabin before he is awake and though it doesn’t work I can’t bring myself to tell him how unhappy I am. Months later, in a text exchange, I tell him that one of my gifts is that people I don’t know, or hardly know, like to tell me deeply personal, secret things. That I seem, even to strangers, like someone to be trusted. He tells me his is that he can charm people into forgetting all the bad things he’s done.
He’s wrong, of course. They don’t forget. He’s just been lucky that the people who care for him love him enough to forgive him, the way I had for that night months earlier.
The second time I am angry, it is harder.
The second time, my son is in the backseat of my car, crying because he wants to see the man’s children, because he misses them, because he doesn’t understand why we don’t hang out with them any longer. I am angry at those tears, at having to explain to my child something I don’t even understand myself.
“Why is it easier for you to be angry on behalf of others than yourself?” my counselor asks when I tell her the story.
“Because neither she nor my son got a say in the matter,” I tell her. “Didn’t I put myself in these situations? Didn’t I choose? It seems like the only person then that I’m really allowed to be angry with is myself. Didn’t I already learn from my marriage that you don’t change other people, only yourself and what you are willing to put up with?”
She tells me that I’m allowed to feel what I feel. She reminds me that I have to let myself experience the feelings as they are, and then work my way through them.
Control. She is reminding me that I can’t control everything, even though I want to, even though I don’t want to give up even one shred of my own agency, even if I always want to be the thing acting and not the thing acted upon, even if I don’t want to admit that other people’s actions can impact me so deeply. Even if I want to make my heart into some tiny, silent box that feels nothing, I can’t control it. It feels so much for so many things, for so many people. Even still, for him.
Mostly, I think I would tell her, I just feel bewilderment, and a sense of loss. He’s not the good guy in this story, but he’s not a villain either. He’s just human. If I could work up the energy to be angry at something, perhaps it would just be at my own legs. For not having yet learned how to make them into weapons. How to take them, and just walk away.
How to just walk away.