Continuing the story. This part will be a little grim (though not as depressing as the final part will be). I’m trying to get this story done with, because when I choose to do something, I commit to it, so the last parts won’t be too far from now.
In the previous part, I skipped over some of what happened involving Brooke’s family, and focused on how things were between Brooke and I when it was just the two of us. Now, I will focus on our interactions with her family.
Part 3: Overwhelmed
From the get-go, Brooke painted a very negative image of her entire family. There were three branches of her family – her bio-father’s family, her bio-mother’s family, and the stepfamily her mother married into. The stepfamily were the ones Brooke talked about most, because they were the ones who raised her. Even as an adult, and probably still to this day, she spent/spends far more time around the stepfamily than the other branches.
In part one, in the text conversation I showed, the family she was speaking so negatively about was her stepfamily. Well, it was mainly the household she mainly grew up in – consisting of her mother, stepfather, and 3 half-siblings. Frankly, I’m still not sure what “being treated like a slave” means, but it’s obviously nothing good. Brooke didn’t just move out of that house when she became an adult, she fled that house. This is further proved by the fact Brooke told me herself just a few months ago (before I wrote this post) that the only time in her life that she was happy was when she moved out of that house to live with Dylan. (And I recorded that conversation, in case she ever denies having said that.)
During our entire relationship, I never knew what to do. Honestly, it’s only while writing this multiple-part series that I’m realizing this in hindsight. Only now do I understand why I was so overwhelmed. I explained only a portion of the reason for this in the previous 2 parts. What was the rest of the reason? Brooke’s stepfamily (her main family). I couldn’t meet their own standards, I couldn’t even understand exactly what they expected of me in the first place, I never liked them anyway, and worst of all, I always felt the need to protect Brooke from her own family (which I will certainly delve into in a bit). So, combine those feelings with the feelings of … not knowing how to start a business with minimal risk that was guaranteed to make us financially prosperous, not knowing how to meet my own standards for myself as a person, and not feeling I deserved Brooke in the first place.
In hindsight, it amazes me that I kept calm the entire time. I had no choice but to keep calm, because I’m a man. I don’t care if this is an unpopular opinion in the 21st Century: Men are obligated to keep it together on the outside, even if they are overwhelmed on the inside. We have to be strong for our loved ones. I believed that even back during my marriage when I held liberal beliefs.
From the start – the very start – of our relationship, I felt the need to protect Brooke from those closest to her. That fact alone greatly disturbed me, as in: Why should I have to protect my girl from the people she’s closest to?? Remember that text conversation from part 1. And that certainly wasn’t the only time Brooke talked about those people with me. Before I even met these people, the things I was told made me feel obligated to be on guard. I met Brooke’s family for the first time maybe a week-ish into dating her. Despite everything she told me, I kept to my principles, and I told myself to give them a fair chance and form my own opinions about them from my own observations. When Brooke brought me to meet them, it was on their farm – the farm that every single one of them works at to varying degrees.
When Brooke introduced me, she called me “a friend.” Of course, a long time later, Brooke’s mother would tell me that nobody believed her for one second when she called me a friend. But on that day, meeting these people for the first time, I most certainly got a bad vibe. Certainly not with the younger generation (and still to this day, I haven’t had a problem with any of them). It was just the adults that made me feel uneasy. Not uncomfortable, they didn’t scare me or something, just uneasy. I don’t remember if that was the day I met Jeff, Brooke’s stepfather, but whenever it was that I met him, I certainly didn’t like him at all.
It was September 19th that Brooke finally admitted to her relatives that she was dating me. She confirmed it via Facebook relationship status. The only reason I’m certain it was September 19th is because that day was my most-viewed day for my blog for several years. (It isn’t anymore, but it was for a long time.) As soon as everyone knew she and I were together, my blog (this very blog) got flooded with views. That was their easy way of getting to know me without ever having to actually talk to me. None of the posts I had at the time are still on this blog, I deleted them shortly after Brooke and I separated. The posts that got the most views, by far, where the few in which I talked about how much I loved Brooke.
The first time I felt I had to actually protect Brooke from someone close to her, was with her best friend. For the sake of this post, I’ll just refer to Brooke’s best friend as Shae (like Shae from Game of Thrones). If I remember correctly, Brooke told Shae about us dating before Brooke told the world through Facebook. In fact, Shae had contacted me before Brooke even moved in with me, just to make sure I wasn’t a creep. Brooke gave Shae my number, and she tested me by making a reference to Mean Girls. I don’t remember what Shae asked me exactly, but whatever it was, it made Shae feel better when I told her that I absolutely love Mean Girls and can quote pretty much the entire movie. So, why did Shae freak out when Brooke and I started dating? Because our dating meant that Brooke wouldn’t be moving back to her hometown anytime soon. Shae was angry that Brooke didn’t seek her approval before dating me. Shae was angry that Brooke didn’t seek her approval with Dylan, either (when Brooke first moved away from her hometown).
