A Marriage I Arranged Myself

A 20 foot tree in our yard, its trunk broken only a few feet from the ground. My husband wants to “save it”. I want to cut it down and feed it to the chipper.

I’m headed out the door to the gym. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon, not my usual time to work out, but I need a break. I’ve been a cranky with my husband these last few days and, at the moment, I can barely stand to be in the same room with him.  My anger is so huge that it practically takes on a persona of its own, standing behind me, yelling insults and jabbing a bony finger accusingly toward him. My thoughts rage:

Why bother calling a contractor or a professional tree service when we have He Who Knows Everything around to set us all straight ?

And let me get my head around this one: he wants to tear off the back porch and not replace it? So when the grandkids come over they can open the back door and drop twelve feet? What the heck is that? Evil Knievel backyard decking?

For the love of Pete, can he not see that I am trying to draft a document? Would it kill him not to yell into the phone just this once? And can’t someone invent husband-proof earplugs?!

And so on.

Maybe intense exercise will break its spirit. I grab my running shoes, throw my gym bag over my shoulder and slip into the office to give my husband a peck on the cheek. By the time I return from the gym, he’ll have left for the airport for a week-long trip.  I steal quickly out the office door, but he follows me down the hall playfully demanding a hug. The last thing I feel like doing is hugging, but I relent. He holds me hard.

“I love you,” he says, squeezing me.

“You are impossible,” I say, and escape into the garage.

I open the van and toss my bag over to the passenger side. The door into the house opens and my husband sticks his head out.

“I know what a burden it is to be married to me,” he says, smiling.

He’s kidding, I think. It’s hard to tell lately. These past few months I’ve been pretty open with my feelings about the state of our Marital Nation. I have wondered aloud: we are apart more often than we are together; you are in one phase of life, freewheeling semi-retirement, and I am in another, mid-career, raising teenagers and chomping at the bit to chase down my own freedom; when you are home, you’re not entirely here and we don’t even have hobbies in common: what the heck are we doing married? It’s not an angry wondering. It is genuine puzzlement. Curiosity.

Maybe it’s just my version of the Great Marriage Debate.  You know, that question you ask yourself when struck hard with persistent mid-life depression: is it my marriage that’s the problem?

My gut instinct, and most of my favourite books, tell me no, the marriage is not the problem. Unless your spouse is an addict, a sociopath, physically or emotionally abusing you, then the problem is always with you. Everything else is just whining.

Ouch, harsh.

My kind self isn’t so sure. What if two people just aren’t meant to live together anymore? What if Katherine Hepburn was right, that men and women aren’t meant to live together, but just be neighbours and visit once in a while? Especially, since I’m one of those women, a writer, who needs gobs and gobs of quiet time to just sit still and stare into space?

I know I’m a burden.  He’s not a burden. He’s just the sharp rock that I persist in throwing myself against. Over and over.

“I just tell myself it’s an arranged marriage” I say, mustering a smile.

A few days ago, I’d shared with him how I’d read that the divorce rate in India is really low, low in a country where arranged marriages are still the norm, at least outside of the cities.

“Arranged marriages have fewer expectations,” I’d said.

“Aha!” he’d fired back, pointing a finger at my chest and nodding his head. It was as if I’d just figured out some Great Truth that he’s known for years. Usually, this gesture makes me want to slap him.

My answer now gave him just the opening he needed “And you arranged it!” he exclaimed, pointing that blasted finger at me again.

He had me though. I shake my head and laugh.  “Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”

I close the van door and wave at him. He smiles and retreats into the house, victorious. Before I turn the key, he pops his head out again: “And arranged parenthood, too!”

I blow him a kiss. He’s got my number. Always. And he certainly won’t let me forget it. Is that what goes on with marriage then? That our spouses hold up a mirror to our unbelieving eyes, too close for us to hide, showing us our weak places in all their magnified glory? And is this, in truth, not exactly what we wanted in the first place: to be deeply known.

Yeah, he’s actually right, I think later, puffing away on an elliptical trainer. Maybe I’m just my own worst enemy. Whatever. The trick is to love him anyway, even though he pointed that out.

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