This Is Not Marriage Advice. Sort of.

Wedding_rings
By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The season for bridal showers came when I was younger. That rush of marriages taking place every few months. Friends and cousins and co workers all at that age where they start tying the knot.

With it come the bridal shower invites. At least, where I’m from they did. Is that a regional thing? You’d all gather around with your gifts and sip mimosas (or beers, depending on the crowd) and inevitably a journal or index card would get passed around the table for you to write down your best advice for the couple.

I was, during that season of my life, frighteningly unqualified to be handing out relationship advice.

I still am.

The difference is, now I know it. Back then I wrote little quips like Never go to bed mad and Always make time for one another.

Which, yeah, is valid. Sure.

Brilliant advice? No. It’s not.

Because that shit they can figure out on their own.

There’s no advice I would offer to couples today if asked. I can only offer my perspective. I can only share what’s worked for me in my current relationship. None of it worked in any previous relationship I had. All of it is particular to me and my husband. But I think perhaps people can extrapolate from it some juicy nuggets they can chew on, digest, and crap out some helpful morsels of their own.

(That sounds so gross. Sorry. Analogies aren’t always my thing.)

So there’s the first thing I’d share: Stop asking for advice. Because what works for one couple may be disastrous for another.

Also, the person you’re with today is not going to be the person you’re with years from now. Not because I’m fatalistic and believe you won’t stay together. But because people change. Yourself included. It’s natural.

It’s also scary.

There may be times you look at the person beside you and ask if you even recognize him or her any longer.

Does it matter?

The better question, for me, has always been Do I want to take the time to get to know this person? If the changes he’s shown haven’t changed the kindness or the humor or the tenderness that I so love and value in him, then it’s me I need to confront. Not him. It’s my aversion to change I need to examine. The same applies to him when I change.

You’re going to argue and it’s going to hurt. A lot of the time it won’t even be over what matters. You’ll be dealing with a sick child or a lost job or money trouble or all three and more, but it’s the laundry on the floor that will cause the big blow out. It’s hard though, in the heat of the battle over whether or not it’s a big deal for your partner to just throw the goddamn laundry in the hamper versus whether it’s a big deal to just pick up what your partner was too fucking distracted to care about and throw it in since you are already on your way to the hamper if you really feel so fucking passionate about it, to remember that your partner is as stressed as you and needs you to maybe hold some space for him.

You’ll want to throw things at the wall.

Remember that the more peanut butter there is in the jar, the bigger the dent it will leave in the sheet rock. Just saying. I mean, that’s what I’ve been told. Let’s move along.

You’re not perfect.

You’ll do things like scream for help while you cling to a wooden beam after falling through the ceiling of your kitchen because you didn’t know you could only walk on the beams in the attic. And he’ll come running and unwrap you from the wires tangled around your legs, help you down with a gentle hand, and dust you off while checking to be sure you are injury-free before calling your mother to laugh over it. Meanwhile, when he trips down your porch steps as you are both walking out to the car, you’ll spend your entire thirty minute drive with him next to you watching as you struggle to laugh in silence with tears streaming down your cheeks and your O-ring struggling from the strain of trying to hold in all those guffaws.

It’s ok though, because he isn’t perfect either.

Sometimes he’ll make you feel you’re not enough and sometimes you’ll make him feel like he has no voice. You’re both going to make each other feel lots of feels. Some of them, if you’re lucky, will feel so damn good. Some of them, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, will hurt.

There’s never a win or lose.

Except for this . . . if you both find ways to make the other feel loved enough that it carries you through the times when you feel otherwise. When you feel less than. If you both still hold onto that . . . you’re winning.

I have no advice.

I only know that it matters when he’s the calm one in the room. It matter when I pack his lunch. It matters when he reaches back to hold my hand as we’re walking. It matters when I encourage him to chase his dreams. It matters when he does the same.

