Life’s lessons…

This morning, Bill and I were having coffee and somehow, we got on the subject of his ex wife. I’m pretty sure the subject came up because one of us quoted from National Lampoon’s Vacation— the scene where Clark Griswold and family put the recently deceased Aunt Edna on top of the Family Truckster and delivered her corpse to Phoenix, Arizona, where she was left languishing in the heat. Clark delivers a pseudo prayer for Edna’s soul, but Edna was such an obnoxious old bat that his prayer is facetious and uncaring.

This scene led to quite a conversation this morning.

Bill remembered that his ex wife had a family member that did something similar with a dead person. Ex had a relative– supposedly a nice enough guy, kind of quiet, and obviously very practical. For whatever reason, he loaded up a relative’s full coffin in the back of his pickup truck and drove it to the cemetery. Bill said he stood there aghast as this was going on, reminded of Aunt Edna in Vacation and wondering how many laws and regulations were being broken as this corpse was being delivered in an unofficial way. Apparently, that’s the kind of family Ex has. They see a simple solution and/or way to cut corners to settle things, and they do it without any qualms, even if laws are being broken. A lot of times, they get away with it, which only encourages more lawless behavior.

After Bill related this story to me, he explained more about his ex wife’s family dynamics, which are unusual and extremely dysfunctional. As I mentioned previously on my old blog, Ex was adopted. During their marriage, Ex made it clear to Bill that being adopted really stuck in her craw. It was the ultimate rejection, even though she was eventually chosen by another couple. This early rejection, and the aftermath of her traumatic childhood, has helped shape the type of person she is.

In Ex’s case, the couple who adopted her were allegedly abusive. Ex never even knew her adoptive dad until she was about seven years old. He was in the Merchant Marine and was gone at sea all the time. Ex’s adoptive mother supposedly got tired of being alone all the time, even though her husband had reportedly provided well for her. She apparently messed around with other men and eventually divorced Ex’s adoptive dad so that she could marry Ex’s stepfather, a financially successful man with an abusive streak. Ex’s mother had bio children with the new stepfather, so Ex was apparently treated as second rate, both by her mother and her stepfather. Ex claims her stepfather sexually abused her, which he likely did, based on some bizarre behavior Bill observed during their marriage.

Years later, Ex sought out her bio parents and was able to track down her mother. She met her, and learned that her birth was the result of an affair. Ex’s bio mom was married and had an affair with another man. When she got pregnant, bio mom’s husband said he didn’t want to raise another man’s baby. He ordered her to give the baby up for adoption or she would be cast out on the street.

I’m sure just hearing this story rang off all kinds of internal alarms for Ex. Here she was, adopted, which apparently had already caused her angsty feelings because she was rejected by her biological parents. Then, her mother and stepfather were neglectful and abusive, and engaged in a lot of sabotaging behaviors, sending the message that she’s second rate. Then, she learns that she was the result of an affair and her bio mom’s husband hadn’t wanted her. And her bio mom, who may or may not have even stayed with her husband, chose to give up her baby rather than tell her husband to go screw himself. I mean… if she was already having an affair, their marriage couldn’t have been that strong, anyway.

Whenever I hear stories about Ex and her tragic upbringing, I do feel pangs of empathy, even though I fully admit to despising her. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her being raised in that situation. I don’t blame her for having issues. It was not her fault that the adults in her life failed her the way they did. However, I don’t approve at all of the way she deals with other people. She is, herself, a very abusive person who not only causes pain to the people directly affected by her behavior, but also to the people who are in relationships with her victims. Her behavior, for example, has indirectly harmed me, and it’s probably harmed her children’s spouses. It will probably eventually harm her grandchildren, too.

Unfortunately, instead of choosing to be different from her adoptive and biological parents, Ex turned into a menace who hurts other people. Younger daughter wisely noticed the pattern of multiple marriages and instability in her mother’s and grandmother’s lives. Ex is currently on her third husband. Grandma was married five or six times.

