These Days Are All, Share Them With Me, These Days Are All, Happy And Free, These Happy Days Are Yours And Mine
Ask anyone who knew me when.
They would agree that I used to be the most carefree spirit the world has ever known. It's not by accident that I was given the nickname Little Miss Chipper at an early age. I was that gal. I was that gal who smiled at everyone walking down the street. I was that gal who danced around in class, swung from the trees, climbed roofs, played ball with the neighborhood kids, and went to Sunday service because I enjoyed it. I was that gal who wrote thank-you notes and letters to all her friends and kinfolk all the time, each one more heartfelt than the last. I was that gal who showed up early and left late to everywhere. I was that gal who played everyday, really played as if the whole world were a giant set of swings and seesaw all rolled into one. I was that gal who heard music in her heart and wanted to share it with her mouth and eyes and hands. As my mother used to say, I had the joy in my heart which was brighter than even the noonday sun.
I couldn't even tell you why. It isn't that I woke up one morning in my bed and decided I was going to be cheery all of a sudden. I never made the conscious effort to improve my mood. That's genuinely the state of mind I took up residence in. It was the simplest of tasks. Aside from my many issues with my mother, I was as happy as an afternoon softball game played at a family reunion. I had a comfortable life where I was taken care of by my adoring parents, spoiled even some might say. I was well-liked at school. People claimed I was the "prettiest sight they ever did see." I was intelligent, even clever by half, according to all my teachers. I never wanted for anything. I never threw tantrums or complained publicly. I was well-behaved. I knew my etiquette and was taught the finest of manners. Everything seemed like the picture of idyllic bliss. How I was supposed to be, that's how I was. That's all I knew to be.
Maybe that was a slight problem in the beginning. I had been told all these different routes to being a happy, normal child that I took to like a duck takes to water. I didn't fight it at all when other kids might have had to be dragged kicking and scream. Where others chose to resist, I believed. Where others chose to question, I took people's answers at their word. Perhaps all this joy I felt in my formative was all predicated on the lie that there were people older than me who knew better for me.
One would have had only to taken a look at my early pictures to glean the depths of my complete immersion into the life that was planned for me. I took dance lessons that I never thought I needed, that even my dance instructor Mrs. Harvick said were only sharpening a knife which could already cut through glass. I studied and got grades which were reflective of someone going through their senior year in high school, not third grade. I volunteered with my Church group starting at the age of four. I dressed with fancy ribbons in my hair every day of the year and tied it up with an even fancier ribbon at night. And for what? To make myself happy? Sure. But it wasn't all about me either. A lot of the bliss I experienced during those years of my life were invested in the prospect of making everyone else happy. I can see that now. I'm not going to lie. Parts of those years were a hoot-and-a-half. But those times were more associated with choices I made to make myself content. All those other times, all those other choices I made, were made with the specific intent to please someone else; be it my parents, my teachers, my friends, or, yes, even my God. If I were to compare all the times I actually made decisions to please myself with the times I was just going along to appease someone else, my share would be altogether miniscule. It would be ridiculous even making that comparison.
That isn't to say that I don't take kindly to assisting others. That's a part of my nature too. But the stronger part of my nature, I can see now, is rooted in the belief that I need to be in control of what I do. When I help someone out I want to be secure in the knowledge that it was due to my choice and not out of a sense of obligation to others. All my years seem nothing more than community service and time served for the crime of being born to high expectations. I never even had a chance to complain because, frankly, I was never taught properly how to complain.
I was happy because I didn't know I had the okay to be angry or dissatisfied.
I smiled because I was told good girls don't make that other face.
I couldn't cry because it would ruin my complexion for the whole day.
All those times I got in trouble for being "wicked" were maybe the way my subconscious was rebelling against the way I was being raised. I didn't feel it at the time, but I a collar around me that was keeping me in line. Sure, I possessed the longest of leashes, but it was a restraint nonetheless. I was happy but only because that was the only sort of happiness I had ever known. It would be awhile longer before I saw for myself what it's truly like to experience happiness on my own terms and on my own timetable.