There is no magic guide book that will help you navigate this, or any other relationship. But it helps to find the things that matter to you both.

I sort of can’t wait for the next bridal shower invite.

I’ll be looking for them to pass around the journal or hand out those decorated index cards. I’ve reached the point in life where I know that the flowery sayings are just that. They’re nice and pretty, but ultimately will end up as dry and fleeting as a flower in a vase.

No, I won’t write out any quips or advice. Instead I’ll share a story filled with laughter and heartache, highs and lows, pain and joy. It’ll be all about me and my husband and our life and the particulars, most likely, will never apply to you and your relationship.

But the hope?

That always applies.

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I Don’t Want to Disappear

eyes

I know how to become small.

It was a surprisingly easy skill to learn.

It never mattered what I’d done wrong. One time I accidentally hung up on two people, my friend and his friend, while on the phone and using call waiting for the first time.

Another time I walked home from school, just as I did every day. Not knowing that he’d left work early to pick me up.

The first pang of dread is my cue. Thorny vines of panic that snake their way up from my gut because I made a mistake.

Because I didn’t know what to expect or how bad it would be.

Because I knew if it got bad, my mother would intervene.

I remained rooted in place while she tried to redirect him. To earn the brunt of his anger for me. For her kids.

While I became small.

I feel my face slacken. Wiped of any expression. I feel myself retreat behind my eyes. The eyes show everything. I know because he’d scream at me of what he saw there sometimes. Emotions I couldn’t label. Plots I never thought to devise. But he swore he saw them.

In my mind, I back away slowly. Whatever there is of me inside my body – my personality, my soul – slinks into a corner. Soundlessly. As if even that he’ll hear.

On almost every block, in every city, is that house. The one that hasn’t yet fallen into total disrepair, but is rumored to be abandoned. You walk by and see a faint flutter of curtains. The echo of someone who had been standing there, watching the world go by, and retreated into the darkness, startled.

I’m the echo behind my own eyes.

Once my face and eyes are deadened, I find a spot on which to focus. It’s always down. I don’t turn my head down, because any movement draws attention. Just my eyes cast downward.

In the throes of childbirth, they advise women to find a spot on which to focus. I found it impossible. Hurricane-force emotions blow through you. Pain and elation and the noise and the encouragement. All the worry. I could never keep my eyes on just one spot in the midst of all that.

But when I’m becoming small, I can stare for hours. An earthquake couldn’t pull my eyes away. I can be grabbed and shaken, pushed or pulled, slapped and berated. My eyes won’t move.

I’ve tested that assertion.

Downcast and focused. To keep it from getting worse.

Rivers of tears can pool in my lower eye lids without breaching the banks. I watch from where I’ve retreated inside myself. They shimmer, as if silver fish flash beneath the surface of the water on a sunny day. Despite the darkness from which I watch. It’s beautiful and distracting, sucking up all my nervous energy and soothing it with the gentle rhythm of its ebb and flow.

I focus on the way the tears make the world around me waver. They become a shield and every nerve, every cell in my body, becomes tense with the force it takes to control them.

It’s a magic act. You still see me, but I promise you . . . I’m not there.

I became small.

The fear I face now is that I’ll disappear.

On The Table

I’m paying off a table I never bought.

It arrived in the back of a gray pick up, dusted with a light coating of red clay kicked up over the heat of the summer. It was carried in by an elderly black gentleman with eyes that smiled and warm, dry hands that wrapped around one of mine when he arrived.

“Let’s look at where you want it,” he said in a soothing voice that felt like a blanket around my shoulders.

I nodded. Mute. Yes. Please come in. I motioned towards the door.

I helped with the table and the boys helped with the chairs. Once they were all arranged, I felt heavier. As if we’d placed them upon my back, rather than in the small room off the kitchen.

He wished me blessings and joked with the boys, and I tried to thank him enough. Tried to give him back thanks in proportion to the enormity of the table.

Because I didn’t buy the table.

