The Tale of Us Against the Monster:Fighting Fear by Fighting Each Other
My husband and I married for love. We loved each other. I thought he was really cute and a great kisser, and vice versa. I thought he was fun and charming. But I also thought that he was a good man, and an honest one. He had that rare moral nature that so many gals look for in a guy, and when they find it, they know. They just know. I knew too. I knew as certain as the sun rises in the east that my destiny and his were intertwined—inexorably, indissolubly, and interminably. I could not, and cannot now, imagine my world without him in it. I think this is what “becoming one” means. I am no longer just me. I am now us. This understanding goes right to my bones. His fingerprints are embedded beneath my skin. My flesh, naked and vulnerable, is offered up to his embrace. My DNA has altered. I am tethered to him with profound words and gold rings. My heart is no longer my own.
I have always wondered how it is that people stop living in their unions. I don’t mean people who have been beaten and abused by the lie of false love, or those tragic souls deceived by an infatuation that became toxic; I mean people who once loved, and were loved, and then just…stopped. It is called “irreconcilable differences,” I think. What surprises me is that these couples didn’t know, or didn’t believe, that there would inevitably arise differences between them that they would never reach agreement on. Yet every single couple in the world (that I know of anyway) has an irreconcilable difference or two between them. More often than not, it is the couples with long and healthy marriages that seem to admit to the most irreconcilable differences. What astonishes me even more is that once passionate love can turn into the most caustic anger.
My husband and I have always been “The Bickersons.” We squabble about stupid little things, all the time, almost by habit. I remember one day not so long ago we debated Naan bread. Yes. Naan bread. He said he has always disliked it even though he places a double order of the stuff each time we go out for Indian food. When I reminded him of this, there followed a 20 minute row over what he does and does not order in a restaurant and how he is well aware of what he likes and does not like, thank you very much, and for the love of all things holy, he does not need to be treated like a child. And never was I to give him Naan bread again! Ever!! He then went back to his dinner and ate his fill, including all the Naan bread. I don’t know. I just don’t know. And don’t drive anywhere with us, if you value your sanity. My husband always asks me to drive now, but then he sits in the passenger seat and tells me how to drive—like some kind of psychotic, OCD driving instructor. It’s maddening. Before long, we become the squabbling Bickersons again. I could go on, but I think you pretty much get the picture. Basically, we are married. We have been married long enough that we are quite comfortable speaking our minds to each other. Most of you married couples might know exactly what I am talking about. Mostly, our bickering is harmless. It’s not like a fight. A fight is different than a squabble.
Over the course of our marriage, my husband and I have had a couple of knock-down-drag-out-humdinger fights. Mostly yelling colorful language at each other. Stomping around and finger pointing. More yelling. Slamming doors. Silence. We’ve averaged about one per year. I guess that’s normal, but then what’s normal? Let’s just say that it’s normal for us. In spite of our bickering and the occasional fight, my husband and I get along like a house on fire. We’re best buddies. We laugh and chat a lot, and we also spend a lot of time together in peaceful silence. You know how after you’ve had a hard day at work and you get home and get into your jammies and you settle down on the couch in the evening and relax? The day just drains off you because you are now curled up in your Minnie/Mickey Mouse onesy, and sipping a glass of wine. There’s nowhere you need to be. Comfort. That is how my marriage has always felt to me. Then the Monster invaded our home, and our cozy rhythm was set on its ear.
I’m angry. Yes. I am angry. I’m angry at the Monster, but to my utter shock and horror, I also seem to be angry at my husband. But then, how can I be angry with him? That makes no sense at all. He’s the one whose been handed a death sentence. He’s the one suffering terrible pain, needing a plethora of pills just to make it through the day. Every activity he once loved is over. Finished. Gone forever. His golf clubs collect dust now, his fishing gear has been commandeered by a couple of black spiders, and he’s thinking about selling the tools in his man cave. He can’t throw darts anymore. He can’t lean over a pool table. He’s not allowed to have a beer. He’s unable to drive his car on his medication. He can still play poker if he sits on a thick cushion and is prepared to give up his pile of chips if the pain is suddenly bad. He trembles against his cane like a man twice his age, bent and frail. The smile has left his eyes. How can I be angry with him when I feel such aching sorrow for him, such sadness for his losses, and such terror over what I know is yet to come? What’s wrong with me?
It’s because we married for love. With that marriage came the promise of days, of wine yet to be drunk, of sights yet to be seen, of adventures yet to be had, of love yet to be made. The gluttonous Monster has wolfed down on our bright path and now we are lost together in a thickening darkness. But it is my husband who is leaving me and I am filled with rage at the sight of his wasting body, and horror at the thought of this world alone. Striking out on my own. Making a new life. Surrendering to the ether the dreams I conjured with this dying man who is leaving me. How can he leave me like this, so broken already… It’s more than I can bear.
He is angry too. White with fury, and teeth clenched against the pain racking his body, he can only strike out at the one thing moving within his reach. Me. The thing in the room weaker than him. The thing he can drag recompense from for the pain he must endure. We don’t bicker right now. We don’t fight either. This is something else. We contend and grapple with each other, we spit bitter words at each other—terrible, cruel words. Words we don’t mean, but words meant to stab each other. Because the pain the Monster brings isn’t enough. The Monster isn’t satisfied with mere broken bodies. He must have broken hearts also. But then there is grief and weeping and regret and we forgive each other and confess our motive of panicked anguish. There’s just nowhere safe for this toxin to go, even though it must be released. We have no choice, or we will ignite and crumble to ash like desiccated leaves in a flame. This is how we spend our days of late—battling between rage, pain, and tears, because we married for love.
I’m not leaving him, if that’s what you’re thinking. I will not be dragged from him, and the doctors, so caught up and concerned with privacy issues and all the doctor/patient stuff, have given up. They have stopped trying to separate us or to speak confidentially to either of us. My husband and I are united against the Monster, fiercely inseparable, and clinging to each other with every ounce of bravado we can muster. Friends have assured me that this “stage” of anger will pass, even though sometimes I entertain the disconcerting notion that the only reason I am able meet the day, to grasp the reins, to lower my lance, and engage in hastilude with the Monster, is because I am so angry so much of the time. Even when I am exhausted, anger has the power to spur me forward.
Perhaps there is a reason for this stage of anger, and a reason why this stage comes so early in the process. Without it, I think some days that I would run away screaming, or just lay down and try to die beside him. Then he offers me a tremulous kiss and cops a feel before leaning back against his mountain of pillows. His wicked smile is tainted with the pale of melancholy, but I still see him nevertheless. He’s in there somewhere, trapped in the Monster’s dungeon. My anger melts away as he settles down to sleep. For the moment, he’s in the soft, grassy valley between pain’s steep cliffs. It’s a relief from everything: pain, anger, fear, and all the desperate bargains we make to keep each other safe and present. We married for love, and it is for love that we “rage, rage against…”