Primo: We can go to the beach. We can do tourist things.
Me: Like last time, you mean? When we cleaned out their garage and I helped your mom weed?
Primo: This time, we could do tourist stuff. Christmas is on Tuesday. We could go on Sunday and come home on Wednesday or Thursday. We can tell them we have to get back because you don’t have any vacation left.
Me: My work shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s.
Primo: They don’t need to know that.
Me: I don’t want to go. Just thinking about it gives me a headache. You go by yourself and I will hang out by myself here. I’ll be fine.
Primo: Please go with me. I don’t want to go alone – it’s so miserable there. At least we can be miserable together. I feel sorry for them. Their life is awful.
Me: But don’t they have any friends? Don’t they volunteer? Don’t they have things to do? They’re retired and financially secure. Don’t they enjoy their time? You saw how busy my mom is with all of her projects. She has church things and she is doing all that family history research and she is involved with her neighborhood association and she has friends.
Primo: My dad doesn’t like to go out and my mom won’t go without him. They think their neighbors are stupid. They don’t have any friends.
Me: So – they’ve made a choice to be lonely.
Primo: Maybe. But they’ve had it hard. They’re really unhappy.
Me: Don’t they do any volunteer work? They have time.
Primo: My dad had thought he might teach at the junior college there, but when they moved, he decided it wasn’t to his standards.
Me: What? It’s not like your dad was teaching at Harvard before he retired. This school isn’t good enough for him? Didn’t he check on it before they decided to move there? Was that going to be an important part of his retirement?
Primo: I don’t know.
Me: How do you know they just didn’t want him?
Primo: Could be. I don’t know. But now they are both unhappy.
Me: Is it your responsibility to make them happy?
Primo: As far as they’re concerned, yes. You saw the part that I am “the light of their lives.”
Me: Just a little pressure.
Primo: I know.
Me: But you don’t want to go.
Primo: No. I would rather stay in town and relax with you. I don’t get much downtime. Even when I take time off, I still get email and phone calls. Holidays are the only time I can really relax.
Me: Why can’t you just tell them no?
Primo: They’ll get mad at me.
Primo: They’ll be mad.
Me: Big deal.
Primo: They’re my parents. They’ve had a rough life. I have to go. I would like it if you would come with me. I have enough frequent flyer miles that we could go first class.
Me: Fine. But I am going to the gym this time. Every day. For a few hours. I cannot be around them all day. I am not used to being around people who don’t like me.
Me: And you have to be the one to explain to them that I am going to the gym. I don’t want to start a fight.
Primo: They’ll be happy to have me to themselves, but they will be insulted that you don’t want to be around them.
Me: I don’t want to be around them! I wish we could have a do-over – that I could say to them, “We didn’t start off on the right foot but we all love Primo so let’s start again.”
Primo: Ha! As if that would make a difference! Besides, that’s not how things work in my family. We don’t talk about that stuff.
Me: But your dad brags about taking Viagra? And about his sex life? And we hear all the trash talk about Ted and Ted’sWife and Stephanie? They can talk about all of that but not have a conversation about feelings?
Primo: I know. It’s crazy. They talk about the things I don’t want to hear about but there is no way they would want to talk about how to have a better relationship. Ten years ago, I would not have been able to do that, but ex-wife and I went to marriage counseling. I really did not want to have a bad marriage or be like my dad, so I had to learn new ways to communicate and argue. But my parents? No way.
Me: OK. I will suck it up. But I have to get out of there for a while every day. And we have to get out of there together.