Updated: Apr 26, 2022
There are certain situations where I find myself overly stressed. For example, while checking out my groceries at the grocery store, I feel compelled to throw everything together as quickly as possible, tossing all my articles into the bag like I'm lobbing a grenade. I can feel the person behind me rolling their eyes and tapping their foot as though to say, "Come on, will ya? What's taking so long?" By the time I get home, the bread is flattened beneath the orange juice container, and my rice noodles have been reduced to crumbs.
"Just let them wait," Kevin tells me as he separates the broken eggs from the few that are still intact, but I'm too eager to please, a trait that gets me into more trouble than I care to admit.
In my earlier life, I would frequently go along with things I knew to be wrong, just to show what a good sport I was. Take, for example, the hang-gliding trip to Oregon I agreed to a month prior to my first wedding.
"It's the sand dunes," my fiancé argued, "What could possibly go wrong flying over sand?"
In theory, it did sound sort of Lawrence of Arabia-ish. Catching the swells off the ocean and sailing over soft, sweeping dunes. We arrived early on a Saturday morning and were greeted by a relatively large contingency of hipsters giving each other high fives and chest pumping. I didn't see another female in sight, although, in theory, girlfriends were present.
"Oh, yeah, Opal is getting me a venti caramel ribbon crunch frappuccino. Flying high!!!!"
I was there for moral support, which in practical terms meant helping to drag the glider up to the top of the hill.
"It's really windy," I shouted at the top of my lungs.
"Awesome," Andy said, and off he went, up, up, over and then very abruptly down.
"I broke my arm," was all I heard as I approached him.
Only a few weeks earlier, I had been rushed to the hospital after an unfortunate scuba-diving accident where I dropped the oxygen tank on my foot. No question about it, our wedding (if, in fact, we made it) was going to be all about camouflaging casts.
I don't consider myself to be especially superstitious. Still, as our nuptials approached, it occurred to me that the only person looking forward to it was my father, who, generally speaking, was always pretty positive about everything.
"Dad," I would say, "I got a D in math." And his response would be, "D is better than an F. Congratulations."
My soon-to-be in-laws were considerably less enthusiastic. I wasn't German, like his mother, or Egyptian, like his Father, and displayed no domestic talents whatsoever. My being an actress didn't help. It was not a profession either parent had much respect for. "You vill give that up vunce you're married, ya." Andy's mother mentioned to me one afternoon. It wasn't a question. It was more of a statement of fact. Stress! I wanted her to like me, but how could I lie about something so important?
"Ah…well…I wasn't planning on it."
"Lezlie," she said with all seriousness, "ve half to have a talk."
I'm not exactly sure what his family thought being an actor meant, but I can guess that it included salaciousness in some form or other. As though "actor" or "actress" was code for a woman of ill repute. It probably didn't help that at the same time, I had appeared on two television episodes of this really awful improvisational show called Dr. Dave Duttle. Dr. Dave was a therapist who specialized in couples counselling. On Dr. Dave, I was required to play a femme fatal resolved in destroying the relationship of my ex-boyfriend and his girlfriend. My back story included stalking and, if I remember correctly, an incident where I slashed her tire. I sat in an overstuffed love seat, saying things like, "You will never be able to please him like I can." And "Did he tell you that he drops by every now and then to complain about you?" I thought the whole thing was utterly ridiculous until I was withdrawing money from my bank one day, and the teller whispered to me, "Why do you have to be such a bitch?"
"Excuse me?" I said.
"You heard me. Leave poor Suzette alone."
Oh, no," I said, "It's not real. It's improvisational."
"That's no excuse." She barked at me, then told her supervisor she needed to take a break.
"Does your mother ever watch daytime television?" I asked Andy one day.
"She couldn't possibly believe that Dr. Dave stuff, could she?"
"The therapist?" He said. "Wait a minute. That's fake?"
"They hate me." I cried to my girlfriend, Eva, back in Toronto.
"I'm sure that isn't true," she said.
"Oh yeah, only four people showed up to my wedding shower…and none of them brought a gift."
"You know," she volunteered, "It's not too late to cancel."
I quickly thought about the pros and cons. I was in a pickle. Andy's parents would be thrilled, but my father would be crushed. Not to mention the fact that he'd already forked over more money than I'd ever seen him spend in my life.
"I think it is," I replied.
After the wedding, we cashed in our honeymoon trip to Hawaii for a new life in Toronto, where we planned to make a fresh start of things. We packed two cars with all our belongings and drove in tandem across Canada in December, using walkie-talkies to communicate. Somewhere around Saskatchewan, my car broke down, the dog got sick, and someone stole the table strapped to the roof of Andy's car. We crawled into Ontario around Christmas time, camping at my Grandfather's house, licking our wounds and facing a future of unemployment and student debt. While there, my stepmother took it upon herself to announce that she wanted me to pay my father back for all the wedding expenses.
"You can set up a payment plan starting next month," she demanded.
