Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead
The day dawned clear and warm for late fall. Silas and I were up early and out the door for a walk. One of many nice things about living on the outskirts of a rural town is being able to walk without worrying about cars; coyotes on occasion, but not a lot of cars.
When we got home, I gave him his food mixed with an egg. That kept his coat so shiny and sleek that Silas was always the center of attention. He is a black lab, and the egg makes his coat shine blue-black.
After taking care of Silas, I went to my basement office to get some work in before breakfast. With three kids and Maria having to get ready, I had developed the habit of staying out of the way while they used the bathrooms and had breakfast. I would come back up just as everyone was leaving to see them out the door.
This day was also our third wedding anniversary. Since Maria and I didn’t seem to be clicking, I was wondering what to do about it. Part of an answer came to me when I went upstairs to have a shower and get breakfast.
There was a card on my bedside table when I sat on the bed. It was from Maria.
“As the journey continues I’m there with you.” That’s what she had written.
After being unable to interest her in my success, and discovering she was living a life without me, I was a little doubtful about the sentiment. That it was left with no hug, no kiss and no conversation left me wondering how to respond.
My mind flashes back to all the times Maria has said “I’ll always tell you the truth. I just might not tell you the whole truth.”
There was a time when she said this to the girls, Skyler and Skyler, and I stopped her because I was astonished. “Do you know what you’re saying?”
Maria was surprised and perplexed. It never occurred to her that there was anything wrong with her approach.
I was probably too strenuous when I said “You’ve just told your kids they can’t really trust you. Sure, you won’t directly lie to them, but now they’ll always wonder what you’re leaving out.”
She looked at her daughters and said gently, “They know I’d never do anything to hurt them.”
“Really, Maria? How are any of us supposed to believe you?
“In the last three years, you have consistently worked to undermine all the work the kids and I do to make us a family. As soon as they draw close to me, you tell them just enough truth to draw them back to you. And you deliberately keep information back from me that could help me relate to them.
“How does that fit with you claiming to never do anything to hurt them?”
As the conversation plays again in my mind, I regret falling into the habits of criticizing, blaming and complaining. Maria reminds me so strongly of my parents; the half-truths, the manipulation of agreeing then not following through, the flat out denial of ever doing wrong. It’s hard to keep the old feelings this dredges up from influencing how I behave with Maria and the kids.
The mind being the wonderful catch basin of memories that it is, that triggers a much older memory of change foiled by habit.
Mr. Franklin encouraged me to join the school play in grade 12. It was a classic musical called Oklahoma. He had been helping me to shed my anger and the violence that went with it. Other kids didn’t talk to me – didn’t even say hi – because they never knew whether I’d answer or just strike out with my fists.
Another fellow and I tried out for the lead; the part of Curly. They had us sing together, run lines, and sing solo. The teachers, Mr. Franklin and Mr. Blake, put on a very good show of pretending to audition both of us for the lead role.
You see, I know they were pretending because Mr. Franklin made it clear afterward. He said “You did a good job in the audition, but I had you picked for Jud Fry before we even started.”
I was shocked and hurt, and even more worried by the prospect of playing the villain; a murderer and arsonist. “How can you want me to play that part? I’m just starting to let go of all the hate and anger, and now you want me to dive into a character filled with those things. That doesn’t make sense.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine. Just don’t let it get to you.”
There was a lot of rage in me as I answered, “Listen, it was you who got me to try out for the play, you got me into the Bible study, and you even got me going to church. You know what I’ve been like. Why are you asking me to risk this?”
The conversation went on for a little while until Mr. Franklin gave me the ultimatum: If you want to be in the play, you’re playing Jud Fry. I gave in because I wanted to act, but I also gave him a warning. I told him if anything went wrong, it would be his fault. And sure enough, there was one mistake.
I don’t remember why it happened, but I do remember taking a girl by the throat and pinning her to a cinder block wall. Of all the backstage noises, and the things we said to each other, the only sound I remember is the back of her head bouncing against the wall. I’ll never forget that sound. It was the hollow plunk of a ripe melon only louder; like you hit it with a hammer.
I’ll also never forget that Mr. Franklin put all the blame on me when he found out about it. There was no credit for my foresight, no apology for ignoring my warning or leaving me without support during the play. There was only blame, criticism, and complaint. It left a feeling of betrayal that only deepened when Mr. Franklin made a very public, tearful, Jimmy Swaggart style admission of adultery with the music director from the play a couple months later.
Memories like this replay in my mind as I wonder what to do. Is there hope for our marriage? Can a relationship last when one person insists on calling wrong things right?
My life’s motto is Cranium Ex Rectum (literally: skull out of arse), and I’m wondering how to hold onto that while being married to a woman who prefers form over function. And I can’t kid myself that this is a surprise. I certainly saw the signs before we were married. I even told Maria we would need counseling support to make the marriage work, and we both had reservations about getting married.
My warning to Mr. Franklin comes back to me. I knew playing Jud Fry was wrong. I knew Maria and I had hugely different approaches, and getting along would be difficult. But I set all the realities aside; just like in high school.