Ex’s adoptive dad– the one she didn’t meet until she was seven years old– once got an annulment the day after he married someone because, apparently, he didn’t like the way she smelled. According to Bill, adoptive dad was a much better person than Ex’s stepfather was. Imagine how low the bar must have been set for Bill to make that determination. Bill said Ex’s stepfather was the kind of man who had charisma, but was very cruel and, in fact, Bill said that when he met him, he felt like he was in the presence of evil.

Younger daughter, who is a good Mormon and has probably had her fill of drama, wants to break the cycle. As much as I disliked younger daughter before she and Bill started talking, I now really admire her for her strength of character. I have changed my mind about her. I never had as many intense feelings about older daughter. At this point, I figure she’ll come around eventually, when it’s safe for her to do so. She’s still living with Ex, apparently raising her youngest brother.

Perhaps as a result of what she went through as a child, Ex grew up to be a very abusive, narcissistic person. For years, Bill suffered at her hands, listening to her rage, enduring physical, emotional, and even sexual assault. She lied to people about the kind of person he is and did her best to ruin his relationships with his own family members, as well as the children he had with Ex. But despite every thing Ex did to try to destroy Bill, he never took her to court or officially tried to fight for his rights to his money or his children. Many people would blame him for that. Some even take it as an admission of guilt, of sorts. In fact, on my old blog, I regularly got comments from people who didn’t believe his story and/or wanted to blame him entirely for what happened, simply because he’s a man.

Make no mistake. Bill knows that he made errors when he was younger and less secure. He should not have married his ex wife, not just because she was an abusive person, but also because he didn’t love her. He had pity for her, and that is not the same thing as love. He takes full responsibility for making a poor choice. It wasn’t respectful to Ex, or to himself. However, because of what he went through with his ex wife, Bill has changed the way he deals with people. Although he never asserted his rights in a courtroom, Bill did learn to gather evidence to strengthen his side of the story. Because I’m his wife, I’ve also learned to gather evidence to support my stories. He also doesn’t allow people to bully him the way he used to. His anti-bullying skills were honed when he went to war with a narcissistic junior Trump clone, and sharpened with other bullies he’s met during his career. And he’s also taken a stand against Ex in the form of assertive behavior. He doesn’t try to placate her anymore.

On my old blog, I wrote several times about Christmas 2004, and how Ex tried to force me into spending Christmas with her at Bill’s dad and stepmother’s house. I didn’t want to go. I knew it would be a bad idea. There was a lot of pressure for me to get with the program, though, even though I knew in my heart that my attendance at that gathering would be a disaster. No matter how well-behaved, friendly, and nice I tried to be, it wouldn’t be enough for Ex. She would find a reason to criticize. It would ruin my holiday, cost a lot of money we didn’t have, and not do anything to strengthen Bill’s relationship with his kids or his family. So I stayed home. It was hard for me to make that choice, even though it was the right thing to do. I later realized that an earlier event had taught me what needed to happen. It was one of life’s lessons.

I had gotten the courage to stay home from Ex’s sick Christmas gathering the previous year– Christmas 2003– when Bill and I endured a disastrous holiday with my own family in Virginia. One of my sisters got a ride with Bill and me to our parents’ house. I had told her that if there was any fighting, I’d be leaving. My sister agreed with those conditions. Sure enough, there was a fight. True to my word, I decided I wanted to leave. My sister first tried to manipulate Bill, then when that didn’t work, she threw a massive fit. We left her at my parents’ house, and she had to take a bus home.

It was painful for me to do that to my sister. I hadn’t wanted to do it, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want her having a temper tantrum in my car for hours, nor did I want to be bullied into staying at my parents’ house, seething with anger, when I could just as easily go back to my own house and salvage my peace. That situation hurt, but it taught me to trust my own judgment and not let other people bully me.