"Half the guest list were her abominable children and their less than stellar spouses," I complained to my dad.
"Don't worry about it," he said.
I sent him money for three years, which he secretly sent back. Maybe I needed a better example of a good marriage.
I was thinking about all of this as we flew back to Vancouver for our first peace accord since the wedding.
"Relax," Andy said, "Just be yourself."
But being myself had gotten me nowhere. Instead, I thought, I needed to be someone else. Someone his family approved of, like Wiltrude, the blond, blue-eyed Arian prototype who dated Andy before me. There was no competing with Wiltrude. It was like comparing yourself to Wonder Woman, and since she still corresponded with his mother and sister, there was no getting away from it. "If only she vould come back for a visit," his mother would say, the subtext being that surely then Andy would see, by sheer comparison, the error of his ways.
"Andy," his sister would say, "I just got a letter from Wiltrude. She's just gone up the Nile on a Felucca." Or "Andy, I just heard from Wiltrude; she's been swimming with sharks." or "Andy, I just found out that Wiltrude scaled Everest in a tank top." There were pictures of her too, in photo albums and on the mantle as though to say: Yes, there she is. The woman he should have married. The one that got away.
"Just be conscientious," Andy suggested. "Offer to do things."
"Can I help with the dishes?" I'd ask.
"Can I help set the table?"
"Can I ---
"Why aren't you helping?" Andy would ask. Definitely, one of those rock and hard places situations because, as anyone will tell you, no matter what abuse is hurled at you, never ever complain about the in-laws until at least 10 to 15 years in.
Nothing was ever said, but it was clear from all the eye-rolling and gesticulations that I was the source of much displeasure. The way his family carried on, you'd think I was some Bohemian opium addict picking flowers out of the neighbour's gardens and eating birdseed from their feeders. Something that would have resulted in adoration and applause if Wiltrude did it.
Andy's sister was particularly hostile towards me. Most of her conversations began something like: "Is that what you're wearing? Is that what you're reading? Is that where you're living?" Basically, working full-time manipulating me into thinking I was a loser of the first degree. She lived in an apartment on the ground floor of his parent's home with her husband, whom she enjoyed scaring to death. Every day when he'd return from work, she'd pounce on him from some remote hiding place behind the sofa, inside a closet, or under the bed. Sometimes she'd park the car down the street just to really catch him unawares. It got so bad the guy would enter the house like a poor Vietnamese farmer crossing a minefield.
"What's that all about?" I asked Andy one day when we were just starting to date.
"I think she's trying to give him a heart attack," he said half-jokingly.
"She doesn't like him?"
"She doesn't like me," I said
"Watch out," he joked, but I wasn't laughing.
After a ten-day cease-fire, it was time to return to Toronto. That morning everyone was especially pleasant. As re-runs of Dr. Dave played in the background on the television, my in-laws prepared breakfast.
"More smoked salmon?" his sister asked, piling lox onto a bagel and pouring me a hot cup of coffee. And even though I wasn't hungry, I thought to myself, I'll be a good sport. Eager to please, I said "YES" to every bit of food put in front of me. And they all seemed so happy to watch me eat.
"That was so nice of your sister," I said on our way to the airport. "An olive branch of sorts."
And we both smiled serenely as we boarded our plane.
We were one hour into our five-hour flight back to Toronto when I had that panicky, sweat-induced feeling that comes when you know you're going to be sick. It's probably safe to say that there are no ideal situations for throwing up, but being stuck on a plane is undoubtedly one of the worse. It caught me entirely by surprise. Earlier, I'd ordered a meal, and as luck would have it, the attendant delivered it to my tray table just as this feeling of nausea hit me. It didn't cause me to be sick, but the smell of steamed plastic and thawed chicken didn't help.
I leapt from my aisle seat and made a dash for the washroom, which was, luckily, vacant. Once there, I hugged the toilet bowl for a good five minutes as irritated passengers banged on the door. Believe me, if I'd had the option to parachute out of that plane, I would have gladly taken it.
When I returned to my seat, Andy glanced at me, now looking like a wet Udon noodle cooked in cabbage water and said, "Feeling any better?"
I shook my head.
"Well, if you aren't going to eat this, do you mind?" he asked, already pulling my meal towards him.
Over the course of the next four hours, I was sick so many times the flight attendants finally moved me to first class, where I had a commode all to myself.
"I don't understand it," he said as I rushed from baggage claim to the nearest washroom, "I'm not sick, and we both ate exactly the same thing before we left."
Yes, I thought to myself, but mine was prepared, especially by his sister.
Many years after my marriage had disintegrated, I was viewing the movie 'Wedding Crashers.' As I watched Bradley Cooper's character relentlessly retching after being poisoned with tetrahydrozoline, I had this peculiar feeling of déjà vu. No, I thought to myself, she wouldn't. Don't be ridiculous! Absolutely not. But the idea just kept jumping out at me in that mischievous way that some people do when hiding behind sofas, in closets or underneath beds.