A mother whose children go to my child’s school messaged me and four other mothers from the school because she was in a quandary. Corinne is her name. As most of us knew, Corinne said, she didn’t have a good relationship with her sister, who could be controlling and narcissistic.
The truth is, she wrote, she’d been getting along with her sister fairly well these last few months. Then, out of the blue, her sister decided to get angry about something that had happened a year before. Her sister demanded that she admit fault and apologize.
Corinne explained that rather than defend herself, she’d decided that for the first time in her life she wasn’t going to get into it with her sister. So she emailed her sister the following note, which she pasted in full: “I’m sorry, but the only kind of relationship I have room for in my life is one that is drama-free. This is not about me and you; it’s about Tolliston, the kids, and the new life that will soon be joining our family. When I feel stress, adrenaline courses through my blood, my heart beats faster, and this stresses the baby. Thus, I am not going to talk about this over email or the phone because that never goes well. If you insist on saying something negative to me, then you will need to do it in person at my house, and when Tolliston is present. Perhaps then we can eat and laugh and hug after it’s over. Are you still coming over for Easter? We talked about making that bread Mom used to make.”
Corinne wrote that we would not believe what her sister did after that. Her sister completely ignored her email, stopped liking anything Corinne posted on Facebook, and then several days later sent each of the kids an Easter card in the mail.
So here’s the quandary, Corinne wrote, should she
- Throw the Easter cards away? And then feel wasteful and guilty because they’re just cards and the kids would love them. Besides, her sister wouldn’t know she threw the cards away, so her satisfaction in snubbing her sister would be limited.
- Write “return to sender” on the cards? And then she risks looking bad for depriving her kids a relationship with their aunt.
- Give the kids the cards? She’d be taking the moral high ground, but, on the other hand, her sister would get what she wants—a relationship with the kids, while being passive-aggressive to Corinne.
No matter what she did, Corinne said, her sister wins; she loses.
The other mothers in the group more or less repeated the same sentiment—that Corinne ought to give the kids the cards. If you can’t win no matter what you do, then take the moral high ground, they wrote.
All except Penny, who pointed out that in a battle, one chooses the high ground in order to have the tactical advantage over the opponent they wish to massacre. The idea of choosing the moral high ground is kind of a paradox, she said. There’s nothing moral about using the cannon of morality to blow your opponent to bits. Anyway, Penny added, Corinne had already chosen the low ground when she sent that email to her sister. She echoed the consensus that Corinne ought to give the kids the cards, but she stated that doing so would not elevate Corinne to any high ground.
Penny is the same person who last year, when Dana’s husband had an affair, asked Dana how she had contributed to the situation their marriage was in. She’d argued that when one partner has an affair, the other partner isn’t simply an innocent victim. And that if that person thought of herself or himself as an innocent victim, then it was no wonder that the other partner had had an affair.
After Penny’s response, nobody wrote anything else. The message thread disappeared altogether, as though Penny’s words had been hand grenades, blitzing every voice.
Except mine. I never responded to Corinne’s quandary. Kept my thoughts to myself, reluctant to take a position.
Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Fanzine, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Tahoma Literary Review, TriQuarterly, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. www.michellenross.com