Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Seeing and Being Seen: Learning Marriage After Nearly 14 Years
When he is gone, everything is louder. I go into survival mode and the baby can’t stop running to the door asking “Dada? Dada?” because he misses him, too. It’s off-balance and it’s harder, both because the work has doubled and because we’re all just a touch heartsick even if we can’t remember why all the time.
Falling asleep alone is hard and lonely when we’ve had nearly 14 years of warmth and breath just feet away as we drift off. But then in the middle-of-the-night-morning hours the girl comes up first mentioning a “really bad dream” and then when the birds start to sing I stir and realize I’m sandwiched — because the boy still crawls in about half the nights, and after five years of that I don’t even wake up.
I’ve promised him we’ll make cookies today because he wanted to surprise his sister with “something sweet” after school, and I won’t mention how I don’t love having them around the house because even if they’re hiding in the freezer I can’t stop thinking about going for another, snapping into the chewy-frozenness and I’ll end up with a stomachache and another pound on the week. But I won’t talk about that, not with them.
I’ll read deeper into my book in the evenings when they’re all tucked in bed, when I’m so tired I could sleep as I stand, washing out the bottles — but I won’t miss this solitude, the first break in the day. I’ll read about shame and how deep it goes and how it’s held me back from true openness and vulnerability for these entire 14 years, and the entire 8 years we’ve had children. I hope as I dig into the ‘why’ behind my belief of ‘not enough’ that my parenting will change and I’ll love differently, more wildly, more freely, more dangerously. But I want them to feel that, not hear about it.
The day before he left and we were talking about the landscaping and the crumbling steps and all the other projects again, I told him to watch those Brene Brown TED talks to understand me better. He asked for the links, because he wants to. He said he’s noticed how my mental health has been more steady, even, brighter lately. Because he sees me. And isn’t that what marriage is, after all? To see, to really be seen? After 14 years I want to go deeper, to shrink down the shame until the love that has always been there can step into the light.
And then because I know him, and I know me, I know he’ll remind me that it’s not about striving for a better marriage, or more love, or improving and never being satisfied with how it is right now, with what we are in this moment. He’s thankful for me now, loves me right now, as I am, broken and shame-filled and stuck in striving. And for me, for now, I’m hopeful that by watching the way he loves me that I can find a way to love myself, to show myself the same compassion he shows me, to really see myself the way he does. And to love myself the way I love him, the way I love the kids, which is also not perfect but at least it’s easier. Loving them comes as natural as breathing, but when I think of turning that inward, I choke.
I have a picture of him on my desk, one that I found again recently, that I took the night he asked me to marry him. He’s looking at me, through the camera, with those eyes I’ve known forever, and sometimes I even have to look away from the photo because of the complete acceptance in that look, the love there, the promise of love as it vows forever.
I feel like I’m just starting to glimpse the secret that couples married 50 years show on their faces in the easy way they are together, knowing and being known, seeing and being seen, and I’ll keep building this beautiful life with you, darling, as long as you’ll have me.
Linking with Heather for Just Write.