Where there’s smoke

Passive aggressive men don’t get angry.  At least they’ll tell you they aren’t angry.  No matter how their words, tone, and behavior show anger, they’ll say they aren’t angry.  Much smoke, but denial of anything generating it.

I know many of my posts are long, but this definitely will be.

I woke up very early to the sound of my oldest son’s calm but urgent voice telling us that the main part of the house was filled with smoke.  He’d just alerted his sisters to not open their door, but crawl out their bedroom window.

The entire main part of the house was filled with thick, acrid smoke from a big stainless steel stockpot of chicken soup, where the bottom of the heavy pot had started to actually melt away from the pot.  This was an expensive, well crafted stock pot, used frequently.  The problem is that the burner had possibly malfunctioned and had been on for hours at a red hot point.

The chicken soup is the kind we make frequently, using the carcass and bones, onions, garlic, celery, bay leaves etc. and letting it simmer for twelve hours.  It was started around 2:00 a.m. by my husband before he finally went to bed.  I was asleep in bed while he was doing this.

Why was he making soup at that hour?

Last night’s supper dishes were supposed to be done by our youngest son.  He shows passive aggressive traits much like his father (he and one other middle birth order brother), and he just kept ‘delaying’, which in effect of course, means they didn’t get done.  He was on his computer the whole time.  During the evening, I asked my husband to (calmly) just tell him he was unplugged from the internet until the dishes were done.  He apparently told our son he wasn’t going to let him use the car for awhile, but in my son’s world, this probably meant a down the road consequence that he could navigate out of later (make up for it somehow).

This means the dishes still weren’t washed, and the kitchen wasn’t cleaned up.

Last evening, we watched a movie called Gimme Shelter with the girls and our oldest son.  We all sat and talked for awhile after that. When it was over and I looked at the still messy kitchen, I asked my husband to tell our son “calmly” and “without being threatening” that he was unplugged until he did the dishes.

A couple minutes later I was heading to bed and walked by to see and hear my husband with raised voice, and this outstretched index finger extended and pointed, repeated jabbing motion at our son.

Huge trigger for me.  The whole thing on different levels, but that particular jabbing motion with the hand…

Years ago we had moved to southern CA (work related), and lived there over a decade.  During that time, I was still attending (or trying to) church.  I really liked listening to Jack Hayford because he was such a teaching kind of pastor.  I didn’t like big churches, but feeling that there was such a good teacher was motivation for the drive, the parking etc.  We didn’t get involved with many aspects of the church at the time because we lived about half hour drive from it, and I had young kids with no second car.  Still, I actually looked forward to it.

One thing that was always hugely difficult for me about attending church was if we’d been arguing or fighting, and if it was left hanging, and especially if he’d behaved cruelly or said extremely hurtful things that were never resolved or apologized for.  You probably know what I mean.  Then we’d go to church and he’d become Mr. Congeniality.  I could stomach it all except for one part of the service; I couldn’t bear to sit by him during worship.  If I’d been angry or said angry and unresolved words to him, I couldn’t even bring myself to worship.  I’d sit quietly and pray for mercy, for forgiveness, for understanding, for God to change me, for me to learn to deal with things in a way that I didn’t become so reactive and angry.  I don’t like myself when we fight.  No matter who is at fault, I feel responsible for my own feelings and words.

But when I’d see and hear him worshiping as though nothing had happened, as though he hadn’t been cold and hurtful the night before or on the drive to the service, I could hardly bear to sit next to him.  Sometimes, I couldn’t bear it, and would make an excuse to go to the restroom, or take a baby to be changed.  That particular morning was one of those times that I couldn’t sit there.  It was all so horrible between us, the anger, the hurt, the lack of love, everything that was wrong with our marriage, and his particularly hurtful behavior in the car on the way there that morning;  it seemed entirely fraudulent and disgusting to my soul to even sit in the room while people were worshiping.  That time, I whispered to him that I couldn’t bear to be part of the worship, and that I needed to step out.  I didn’t make an excuse that time, just whispered the truth.

That was a mistake.  After the service, we had to walk to another building to get our kids.  The large building used to hold services took up the length of a small block.  Although his public displays of abuse were rare, and not his usual method, they have happened.  This time he was angry and raising his voice and jabbing that index finger pointing out hand at my chest so I stepped back.