At least, that’s how Brooke explained it to me, and that’s how I interpreted Shae’s texts to Brooke.
Shae was the first instance of when I felt the need and the urge to protect Brooke. Since I already had Shae’s number, I decided to intervene, before Shae continued to harass Brooke and drive her to tears. I texted Shae saying something to the effect of, “You’re being a shit best friend right now. Back off! Brooke is free to make her own choices. She never needed your permission for anything!”
The second time I felt the need to protect Brooke from yet another person she was close to was about three weeks before our wedding, with her cousin Sally. Back then, Brooke liked to visit Sally somewhat regularly. We’d been over to Sally’s place once or twice before the incident I’m about to describe. So, about three weeks before our wedding, we went over to Sally’s place. At some point, Sally asks Brooke if she’ll have Jeff (the stepfather) walk her down the aisle. Brooke admits she doesn’t want him to, and that’s when Sally loses her shit. She didn’t just start harassing Brooke, she raised her voice at Brooke as well, and even tried verbally coming after me, but then stopped once she saw I have thick skin and it wouldn’t affect me.
When she harassed Brooke, she tried guilting her by reminding Brooke that it was Jeff who gave her a car when she moved away from home. (A filthy, worn-down car that was hardly worth any money.) Sally said other things to guilt Brooke as well, but I don’t remember the rest. I only remember the ‘car’ comment because I found it so remarkably asinine. When Sally tried yelling at me, the most she could do was mock the fact that I had changed my name from Zak to Michael… She brought up how, supposedly, the last time I had been at the house, I’d held up the empty Pepsi can I was drinking toward Brooke as if to signal that I was ordering her to dispose of it for me. I still to this day have absolutely no memory of this, and it certainly doesn’t sound like something I’d do. I’ve never been the type to signal to people that they have to do something for me like a servant… But Sally tried to use that against me, and I countered by saying it sounded like a bullshit story. All in all, though, Sally was hysterical that Brooke didn’t want Jeff to walk her down the aisle at our wedding, even though everybody, including Sally herself, knew full-well what kind of stepfather Jeff was toward Brooke.
Just like Shae, Sally didn’t care what Brooke felt or wanted, and drove Brooke to tears to make her do as she wanted. When Brooke started breaking down, I held her, and I said we should go. On the outside, I was calm as always, but on the inside, I was getting livid. If Sally had only gone after me, it wouldn’t have affected me at all (I might have even found that funny). No, I was starting to lose my cool because she was harassing someone I loved, in front of me, over something so stupid, and she just wouldn’t stop even after I physically shielded Brooke from Sally. Fortunately, Sally’s husband Brian came in, and asked Sally to leave, before then asking me to step outside while he talked to Brooke about why Sally was so hysterical.
That night, after we got home, I wrote a strongly-worded letter to Sally explaining why harassing Brooke was unacceptable and unjustifiable. I asked Brooke for permission to give it to Sally the next time I see her. Brooke read the message, and I saw her start to tear up as she read it. After finishing, Brooke looked at me and very softly said, “I don’t want anyone to read this.” And I always found Brooke’s choice of words in that moment to be very … odd. There wasn’t anything awful in it, only some comments on why it was shitty for Sally to harass Brooke at all.
But, I obeyed Brooke nonetheless. She said she didn’t want me to give Sally that letter, and so I didn’t.
This is how our marriage began, in essence. Very few people in Brooke’s circles were encouraging or happy for Brooke, they were only hostile. If someone wasn’t outwardly hostile, they were passive-aggressive about it. Human beings always look for a reason to be in conflict, and they always find it. Brooke and I hadn’t even gotten married yet, and I already saw firsthand the kind of people she had to call family. Not to mention, I saw the kind of person she called her best friend… No one in the ‘farm family’ (as I will call them for this post) is mature, nobody is intelligent or wise, and they all seem to hate each other. So, even before Brooke and I tied the knot, my view of these people was already beyond an impression, it was solid fact. I now agreed with Brooke when she said she had to escape from them, and when she said they treated her like a slave.
Shortly before the wedding, my best friend Mitch wanted to hold a “bachelor party” for me. Since he’s a Christian, and I’ve never liked the idea of actual, full-on bachelor parties …, all we ended up doing was playing laser tag for a night. When I got back home, I texted Brooke asking her to come to the front door so that she could meet him, and that’s when they met. Mitch then told me he approves of her. And in hindsight, I’ve come to realize that everybody on my side was positive and encouraging about me marrying Brooke, while nobody on Brooke’s side was positive or encouraging.
