Monday, February 22, 2010

It’s All About Me and… “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress”

Although I have never been “ditched by [my] husband for a guy he met on” like Rhoda Janzen, author of “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home,” naturally I have had my share of unrequited love. I remember one time many moons ago when I was whining to a therapist about a man:

“I just don’t understand it. He never calls me anymore. He doesn’t return my calls. It’s like I don’t exist to him! It hurts so much. What did I do wrong? What is wrong with him? Why is he doing this to me?” blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

The therapist finally cocks her head and interrupts my litany of woe with a dry zinger: “Pam, haven’t you ever been dumped before?”

“Of course I have,” I respond.
Pause for another beat (‘cause I can be kind of slow on the uptake.) Pause still longer for the concept to sink in.

“Oh. My. God. He dumped me? No way.” (Denial phase.)

He dumped me?!” (Anger phase.)

“But if he only remembered how much fun we had together, he would change his mind!” (Bargaining phase.)

“He dumped me?!” (Here comes the depression.)

“He dumped me. Huh. Wow.” (This is as close as we are going to get to acceptance, so let’s just move along. There’s nothing more to look at here, folks.)

Silly me. I just thought it was a bump in the road. Turns out it was the end of the road. ::dope slap::

In “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress,” Rhoda Janzen tells about the end of the road of her marriage and then how she literally got plowed off the road by a drunk driver. One day her husband leaves her for a guy he met on, and six days later she is horribly injured, unable to walk, utterly alone in a house she can’t afford. Talk about a shitty week.

But Janzen is a woman after my own heart because she relates her whole tragic tale with great humor, sarcasm and well-placed bitterness, sometimes aimed at her hideously cruel heel of a husband and sometimes aimed fairly on herself for putting up with her hideously cruel heel of a husband. I tend to agree with her on both counts.

From her Mennonite heritage, she brings a hitch-up-your-britches-and-carry-on type response to the epic rough times in her adult life. She deflects the bullets with sardonic wit and supreme comic timing before trudging gamely on to the next battle. She writes, “Two months after the move to the expensive lakefront property, Nick left me for a guy he’d met on

I don’t know why it made it worse that the man’s name was Bob, but it did. Bob the Guy. From It’s funny how when your husband leaves you for a guy named Bob, you begin to revisit memories from the summer before, when hindsight sheds new light on your husband’s role during the highs and lows of your convalescence. What you once thought as evidence for your husband’s tenderness you begin to imagine as guilt for dating guys with big wangs…The truth hurts, especially when you’re slow to see it.”

And boy oh boy is Janzen slow to see it! Wowee, what this woman puts up with. Clearly it bugs the crap out of her that after living through all his nastiness, her husband bails on her for a guy he met on That’s always how she phrases it too, “for a guy he met on” At first the redundancy is amusing, like a “Saturday Night Live” punchline that gets funnier at each retelling. But then it seems to get sadder and wounded and downright pissed off. As it should. For slowly so slowly, readers follow as Janzen relates her evolution. But it’s a long path. She writes, “Big life lessons always kicked in tardily for me. I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer, a slow learner. The postman has to ring twice, if you get my drift.”

Yeah. I get her drift. We all have failed to answer the postman’s first ring when it comes to relationships, right? It’s like, ‘Ouch. That hurt. I wonder if it will hurt if I try it again? Ooh. Yeah, lookee there. More rejection. Yup, it hurt again. But maybe this time it will be different…’

So half the time, I’m reading Janzen’s memoire and thinking, “I hear ya, sister,” and the other time I’m reading it and thinking, “At least I’m not that screwed up.” But most of the time, I’m reading it and smiling, even while grimacing, because the book is extremely entertaining and well crafted. Plus, it provides a unique insight into the Mennonite culture, so you’ll feel like you’re learning something as a little bonus prize.

Want to try on “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress” before you buy it? Slip into this hot number by Janzen that was in The New York Times entitled The Tractor Driver or the Pothead? If you’re not laughing joyfully and thinking the dress is a good fit, then feel free to continue to browse. Might I recommend a velour pantsuit perhaps?

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