I am now unusually angry about our situation with the ex landlady. This morning, I was musing about why this has me so upset. It’s not even like what she’s doing is uncommon. Read on Toytown Germany’s forums, and you’ll find many stories of greedy landlords ripping off their tenants’ security deposits. It happens in the United States, too. A lot of times, landlords get away with outright thievery, since people don’t have the time or the money to fight in court. Foreigners in Germany are particularly vulnerable, since many folks don’t speak German and don’t bother to get legal insurance. They either think it’s a waste of money, or they just can’t spare the money… and the amount they’d be fighting for, while significant to them, is not worth a court battle. American military folks often don’t have the money to get the insurance (which is actually pretty inexpensive, considering the coverage) or they think it’s a scam. They’re only going to be here for three years or so, so they figure it’s not worth the hassle. Sometimes, that means they get ripped off.

In our case, we’re being brazenly ripped off of over 2500 euros, which is a lot of money. Several of the things the landlady accused us of doing, we didn’t do. Several of the most significant charges that were made are outright illegal. Either ex landlady got an insurance settlement, or the statute of limitations has run out. She obviously thinks she can get away with this scam, which I’m sure she rationalizes as “fair”, since her awning broke on our watch and the insurance company didn’t give her what she thinks is a “fair” settlement. They gave her only a few hundred euros, and replacing the awning would take much more money; therefore, in her mind, we should make up the difference. However, she didn’t have it properly repaired when we pointed it out to her, and she made a huge deal out of other repairs we requested. She made it clear she didn’t want to spend the money on repairing her old awning. But she doesn’t mind spending ours to renovate the property, and jack up the rent for the next people. That’s wrong, and it’s against German law.

I’m sure, based on what I wrote at the beginning of this post, our issues with the ex landlady seem small and I seem obsessive. I fully realize that they’re small. However, when you look at the cumulative effect of this kind of treatment over many years, maybe it makes more sense as to why we’re finally fighting back. Bill has suffered character assassination and financial loss for many years. He’s a good man, and he was always above board, both with his ex wife and our ex landlady. Both of them were paid in full and on time. He followed the letter of the law when he gave them notice, both for the divorce and for when we moved out of our former home. Maybe he wasn’t the perfect husband or the perfect tenant, but he’s still better than a lot of people are. He deserves to be treated with more respect and fairness. This time, he has the ability to fight back. He doesn’t even expect to get the whole amount of the deposit back. He may even lose, but at least he will have taken a stand. Maybe we’ll all learn something from this.

We relate.

Life’s lessons often come from unexpected places. Because of my sister’s meltdown in 2003, I was able to see why I shouldn’t have to spend Christmas with my husband’s ex wife in 2004. If I’m willing to walk away from Christmas with my blood family members, why shouldn’t I tell the Ex to pound sand when she tries to manipulate me into a similarly toxic scenario? Why should she get more consideration than my own sister gets? After a year of silence, my sister did eventually speak to me again. Ex was still bitching about my refusal to celebrate Christmas with her years later– and she doesn’t even like me! I guarantee she’d like me even less if I’d been forced to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year with her.

Because of the way Ex treated Bill during their marriage and the many years he spent defending himself against her lies, Bill learned that he has to gather evidence… especially when it’s clear that he’s dealing with a difficult person or someone with a high conflict personality. Two years ago, when the awning fell, it was clear that our former landlady was going to remember that accident and try to screw us out of our deposit. We became hyper vigilant about most documentation, and we bought legal insurance in anticipation of the fight for our money. We have a nice file of evidence that shows what kind of a person she is, to include many irrational, hostile, and contradictory emails, which were always met with calm respectful responses from Bill. Of course, I also have a public blog full of evidence about what kind of a person I am. I know it could easily work against me. But my guess is that what’s in my blog is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

I think our dealings with Ex have made us pretty adept at spotting and preparing for other people who act like bullies and try to take advantage of Bill’s good nature. I feel pretty certain that Bill’s move to defend himself will really upset the ex landlady. She might even send us hate mail or try to countersue. I don’t expect this to be pleasant, but sometimes life’s most valuable lessons are unpleasant for everyone. Taking a stand is important for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with money. Fighting back is empowering. We’d rather spend the time on something else, but sometimes you just have to take a stand, if not for yourself, then for other people’s sakes.