I got true support from my side, she got anger and guilt from her side. And Brooke still wonders, to this day, why I wasn’t a fan of most of the people she’s close to… Not to mention they hated Dylan for no reason at all.
I wanted a small wedding. Brooke said she wanted a small one too, but that ended up not being the case when she invited all of her friends and all of her relatives. Since that was what she wanted, I didn’t speak against it. A long time later, Brooke would admit that she wasn’t honest about wanting a small wedding. So, she lied about that, but I don’t hold that against her because I understand why. She wanted me to be happy. She made that sacrifice. It still makes me sad that she made that sacrifice, because I wanted her to have the wedding she wanted as well. She just … didn’t put her true feelings out there.
Brooke wanted her grandpa Walt to walk her down the aisle. She didn’t want Jeff. But since her stepfamily was going to explode if she replaced Jeff (like Sally already had), she decided to walk down the aisle alone instead.
We didn’t have a honeymoon… The main reason was because the wedding came so soon after the engagement, which in itself was so soon after Brooke and I started dating. There is also the fact that life got pretty difficult for us after our wedding. We needed to start finding a new place to live only a month after our wedding, we had both already quit the job we met each other at.
Now that I look back at this time in my life, I realize I was still depressed, just for different reasons than before. I was depressed with everything I was overwhelmed by. I already went through it, but I’ll list those things again: I was overwhelmed by not knowing how to secure the best future for Brooke and I, not knowing how to best serve my wife in general, not feeling I deserved Brooke in the first place, not liking Brooke’s stepfamily at all, and feeling the need to protect her from all the shitty abusive people she was close to.
Truth is, I never figured out how to juggle all of these things.
For 4 months, I was unemployed, and I had spent that time finishing my second novel. I thought having the sequel out would make the sales of both novels go up. I wrote a short non-fiction as well, and that one actually had about one sale per day, but that still wasn’t enough to call it an income.
Then, even after I found a job, I was mentally no better off than before. Brooke’s aunt Michelle and uncle Paul were starting a new division for their small business, driving non-emergency medical, and since they needed reliable employees to get it going, I signed up. I didn’t like Michelle, and I was still a little iffy on Paul, but they were family, and so I felt morally obligated to help them out. Sure enough, I actually ended up enjoying the job, despite the fact Michelle was my boss. But like I said, even though I was working, I was still overwhelmed and still not able to be the husband I wanted to be.
I tried getting my business started. I got the company incorporated (so yes, it was a real company that really existed, for a short while), I rented servers, I constructed a website, I poured money into advertising, I made a logo …, and most importantly, I worked hard every day trying to make products for the company to sell. What was the company’s purpose? Selling art and providing artistic services. Selling my books was meant to be the start, as well as photography provided by Brooke and myself.
I never have blamed Brooke for the company failing, because 70% of startups fail regardless… The fact still remains, though, that Brooke was very minimally helpful. She rarely helped, she rarely even talked about contributing. There was one day when she mentioned that her boss asked her to draw a portrait of his family, and Brooke said something to the effect of, “We can have this made in the company’s name,” or something like that. But that’s really the only instance I can remember of Brooke caring about what I was trying to do at all.
Honestly, I never wanted or expected her to do any heavy lifting for the company. She was my wife, I wanted to be the one who stressed about those things. But what I needed – what all men need – was for my partner to simply help make my life less difficult. Relationships aren’t a one-way street, everybody has a job to do. Brooke didn’t do much of anything in our relationship for the both of us – not cooking, not cleaning, not asking how she can help with something. I very often failed to focus on her as well. I was too focused on this business. And when I wasn’t working on the business, I was either at work, or sleeping, or seeking stress relief through video games or something.
In part 1, I said that our relationship failed because we were both immature. This is what I mean. Maturity when it comes to one’s self is about having composure and being rational, but there was immaturity when it came to us as a couple. Brooke and I were both so consumed with the stresses of life, from financial issues to family issues (and there were always a lot of family issues), that we very often failed to just focus on each other. That’s why I spent all of part 2 talking about how things were when it was just the two of us. When we focused on just the two of us, whether it was for a moment or for a whole day, it was like paradise. But we failed to do that nearly often enough. Sure, we lived together, and sure we slept in the same bed, but our minds were always all over the place.
I eventually realized this, too, during our marriage. This isn’t all just hindsight; even during our marriage I knew we didn’t put enough time into each other. And that’s the main reason why when, toward the end of 2017, when Michelle approached Brooke and offered to have us live with them, I insisted we accept. Brooke was against it, but I very much insisted we accept. I thought some financial relief would help tremendously.
When we moved in with Michelle and Paul, that certainly did help us stress-wise, but we were about to get hit with an additional stress load. Of course, I’m referring to our beautiful baby girl.