I didn’t tell my husband. Instead, I cooked. I wish I could remember the meal. The choice of herbs and the swirl of oil across a pan. The sizzle of meat or the deep rolling boil of pasta crashing against the surface of the water. I wish sometimes a smell will make it all familiar again. That maybe I’ll walk into a restaurant or market and inhale the rich scent of a yesterday that locked itself into a dark corner that’s been happily forgotten by the sunshine I’ve walked in since. I’ll stop and a wistful smile will pull at my lips.

Yes.” I’ll think. “That’s what we ate that day.”

Instead I remember only that I set the table. I placed the dishes upon it and raised the seat on the high chair so that it met the edge, and removed the tray from it so that chubby hands could reach across the table like the rest of us. The boys each grabbed a chair. A side. Seats that remain theirs today. Their claims upon that table and those chairs yet to be released.

I ran my hand along the edges that curled downward, softening where the top of the table ends and one pulls up a chair. There’s just enough room for six to sit. Two on each long side, elbow to elbow. One at each short end, alone. Room for all of us, plus a friend.

We decided which end should be the head of the table. That day it sat open, waiting for him.

I remember his arrival and the excitement that coursed through our veins. Palpable and leaping between the boys and I as we listened for his heavy boots across the kitchen floor.

I remember his eyes lighting up and the boys’ laughter ringing when they saw him and it sounded like Christmas morning despite the mid-September humidity.

I remember the clatter of forks against plates and the thud of glasses as they were placed down atop the dark wood of the tabletop.

I remember our eyes meeting and I watched as he struggled to swallow past a lump I felt in my throat as well.

I don’t remember the food.

I still own the table I never bought.

Meal after meal. Homework. Friends. Writing. Hot glue. Finger prints. Foot prints, even. Sweaty imprints of mischievous, chubby feet toddling across its mahogany-colored surface. Scratches and dings.

Thanksgivings. When it stood transformed and laden with proof that we have much for which to be thankful.

Its legs stand beneath the laughter that spills across the surface, shared between each of us. Its legs stand beneath the tears that splash from time to time on its surface. Its legs stand beneath the elbows that rest weary on its top. Head dropped into hands. Shoulders slumped by the baggage we need to carry with us on our journey. When the wheels that typically help us to roll it along give out and leave us with no choice but to hoist the baggage and trudge along through life, for a time trapped beneath its weight.

I can’t bear to part with the table I never bought.

I sit at it and recall the back of a small, two shelf, particleboard book case. Emptied of books we left behind and turned face down onto the floor.

I look at the boys, wriggling in chairs and kicking at each other beneath the table, and remember their legs twisted beneath them as they huddled over my mother’s China dishes set on the back of a bookcase. Our everyday dishes left behind.

I watch him as he sits at the table and recall his smile when he came home from work each evening and folded his height down to a cross-legged seat on the floor next to the overturned bookcase. “It won’t be for much longer now that I’ve got a job,” his deep brown eyes promised me each night.

I remember an email when I’d grown desperate. After school started and the boys had nowhere to sit to do their homework. Not a single chair. Not even a couch. We had the floor and the walls and the roof, and we were thankful for all that. I remember a reply within hours. Like the table, I cannot bear to part with it.

I am very sorry to hear about your situation and the difficulties you are having. That must be very frustrating. There have been times in my life when I did not have enough furniture (among other things) and it can be a very humbling and upsetting experience. Kudos to you for having the courage to ask for help. That’s something I did not do, but I sure wish I had! I am praying for you and your family.”

The next day an elderly black gentleman delivered to us a table I never bought.

I try to pay it off now that we can. I volunteer at the very organization that brought us the table. I cook food and serve it and struggle not to wrap my arms around mothers asking for extras for their children. Especially when it’s for their boys. I want to tell them they came to the right place for help.

I’m proof.

I try to pay off the table I never bought.

But it’s priceless.