The day Guin came back from Scotland, Art and I wanted to make everything ready to welcome her. Because we had been painting, there were paint stains all over the house, in the hallways, the bathrooms, the stairs, the couch, even on the dishes. We scraped and scrubbed every stain so that no speck remained. We washed two loads of laundry, cleaned all four bathrooms, swept and vacuumed, and took out the trash and recycling. We went grocery shopping and bought flowers to put on the table. I took everything that was mine out of the master bedroom and remade the bed with clean sheets and a duvet cover. I wanted to cook a large dinner but Art told me they were going to get back late so made something light instead.
Art came back with Guin around nine o’clock. She had a long journey but was otherwise her normal self: tall, thin, blonde, and very beautiful. Their twelve year old daughter Piper was very excited to show her all the changes we made to the house. First Piper showed her own bedroom, which we had painted a powder blue. “Did you guys have permission to paint this color?” Guin ask skeptically. “The landlord told us no dark colors,” said Piper, “and this is not dark.” She then showed her my room, which we had painted beige and furnished with furniture I bought. “The dressers are massive!” Guin said disapprovingly, “How am I going to get them out when she moves out of here?” She then sat down to the dinner that I had made. But no sooner had she had two bites when something caught her eye on the kitchen counter: a microwave.
Before Guin left, the four adults debated whether or not to have a microwave. Guin was adamantly against it because she was convinced it emitted harmful radiation and promoted bad eating habits. I did not agree and resented the extra work not having a microwave burdened me with, especially since I was doing most of the cooking and cleaning up. Art and Lance were indifferent, but each subtly defended their girlfriends’ position. Art and Guin also had a microwave in their kitchen the year before when they were living in Kingston and used it fairly regularly, so it seemed ridiculous to me that she was so opposed to it for health reasons in the new house. I had brought my old microwave when I moved into the house, so when Guin went on vacation for two weeks, I had no qualms about setting it up in the kitchen and using it to my heart’s content. Art and I debated whether we should remove it now that she was coming back, and decided if she really hated it we’d remove it, but we were not going to be proactive about it.
Boy were we wrong. The moment she saw the microwave, she dropped her fork and burst out, “What is that doing here? I told you NO microwave!” She stormed off to the bedroom and slammed the door. Art followed. From the kitchen I could hear her yelling at him: “Microwaves are toxic! It’s chintsy! None of our friends back in the States have one! When a woman says no, she means no! Why would you test my no?”
“You’re being extreme, Guin,” Art protested. “You were gone, we only used it to heat up leftovers, and the kids didn’t use it at all.”
“All I wanted was to come home to where I felt safe, and you do this to me! I feel violated!”
Art moved the microwave to the garage. I cleaned up the dinner she had abandoned. A few moments later, she threw out into the living room the duvet comforter I had spread out. Art came out clutching his pillow.
“She’s upset.” He said, “Can I sleep with you?”
“No,” I responded. What I meant was, “I did physical and emotional work so that you could spend this night reconnecting with your wife. I want you to go back in there and work this out with her.” What he heard was neither woman wanted to sleep with him that night.
“Fine,” he said, “I’m going to sleep by myself,” and trod off to the basement.
I headed upstairs on my own. Some polycule this is, I thought, each of us sleeping alone.
I was really upset with Guin. Not only had I spent most of the day cleaning and cooking so she could come back to a nice home, but the last two weeks I had taken care of the household, painted three bedrooms with minimal help from her husband, and gotten up at 6:30 every morning to make healthy lunches for her children. She could have at least had the grace to be upset another time.
We all slept poorly that night. The next morning, I found Art in the study while Guin was in the basement doing her morning meditations.
“How are you feeling?” I asked him.
“Upset and confused,” he said.
“We’re not forcing her to use the microwave,” I complained, “but what’s wrong if we want to use it to heat up our own food? Why does she get to tell us what to do?”
“I think she feels like she’s losing control with our new living situation,” Art said compassionately, “She’ll probably realize that she overreacted and apologize.”
We didn’t see Guin until 3pm that afternoon. And it was her boyfriend, Lance, who offered to facilitate a meeting between all of us.
We began the meeting as we usually do, with a moment of silence to tune in, and going around checking in on how everyone was feeling.
“I’m sorry to hear that the re-entry was not as smooth as we all hoped for,” Lance started.
“Art and I worked very hard yesterday to make everything ready for Guin, and I was disappointed she didn’t appreciate it more.” I said as mildly as possible.
“I think this is a great opportunity for us to learn how to resolve conflicts,” Art said, “It was going to happen sooner or later and it’s good that we can work on this together now.”
Guin sat in a corner of the sofa looking tired and contrite. “I appreciate you guys cleaning the house, and Morgaine for making healthy lunches for the children. It really made me feel at ease while I was away. At the end of my trip I attended the conference for midwives at Findhorn, where we all had our wounds reopened around the trauma of our births, so I think I’m still sensitive because of that.”
Art said, “When we decided to move in together we said that we weren’t going to exert couple privilege. I want everyone to feel like this is their home. So what can we do to ensure that?”
Lance said that he wanted to be a part of decisions, like putting art up on the wall, even though he couldn’t be there right then to help us make those decisions.
Guin consented to having the microwave in the garage on the condition it would only be used to heat up leftovers.
Art said that he would buy some non-ticking clocks to put on the walls because the clocks that I had ordered ticked and bothered Guin.
We all hugged at the end of the meeting and had dinner with the children.
The next day Guin was polite but stayed out of the way. Art came up to my room where I was reading in bed in the afternoon.
“I just had a long walk and talk with her,” he said, lying down on my bed.
“How was it?”
“Frustrating. I’m having a hard time getting through to her. I really think we need to talk to a therapist.”
It was not the first time that his frustrations triggered mine. But it was more than just my frustration at Guin’s behavior. I felt vulnerable, like I wasn’t really wanted there. I felt, how do I put it, as I often do in this relationship, devalued; because the fullness of our connection, as beautiful and significant as it was to me, seemed so little compared to the monolith of their 25 year marriage. When he and I sleep together, we have ecstatic sex, and when we take a break so that he could spend nights sleeping with her, they do not have sex at all; they barely even talk. Yet in his mind, our love is equal to theirs. So no matter how badly Guin behaved, he didn’t love her any less, and no matter how good I was, he didn’t love me more. Where is the justice in that kind of equality?
But I didn’t say that. I just held him. All my emotions turned into passion and desire for him. Our lovemaking, that day, he said, felt different. He felt as if he were falling into me, letting go of inhibitions and all sense of ego and becoming one. That’s something that astonishes me about him. Whenever I think that we couldn’t possibly be closer, we are.
Cover art by Henri Matisse. “Henry Matisse Family”