Saturday, March 20, 2010

On marriage.

Beyond all else, the strangest thing is that I could have a child right now. I could be a father. In a completely legitimate way, too--not like some random accident at God's hands that provides me with progeny, and not through a laborious adoption process, but through honest-to-goodness biology sanctified by holy and legal writ. If we had gotten married in June, as was the original plan, a honeymoon baby named Wainwright Hogarth Sherwin could be crying at the foot of an Ikea bed as I cleaned our tiny bathroom or read a James Ellroy novel and sipped at a bottled water while she watched Sex and the City or rehearsed lines for a community theater production.

Nothing terrifies me more than my capacity for life.

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There were three things, I think, that she loved about the house enough to commit herself--ourselves, really, since I was to cohabitate--to living there for a year and a half.

1. It was yellow. Accordingly, the "blog name"--i.e. the internet-meme-friendly name that it would require before it could be adorably written about--was right there. The Yellow House. Capital Y, capital H. Low-hanging fruit.

2. It was a house. It wasn't Anonymously Bland Apartment or Depressing Basement Two Bedroom With No Windows. It was The Yellow House, and became such automatically. We signed the contract and it went from a yellow house to The Yellow House. Our Yellow House. The permutations were endless and the possibilities were eternal.

3. It had room for a garden. A small strip of dirt across the eastern wall offered a few tomato plants, some snapdragons, and a handful of carrots. This was something that could be nurtured and watered daily and maintained through thick and thin, adjusting for changes in seasonal climate.

The house itself is less than 400 square feet, by my amateur calculations. It's got two tiny rooms connected by a double-duty kitchen/hallway that functions poorly as both. A normal-sized oven seems like a ceramics kiln when compared to the size of the house in total, and the itsy bitsy bathroom would be too small for a train of dwarfs. As it is, I cannot stand completely upright in the shower, and sitting on the toilet requires my knees to buckle against the pipes from the undersized sink standing only half-an-arm's length away.

The shower itself is probably four square feet. After a lightly-offered complaint to the landlord, a plumber came and exchanged the drip-drip-dripping shower head for a new one powerful enough to strip the paint off of a Prius. While its exfoliating powers are appreciated, I worry that washing my face will take the eyelids straight from my face, and so it's operated at perhaps 20% of its capacity. I hope that doesn't hurt its feelings. Mostly because I know it could kill me in my sleep with a well-placed stream.

When we first took a tour of the house, I could see how her eyes lit up at it. The potential of this place, the romance of a tiny little self-contained residence unattached to either neighbors or previous relationships, the limitless potential of an unestablished home: this was what she wanted. This was a fresh start for both of us, two wounded people who had clung to each other like life rafts in a torrent of emotional downpour.

This was our Titanic.

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I've wanted to get married since I was four. My mom took me to an opening weekend matinee of The Little Mermaid and that was all I needed to know. Romances were big and central to a person's identity and you couldn't escape it, but you didn't want to. This is what life was: the matching of identities against all odds and in the face of operatic gestures from forces both divine and secular. The more you were pushed apart from someone, the more Love was on your side. Relationships that bucked and railed against life were the ones that needed cherishing. They were what mattered.

Despite my knowledge of this, I've never been able to overcome my inherent equating of dramatic stories to lifelong connection.

Or my adoration of girls with long red hair and eyes the color of iceberg lettuce.

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We had met in late March. Neither of us, by any accounts, were in any emotional shape for a relationship at all, let alone one of determinedly lifelong length. I had only recently stopped drinking, and she had been dealing with any number of similar (for her, anyway; alcohol was something for which she had never acquired a taste for or an interest in) demons. But we assumed that our crossing paths was some sort of intervening cosmic hand, nudging us toward a mutual nirvana.

Her mom didn't like me from day one. Our third (or so) date was to a play at her former high school, directed and produced by her former drama teacher. I picked her up from her house, introduced myself to her mother, and received eye contact colder than a Minnesota snowstorm. But I didn't see what was on the horizon for us--or at least what we thought was on the horizon for us, in any case--so the intense ocular hatred beamed at me like phaser rays was shrugged off. And her father's warm handshake and kind acceptance of my self-introduction was enough to balance it out.

We went to the play and both pretended to not want to hold each others' hand. Ninety Jew-baiting minutes later, after a secondary production of The Diary of Anne Frank featuring young blonde freshmen chillingly adorned with Nazi costuming, we headed to Five Guys and enjoyed massive burgers whose grease-soaked wrappers were as transparent as our own intentions. I dropped her off, slipped some cough drops into her pocket--she had been suffering through a cold all week--and went home, sailing on a cloud of goodnight hugs and a kiss on the cheek.