But he kept doing it, so I kept stepping backwards to avoid it.  That continued for the entire length of that block.  I could feel the eyes staring, and somewhere deep inside I wondered why no one spoke up or stopped him or said he was shamefully wrong, but no one did.  I probably unconsciously concluded that I somehow deserved it, or that I wasn’t worth running interference for, but I know it did feel like there was no help, no sanctuary anywhere.  I felt so ashamed, although now if I could go back in time, that would play out differently.   I know now there was nothing for me to feel shame about, but at the time I was mortified and ashamed.

I stopped going to church there, and took a long break from trying to attend church anywhere.  I did eventually find another church nearby that we could attend, and that I could take our kids to on Sunday morning.  We taught Sunday school there together.  Yes, the irony.

Last night when I saw that jabbing motion, it triggered me, but I was calm outwardly.  In a quiet voice, I asked him if he had a minute, that I wanted to talk to him about something.  He came and stood there still angry, and I softly asked him to talk to me in private in our room.  We went to the bedroom, and at that point I didn’t yell, but I directly asked him why… why… he was behaving in such a threatening and abusive way to our son.  I reminded him that he’s taller and much heavier, and it wasn’t possible that it didn’t feel threatening.

He said, “I didn’t mean to be!”

Mean to be?   (I asked…) Does that change something?

He repeated that he didn’t mean to be threatening a couple more times.  I started to leave the room, and he asked where I was going.  I said, “Out to the kitchen to deal with the bad energy you created.”

I went to the kitchen and saw our son just rapidly pacing in the room.  I started to hum quietly and rinse dishes.  I was definitely not okay with our son not helping when he was asked, and sharing a chore reasonably.  But I didn’t have to talk to him about it, at least not then.  I hummed and sang quietly, and thought good thoughts and tried to let light replace the pain inside of me.  I didn’t want to be angry, or afraid, or sad.  I hummed and half sang La Vie En Rose and Moon River.  Clean dishes were slowly filling the dish drain.  My son stopped pacing and disappeared.

When I was almost done, my husband came out.  He started to dry dishes that I’d washed. He asked me why I was doing dishes, and I said, “I’m doing them for me.”  (meaning I wouldn’t have to face them in the morning)  I told him (without anger) to not bother drying them, but if he wanted to wipe the counter and stove that I’d appreciate it.  I told him that I’d done ‘enough’ to make it all feel manageable, and that I’d finish in the morning.  He asked, “Why not finish them?”  I told him they were 95% done, and that I was tired.  He said he would finish them, and I said, “Please just leave them for morning?  Let’s go to bed.”

He replied with an irritable tone, “I’m doing it for me.”  I shrugged and went to bed, and went to sleep.

My husband stayed up and finished ‘whatever’ in the kitchen, and apparently decided to make soup.  As I said, it’s not unusual that we make a twelve hour soup, but it is unusual to start it at 2:00 a.m.  (One of my sons said he went to the kitchen at that time and saw his dad start the soup, and saw the burner set at a low setting.)  The burner must have malfunctioned, and the house is still stinky.  (They had to carry the couch outside to air out, and we’re having to wash or air out jackets and chairs and anything we can find to wipe down or air out.  You know it was bad when a heavy duty steel pot starts to melt at the bottom, and I’ve never experienced smoke in my home so thick that you couldn’t see into the room.)

One more integral and salient point for me regarding this story is that I’ve heard my husband complain REPEATEDLY ad nauseum about how “things have to change” so he can get more sleep.  Woe to me if in any way, shape, or form that he can blame me for keeping him up late.  Sure, you all can guess that when I’ve tested the theory that I’m entirely to blame, and gone to bed earlier than him, that somehow he often stays up anyway.  And I’m sure you all know that the nights he’s just up late working or doing ‘whatever’ … well, they just don’t count.  Nope.  It’s the same poor me song that he sings with blaming eyes.  This is usually also connected to either bad behavior of his or just being aloof and withdrawn, and if asked about it, he’ll launch into the ‘so tired and things have to change and I need more sleep’ song.

You know every time I hear this… I want to first rip out some of my own hair, and then just go batshite crazy to make him stop laundering the same excuse that completely ignores his part of it all.

This morning.  We’re all shivering on the patio, figuring out it’s the burner, and making sure all people are accounted for, safe, and that all animals are in a smoke free (relatively) area of the house etc.  I am barely awake and trying to process what in the heck happened, when I hear that it was because he started soup at 2:00 a.m.

