What's The Sense In Sharing This One And Only Life, Ending Up Just Another Lost & Lonely Wife, You Count Up The Years & They Will Be Filled With Tears
'Just slow down, honey, and explain it to me again."
I tried to stifle down the tears, what little I had left, and attempted to make my voice clearer. I said, "Mother, this is is really it. It's really over." As I said those words I thought to myself that I should be more broken-hearted over the announcement. I announced it almost too confidently. No, that wasn't the word for it. I said it with a tinge of defiance, as if I was the one still behind the reins and my marriage was some stallion still under my control. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
It was beyond my mother asking if Greg and I had had another fight. That much was obvious. True to my mother's personality, she skipped right to the chase while remaining as courteous as ever.
"Now, now, honey. There's no use in getting worked over something that hasn't happened yet. I know it feels..."
"Feels like, mother. Like my world's been set on fire? Like I'm dying inside? Hell's bells, that's exactly what it feels like."
Sometimes I questioned the sanity of my decision to make my mother my first call, especially since I had such a large network of friends and family I could go to. It was just like one of things, like water flowing downstream, that you don't question. When you're car breaks down you call your mechanic. When you want to go see a movie you call your friend. And when your marriage dissipates into thin air, why, hell, you call your mother. Honestly, there wasn't anyone else that leapt to mind when it first happened. Besides, there would be plenty of time left to distribute the news afterwards, after the confirmation had come through that it was true. There was no sense in honking the horn if you haven't started the car yet, as my daddy says.
And now that I was on the phone with her it felt right. It felt like this is the person I needed to be talking to. My parents have been married to one another longer than there's been dirt on the Earth, or, at the very least, it's felt that way. It's been even longer than most folks' parents since they had to wait almost six years longer than they wanted to in having me. They were coming up quickly on that age where most people of their generation would have had their second grandchild by now. If there was anyone in the world I could ask the simplest advice about what goes into (and out of) a good marriage, she'd be the one. Granted, we haven't always had the easiest of times communicating with one another. At times it felt like trying to start a fire by rubbing two oranges together, you know? But when it's counted, when I've really needed someone who had my best interests at heart, without an ounce of cushioning the blow, it's my mother I've turned to. I love my daddy, but one failing of his is he always tries to shield me from the worst of it all. Involuntary as it may be, I know if I want to hear it straight from word one there's only one parent I can really turn to.
"Now tell me is that what you both decided?"
"Not in so many words, mother."
"Then in what words. Why don't you explain it to me from the beginning."
"I don't want to explain it from the beginning."
"Don't be petulant. I know I raised you better than that."
"Sorry," I offered.
"So start it from where you'd be comfortable starting it, Breanne."
I cradled the phone to my shoulder, wiped the beginnings of tear from beneath my eye, and explained as best as I could without delving too deeply into it. I explained how I said I needed to go on this business excursion for a prospective new client down near Florida. I had told Greg about it and he had reminded me how we had a couple's session with our therapist on two of the four days I needed to be down there. Clearly, not thinking, I told him it was okay. We could reschedule, I offered. That's when he had flown into a huff like ducks flying into a hurricane. He "reminded" me how I had told him that I would do anything to keep this marriage stable. He "reminded" me how I had made this solemn oath that keeping us was my only important goal and how everything else could wait. I tried to play it off, keep it light, which only fanned the flames of his indignation. He continued on how I wasn't taking this seriously. He postulated that I was only giving half of my effort when, there he was, giving it his everything. He said that it wasn't fair. It wasn't right. That's when I grew defensive. I started telling him that I was working. I pointed out to him how much time I'd already sacrificed in the last six months. I pointed out how I had stopped working five days a week, slowing my schedule down to four, sometimes three, workdays to allow for those counseling sessions. I pointed out how I never saw or traded news with my friends anymore because our doctor had said to minimize the distractions. I pointed out how I had given up writing on the blog, going out of town with anybody else but him, and how I had even curtailed the amount of time I spent in my own pursuits--jogging, reading, and fiddling around the dance studio--all so I could spend as much time with him as possible.
I told him in no uncertain terms that I deserved this break. I told him that I would be taking it and there was nothing he could do to stop me.
"The look he gave me, mother--I've only seen that look on daddy's face once or twice. It's the look he gave you when you and him were fighting over his ex, what's-her-name. It scared me then and I can tell you it still scares me. It's that look of absolute desperation, when you can see what they'd like to do as plain as rainbows on their face. And what they want to do ain't the kinds of things that can be called exactly Christian.
"That's when he walked out, but not before telling me there would be no need for me to wait up."
"I've really done it this time, haven't I?"
"Now, there isn't any situation that can't be fixed so I wouldn't say that, child. But, yes, you may have pushed a bit too hard against the mountain on that one."
"I thought so."
