first published August 28, 2014
He was the lock; I was the key. Or so I thought. Maybe it was the other way around.
I loved him because I could love him in exactly the way he needed to be loved. He was difficult (as was I!) and often tried my patience, but if I didn’t love him, who would? He often treated me badly, occasionally took his hand to me, frequently neglected me, routinely said hurtful things, but even so, I knew he loved me in his own, often emotionally convoluted way. He knew I could find a man who treated me better, a man who deserved me more, so it meant everything to him that I stayed married to him.
Over the years, friends and family urged me to leave him. He was no good for me, they said. He made me cry, made me feel less of myself. They made me question whether I was lying to myself about why I stayed.
But not good for me? What did that even mean?
Sometimes, I thought of myself as pathetic, desperate and needy. Other times, I felt proud of myself for taking the higher but more difficult road.
When things were bad, they were painful and awful and made me doubt. But when they were good, they restored my faith in the belief that this was the right choice for me.
When he was sober and contrite, he was loving and charming. He was intelligent and deep, but too often his demons got the better of him. He knew he mistreated and neglected me, and he knew that he had to make it up to me, double, when he was capable. That was how he held on to me through the worst of times.
I suppose I could say our marriage had its seasons. There were times of plenty followed by drought and famine. When love was abundant, I’d gorge. I’d fill up my heart to bursting. I’d squirrel away every bit of kindness, storing them in the hidden recesses of my soul and my memory. This got me through the lean times.
There were months, even years of famine when I felt it was time to pick up and move away. This soil was dry and dusty and nothing would grow here anymore. And then, just as I was about to leave, the rains would come and everything would spring back to life! Love burst back into bloom, and I’d think, How can I leave this place? It’s the only home I know.
I felt bound to him though never dependent. If I’d felt dependent, I’d surely have left him early on. No, that wasn’t the word. I felt responsible for him. As if I’d been put on the earth just to understand him; to be the only one he could love.
But that was only part of it. It filled a need in me, too, to be with him. I needed to be loved like that – singularly and deeply. As long as there was that, I could deal with everything else.
Most people search for a perfect, flawless human being to love and be loved by. They believe that such perfect person will provide perfect happiness. In fact, nothing in life is learned from perfection. The lessons are found in working with and through the imperfections. I could not have expressed this while I was alive. I raged at the imperfection. I wanted the pain and frustration to end so all would be peacefully ideal.
In the beginning, I didn’t understand all the layers beneath the layers. But as we shed each one, I loved us more. We became closer, paring away our fears, one by one. We scraped off the veneer to reveal the truth below. We melted off of the coating that held everything neatly in place so we could deal the messy reality. Sometimes it felt like too much to process, and one or the other of us just wanted to run.
Apart and together. Apart and together. Apart and together. And with each together, another layer was gone, bringing us closer to the meat of it, to the seed, to the real reason we stayed with each other; to understanding the basis of our bond.
I don’t know if I could have done it for fifty or sixty years. I died before I found out. I am not sure we would have been willing to keep scratching away like that or if we would have eventually come to an end. Or perhaps, one day, finally, all would have been exposed and there would have been nothing left to learn of or from each other. Maybe one of us would have reached that point first, and walked away.
Certainly, I was not so easy to live with, myself. I was often angry, impatient, demanding, frustrated, mean, ornery and occasionally violent. I tried my best to rise above my anger but I will admit to flinging the occasional vase or dish.
I know now that this was one of my tests, my lessons for that life – to understand and overcome anger. I was better in this life than I was in lives past, but I still have work to do.
I supposed I stayed with him because I sensed I needed to learn this.
But it could have been he who ended it. He might have decided that domesticity wasn’t for him; that he was no longer willing to do the work to maintain the balance. He might have been no longer willing to toil when the land was fertile; unwilling to stock the pantry in preparation for the lean times. Without me, his life would have been easier in many ways, but I understand now that he needed the challenge of me, too. I suppose he knew that as well.
This understanding, though unspoken and unconscious, is what bound us. We both heard that inner voice that told us that we were on the right path.
Running away from the lessons is always an option. Human have free will. I doubt I could have stayed on that particular path for decades more. Perhaps, if I had lived longer, I might have chosen another road, leading to different but equally important lessons.
I stayed with him as long as I did because until the very end, I always felt I hadn’t yet solved the riddle of us. It still intrigued me.
He is not here yet, but I will wait and we will do it again, in a different way.
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