From the outside looking in, we seem to have it all together. We have three beautiful children, all of whom are smart, strong, and awesome girls. While the yard of our picturesque Colonial isn’t always mowed and the weeds not always pulled, there are bikes littering the backyard amongst soccer balls and baseball mitts; obviously, it is a place where we like to play. A pair of muddy wellies rest by the back door where we haven’t ever the time to hose them off before starting another adventure. The grill during the springtime gets more use than our oven, and, oftentimes, there are a few extra mouths to feed when the neighborhood kids congregate here after school and stay until suppertime.
We have a hodgepodge of furniture inside – nothing of showroom quality, but heavily used just the same. There are sharpie marker stains on the kitchen table, peanut butter fingerprints on the chairs, and our golden retriever’s fur during shedding season collects around the corners of the rooms, mimicking various smaller dogs of all shapes and sizes in my peripheral vision.
There is something not right with my marriage.
The children are oftentimes boisterous and argumentative with each other; three girls living together will provoke such a thing. Two years of homeschooling has been a wild ride, but we are all a bit too ready to welcome the next school year, bringing with it a return to uniforms, school sports, and pizza in the cafeteria on Fridays.
My husband and I, we move around, seemingly barely balancing careers, soccer practices, and the tooth fairy, not to mention the quickly emerging teenage years, which I am learning rather quickly will threaten to take down anyone who can’t handle things like slammed doors, or a pair of jeans which suddenly don’t fit quite right after looking just perfect only yesterday.
Some nights we fall away in different children’s beds, or with our kindergartener resting in between us – her legs now long enough for her kicking and turning to shove us to opposite edges of our queen-sized bed. There are more mornings than I can recall which have left us both exhausted, never quite ready to tackle the demands of the next day. We rub our eyes as we shuffle down the stairs, into the kitchen, and retrieve our first round of coffee for the day. Needing a break more often than not, the girls growing older sometimes shoves marriage aside, blindsiding us with discussions about becoming a decent person more than a glass of spilt milk, or an explosive diaper in a carseat ever could have done.
There is something not right with my marriage.
In the beginning it was just us two, but those days have nearly evaporated completely into the past, covered up by years of appliance repairs, the millions of piles of laundry, taking out the trash and sorting the recycling. There is always something that needs to be done and we have become so good at dividing and conquering, each taking a different rein to keep our movements going forward – hopefully in the same direction – day after day.
The notion that something is not right with my marriage rolls around in the back of my mind more often than I would like proclaim.
What is this? What is this supposed to be?
I watched my parents go through it, but they didn’t seem to get it quite right either; my husband’s parents got divorced after 15 years of marriage. Looking around me there is yet another person becoming single in their late 30’s, with it coming a new look with whitened teeth and gym memberships they actually use. But, they still never look refreshed and happy, despite the freedom to choose love all over again. Dating sites are full of broken hearts trying to mend with first dates carrying much more weight with children to consider rather than the demands of degree programs and graduate schools.
Maybe my marriage isn’t so bad.
We know how to touch each other; our bodies each a map we have navigated many times, knowing all of the backroads and special stops in between. I have grown to read his eyes – one set sincere in his comfort and the other wide open in a moment of stress and despair. I know how to soothe him, exactly what words to say; I can read his mind to what he is thinking even before he opens his mouth to explain. He shakes his leg when he is nervous; it has become as familiar as breathing to put my hand on his knee to slow the agitation from another stressful day.
He knows exactly what to do when I start moving through the house nervously, picking up things and fussing at the kids for not helping bear the load of responsibilities as they roam about the house each day, leaving in their wake opened tubes of paint, cut up pieces of paper, chairs crooked at the table, and Legos all over the place. He’ll grab my shoulders, or put his arms around my waist from behind to stop me from moving, holding me close to his body to comfort my frustration back to something tame.
“I love you, baby,” he will whisper. “I’ll help you. Everything will be okay.”
My marriage isn’t so bad.
Life gets busy and overwhelming with responsibilities that pile up like dishes after a big Sunday meal, toys in the floorboards of the minivan, and trash which overflows obnoxiously in small cans under the bathroom sinks before we remember to take it out again. Yet still, we are here – together – despite life’s ability to sweep in with hell-fire, bringing with it a host of have-tos before want-tos with not a lot of flexibility in between.
Maybe my marriage is normal.
We are each doing our best, painting our life in technicolor on Instagram for all of the world to see. But it is the story behind those carefully chosen photographs which paint the raw landscape of two people drifting in an ocean in which we thought we could sail effortlessly through. We were young then; we thought we could control the entire world with an infinite amount of time left to dream.
Love is real with raw, imperfect beauty; the solvent for cleaning up the inevitable messes involved with living life together never doing quite good enough to never leave a stain. Yet, it is within those messes that we create a bond made up of solutions that work, touches that soothe, words that heal, and a closeness born in a sacred promise of union and intimacy.
My marriage is normal.
“It’s not supposed to be easy,” my mother would say. Her words never what I want to hear when I’m having a bad day. “I left three times, but I had no where to go, so I went back home.”
This blog has a purpose, and it is to remove the rose-colored lenses we all habitually look through, telling us that there is something better, or masking the truth because no one wants to feel pain.
Real life doesn’t have a filter.
Maybe its the movies, their unachievable love-story glory to blame. We believe quite easily the notion that love and heartache are not all the same. But life is always churning, and sometimes so fast that it makes us sick and confused with healing kisses which take our breath away intermingled with words that cut too deep in raised voices before we stomp out of the room.
My marriage is real.
This past weekend we were driving through Alabama when we came to the rest stop with the giant rocket on display. The car had been quiet. My husband, the executive, had another project due; myself, the writer, paralyzed with all the ways in which I could approach my submission to a popular column in the New York Times. We had been silent and still, the dog in the backseat with his head resting on the center console because he has separation anxiety and being close to us makes him feel like he is at home.
“Would you get in that rocket with me?” He broke into the silence.
“And we’ll go all the way to the moon. Just me and you.”
I looked over at this man I have loved for so long, with whom I have created three whole entire people, a messy, lived-in house, and a story so real in its beautifully raw imperfections collected throughout time that it leaves behind a display of heart-shaped stains.
He glanced at me. His familiar eyes in that instant looking so peaceful and sincere. I pulled his strong hand into the palm of my own, rubbing my fingers long the familiar lines of his knuckles and across his wedding ring.
“Always,” was all I could say.
My marriage is everything.