It was the same with my friendships. Those early ones, the ones with the likes of Fawn, Hanna, and, of course, Torry--they were built upon the strictures of the way I was taught friends were supposed to act. There were the play dates carefully choreographed among my mother and the other mothers. There were the subtle ways we were influenced not to allow anyone unsavory into our small group. There were the constant reminders from my parents how a good friend was supposed to act. And I stored it away like a mother bird building its nest. I utilized these little 'ole pieces of information to intricately construct what I thought was the perfect, yet small, circle of friends. About the only time I ever improvised my way through the adventure of having friends and keeping them back then were the few minutes of recess and lunch us girls shared everyday. That was when it was real, that's when I truly felt close to them all. All those other times, when we were taken shopping, when we were paraded around in pageant after pageant, when we were told we would be attending the Church picnic--they all felt dictated to us, or at least to me. It felt like everyone else had the blueprint to this wonderful house I was expected to live in except me.
Towards the end I picked up enough to know what I wanted out of confidantes and I can honestly say I started to experience what it was like to grow true friendships in the absence of expectation. It's only towards the end that I put together a real bond with all three of those gals that genuinely endures today (just ask Fawn). Those last two years when all four of us were together, that's some of what I thought was real happiness.
However, it took my friendship with Eeyore to show me what real happiness with friends is supposed to be like. In the beginning I thought we would make a good set of friends because we had similar interests and a somewhat similar perspective of the world. We both liked writing and we both by that time had developed into truly headstrong people. You would have thought it would be calling down lightning itself to consider pairing up two of the most stubborn cusses in the world, but in the beginning it worked phenomenally. During that so-called honeymoon phase of the friendship we would talk on the phone just about everyday. There wasn't anything I wouldn't share with him. We were joking and compassionate and even a little bit infatuated with one another. It's no big secret that my mother wasn't too appreciative of the amount of time I was spending on him and I reckon that Patrick's parents were entirely thrilled either. But it was new. It was exciting. It was what I thought the whole experience of having a mature friendship would be like. We could have the intellectual discussions about the latest art films or the current nonfiction bestseller, but we could also share our passion for baseball, barbecue, and bestiality (just joshing). We seemed to have it all. We were shaping our own destiny as a couple, us against everyone else, and in the beginning it was relatively stress-free. I thought all our days together were going to be the happiest days I would ever experience.
Hell's bells, was I ever wrong on that call.
You can't have two people that stubborn in close proximity to one another and maintain a semblance of control for any lengthy of period of time. The fights, when they did come, came quickly and often like a flood that just never seems to let up. It wasn't more than a few months till it seemed like we were having a fight every week. We would fight. We would yell. Phones would be slammed down, words would be exchanged, and a lot of feelings would get trampled upon. I'm usually a tough person. I usually don't let the world drag me down for too long, but I'm not exaggerating when I say there would be days when I would be scared that he would call me that day to begin the latest fight anew. It was almost as frustrating as the days when I would be scared that he wouldn't call me at all. For a long time there, years even, we had hit the period in our relationship we like to call "the Troubles". We're not the type to keep our feelings bottled up for very long. When they came, they came hard and fast. Whatever emotion you could start a fight over we would start them repeatedly over. Jealousy, revenge, paranoia, skepticism, and even plain spite--we weren't strangers to leafing through our rolodexes to happen upon a good reason to get something off our chests.
Even when we started seeing each other, that only made it worse. Then we had a whole other set of reasons to be disappointed with one another.
I can't even tell you when exactly we left "the Troubles" behind us. Part of us still believes that we won't ever leave that state of friendship. There are some days where we'll talking and an old wound will just fester again because of some joke he just made. There are some days where I specifically tease him too long or diligently for pure amusement. That's the way it is with old friends. Old fights never really die; they just get postponed until a later date (or year).
But what I have learned in the last five years, the last five years since we had a fight which led to us not speaking for eight months, was that there isn't ever going to be a fight with him that'll be more important to me than preserving what we have here. Yes, I'm a very proud little 'ole lady. I don't suffer losing with the easiest of spirits. A lot of my being comes from the steady confidence that whatever I say and what I believe is what I stick to. I haven't gotten this far by remaining that witless puppet who let her mother dictate to her her every action. But now when Patrick and I fight, it's different. At the end of it all, I don't see me sticking to my guns on general principle. We've gotten to the point where it isn't as important to be right as it is to be together. I can't speak for him, but I reckon we've reached the point where we see that a bond like ours doesn't come around everyday. The priority is in keeping that alive rather than keeping old grudges going.