I felt my eyes start to tear up again. Everyone always said that I was far too much prone to act out upon my emotions. I was impetuous, temperamental, and stubborn. It was a veritable trifecta of the worst traits of being prideful. Sometimes it made me feel strong as an ox. I knew, I just knew, there wasn't anyone who could truly push me around. There wasn't anyone who was the better of me because I wouldn't allow anyone to triumph over me. Other times, like the time on the phone with my mother, when my tears seemed never-ending and the regrets twice as abundant, I just felt like I wasn't in control of my own thinking. I was just a passenger on this journey through my life; the real woman at the reins was the gamut of emotions threatening to destroy any chance I would ever have at real happiness.
I had a habit of doing this, making myself seem more important than anyone else. I thought what was best for me was best for everyone. And it always got me into the most scalding of hot waters. Look at what it had gotten me, a husband that felt like he couldn't believe me as far as he could throw me and one more night on the phone trying to explain where it had all gone wrong. Between my mother, Patrick, and Katie--I felt like I had been spending the last eight months defending my actions. Frankly, I was tired of it. I was tired of being in arrears it seemed like every few days. Every time it felt like Greg and I had gotten somewhere, it all kept sliding back. Every time I felt like we had gone that extra mile, that we had crossed over that last hurdle and had left it behind us, another hurdle would appear--this one even higher than the last. It was exhausting. More than that, it was beginning to feel like more than little 'ole me could handle.
That's why I was crying. Not because I was overwhelmingly sad, but because it had really become sadly and suddenly (saddenly?) overwhelming. Hell's bells, it was nearing that point where even I had to admit I had been thoroughly trounced.
I had met my Waterloo and it looked an awful lot like little 'ole me.
"Why am I like this? Why can't I get anything right," I whispered, choking a bit through the words.
"Like what? Headstrong?"
"And a bitch."
I heard her mulling it around a bit before she came back to the conversation. On my end, I was still waiting an eternity for my eyes to stop their procession, but the tears would not be quelled. I patted my eyes softly with hands that had had a whole night of practice of wiping the drops away from reddened cheeks.
"Do you really want to know, honey?"
"Please, thank you. It would help me a lot, mother."
"So you're fiery. You came from a long line of fiery women on my side. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's nothing you should apologize for. You speak your mind when the situation warrants it and hold your tongue when it doesn't."
"It's that last criteria that I fall short."
"And you do at that," she laughed in her own delicate way.
Laughing at her only child's character flaws. You've got to love my mother for her tact.
"I'm only saying you've got a spirit about you that doesn't need explanation. That husband of yours knew exactly what he was hitching him to when he signed up to wrangle you in. He knew what you were like. He knew he was never going to tame, not really. I don't think it's mighty understanding of him to crucify you for the very same things he once in high regard about you. That's like celebrating your birthday with peals of joy and cursing the day you were born underneath his breath, in my book."
"So you don't think he's right, in some way?"
"He's right. You're right. What does it matter? Why does there always have to be one person who's right? All that means is that there has to be one person who's wrong all the time. You don't want that person to be you and I know he doesn't want to be that person. That's where the problem lies. Right there."
She was right, like she always is. But she didn't feel right. To me it just felt like she was guessing. How could she know what my life was like? She wasn't involved in a marriage that seemed doomed to failure. Her marriage to my daddy had been relatively without its share of missteps. They had fought to be sure, but they had also made up in short fashion as well. To be plain, it had taken me a long time to even recognize the signs that they were, in fact, fighting. They always did their best to hide it away from me. They would be in the den before they thought I was even awake or else after they were sure I had drifted into slumber. Even then they would disguise their voices to a whisper-like state of yelling. Or I would catch them out in public exchanging a few words here and there. Encoded, they were free to carry out entire minutes of discourse back and forth without me being the wiser. Yet the picture they always presented was a united front. They presented that picture because that was what they had, a marriage of equals with neither husband nor wife having to give ground in the grand scheme of things.
They had what I wanted. They had what I felt I could never have.
"Yes, my baby girl."
"Can I ask you something?"
"What's yours and daddy's secret? How do you do it?"
"I don't understand."
"How do you keep it all together when obviously it's so easy to have it all fall apart on you?"
There it was. There was me asking what my mother's secret as plain as asking her for her favorite chicken recipe. I was expecting about as much success in this endeavor as that one. My mother is a lot of things, but forthwith when it comes to how and why she loves my daddy has never been one of those areas she's been eager to share with the world. The thing you have to understand about my mother is that she classifies all subjects into two areas: those that she's an expert in and those she doesn't speak at all about. Life, politics, religion, philosophy, the universe, and most everything fall into the former category. How my mother relates to my daddy falls into the latter category. It's always been that way. At a young age I would only catch a whiff of all this supposed romancing that my daddy was famous for when he was a younger man. They would sneak a kiss here, hold hands for a few precious moments, or sneak off in the middle of a vacation for a few minutes while I amused myself with the television on the hotel room. They weren't exactly firm supporters of public displays of affection, but, hell's bells, were they staunch backers of its lesser known offshoot, private displays of affection.
I knew they loved each other. I knew that about as well as I knew the chestnut shade of my hair, the unique shade of oceanic blue-green my eyes held, or which side my dimples were deeper upon. It wasn't something that I ever thought to have my parents explain in words. There was never a need.
Until just then.