I confess that I immediately suspected and assumed that he’d done something bogus like leave the burner on high or forget to fill it to the brim with water.  I started to say something to him, and the son who was out in the kitchen after I went to bed, stopped me and said that I was wrong to blame him for this.

Okay.  I’m processing that, and yet I’m still full of frustration that he stayed up and was cooking at 2:00 a.m.  I’m frustrated and upset because he’d behaved inappropriately to our son, and triggered me also.  I’m upset that his coming out to ‘help’ really had nothing to do with helping me or caring about me.  I think it was much more about ruffling his inner image of himself, and he was trying to ‘undo’ it, and stroke his image while getting to also feel like a victim.

I spoke to him privately, and apologized for making the assumption and blaming him when it was a burner.  I was going to leave it at that, but then he said, “I feel so bad for starting that last night.  I just couldn’t sleep after I heard you clattering around out there.”

I stared at him.  He kept going on with that and repeated, “I was tired and ready to sleep, but you were clattering around and I couldn’t rest.”

I looked him in the eye, and repeated, “I was clattering out there…”

“Yes, you were clattering around, and you know how it is when something disturbs you, and then you’re wide awake, and can’t get back to sleep. And that’s good because I was feeling bad about ‘son’ and I felt bad about you and wanted to try to help.”

I said, “I see.   I don’t believe you.  You were angry last night.”

He retorted, “I wasn’t angry!  I felt bad and I was concerned about you!”

I said, “You were definitely angry last night for whatever reasons. Your behavior didn’t demonstrate concern for me or our son.  Your behavior showed anger.”

He said, “I was not angry!”

I replied,  “You used the expression clattering a few times, which let me know that you felt victimized by my ‘clattering’ and that you blame me for disturbing your ability to rest.  How about your behavior towards our son, and how you triggered me to boot?  How did that play into it? How did you disturb our ability to rest? You didn’t show one shred of compassion or concern about that last night.  Not one bit.  Not a bit of remorse from a man who once jabbed at me and  walked me backwards for a block, yelling at me in front of people.  Last when I didn’t respond in anger, when I didn’t argue with you about it, you came out to help?  I told you I was tired, and asked you to come to bed.  You weren’t out there for me or our son.  That was ALL about you.”

His eyes slightly widened, blinked, and he seemed to look for a way to refute that, but couldn’t.  He momentarily agreed with me, but I feel fairly sure he’ll revise that later at some point.

Some bright points of gratitude about all this.  One of my daughters thrice expressed there was much to be grateful for, and that it could have been much worse.  My oldest son displayed what you’d expect from a Marine Sgt.  (Calm, routine behavior to secure safety for all others, and deal with it all.)  Our youngest son made us all laugh a few times with jokes about it, and even put on his sunglasses in the early light of dawn, making us all laugh again.  Considering there was drama, there was very little drama.  I’m going to remind myself all day to be thankful that no one was hurt.


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11 Responses to Where there’s smoke

  1. marsocmom says:

    I think you did exactly the right thing, PJs. You stayed calm, and you didn’t shrink away from confronting him about his behavior. I hope someday I won’t shrink back anymore either. I really hope he won’t come back later with a good way to rationalize all the blame away from himself, though he probably will. And I am so glad you are all okay! Who puts something on to cook and then leaves it? That is just common sense! Anything can and does happen. You are not to blame. Kids are kids, and there is a right and wrong way to teach them–there is a good reason moms are usually in charge of that… You go, girl.


    • WritesinPJ's says:

      Honestly, when we’ve made a twelve hour bone broth soup, or a forty-eight hour beef bone broth soup, it has sometimes involved a lower overnight simmer. This means the huge stockpot if full to the top of water, and on the lowest setting for the burner.

      My contention was that no one is at the top of their game cooking at 2:00 a.m. That’s why I first assumed he made some kind of mistake, especially considering that he was in a snit.

      Kids will be kids…lol, but who thought we’d end up married to one?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I”m glad you’re safe. That must have been so scary!
    My husband claims to never feel angry. But it’s obvious that he does get angry sometimes, and that’s fine: except for the fact that he won’t own it. He seems to think that only “bad” people feel angry. I’m fine with anger, if it’s expressed safely.


    • WritesinPJ's says:

      A few minutes ago, he let me know that he does feel emotions, just not what I think he’s feeling.
      Apparently his emotions forget to tell his behavior what they’re supposed to be reflecting.

      I agree with you about anger. I think anger is amoral in general, but growing up calls us to challenge not only the ‘why’ but the ‘how’ of expression.

