Feeling bad the way I do sometimes– the bad egg kind of bad- it doesn’t go away completely. It just lies dormant under the surface for a while. And then suddenly, it’s back. It can come back ferocious, hungry, clawing, like it just broke out of prison, where it had plenty of time to think about how to destroy me.
And then I feel sorry for Bear.
I feel apologetic. I feel sorry about marriage not solving all of my problems, as though if only I could just calm down and let it, it would. I feel like I’ve let marriage down.
Sometimes I think that marriage actually makes it worse. I mean, being safe and secure and loved and sexed and having my man dream come true makes it clearer that this is not all there is. Before I had Bear, when I was in a relationship with a guy who was being tormented by what seemed like an army of his own personal demons, I could feel bad about that. It was obvious what I was supposed to feel bad about. I also felt like I really needed to get good grades in college or my life might be terrible, but that feeling was secondary to the emotional trauma of my romantic relationship.
In a way, that’s what relationships were for. To distract me from the things I was really worried about. To distract me from the fact that I might feel bad, anyway, even if they were gone or great.
After being tormented by the tormented guy, I was in a relationship with a guy I wasn’t in love with, and I felt conflicted and anxious and stubborn and frustrated and helpless about that.
And later, whenever I felt bad during the time I was single, I felt scared and tiny and hopeless, because there was a chance I would never find someone.
There was always such an easy reason. Such a plain target.
And now, I have checked so many boxes. I have things I never thought I would get a chance at. I stare at my own reality in dumbstruck wonderment. I pinch myself. I stare some more.
But then, when I feel bad, it isn’t as easy to find a place to put it. So the badness rushes to my career. You’re failing! You haven’t accomplished anything in the past year! Everyone in the world is more successful than you! And they have better hair! And your teeth look a little yellow! And you’re not making enough money because you are a failure!
I feel sorry for Bear because I want to be happy for him. I feel like that was part of the arrangement. We were going to make each other happy ALL THE TIME. That was going to be marriage. When I’m unhappy, it makes him unhappy, and sometimes this feels like pressure to be happy.
(we should always look like this. especially the red hat)
But I should probably let Bear talk for himself, rather than deciding what will wreck him and what it is that he needs every day. Maybe I am not supposed to be as happy as I think I am. Maybe that’s a myth.
(this is how I look when I’m crazy-happy. even though it’s dorky, i want to look like it more. i wonder why i don’t)
When my little brother visits me here in the city, for a couple days, he is silly and fun and comedically spot-on, and then the next day his eyes look abruptly deadened. He is somewhere else, in his mind.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, over and over, spacing each repetition three or so minutes apart.
“Nothing,” he says, his eyes missing mine by a few inches.
“It’s not nothing,” I say.
This goes on for a long time.
I recognize my face in his face. That is how I must look when my mind slips into shadow. I am startled. I never noticed it in him before.
“I think I know how you feel,” I say. “You’re nervous, right now. You can’t concentrate. Your brain is shutting off.”
He looks up. He meets my eye. He nods.
I am weirdly triumphant. Not that I want my brother to feel that way. But I can see for a beautifully clarified moment that it is really not my fault. And that neither of us is alone with this. We can talk about it. And we do, relieved.
It is possible that I am not a failure for backsliding into the murky depths now and then. It is possible that this just happens to me, and then I drag myself up and out again. It is even possible that every time it happens I am forced to remind myself of how important the tiny details, the stitching of life, the ordinary stretches are. I am forced to remember that these are the things that matter most. It is not impossible that I am learning, slowly, ever-so-slowly, that I am capable of happiness. A patchwork, complicated, scrappy happiness, maybe. A sometimes unpredictable, jumpy, hungry happiness. But a real one. One that is all mine.
And as for marriage, it hasn’t made me feel automatically anything other than safe. It hasn’t made me feel automatically gorgeous or successful or finished. But it’s definitely given me the courage to begin.
(we hold each other up on the ice)
* * *
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in gold.
38 Responses to “the thing that marriage doesn’t do”