New memoir post is up.
Whenever I think about my ex sister-in-law, Olivia, even after all these years, I still feel amazingly catty. Was it the fact that she got the bigger ring, or that she got out of helping with our mother-in-law, or that she didn’t give a shit about getting to know me? All three.
When I tell the story of how she thanked me for helping my mother-in-law, some people don’t understand why I was so offended. “Oh, she thanked you!” they say. “How rude!” But here’s what it was:
- I had already married into the family and was the wife of the older son. I had been part of the family and spending time at my in-laws’ house for a couple of years by then.
- She was still only engaged to my brother-in-law and was a visitor.
Thanking someone like that in that type of situation shows that the thanker thinks she has power over the “worker.” Maybe it’s an Asian thing, but you’d never wander into the kitchen and thank your mom for cooking dinner while she’s cooking it. Then what, wander back out and put your feet up? No, you show thanks by offering to help.
My sister-in-law thanking me like that made me feel like a servant. I could have been the maid coming in to drop off fresh towels while she sat back and did her toenails.
You’d thinking coming from Korea she’d understand this. But either a) she just couldn’t get past my not being Korean and treated me the way she thought an American would want to be treated, b) she thought because she was older that this was proper behavior, or c) she really did look down on me. Probably a bit of all three.
Her disrespect didn’t end with me. At my father-in-law’s 70th birthday party, my parents were in attendance and sat with my ex’s uncle and aunt. Olivia, still just engaged at that point, came over to say hello to the aunt and uncle, and COMPLETELY IGNORED MY PARENTS.
She knew who they were. I had been hanging out with them for much of the party, and they were obviously not the ex’s family, or their parents’ friends. My mother, usually the to take offense, didn’t even notice, but my father, typically the easy-going one, did.
“I didn’t like that,” he said.
And my dad likes EVERYTHING.
I know I shouldn’t have cared what this random person thought, but unfortunately I wasn’t receiving much positive reinforcement at the time to balance out her, at best, ignorant remarks.
At the same time, I was fascinated by her vast array of beauty products. A cosmetics junkie myself, I’d examine the slew of bottles, jars, and tubes she’d leave strewn across the bathroom counter when she visited. She was big on anything whitening, and, freckled girl I am, so was I. She had brands I had heard of, like Shiseido, and others I hadn’t, like Pola. I actually ordered some (it was very nice).
But of course I didn’t tell her this.
After she had her kid, she seemed to mellow out. Her son was very cute, and she had no problem letting all of us hold and play with him. She even seemed to notice me more.
“I hope it fits,” she said of a Christmas sweater. “You’re so tiny lately.”
The truth is she probably didn’t give two thoughts about me. When she got engaged, she was already thirty-three, positively ancient in Korean culture. She was probably getting a lot of pressure to hurry up, get married, and have babies. By cooking instead of helping with my sick mother-in-law, and buying expensive gifts instead of being there more often, she was doing what she thought was right. While Joe had no problem correcting my behavior, his brother never said anything. With no one to tell her what was really “right,” how was she supposed to know?