There wasn't much more time.

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It's not that I don't trust myself, per se. It's more that I don't trust anyone, and I fall under the umbrella of Anyone. I don't think that people are bad--even "bad people" as a concept sticks a little too far out into moral objectivity that I'm not comfortable with the label--and I know I'm certainly not perfect, so I can't really cast judgment on anyone else, either.

Regardless, I'm absolutely terrified of letting anyone close to me. Everyone else is a ghost and I'm the guy that can see the dead people. I'm visually aware of things that others don't seem to be, and while a sentiment like that may approach solipsistic arrogance, I can't refute it without betraying my worldview. I honestly do think that I'm more perceptive than most, and I've always thought so. But those perceptions always arrive just too late for me to make any practical use of them.

For whatever it's worth, I really did love you.

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Plans were made and inhibitions were ignored. We jumped into the wave pool of our future in our clothes, not pretending to make any preliminary preparations. We trusted in fate and God and whomever else was listening. We made ourselves a grand narrative matched only by those we had spent our formative years reading about: those that had found each other against all odds and pissed in the face of conventional wisdom, laughing all the while, giddy in their revolting hatred of standard narrative.

We were better than standard narrative. We became the standard narrative. The Standard Narrative became us.

I blame my parents, really. I've written about this before, and I think I was right. Seeing my parents and their unrealistically, perhaps even ridiculously loving relationship, especially given the circumstances under which it was formed, biased me toward silly stories of abandoned caution and embraced bouts with destiny that leave the combatants none the worse for wear. I accepted the notion that people found their connections where they existed and lived according to them. These stories were blessings that were divined upon people, ideologies made realities by the stars by which they wished and prayed and hoped.

"There's this Twilight Singers song," I remember explaining, "where he sings 'I'm ready to love somebody.' And I think I am." Her eyes widened like a releasing vise grip. She may not have known me well at that point, but she knew what I meant. I think she had a similar outlook, and one of us admitting it prior to the other was enough to make the other think that it was the case, as if some universality had been applied to an otherwise incredibly specific scenario.

We had bucked the trend.

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Regardless of anything else, regardless of what happened with you, before you, after you, with anyone, I think that the thing that hurt me more than anything else--ever, maybe--was when you teased me for adding so many different things to the meat loaf I was trying to make. Maybe that came and went past you. I can't imagine anyone else taking it as seriously as I did, but I wanted to make a good meat loaf, goddammit, and the second you made fun of me for including that many ingredients--for the record, they weren't anything I wouldn't have put in it if I was making it for one--I felt like ten bucks.

I don't why I took that so personally. But it felt like a box cutter to my forehead with a lemon juice spritzer.

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Things didn't work out. They often don't. As much as we wanted it to be, this was no exception. The piling on of family issues, religious issues, and anything else imaginable was just too much. We collapsed under our own weight. And, in retrospect, that's probably for the better. In fact, I retract that and revise it: it's definitely for the better. Neither of us would've been happy living that life, and we had to snap ourselves out of it.

I held onto the anger. The bitterness made things clear. The bitterness held me down when I spent nights thrashing in bedsheets and screaming at the top of lungs that believed themselves so close to having reached air, only to have it snatched away by confusion and actuality. The bitterness made it a white hat/black hat scenario. I was John Wayne. I was Jesse Custer. I had done The Right Thing and nothing else mattered. I was a victim.

But life caught up to us and our refusal to accept any semblance of truth punched us in the throat, leaving us gagging and clutching for air on bended knee.

There was that day that we saw Extract and your friend yelled at me and called me a "dick" for a little throwaway remark that I didn't mean to be taken seriously. I didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings, and I got jumped on for some stupid joke that wasn't funny. But you didn't defend me, and I sulked in the corner for ten minutes in the company of someone that visibly wanted to cave in my skull with a brick while you stood there with those fucking feathered earrings and acted like nothing was wrong. And maybe nothing was wrong, but the fact that I shut my mouth and didn't defend myself against unrealistically harsh charges compounded with my lack of defense from you and I wanted to throw the goddamn blender through the window, as I could think of no other way to express the rage that I had been directing at no one.

I hated her that day. I had never really liked her--judgmental pricks with big mouths and tiny vocabularies never sat right with me, and she was no exception--but I hated her that day in a way that frightened me. It reminded me of my own depths of disdain, which manifested itself in a single, concentrated Hate Beam directed against someone that had always looked at me cock-eyed, who thought I was wasn't good enough to live, who believed that my Sunday-morning hesitations were unquestionably signs of evildoing.

I was ashamed at how much I hated her. Which made me hate her even more.

