Monday, October 5, 2009
My husband and I don't get along very well.
It's not the he-beats-me, or he-drinks-too-much kind of not-getting-along. It's not the big, obvious, catastrophic relationship ending kind of not-getting-along. Instead of a tsunami, it's a drip-drip-drip that gradually wears away the fabric.
This has made the troubles of our relationship difficult to assess. I remember distinctly a feeling of despair, early on in our marriage when something that happened resonated so painfully, so frequently, yet on its surface was so minor that it was not worth leaving a relationship for.
Death by a thousand paper cuts is not only painful, it doesn't garner much sympathetic support. When I leave the relationship it will appear that my hand held the knife that caused the hemorrhage.
So be it.
This marriage is perplexing because on the surface it does look whole. However, the very atoms that make it up are corrupt. This has confused me for years. When the source of trouble is not obvious, my past modus operandi was to question myself, if not outright blame. Is x bothering me because I'm too sensitive? Am I being too critical? Am I taking something too seriously? Am I focusing too much on the negative? Why can't I look at the positive? This is so insignificant. Why can't I just forget about it? I must be unforgiving. Do I do this thing too, but I'm a hypocrite and I just don't see it?
Gary returned from Asia on Saturday. He'd gone to China 10 days prior to trawl for work. He was talking with several factories about the possibility of representing them to manufacturers of luggage, packs, bags.
In his employed days he'd take his own car to the airport and leave it in the longterm lot. His company picked up the parking tab, or the taxi.
To save money I took him to the airport on the 23rd. It's a measure of the reality of our relationship that we don't part the way people who care about each other say goodbye. I suppose we could kiss, but it would be a lie, a token gesture. I wished him luck and drove off.
While gone we communicated via email. He sent a copy of the proposal he'd pitched to this company. I was impressed by its clarity, and his ability to anticipate various scenarios. Organizationally I'm not very good at that sort of thing, and I admire it as a strength in him. He is also someone who people instinctively like and trust; he's therefore a natural at sales. If there's any kind of opportunity available in this economy, he'll be able to thrive in it. I emailed him this thought. We also communicated about one area that we can usually connect around with no conflict, our love for our sons.
It wasn't lost on me, the break from the day-to-day contact, the messages where we could express appreciation with conflict filtered out, was an opportunity to have a reset of sorts. Good will had been a predominant tone--how far would it go if we could keep it going?
I have an image of one of those tilt-table marble labyrinth games. The object is to roll a marble from point a to point b along a twisty path without it dropping into one of the holes on either side of the path. You move the marble by adjusting the angle of the surface it's on. How long, how far, could good will travel before dropping into a hole?
Gary was returning on a weekend that my book reading group was going to be at the beach to choose the upcoming year's books. Ordinarily I'd go on the Friday night for the opening festivities, even though we don't actually present our books for consideration until Saturday afternoon over wine and appetizers. Gary's trip meant I'd have to miss Friday night and travel over on Saturday after I'd picked him up. His flight was to arrive at 8:30, but there was some doubt because there were typhoons in the western Pacific. Connor was spending the night at a buddy's; this meant Scott, who loves his sleep so very much, was going to have to get up early and accompany me to the airport.
I was one of the providers of the appetizers, so Friday evening was spent with me dividing my time between packing for the trip, reading reviews of the books so I could do a good job presenting them, making appetizers, grocery shopping (so there'd be food in the house and jet-lagged Gary wouldn't have to), and juggling the needs of my hyperactive younger son. I was up late Friday, and early Saturday when I realized Gary hadn't really said what time he wanted me at the airport. His last email had been Thursday, and he'd said the flight was due in at 8:30, but he didn't make a guess about how long it would take to navigate customs and luggage and so when I should be at the arrivals curb. I'd kept an eye on the website anyway since the storms had been anticipated and I'd feared a delay or cancellation. I decided to allow about a half hour and leave the house accordingly.
As usual, it was very difficult to persuade Scott to leave his nest, but we set out around 8:15. I had the cell phone, but was feeling uneasy about Gary not having one so I could call him. My doubts were stronger. We'd talked a little about the possibility of him bringing the light rail within striking distance of home. Maybe he thought we'd agreed to that. We've had miscommunications like that before. How long should I circle the pick-up area before heading for the light rail station?
So I was relieved when I saw his orange shirt and him leaning up against the wall under the awning. He tossed in his bags, greeted Scott and the dog, and climbed in the passenger seat.
"Did you have to wait very long?"
"Yes. Didn't you look at what time the flight came in?"
"... ...I did. But you didn't say what time you wanted me here, and I had to guess about how long it would take you to go through customs and get your luggage."
"My flight arrived at 8:15. Didn't I tell you to check the website in case it came early?"
"I didn't know how long customs would take."
"Customs takes 15 minutes." As if this is a fact that is common knowledge. As if everyone knows it, or should. If you drop something it falls to the ground. Duh.
"I didn't know that."
"Customs takes 15 minutes." As if somehow my knowing this now should make me responsible for knowing it earlier, retroactively.
Not a hint that he's aware that it's not rational to expect this of someone.
I felt that weird, sickening feeling inside.
For a moment I remembered the idea of clean slate, reset button, good will. I wondered if I had squandered the opportunity--one of these strange theoretical instances of 'unconscious' self-sabotage. Wouldn't the first obvious step in a challenge of keeping the good-will marble rolling be to arrive on time in picking him up? Was there something I'd missed, some obvious choice I could have/should have made to keep that volley going? Maybe I should have asked him in an earlier email what time he expected me at the airport, when he thought he could be outside.
But, he hadn't told me what he wanted, either. If it was important that he not have to wait for me for 20 minutes, wouldn't it have behooved him to specify?
How often have I had to wait for him, come to think of it, when he has had a specific time to work with. How often at this very airport (come to think of it), juggling a pile of luggage and the safety of two small, restless boys who are oblivious to people dragging luggage by, or curbs with traffic whizzing by feet away from them?
It was his total absolution of himself, and his own role in his having to wait which was at the heart of the sinking inside. Not to mention his obliviousness to what it had cost me to get there, indeed to be there.
This is the kind of thing that seems too trivial to consider divorce over. It is just one moment, one component of the billions that comprise a relationship, a marriage. However, the sickness that is in this moment is present in the others. The other moments contain this same dna, this failed chromosome. It's present in the minor interactions, and it's there in the important ones. At the heart of our moments is a failure to connect--something crucial to their successful resolution.
I realize that my attempts to understand this were like the marble in the tilting-table labyrinth too. My line of inquiry would have dropped through the hole at the very first challenge. I would have wondered if the chill that hit me from the moment he said, "yes" when I asked if he'd waited long was legitimate. I'd have wondered if I was reading too much into it. I would have told myself to cut him some slack. I would have wondered at the persistence of the feeling of despair, would have accused myself of being too sensitive. I would have wondered if it was legitimate for me to hold him responsible for having not told me when I should be there; I would have wondered if that was evading responsibility myself. I would have wondered if I was "blaming" him. I'd worry that I was making a mountain of a molehill. I'd wonder if I was dwelling on the negative.
The cumulative effect of the above paragraph would be reinforcing a belief that there was something wrong with what I was feeling in that moment when I felt my good will ebb away, and that I shouldn't be feeling it. And I suppose the purpose of that is to deny the feelings that tell me this is not good for me. The purpose of the denial is for me to stay, by undermining the feelings that tell me to go. In a curious way, this denial helps me to tolerate the poison.
And I've been doing it for years. Including before I ever knew Gary.