I used to think the perfect friend would be the one who said and did everything to make me happy.
Now I just think the perfect friend is the one who brings out the best in me, who makes me want to say and do everything... or at least a great deal... to make him happy. I don't mind being wrong as long as it's to him because in a lot of ways being wrong with him isn't being wrong at all.
I have nothing to prove. I don't have to show how smart I am to him or how my ideas are entirely foolproof. I don't have to defend everything I do. And I don't have to explain myself in fear of him judging me. When you lose the need to constantly try to your best self to a person it makes it easier to concede that you aren't always at your best and that you're going to be wrong a good deal of the time. When you don't have to be perfect in front of a person, it makes dealing with your own imperfection a lot easier, you know?
I used to think happiness had something to do with being right all the time. Now I see happiness has more to do with being able to be wrong sometimes without being judged at all. That's such a wonderful feeling which I can't even explain to you.
It's the same with Greg and I. In the beginning I thought I had all the answers about how love was supposed to work. I was the one in the relationship telling him how the relationship was going to proceed. I was the one guiding the ship. Greg was content to be my subordinate. According to him, he was just so relieved to have found me he decided it was easier to allow me to take charge than to give me all the input he could. That suited me just fine. In the beginning I had constructed a perfect scenario of how I wanted my relationships to go. Partly based on what I had read and seen, and partly based on the mistakes I had made with Patrick and a few other of my starter relationships, I thought I knew how my one true love would proceed. It was that simple to me. I was a twenty-year-old vain and stubborn jackass, who thought she knew all the answers. Woe betide anyone who got in my way, including Greg. I had a plan and no one was going to stop me from completing it.
It's a recurring theme, but I let my vanity get the best of me. I thought love, like most things, was done best when there was one clear voice in charge. I thought that, if anything, my rising to the forefront of accepting responsibility for the success of our relationship would relieve some of the pressure off of Greg. I thought he'd be happy not to have to work so hard. I was willing to work entirely too hard for the both of us. We used to discuss that as one of the reasons we hit it off so well. I was domineering and shrewish; he was supportive and submissive. He was everything I didn't have with my previous relationships, someone malleable, someone pliant. I thought he was wonderful for his generosity even as I was taking full advantage of it. I thought he was delightful for his lack of drive when it came to us even as I was spoiling myself upon it. It just felt great not to have to butt heads like Patrick and I. It just felt like a relief to stand tall as being the authority in everything regarding the two of us.
I didn't see the pattern for what it was. It was just another example of my believing the initial phases of our relationship would be the template upon which the rest of the relationship would be built. My father has a phrase about me that I'm sure I have written about before. He says, "Breanne doesn't think. She just goes." And that's what I do. I don't think much about the repercussions of my actions. I do what I do because I think it for the best and I don't let anyone hold me back. Very often it doesn't work out the way I think it would, but the majority of the time I'm more than happy with the results. Yet it's the times that I fall far short that I'm known for. I've erred so often on the side of rushing headlong into walls that it's become something of a joke that I don't possess even the slightest amount of patience. That's what happened with Greg. I took our initial dates as a sign of things to come. I made those crazy days and wonderful nights the basis of how the rest of our lives were going to look like. No matter how you slice it, I was jumping the gun. The next few years while we were dating, while we were engaged, and while we were married, I would compare it to those days of halcyon and sunflowers. When the plan didn't seem to be proceeding as I expected, I didn't blame my high expectations. I blamed Greg for for not believing in my ideas. I blamed him for not being supportive, the one thing he's always been.
Worse yet, I blamed him for not doing enough.
When those first years weren't as happy as I told him they would be, I became discouraged. I started to look more and more in his direction to help out, which wasn't fair to him at all. All that time I'd been telling him he didn't need to do anything. That I'd take care of it. All that time I'd been scolding him for wanting to put his input in. That I wanted to be in charge. Then all of a sudden I make it his fault for not doing or saying enough. I put him in the worst possible position of telling him that standing back and giving me wasn't wrong, and then I crucify him for doing that very thing.