      For some reason, I wasn’t as scared as I would have thought I’d be. Partly because when my son woke us, I immediately had a sense that everyone was okay. My gut didn’t set off any alarms. (ha, or it was still asleep)


    • Exodus says:

      Married, you nailed it with your post about PA anger.

      Children who grow up in families where everyone is allowed to express their thoughts and feelings do no develop PA behaviors since there was never any reason to. My husband has never once claimed to be angry at anyone or anything because he was taught by his patriarchal abusive father that expressing your feelings is a form of disobedience and ‘ talking back’ which makes for a bad boy that G-d will punish.. Anytime my husband did speak out, he was beaten and shamed and forced to repress his anger in those moments.

      To this very day my husband will suddenly make a fist and hold it with his other hand in the same way that a little boy does. It’s not aggressive or mean or ugly. It’s hard to describe but to me it reminds me of a very frustrated little boy that balls his fist up when he’s trying to figure something out. I know that when he does that , that something is triggering those painful emotions. He even holds it up close to his mouth and looks down at it. It’s like a separate part of him..the part that contains all of his balled-up anger.

      Another thing I’ve noticed about my husband is that he always describes other people as nice. He’s even afraid to say anything negative about anyone else and actually act like he means it. I’ve heard him start to complain about how someone was rude or didn’t handle business well with him but, then he’ll say, ‘ but, that’s ok, they’re nice. I mean, he did screw up but he’s nice’. He places way too much emphasis on the word nice even though I tell him that being nice doesn’t really matter because even the most evil person can be nice.


  3. seriously says:

    Just glad everyone is safe in your house, can’t imagine my thoughts if I had woken up like that!! Funny how people react to situation such as these and you stayed calm and collected even with the pa around. Of course he won’t own up to his mistake, deuh… what purpose would that serve. And kids will be kids, mine do that too, they shirk their responsabilities especially when no one is watching or if someone gets upset (the pah) and decides to be a martyr and do the dishes… please. Wouldn’t it be more simple to go see the child and tell them they cannot do (in our cases) gaming until they are done their chores? well no, it’s easier to rant and rave and do them himself.


    • WritesinPJ's says:

      Nope, he doesn’t seem to connect the dots for ownership to this fiasco.
      I’m very thankful that it wasn’t much worse. It could have been. It still smells terrible today, so we’re still trying to wipe down and air out.


    • lonelywife07 says:

      Seriously…PA Man does that…if the boys don’t do their chores, he’ll do them, complaining the whole time!
      I tell him to go get them and tell them to do it, but he doesn’t…Instead he grumbles under his breath and sighs heavily….oh well…It’s his choice!


  4. lonelywife07 says:

    Wow…what a “wake up”call! Glad y’all are all fine!
    And I can just see it now, your PA Man was fixing soup because HE was going to be self sacrificing…you’d get up the next morning and it would be sitting there….and you’d hear about it for the next few days, how HE stayed up to do this, while YOU slept! LOL! Been there, done that!
    I wonder how he feels now…knowing he could’ve burnt the house down!
    PJs….I wanted to ask…How does your Marine Sgt son deal with all of this? Does he realize his dad is PA and call him out on it? Or does he stay silent?
    My second oldest son now tells his dad that he’s being PA and he needs to stop….or he’ll say “Whatever dad” and walk away….I’ve told him he’s over 21….he doesn’t need to put up with his dads behavior!
    None of my boys respect him…but PA Man doesn’t seem concerned about that at all….so why should I be?


    • WritesinPJ's says:

      don’t think he particularly holds himself responsible at all. Not that I can tell. I don’t know if he was trying to be a martyr, but usually this is what he does to ‘undo’ his bad behavior and feel good about himself. Lol, maybe you’re right about the martyr thing though.

      Our oldest son is one of the least judgmental people on the planet. He’s strong and quiet. Before he left home years ago, he struggled and hurt privately, then went off to find his way. He doesn’t get involved unless asked or feels it’s called for, he doesn’t judge, but he doesn’t shirk from direct response if he feels it’s appropriate. He’s a reason to know there are good men out there. He’s the bravest man I’ve ever known, and I respect him so much.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lonelywife07 says:

        Wow….your description of your son brings tears to my eyes. I hope and pray my boys turn out ok….Son #1 seems to be doing great, according to my DIL 🙂 I’m hoping and praying the other 3 turn out well adjusted….is that possible when there’s so much dysfunction in our home?? :/


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