Saturday, March 24, 2012

A very long post about what marriage really looks like

So apparently all the writing I do about my husband’s awesomeness is sometimes a little much. Apparently it kind of makes people feel like crap because they think all is perfect and delightful at all times and Jim Fortune is the best at everything and I am just swooning and sitting in his lap every hour of every day. And then people think their lives are not good enough or not happy enough or not perfect enough.

I hate to think that I am making people feel that way, even a little.

But OK, here’s the thing. Jim Fortune is amazing. Our life together is really wonderful. If that is making you feel like crap, I can’t help you there. BUT I can maybe help you by telling you a little story about how we tried to beat our marriage to death a couple of years ago. It sucked tremendously.

Well, on second thought, I kind of hate that story. Those details are not the greatest, and if there is an asshole in that story it’s totally me, so let’s not go into it too much.

So instead maybe I will tell you about some of the things that contributed to us nearly beating our marriage to death, and then I will tell you about what happened next and why I am now pretty much swooning every hour of every day. That might be better.

Things to consider:

Jim is 15 years older than I am. He is pretty much in constant pain, and I am pretty much in constant motion. When we began dating back in 1996, he was 39 and I was 24 and we were all the time mountain biking and camping and climbing stuff and kayaking and building things and, really, our whole courtship was based on being filthy and outside and covered in bruises and maybe even having ticks in our hair.

June 1998: Filthy, giddy, newly engaged.
 Because when you are 39 and 24 and both healthy and irreverent and intrepid, you are pretty much the same age. I mean, he had dreadlocks, y’all.

But much later, when you are 53 and 38, and the older one of you has had terrible luck with his health and the younger one of you hasn’t, well, there is some stress that happens there. 

So this morning I ran 10 miles. And Jim, who cannot run at all, can barely walk across the living room tonight because his joints hurt so much. They hurt all the time. He will spend the evening encased in ice packs. He spends most evenings that way. It’s hard on him in a million ways, both physical and mental.

Also. We have a couple of kids and we both used to have these very groovy but low-paying jobs that we liked a lot. But then we really needed to support those kids, but then Jim’s health kind of fell apart and his groovy career kind of collapsed and then I had to leave a groovy career I loved in order to be a grown-up and begin a new career that I merely like just fine.

I make enough to support us and I am home on the holidays and I work with great people and things are right wonderful in that respect. But I am the breadwinner for our family and I spend most of my waking hours in a cubicle, which is all a bit psychologically burdensome for an odd little duck like me. And I didn’t really sign up for all that.

I mean, y’all, who the hell would sign up for all that? Not an odd little duck like me, for sure.

And here’s another thing, since we’re talking about this. I am difficult. I am, um, let’s say I’m high-strung. That seems like a reasonable way to put it. I am a tad volatile and not easy to live with and I am not always the nicest person and I’m maybe a bit of a loner and sometimes I really need to be alone but I usually can’t be. And that makes me a tad more volatile than I even was to start with.

Meanwhile, Jim is sweet and laid back and patient and loving, which leaves me free to be even more of a pain in the ass because I know he’s handling the being-nice part of the work that needs to get done in our lives.

Throw all that into a blender and put it on pulse. Leave the lid off, just for fun.

In 2010, things broke really bad between Jim and me. He was worn out from being in so much pain for so long and from seeing his career pretty much crash and burn. I was frustrated and disappointed with the way it was all turning out, with feeling generally like a beast of burden, with the realization that our super-fun life had unexpectedly evaporated and left me with a bunch of yucky realities I truly never expected back when I was working at my groovy, low-paying job and spending the weekends picking ticks out of my hair.

So things were hard. We were feeling pretty tired and stressed. Then some other stuff happened. Yadda yadda yadda. It all went boom.

Here is a column I wrote right about that time. You would not even believe the shit that was happening in the background of that column. It was miserable. You can absolutely tell how near the edge I am right here.

But. BUT. Here is the thing. Jim and I are fundamentally crazy about each other. We have been best friends since our first date. Instantly. Irrevocably. We were not nervous on our wedding day. We were the opposite of nervous. We were both certain that we were doing the smartest and best thing we had ever done. We were really, really happy that day. And we were really, really happy for quite some time after that day. We are good together. We belong together.