I thought he wasn't making me happy when the truth was that I told him not trying so hard to make me happy would, in fact, make me happy. It was a terrible position to put him in. I was such a wicked wife when all this happened.
That's why I went to Chicago. That's why I cheated on Greg. It started to look very appealing to me to be with someone who wasn't afraid to stand on his two feet and give as good as he got. It started to look like I wasn't cut out to be with someone who was entirely passive. I was tired of being unhappy with someone who apparently didn't give a damn about making our marriage work. I was tired of doing all that work on creating the happy home scenario all on my own. I was just plumb tuckered of being the perfect wife.
It wasn't until after the trip and after Greg had finally forgiven me that I figured out where I went wrong. I'd based our relationship on me being the boss. I was so afraid of being overruled by my husband that I didn't let him have any power at all. I didn't let him contribute enough to make the marriage he wanted. When he responded to my domineering ways by retreating even further, it only set up a vicious cycle of me telling him he was worthless and him becoming a ghost in our very house. Greg's not like me. He doesn't respond by fighting back then running. He runs first and then he just keeps on running. My first option has always been to insure my ideas are heard. Only if it becomes apparent that I'm going to be given the short shrift, then I run. I only fight the fights I want to win. Everything else becomes expendable. Greg is so docile that he'll give in just to make me happy. He responds to conflict by doing everything he can to make sure there is no conflict. There we were, two people fumbling at being married to one other and neither one of us having the first clue how to expertly talk through our inconsistencies.
When we started seeing our couple's therapist she explained it to me.
She told me that my plan for the perfect marriage was faulty from the very beginning. Any plan that isn't shared by both people in the marriage is no plan at all. It's not like a film or a novel that soars from having one clear vision. It's more like that seesaw from the playground of my youth. I can't just push and push on my end, expecting it to work. I needed to give a chance for my partner, for Greg, to give a chance to push back. She said that I was too intent on blazing a path through the tall grass just to make it to the other side of them that I had neglected to make sure Greg was right behind me. And she was right. I thought happiness from a marriage was the by-product of doing it right. I thought of it as the pot of gold waiting for me at the other end of the rainbow. Now I can see that happiness isn't the goal of a good marriage. It's the definition of a good marriage. Happiness in a couple isn't the result of planning everything to perfection or executing everything flawlessly. Being happy is just what good marriages are all about. Being happy leads to a good marriage. What I should have done is made sure that we were happy as often as possible rather than where we were headed as husband and wife. I was so caught up in having a stellar marriage than I couldn't see how much of it I was allowing to fall apart. My tunnel vision almost led to me to getting divorced from the only man who truly could make me happy.
Now I finally understand what it means to be Little Miss Chipper. It doesn't mean I have to be 100% perfect. It just means I have to be 100% invested in whatever I'm working at. I can't let my perception of how things are cloud where I want them to be. That only leads to me working too hard at the process. I need to remember that it's not all up to me to make everything good. Like my daddy says, "You can either drive or be driven; you can't do both." I can try very hard to do all the work in this relationship, but eventually I'm going to find it's too much for one woman to handle--as intelligent, beautiful, and stubborn as she may be. Sure, most of the time I like being out front and taking charge. But there has to be some days where I can let him take over and just sit back in the buggy to enjoy the ride for once.
Being Little Miss Chipper doesn't mean being on all the time. Sometimes it just means being content to enjoy the stillness every so often. I can still be that little 'ole girl with the joy in her heart that my mother saw once upon a time. All it takes is showing that joy to others... and not shoving it down their throats. I can't force people to be happy. It's not my responsibility to put a smile on everyone's face whether or not they like it. It's only my responsibility to put a smile on my own.
Ask anyone who knows me now. They'll tell you I still have a smile on my face almost every day of my life. The only difference it's entirely because of me and not because I'm working all the time to make everyone else happy. I'm happy because I'm happy, and not because I think I can brighten the whole world through sheer will. I'm happy to just let my sun shine and let others seek it if they choose to do so.
After all, I can only be me--no more, no less.