2 June 2011
I am struggling with myself.
There was, long ago, a Great Time in my life. Actually, it was a terrible time in many immeasurable ways, and a time I'd never -ever- go back to if given the choice (unless said choice included wisdom gained between now and then, but that's always the rub, isn't it?), but of all the awful things happening in my life and family then, I can honestly and truly say I was at the height of my moral existence.
INTEGRITY was my watch word. I struggled with my deeds, constantly asking myself if I'd do this or that thing if I knew someone was watching, or if I knew anyone would find out later. Of course, there is such a thing as privacy, and nobody is perfect, and I negotiated an uneasy balance between what I thought was "right" and all the other stuff, the bulk of which was immense. It wasn't driven by an outward force such as religion, or even by fear of judgment by others, but by a personal quest to be the best person I could be.
(Yes I've seen Forrest Gump, why do you ask? Now shut up.)
In those days, I trusted and respected myself, and if any outside person didn't trust or respect me, it was only because they hadn't known me long enough.
Oh, how times have changed.
In the years since then, I have made awful choices, selfish and hurtful choices, shortsighted and destructive choices. Now, to be fair, I know that as everyone matures, they all do pretty much the same thing--just different versions of awful/selfish/etc. Everyone, I think carries this burden of youthful guilt, and it is as crippling to one as another, regardless of how each person's actual deeds compare. I do admit that I was a younger man once who believed I deserved something I wasn't getting. And maybe I did deserve it. But no truth to any such statement excuses how I behaved. I threw away friendships that should have lasted a lifetime, and took advantage of a beautiful person who loved me unconditionally.
Eventually I came clean. I made good the best I could. As a formerly integrit-ous person, I had some ideas about how to make things right. I put the pieces back together, and in the process I reformed myself and my relationships in such a way as to be healthier and more satisfying to all parties. I also tried to build in some resilience to future indiscretions.
Unfortunately, I am human, and so was my partner. And we acted as such. Barriers that were meager to begin with started to erode once taken for granted, and eventually collapsed and became overgrown with the weeds and bramble of relationship bullshit. These same vines choked both old foundations and new infrastructures not yet strong enough to resist. And so, over time, our marriage once again became a burden.
This, I hope, says little about the edifice beneath the overgrowth. Even the grandest structures fall to ruin once ignored. No, I'd like to believe that the breakdown occurred due mostly to our failure as partners to give attention where it was needed. Like a garden without someone to prune and encourage the age-old trees and tender new growth, or eradicate the weeds before the taproot takes hold, the ideals of our relationship sort of began to fall away, or at least blend in with all the trivialities of modern everyday existence: bills, work, oil changes, laundry, etc. The problem, I suspect, is that to tend such a garden, one must get one's hands dirty.
I can say for certain that in my little stone structure of a marriage, any acknowledgement or recognition of any potential problem (beyond the level of aforementioned trivialities) almost always created an uproar. It has never been safe to bring up dirty business, so any time there was dirty business to deal with, not only did we have to deal with that particular business, but all the bullshit that was brought up as a result of the business existing in the first place. Typically, dealing with the bullshit immediately became the more urgent topic, and so the original dirty business, typically, went unresolved.
Eventually, you can imagine, we accumulated a whole bunch of these issues that were brought to the table just long enough to catalyze a heated discussion, and then be put back into the growing pile. The heated discussion, though usually brief, almost always hurts people's feelings and pushes them a tiny bit further apart, which then makes it even more touchy the next time a serious, but uncomfortable, issue comes to the table.
Maybe you can see where this is going. Maybe you can understand that it all becomes quietly overwhelming and exhausting after dozens of iterations.
Maybe you can predict the inevitable outcome. Not with the marriage, but with my oh-so-valuable integrity. It no longer mattered whether or not I tried to make a "right" choice; if the choice was in any way disagreeable, it became a problem. It no longer mattered if I tried to be vigilant in addressing our issues; all I ever really accomplished was creating a shit-stir and a reminder of our inability to succeed as a couple. And because it no longer mattered, I stopped caring about whether or not I did the "right" thing.
That has been the biggest indiscretion of all. That has been my greatest failure: not to any other person in my life, but to myself.
My focus shifted from success to survival. But by this time, there was so much more at stake than our parents' reputations, our mutual friendships, the joint checking account, the car note, my 401k, the mortgage... by now, there was a family to save or to ruin. Or just to keep together in the hopes that these precious little people we'd both dedicated our lives to would somehow rise above the faults of their parents, and be better people than either of us had become.
Now listen: don't get the idea that my partner was a terrible person. She was, in fact, an extraordinary person when we met. Independent, cheerful, successful, and all manner of other qualities I admired and wished to learn the secrets of. She was an unwitting victim to my unwitting negativity. Ours became a classic addict-codependent relationship, modeled after and shaped by all those of our preceding generations, in particular the marriages of our respective parents. I ruined her as much as... well, she didn't ruin me. I ruined myself. I was always in charge of my own actions. Just as she was of hers, so in reality and hindsight, she had also ruined herself.
Also, don't imagine me in the days of trying to make "right" choices, and trying to address relationship issues, as an innocent player. I had severe problems. It is probably an understatement to say I didn't always make for a pleasant partner.
All inevitable outcomes aside, it may surprise you to know that we're still together, still trying. We recognize something valuable in each other, and in our marriage, and work to grasp it in some way every day. Sometimes, we get a solid handful; others, our reach falls short. And in between those attempts, we are still playing the same old game of avoiding dirty business in favor of a peaceful dinner, or putting off some unpleasant discussion or decision so as not to ruin the weekend. And the weeds and vines continue to grow over what could, if properly tilled and tended, be a very beautiful thing.