I’m looking at yet another piece of paper of the many that have me “accepting the Eraser”. Verbatim, from the application of a very prestigious and sought-after private swim and recreation club:
“I accept responsibility for the behaviour of my spouse and will ensure that she will at all times while in the Trust premises conduct herself in a proper and fitting manner”.
Sigh. Ouch. Barf. WTF???! All of these cycle through my mind in rapid succession, and then I feel that painful sensation again. The rub. Over my skin, into my soul. Erasing me. But the club is convenient, it is near the Diplokids’ school, it is lovely, and it is something my family desperately wants. So I inhale and accept the Eraser.
Three days ago, I attended the Consulate Hail and Farewell, an informal gathering of folks where we say goodbye to those leaving soon and hello to those who just came. We’re on the list of folks to hail, and I hold my breath as the CG calls out our names, and then I inwardly cringe as the Eraser rakes over my soul again. He’s used my husband’s name for me; not mine. To be fair, I have a double name. Like Jada Pinkett Smith, except I did it years before she did, so I’m cooler. But every single document I own, every single email I sent to post is signed with my real name, and I always introduce myself with the full version. It stings even a bit more because the CG’s wife didn’t change her name, and everyone refers to her correctly. It may seem petty, but sometimes, my name feels like it is the last shred of what I have, what is me. Walking through the room the remainder of the evening, I actually wonder, “Is there a strip of nothingness in the middle of my arm where the Eraser hit? Or am I missing part of my hair or an ear? Is the work of the Eraser even visible?”
I get home and open up my email, and notice that the CLO is using the wrong name too. G DiploDadsLastName. In an email that goes out to the entire Consulate. Sigh. Rub, rub. Ouch.
So many things about this life are great. But the Eraser can be overwhelming. And hit so many parts of life that most other people take for granted – freedom to choose, freedom concerning where I may go, freedom to express yourself.
A sampling of conversations over the years:
“I can’t give birth here?”
“No, you can’t.”
“Angelina Jolie gave birth in Africa.”
“Angelina Jolie wasn’t under Chief of Mission Authority.”
“You are not permitted to go to X nightclub, under any circumstances”.
“You don’t need to know the answer to that question.”
“They won’t give me a regular business visa because?”
“Because of your husband.”
All of these conversations assume that I cannot make decisions for myself, that I am too stupid to accept the truth, or that I am in no way, shape or form a responsible adult. The control over my life is astounding sometimes, and the reasons are sometimes compelling, but many times they are petty. Sometimes I can’t even get a simple household repair done without going through my husband, and it’s exhausting. Occasionally, even when there is no practical reason to ignore me, a member of Mission will do so, just because he or she can, and I have to suck it up and get DiploDad involved, even if it’s something I am perfectly capable of handling. Some people take delight in being jerks, I’ve learned over the years. Yeah, let’s put that bitchy EFM in her place. She should just accept that her A/C in her bedroom won’t work the entire tour. In Africa.
There are things that I am ultimately responsible for dealing with, but that he has to initiate, or to fill out a form, or similar because the system is set up around him. Even when I was raking in four times his salary and handing billion-dollar deals, the Eraser assumed I was less of a person than DiploDad. And treated me as such.
My husband doesn’t really understand it, and sometimes we argue about it. I can’t count the number of times a heated conversation has ended with “Because that’s just the way it is!” I seethe whenever he says this, but I let it go. Of course if he has a momentary lapse of reason and adds on “Discussion over!” I am then compelled to do something incredibly immature in retaliation such as replace his regular coffee with decaf the next morning.
I’ve given a lot up for my marriage. Happily ever after comes at a price, you know. But I never expected that it would be as raw for me as it sometimes is, and that it would hit my very core self, the way I feel about myself sometimes. The career loss I can handle – most of the time. The crappy housing pool, the threadbare furniture, the aggravating pack-outs, redoing a house every 3 years, being away from my family most of the time – OK. But when the Eraser descends, it’s a whole other thing.
There are times when I find myself thinking if I’m even still me – am I even sure? Or does everyone think of me as DiploDad’s Wife? DiploKids’ Mommy? DiploDad’s property – someone to keep in line, in the dark, and to trot out when it’s necessary and convenient to have window dressing or to make sure an event isn’t just a room full of guys?
In the army, there’s a saying: “If the army wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one.” It’s worse in the Department on many levels. Even the military has called us “spouses” officially since the 1980s, while the Department still clings to “Dependent” as if its life depended on it. There are times I remind myself it’s improved, because there are no longer white glove inspections. Then other times, I note the way that it’s evolved is perhaps even more degrading.
Perhaps that’s why I reach for the colored pencils – red, cerulean blue, lime green, yellow. I push the envelope of experiences I can get only from this life, as a way of countering the Eraser, to make sure I am still alive, to make sure I am still breathing, experiencing, living, and choosing. And in control of something, if just for a moment in time.
“Wanna run a half-marathon in a godforsaken pit of a place with no bathrooms en route, through the middle of a massive bush taxi route on a Sunday in 95 degree weather?” Sure!
“Want to be in charge of all the fundraising and publicity for the local international school? For free?” “How about doing a bunch of legal work for FREE??” Sure!
“Want to go on this CLO-sponsored tour to see the Ganeshas?” “Want to help organize the Halloween party?” “Can you bake the cake for the Marine Ball?” Sure!
I’m the Girl Who Will Try Anything. The Outgoing One. The Wife Who is Up for Any Event. The Person to Go to When You Need Help. The Got-Your-Back-Gal.
I admit to a natural curiosity; I’ve always wanted to see the world, try new things, to challenge myself. I like to help others; I truly believe that what goes around comes around, and I honestly want to leave this world nicer in my wake than when I arrived. I empathize, big time. But I also know that in doing some of these things that I’ve tried to carve out an identity and a place for myself that is mine, and while it may be dependent upon DiploDad in some ways, it means that sometimes the eyes rivet to me instead of him and that my opinion is valued, my presence and input seriously wanted and not just tolerated. But sometimes I wonder if I have become so much more willing to jump out of the airplane in an attempt to rebuild what the Eraser has taken from me and to find a part of myself that it cannot touch.