“Someone wants to come stay with you,” Suegra teased us weeks ago, knowing that Carlos has sworn off allowing family to come visit after some not-so-good experiences.
“What are you talking about,” Carlos demanded.
Suegra smiled, enjoying the game.
“Someone very special is coming to stay here at the house. She wants to live here.”
“Well, you better tell her she can’t come… Who is it?” Carlos said.
“It’s a surprise,” she said.
“¡Mamá!” Carlos said losing patience, “I told you that you can’t keep inviting people here.”
Suegra giggled, which had a maddening effect on Carlos. How could she think this was funny? Had she seriously lost her mind? This is our house and she has no right to invite anyone without our permission. We don’t even have an extra bed! Last time she invited cousins to live with us temporarily and they ended up sleeping on the floor.
“¡Mamá!” Carlos said, now obviously angry, “You better tell whoever it is that they can’t come. I’m serious.”
Suegra finally confessed that the “guest” that wanted to come live with us was the Virgin of Guadalupe – more specifically, a statue she had been secretly making payments on. She explained that she was buying the statue “for the household” and that she had only one payment left before she could take her home.
Finding out it was a statue and not a person did not make me or Carlos any happier. Not only has Suegra been warned about not inviting people to visit, she has been warned about re-decorating our home. Gifting this statue “to the household” is her sneaky way of adding something to the general living area that quite frankly, we really don’t want.
This isn’t about religion, this is about boundaries. Suegra has once again crossed a line and knowingly, purposefully, broken rules, despite all of the compromises we’ve made to allow her to live with us. If she wanted to buy a statue that would fit in her bedroom – that’s her business – we turned a blind eye to her destruction of our third bedroom with her junk collecting – but the rest of the house – that’s where we draw the line. She has her own living room in El Salvador, which she is free to decorate as she chooses – this living room is ours.
Carlos assured me he would “take care of it.”
Days later, Suegra asked Carlos to take her to the store to make the final payment and pick it up. At the store they discovered the statue was broken because the person who delivered it hadn’t been careful with the box. Carlos breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the problem had taken care of itself. The merchant collected the pieces that had shattered into a bag and offered to sell it to Suegra half price – Suegra likes a good deal. She still wanted to bring the broken statue home.
An hour later I heard Suegra and Carlos struggling to bring it in the front door.
I put my head in my hands and took deep breaths to calm myself before coming out to see it.
The statue stood almost as tall as my 9 year old. As I could have guessed, Suegra didn’t get a simple, tasteful statue – but one with added touches, like two angels crowning the Virgin… Y con todo el respeto, it looks like something you’d buy at a dollar store.
La Virgen doesn’t look right to me. The original image has her looking down and to her right, a neutral expression on her face. This statue has her smiling silly, like the Mona Lisa. The apparent rush paint job has the Virgin and the angel holding her up, looking a little cross-eyed. Instead of a simple base, the statue stands atop a mound of puffy, white clouds.
Even after an earnest attempt to glue back whatever I could, there are still many pieces missing. The statue is overly-big, broken, faux-fancy in a way that makes it look cheap, and inaccurate.
I do not like the statue, at all, but I rearranged furniture in silence, biting my tongue, to make room for the Virgin – trusting that Carlos would take care of it.
The next day, Suegra invited friends to our living room to visit the statue. The day after that she invited more friends. She brought them before it and bragged about what a fantastic statue it is and how she generously gifted it to the household. All of this seemed very wrong. You don’t brag about the Virgin of Guadalupe. It isn’t for showing off.
On the third day, Carlos and I went out together and temporarily left the boys in Suegra’s care. While we were out, our older son texted me, “She’s being really weird. She’s making us watch her sing songs to the statue and then she was dancing around ringing bells. She won’t leave us alone. We’re just trying to watch TV and she’s ringing bells in our ears!”
That’s when I decided enough was enough.
“The statue can’t stay. Please, you need to take care of this. She needs to find space for it in her room or donate it to a church or something,” I told Carlos, feeling guilty for the position he was in, but angry for the position I had been put in as well.
Carlos wanted to avoid drama and tried to find a solution that would create the least amount, (because at least some would be inevitable.) Compromising yet again, I agreed we could move the statue to the garden outside. Suegra narrowed her eyes at me as we prepared the spot in the fenced-in backyard on the side of the house where no one, including myself, will see it. She didn’t dare say anything to my face, but the next day during an unrelated argument with Carlos behind the closed door of her bedroom, she spit the words out, making sure to say it loud enough that it would reach my ears.
“¡Sacaste la Virgen y entró el diablo!”
This was followed by other random attempts to induce guilt in Carlos – to manipulate him into doing what she wants. When guilt didn’t work, she tried her other favorite psychological warfare weapon, religious fear: “God will punish you for treating your mother this way!”
These tactics used to have their desired effect, but Carlos has grown a lot this past year. Carlos has come out of denial and admitted to himself that she is emotionally abusive, mentally unstable – that she is selfish – that she isn’t a very good mother. He isn’t afraid anymore that God will punish him for admitting this truth. He knows it isn’t his fault though she would have him believe it. Things have changed. Her words can’t hurt or control him like they once did. She’s like a cat that has been de-clawed – her swipes at him are harmless soft-padded paws, failing to dig deep and bring blood to the surface.
The statue stays outside. Suegra stays locked in her bedroom, praying that God will punish us.