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, I rephrased the question a little more playfully.
"Come on, mother. How deep is your love?" I giggled with more than a few of my drying facial muscles.
It took her a few more seconds, but in the end, she ended up answering me.
"The secret, little lady, is that there is no secret. There's no secret in loving your husband just as there isn't a secret loving your parents or loving your friends. You just do it. You just think to yourself, what would I do normally in this situation. Then you start thinking what would I do if I really love this person. Nine times out of ten, honey, they're not going to be one and the same. Nine times out of ten you're going to have to go above and beyond what you normally do. And it isn't because it gets any easier when you're in love or when you get married. If anything, the trouble only escalates when you make that leap.
"You start having to worry about problems you never had to worry about before. You start fretting over if you're losing that special something the two of had when you first started seeing each other. You start seeing the sameness of your days and wondering if you have the fortitude to suffer through the monotony. You start wandering in different directions in your head when he starts telling the same 'ole story for the fiftieth time, each time forgetting he has already told you the story before. Then, after your daughter is born, you start having to worry about him loving her more than you. That leads to you feeling goddamn awful, because you're jealous of your own precious little girl. You start wondering if their marriage portion has at long last been pushed to the back burner of your life.
"And then you dwell on all the squabbles that taken separately don't amount to much, but pushed together add up to an agony you've never known before. It's like a thousand tiny pinpricks directly to your forehead--constant and barely noticeable except for its constancy.
"You start worrying if the struggle is too much of a payment for the reward," she finishes.
"I never knew," you reply.
"But then you realize maybe the struggle is the reward. Up until you got married, you had the bird well in hand. You never had to worry, you never had to complain. And another thing, you never had to worry about if you were happy. You just knew it But, that all changed, as soon as you got married. Now when you feel happiest, it's when you're with him. And you don't worry about being happy, because after all the pain and pressure and plain hogwash that occupies most of your days, you can feel the happiness. You feel it. You get so backed up in all the routine of what it takes to care for the house, care for the family, care for everyone and everything else, that when by some miracle the happiness creeps down upon you, you feel it. You feel it like a thunderbolt hitting deep within your skull, honey. And what passed for happiness when you were a teenager or, worse yet, a silly wisp of a girl, is ten times or maybe a hundred times more miniscule than this feeling of overall warmth that true joy, true bliss, takes on as its form.
"You don't take a pass on having a happy marriage. You muddle through it. You march right through the thick of it, like stomping on three-foot deep mud. Because what else are you going to do? Go back to being on your own when you only thought you could be happy? That's not an option.
"Marriage, at least my marriage, isn't about being happy everyday. That would be impossible. Being married is about getting to those moments when the happiness just fills you up inside like a candle filling a darkened room with light. It's about having those moments time and time again with the person next to you who is feeling just the same as you. It's about doing everything humanly possible to make those moments last longer the next time. It's about doing everything humanly possible to make those moments as frequent as possible. And most of all it's about appreciating those moments whenever and however they come because you know they aren't a constant. They're like clouds passing through the sky, Breanne. You've just got to smile at their wonder while they're there, because with the next gust of wind it seems, they'll be gone.
"You want to know the secret to a happy marriage. It's that. A happy marriage isn't some prize you win at the fair like Mary Mary, shooting water out of pistol at some clown's mouth. If anything it's the shooting water to fill a balloon you hope will pay off in the end, but probably won't. A happy marriage is the marriage that struggles to be happy, because without the struggle you wouldn't have anything at all. You'd be... what?"
"The foolish girl crying to her mom?" I offered.
"Perhaps. More like you'd be the young woman, beautiful and intelligent, thinking that she was too smart to get married or maybe that she was too good for anyone she might meet."
I don't know if her comment was directed at me or more at herself. But I took it for what it was, a stern warning that there are worse things to be in a marriage that needed attention. I could have been in a marriage where everything had been decided already. Instead, I at least had something in the process of being salvageable. I at least had the room to resume the struggle as my mother so eloquently put it.
I talked with my mother until Greg came home three hours later. We didn't continue any further on the topic of being married or being happy. What else was there to say? The proof was in the pudding, as they say. For as long as I knew my parents had been happy with one another and they were still together after thirty years of marriage. That's more than most folks these days get.
They never once talked about separating or getting divorced... and I already had.
They never once cheated on one another (as far as I know)... and I already had.
They never once paraded around their grievances with one another to the whole world... and I already had time and time again.
When I think of happy marriages, my parents are it. And if my mother told me the secret was just to endure the uncomfortableness, that's what I'd do. Hell's bells, if my mother had told me that the secret was a daily bath in oatmeal followed by a quick rinse in toothpaste I would have given it a shot.
The way I see it, if my marriage lasts as half as long and burns half as bright as my parents', I'll have done something right. With all the mistakes I've made so far, I know it's asking a lot to go the whole distance, but at this moment I'm starting to believe that Greg and I just may get there someday. And, at the end of it all, I'll have my mother to thank, for instilling in me the idea that perfection is only another word for hard work and steel grit.
Hard work I can do.
And steel grit I've got in spades. LOL