It is easy, I think, to learn to take that for granted – to forget how rare it is to feel that way about anyone ever in your whole life. It’s just there every day, right? Someone who knows EXACTLY what you mean when you barely even said anything. Someone who gets your jokes and shares your history and your worldview and who always puts your to-go coffee in the car for you and who knows what to order for you when you happen to be in the bathroom at the moment the waiter shows up to ask.

Years and years and years go by. Eventually, you just feel completely entitled to this terrific person whose job it is to be crazy about you. And then life gets harder because that’s what it’s designed to do. And then no one is smiling anymore. All the laughing that used to happen just dries up. And you stop being nice to each other. We stopped being nice to each other.

Slowly, slowly, one interaction at a time, we started being rude and dismissive and critical and even cruel and not like us at all. We got tired and stressed and overwhelmed and we started beating the absolute hell out of our marriage.

The poor thing. It was just minding its own business.

At some point, we damn near broke it for good and I stood over the sad, bruised hull of us and realized how close I was to ruining my life. Just ruining everything that meant anything. And I thought, ‘Wait. I didn’t mean to do this. I don’t know what I meant to do, but it definitely wasn’t this.’

I have never been so bone-deep scared. And maybe that’s what it takes to come back from a dark year like the one we had.

I got scared. And I made a conscious, deliberate, determined decision to find my way back to May 2, 1999 – to the day I looked Jim Fortune in his blue, blue eyes and swore to him I’d love him forever and felt like the luckiest woman on the planet to be in that place, saying those words. I remember with total clarity exactly how I felt at that moment. I was not wrong in that moment. I was as right as I have ever been about anything.

So I decided.

I decided that when Jim made me mad, when he disappointed me, when he frustrated me, I would let it go. And when he did something that made me happy, I would make it the thought I returned to every time he crossed my mind. I assumed he was doing his best. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. And I asked him to do the same for me.

My friend and physical trainer says this: What we think about grows. It’s true. I thought about how much I love my quirky, brilliant husband and the oddball little life we’ve built. I thought about how much I love our beautiful boys, how lucky they are that I picked the dad I did for them. I thought about all the reasons I chose him, and all the reasons I feel so lucky he chose me.

And something magic happened. What I thought about grew.

I decided to ignore the things that annoyed and disappointed me, and they just…vanished. I was kind, and he was kind in return. I told him how much I love him, and his face rearranged itself into the face of a happy man. He made me laugh again, and then he was making me laugh all the time, just like he used to. I made him stop in the kitchen to hug me for no reason, and then he didn’t want to let go.

It took a long time, and it wasn’t easy. Some days it’s still hard because, ugh, some days are just like that. We have been together 16 years, and I would bet money that the time will come again when I’ll need to be reminded that what we think about grows.

But I’m a lot more humble now about marriage, and a lot more open to the truth that my husband and I are as vulnerable as anyone – regardless of how smugly certain of ourselves we might feel on our good days.

Because we nearly beat it to death, I’m a lot more grateful for what we have. I’m a lot more careful about what I let into my head, into my heart, into my life. I work every day on thinking about the things I want to see flourish. Because what we think about grows.

And, in my case, what I think about gets written down. So sometimes you end up reading about how much I love Jim Fortune.

Yeah, it can be a little much.

Maybe this will make you feel better: The man never vacuums. He will wash clothes, but then he will not put them away, so they are in piles everywhere and the kids are always announcing that they have no clothes to wear despite the fact that there are stacks of clean clothes…someplace around here.

And he leaves drifts of paper all over the house and he writes checks that get lost in those piles and never get mailed and he won’t let me load the dishwasher because I do it wrong. He watches too much TV and he will not ask for what he wants from me – he just expects me to know and I NEVER know. I am the worst at knowing. So I have to drag it out of him while he shrugs and mumbles. It’s so frustrating. It drives me crazy.

And, y’all, he’s mine in a way that no one else is or ever has been or ever will be, and I can’t do without him.

That’s all that matters. That’s all that’s worth thinking about.

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