Breaking Trail

rock climbing

This has been a rough week for Jack and me.  Not rough in the sense of scaling high emotional peaks or rappelling into deep psychological crevices, but rough in the sense of picking our way over old rocky ground.  Ground so old the stones shatter with our weight and we risk falling and not bothering to get back up.

This week, Jack said he wanted to walk with a friend but the guy wasn’t available.  I asked him to walk with me.  His wife. Jack explained that no, he couldn’t walk with me.  Said he just wouldn’t be able to enjoy that.

This week, Jack said he planned to sell our house and move us into an apartment so we could travel around the world with the money we’d save.  I asked him how we were going to travel the world together if we couldn’t even walk around the block compatibly.  He said his plan was to lose a hundred-and-fifty pounds and get off all his medication and then we’d travel the world.

I said I’d like to wait until then to sell the house.  He said I was, as unusual, critical and non-supportive of him.  Which struck me funny.  But then, admittedly, I do have an odd sense of humor.

This week Jack wanted to see a movie, so we went to Man of Steel.  We arrived in the darkened theater to a packed house.  The only two seats together were way down front, second row from the front.  Because of my trifocals, I have a hard time seeing up that close.  I said maybe we should just get our money back and come to a different showing.  Jack said, I could sit up top by myself if I couldn’t see from down front.  He sat.  I fumed. 

For about three minutes. 

Then I just laid down on the ancient bed of crumbling rocks and went to sleep.  Metaphorically. 

There is no point in taking his comments or actions personally when he’s in his anniversary period.  Better for me to go on alone and know we’ll meet up when he’s feeling more social.  Or maybe we won’t meet up emotionally.  Either way, it’s a huge waste of time and energy for me to pick my way along that old, crumbling path.  I already know where that trail goes.

This week Jack told me he loved me.  I said I loved him, too.  It’s true.  I do love him. But for now, he’s going to be treading that old, winding and familiar path alone.  I’m strolling in the sunshine.  A crick in my neck from forcing myself NOT to look over at him stumbling along the old path.  But, nonetheless, I’m breaking trail.



This week that toothy shark spiraled up from the black, sunless depths and took a good-sized chunk out of my ass.  This week I remember why I have such a difficult time floating in the good moments of my marriage.  This week, I’m tempted to exhale and sink into the dreamless release of surrender.  This week, I’ve lost my sense of humor.

Jack has begun his journey through this year’s Vietnam Anniversary dates.  He’s doing his best, using his good-mental-health-tools to fight against it.  But he’s increasingly negative, his mind filled with conspiracy theories and the same old paranoia and distrust of the government he’s battled since crawling ashore at Red Beach near Danang.  He’s a little more irritable, talks about selling the house, is becoming increasingly obsessed with buying a couch or a rug or a car. 

We’re less than a week into the season and already I’m desperate to break the cycle.  I have a clear, visceral memory of why, in our younger days, I’d agree to anything to stop the downward spiral.  Slip on backpacks and travel around Asia.  Done that.  Move to Mexico and become scuba instructors?  Been there.  Sell everything and move to Panama?  Bought the T-shirt.   

Because you see the very worst thing about this time of year is that my husband hates me.  He really does.  Because, I’m the mirror.  Oh, I’m not saying he doesn’t love me.  But, right now, he mostly hates me.  And, here’s the very hardest part, after all these years, I hate him too.  The mirror of marriage is, after all, double-sided.

I’m bone tired of dealing with his PTSD.  Sick unto death of the financial messes, and the negativity and the physical pain and psychic wounds.  And, he’s just as tired of dealing with a wife he can never please, who has suddenly, after twenty-five years, decided she wants more in life than being his cheerleader. Right now, today, the two of us cannot say two words to each to each other without starting a fight.

So, how are we going to get through the next six months?

The same way we always do. 

Stack minutes into hours, and hours into days, and days into weeks into months until we look at each again and remember why we’re together. 

Recite what I call the marriage prayer.  “Lord help me in my unbelief.”

And, if all else fails, we’ll sell everything and fly to Thailand, or Tasmania, or Timbuktu.

But, guaranteed, come December 14th, the anniversary of the day Jack stepped on the landmine, the day he left Vietnam, we’ll still be right here, glaring or gazing, either way, we’ll be side-by-freaking-side.   



Right now, Jack and I are floating in a warm, salty sea of emotional calm.  But, even as I feel the metaphorical sun on my face, my bare shoulder brushing his, I know, I KNOW, tiny biting fish and enormous dark shadows with sharp teeth wait just below the surface of everyday life.  This knowledge has been reinforced so many times in my marriage that it is almost impossible to arch my back, throw my arms to the sides and just. . .float.

Last week, author Jan Morrill(The Red Kimono) interviewed Jack and me for a piece she’s writing for submission to the next Wounded Warrior Project Anthology.  When Jack revealed that his other marriages lasted, on average, less than four years each, Jan asked why he and I are still together after twenty-five years. 

Good question. 

Here’s Jack’s answer:

“I can’t get rid of her.  I keep messing up and doing my best to run her off, but she sticks like glue and won’t leave.”

I believe he was only half-kidding.

Here’s my answer:

“Because I’m still learning life lessons from Jack.  This marriage is where I need to be.  Still.  After all this time, through all the messes and all the glorious times.  Right now, my marriage is teaching me to float.  To take life one moment at a time and luxuriate in that moment.  To know that there is nothing I can do about what is, undoubtedly, already swimming up from the deep, ready to bite me on the ass.”

Jack laughed at my answer.

“That’s sort of like beating your head against the wall because it feels so good when you stop, isn’t it?”

Then he reached across the table and took my hand.