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  • Robin Kastengren

Eric’s Final Thoughts

It has been a terrifying five months, I will admit. I know much more now at the ass end of this than I ever thought I did in the 15 years I’ve been with my wife. With the exception of a few trusted people, I’ve kept my experience of the last several months to myself. Everyone is owed their agency and dignity. However, I’m owed that too. As much as I should and would love to deliver these words in person, I’ll swallow my pride enough for the sake of my wife and kids. They need space and safety to heal without the chaos of a personal delivery. I will deliver them however here, outside of the chaotic cacophony of all the whispering I well know is going on about me. If you’re going to talk about me, well my words are going to go out there as well.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at how the last several months played out, but I was. I never in a million years thought the family that dubbed me “Saint Eric of Iowa,” the people who sent a letter to my parents 15 years ago thanking them for raising me right, would have been behind the scenes talking trash rather than inside my house helping me and my wife and my children.

There also seems to be some confusion among the family that I married into whether my wife and I are open and honest with each other. For example, she talked to me about the “wait until July for more money” conversation. It hurt my feelings, of course, but we always talk about these things, no matter how weird or difficult, to make sure we are always heading in the same direction.

I’m not without my own mistakes. However, there are a few things I’d like to address.

To the larger family: I’m continually amazed at the deflection and head-in-the-sand, performance-confusion behavior whenever it’s time to talk about the weird stuff that has happened in my house. You’d rather not be embarrassed or have a direct conversation about it. You would all rather make my family feel uncomfortable and unsafe in our own house and that is some weird stuff in itself.

To the immediate family: I get the feeling you find me to be either incapable or just too damn dumb to take care of my family in a crisis. Did you think I cared so little for my wife or my kids that I’d just check out? Didn’t think I could or would call a doctor? Put my headphones on and play video games and let them all…? I can say with absolute certainty that you didn’t have a clue. In those months no one thought to call the one person who was there every single day. Four text messages were all I got. You didn’t have a clue because you were glaringly absent.

If I had posted anything online or texted anything like my wife did to anyone in my family, they would have been in a car and at my front step immediately. Regardless of the content of the messages. Why? Where I come from, when someone needs help we don’t shame them for how they manage to ask for it.

From my circle, I had many people reach out to me offering help and support. Even people my wife hadn’t exactly gotten along with recognized a cry for help when they saw one and set aside their differences for a goddamn minute. Was I beneath the simple compassion of my wife’s family? With one or two exceptions, yes.

My wife has already laid a lot out there for herself so I’m going to focus the rest of this on my own words left unsaid before I go.

In regards to my son’s birthday party. Two people came to have a real party. One wasn’t even family and the other was five years old. Before you think this is about money, it is about your presence, not your presents. That’s what my son wanted. He wanted to be thought of. To have you be there like always, with the usual comforting things in hand, to help him feel better when he was scared to death for his mother.

It was so apparent to him that you forgot all about him until you got to the gas station at the corner by the house. You weren’t here for him. You were here for an inspection, or the spectacle, or something weird. It reminded me of the first Christmas I spent with your family. An adult woman was on the floor rolling around in presents and scaring the children. The woman’s spouse at the time made sure to stick with her all day long to enjoy the show and tell people how hard it is to live with her. That’s the kind of weird stuff we can’t talk about around here.

To the one my wife said was hardest to say goodbye to: I didn’t receive any texts or calls from you even once. I will go forward giving you a little grace and assume you thought everyone was capable enough. Your inspection of the house, however, didn’t go unnoticed. What also didn’t go unnoticed was your inability to respect boundaries. My daughter was not subtle in setting them and was in tears over how to care for your son. Thank you for being another adult in her life teaching her that saying no to an adult doesn't have to be honored or respected if it doesn’t suit your needs or desires.

To Honey: I did get texts from you. The last one ended with “whatever you think is best.” That sounded like you trusted my judgment. Little did I know at the time that you’d been talking your own trash about me quite steadily. So at Christmas, while my wife and I are trying to solve a difficult problem in our marriage, you’re accelerating its demise. Giving me a hug to thank me for my hospitality while at the same time doing that leaves me…..disappointed.

So let’s go to Jamaica shall we? Who made any effort to make my wife more comfortable when it became apparent that she paid for a private room of her own and ended up with no bed at all? When the return trip fell apart the choice of a hotel away from the drama and a quick trip home wasn’t decent, but a burger and continued drama was. Thanks for the lesson in manners.

Fast forward a couple months. You were entrusted with my youngest to help him recover from a hellish week at school. My wife said he needed peace, quiet, food, and love. She said not to send him with anyone, and particularly not with anyone who went to Jamaica. My son said he told you he didn’t want to go. Did his best not to go, but he was feeling weird and didn’t know how to assert himself. You sent him anyway. Thank you for being another adult in his life to teach him that saying no to an adult doesn't have to be honored or respected if it doesn’t suit their needs or desires.

Dear Birthday Buddy: I was there when Jamaica was first being planned. My wife made it very clear that she did not want to go at all. Too hot, too much sun, nothing to do but swim and she hates swimming. She stated clearly that she would go if she had a private room to herself and would be happy to pay for it no matter how much more it was. A room with a door all to herself were the words she used.

My wife paid a lot of money to sleep on a pool chair while you enjoyed the honeymoon suite and private bath. While your cousins enjoyed their own mini honeymoon suite. And the silly old ladies rotated between the one good bed, a couch, a pool chair, and a broken blow up bed. And let’s not pretend that picking up my son was anything other than what it was. And that calling 911 well after the worst of my wife’s misery already passed was anything other than what it was. Ok?

Back to the extended family for a minute. It really looks to me like you only do the weird stuff to my wife and kids when I am not available. For example, a few Christmases ago when KJ was at my house acting very inappropriately. I was as sick as I’d ever been with the exception of when I had COVID and couldn’t get out of bed. Who did anything to make my house, wife, and kids safe? Who chose “be quiet, he’ll go away soon?” As a matter of fact, your inability to talk about the weird stuff got the story so twisted around that I had a Fairy Godmother at my house making amends and reparations to me and my wife when all she did was help.

How about when I went home for my grandmother’s funeral? (Side note: this reminds me of all the vacations I treated people to, probably because of the year I brought my good suit.) I am five hundred miles away and my phone starts blowing up at 10pm from the crowd of extended family “helping” my wife at a wedding where she’s clearly freaking out and needs to be left alone to sort herself out. How do I know this is what she needed? I’m the one who stayed on the phone with her for hours to make sure she got home safely, and on her terms.

How about nobody invited me to Jamaica because it was a “girls trip.”

Now, once my wife was stable enough and the kids settled enough that I could go see my parents a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting anything. And yet, I get a text from my son that the police are inside the house checking on everyone. I don’t believe in coincidences.

When my wife and I got married, we came up with a simple rule to guide us through combining our lives when we’ve both been through it pretty hard. Whatever the person, activity, show, movie, or subject was, it needed two yeses to proceed and only one no to stop. I’m invoking that rule.

I am done paying the price for your bad decisions.

Be yourself, by yourself.

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