Sobbing in the hotel bathroom? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. She came out dry-eyed and composed, but I knew I’d crossed the line. There is nothing like this feeling. Can one die of sadness? I could tell she almost had, and that I was next in line.
Lying together in the darkness. “This is the worst day of my life,” she said. More shocked than sorry at first, the man-child didn’t understand.
“My worst day was when you left to move to Dubuque,” I answered—getting in the last word—but the thing was false, contrived, unclean. What was this, some kind of contest?!? There was no comparison at all. (And her moving didn’t constitute abandonment. I cried for days back then, but that’s not what it was.) Still not grasping what was right in front of me, I lay awake a long time and decided I would live, regardless, no matter what transpired next.
Just then something like a window opened deep inside:
Oh Jesus God. Oh no. Oh great fucking holy hell. I COULD FEEL WHAT SHE WAS FEELING, at least as much as I could stand. It was unbearably sad. She carried the weight of all the hurt I’d dished out for decades. Everything she’d said to me for years was true and oh so simple. As I lay there in the dark, I saw the whole of my irrational betrayal. Years of criticizing and correction. The gift of sarcasm turned perverse and used to wound. Emotional abuse. The constant chipping away of self-esteem. A million tiny digs that added up because I never stopped!
That’s what you women get for marrying us momma’s boys. We wouldn’t be that way if they’d been good to us. We think women are all out to hold us back. Being hard and absolute is the only way to make sure of your loyalty. Being right about everything is an unconscious manly duty. That you would love us unconditionally from the get-go is inconceivable. You must submit to all our fears and make us whole—especially with sex—or we will strike out with a vengeance. Sometimes it’s even physical. Not in my case, because I’m lucky. I have the cleverness, the dropping of the killing insult. The only reason I’m still alive is that I’ve never used this on a man who might have beat the crap right out of me. More luck, of course. It almost happened many times.
She’d been right all along in matters of the heart. Thank God for what little charm I did possess, because I’d treated her like dirt. Exactly like my alcoholic father, too, no empathy at all. Ironically, this revelation eased the pain enough for me to fall asleep. She’d done nothing to me. Whatever else I had to deal with, she wasn’t it. All I had to do for her was be a man.
I told her of these insights in the morning, calmly. She listened quietly and said, “We’ll see.”
The rest of the day was utterly different, however. Without a bridle, she was free, and so was I. The family visit that followed was a thousand times better than ever before. The cousins’ reunion we’d come for was a blessing, though I knew almost no one. People liked me, and I liked them. “Are you still a transformed person?” she asked me afterwards before going to bed. It was something of a miracle, all right. With just one stumble under stress, I was almost sane for once and hardly knew the feeling.
By pre-arrangement, she stayed to fly back later. On the long drive home, I had ample time to meditate upon my many sins, if we can call them that, for I felt no guilt and needed no forgiveness: the way it was, was the way it was. But as I drove along, the “window” opened up again from time to time. A song or sight would set this off, leaving me in ruins.
Okay, I’d manifested everything I never thought I was.
Okay, I’d treated her the same way I’d treated myself for my whole life!
But now I knew why I was alive and breathing on God’s green earth. If I could feel true compassion—not guilt—for a single person I had wronged, anyone, just once, especially any brave enough to stand real close, I’d beat the odds and die a happy man.
That’s all that Creation requires of me. It’s what I’m here to learn, why all the shit was dumped on me.
“We’ll see,” she said.
We’ve all been there, brother. On the matrimonial front I’ve discovered that a good sharp engagement, even a battle, clears the air wonderfully after a build-up of indecisive sniping and skirmishing. We humans are so constructed that we seem to need to treat each other really beastly for a spell in order to return to kindliness. Nature itself is rather like that – the alternation of foul and fair weather, and so on. I’m not a religious feller, but the Bible got it just about right when it pegged us forked creatures as seeded at our cores with original sin and standing in need of atonement. I am less convinced by the Good Book that we can ever truly be saved – be “transformed” as you put it in more secular terms. No, the old human contradictions always are with us. The skirmishes always start up again after we tire of peacefulness, and the old cycle repeats itself. Looked at from a certain point of view (I would call it the humanistic one) this can be rather inspiring. No changeless insipid utopia whether of heaven or earth is possible in any event, but, if it were, could it ever bring the peace and joy of confessing to one’s self and spouse that one is a flawed human being, asking forgiveness, then starting over again to try to be better, even with the knowledge that one’s effort is foredoomed?
I agree about the “good sharp engagement.” A passionate, truthful exchange, but neutral, without wounding. I was raised to hurt and only just realized it. See comment below!
Living to be old and in good health is an exquisite punishment for a man with the sharp tongue who becomes aware of the damage he has done. I will not live long enough to make up for the the hurtful sounds that have come from my mouth, sometimes in jest but hurtful just the same. Those who die young or have no conscience are the lucky ones. Being quick with the sharp tongue has become a burden. I ask no forgiveness because I do not deserve it. I do try to do better.
I believe my entire rambling post could be condensed to your two paragraphs. This is simply outstanding. I could put your words up and trash the whole damn blog.
We’ll see, indeed.
There’s room in my world for folks with sharp tongues, O.F. A sharp tongue can be a delight. Anyhow, beats a dull malevolent one. Though best used at the right times and with the right people, not against an unequal adversary. I hope you don’t give up yours.
As for forgiveness, it’s a form of pridefulness not to ask for it. I confess to a sneaking admiration for that sort of pridefulness. Yet the whole point of the thing is that we don’t have to deserve it – we wouldn’t stand in need of it if we actually deserved it. Just one of the many paradoxes of our lives on this maddening lost wandering ball.
Sharp is okay. It’s the unthinking quickness that gets ya.
It’s just a decision we make. Would I rather be peaceful or would I rather be “right” (which is subjective at best). Sarcasm is a cover for feelings of unworthiness. Looks like you’re doing your homework. Blessings on your wife.
“Looks like you’re doing your homework.” I have no choice. When you know you know, etc.
“Sarcasm is a cover for feelings of unworthiness.” Ah yes, unworthy. The momma’s boy thing again!