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A year ago today, huh. What a strange year it's been, too. And this isn't just related to you, for that matter--although you're more or less the central figure of all of this--but there's so much else that's gone on, as well. I've tried so hard to decompartmentalize everything in my life, to let it all blend together in a way that allows me to live with a minimum of cognitive dissonance, but I can only do so much. Having one arm tied to religious orthodoxy and one arm tied to complete abandonment of it and sending both horses in opposite directions has brought me to the point where I go to a Saturday vigil mass in Baker City, OR while I'm supposed to be on a relaxing vacation but I break down three times, to the point where a kind woman who introduces herself as Maggie (there's a Catholic name if I've ever heard one) has to hold me upright at one point because I'm shaking so deeply from whatever in that cathedral touched me at such a basic, fundamentally human level.

I don't know what I'm supposed to do with myself. All I want is to be a good person and deserve the happiness that I know will arrive on my doorstep as soon as I stop fighting for it. But I don't know how to do that, and I never have.

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It was November 21st when I decided that there were too many leaves that had gone unraked, and I needed to take wire to grass in order to compile and discard them. I figured that, as long as I was doing winter yardwork, I should deroot and upturn the garden you had planted. The crop had long since died, and facing withering snapdragons and dried-up tomato bushes was too firm a reminder of how Things Go Wrong, and I wanted no part of it. I didn't need a visible reminder of how Things Go Wrong--events in my own life had made that clear enough, thank you--so it was time for it to go.

The gloves I had bought a few months prior for the sole purpose of gardening were too small. They were mediums. I'm not a man endowed with a particularly muscular frame, but my hands are abnormally large and couldn't be comfortably contained by the average-sized gardening gauntlets I had purchased the previous June. So I went bare-handed, pulling out roots and murdering snapdragons that were fighting the 35-degree weather for a shot at seeing December.

But I wouldn't let them. I had allowed them to live long enough.

I yanked them from the ground with unfounded glee, reveling in their silent passings and tossing their derooted corpses into a file of Things That Are No Longer Living. Mockeries of agricultural life. The pile got big enough for two giant green plastic bags, and they were tossed, remorselessly, into the city-provided trash cans.

But regardless of anything else, no matter my bitterness, how deserved or undeserved it may have been, no matter anything else, I felt instant regret at being so flippant toward their departure from my home.

Because this wasn't The Yellow House anymore. This was my yellow house. No caps. This wasn't something I had written a great deal about or considered beyond a place where I'd hang my head. But it had become a home in the interim, a hangdog fortress of solitude wherein my coat would be racked and my dishes washed and my cup emptied, and here I had thrown such a massive part of it to the wind, tossed to the compost heap, cast aside like a scarecrow from a barren field. There was no purchase to be found in that dry, infertile dirt.

And just because I hadn't done anything wrong doesn't mean I had done anything right.

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There are so many stories I wish you knew. Not stories that I want to tell you--these are primarily anecdotes that I'll keep to myself--but you'd be absolutely shocked at the things I've dealt with over the last...shit, it's been almost seven months, hasn't it. The better part of a year has passed. And while I do truly believe we're both better off for it, it's still such a strange thing to look back at where we might be if things had worked out differently.

I feel like I never really knew you. But these days, I don't really feel like I know anybody. So it's not like you're in some minority group.

I was driving around with Haley a few weeks ago and there was a dead cat in the middle of the road. Its head had been ground into stew on the blacktop and I gasped in dismay. She grabbed my hand and said "It's okay, Andy. It's okay." After I regained my minimal composure, she said, "you just feel everything so deeply." The fact that I took the death of an anonymous Calico as if it was a sign of the apocalypse made me consider everything else that had happened before.

And whatever happened with us, I took personally. I took it as an affront toward me, a personal insult directly solely at the heart that had tried so hard, for better or worse, to do the right thing and keep everybody protected in the process. But like Lachelle said yesterday, some things aren't slights against the other person in a relationship, but against the relationship itself.

Things weren't working for us, and Stevie Wonder could've seen that.

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The yellow house is a sad one, I think. The previous tenants got divorced and ended up splitting its roughly 350 square feet during the proceedings before she moved home and he moved on. I've often examined the holes in the walls where nails were placed. What did those nails hang up? Were they pictures of these two, blissfully happy in a past life that circumstance had determined could no longer exist? Maybe one of those goofy "Home is where love is" or whatever posters purchased at Deseret Book? Maybe some keepsake from their honeymoon, a real thing made unreal by their separation?

Those dots became bullet holes in a marital gunfight that we narrowly avoided. It's too small a place for anything but close-quarters combat to have occurred, and there's still a hovering cloud of resentment and fury hanging over its single plywood door. Paint is peeling from the corners and underneath is a coat of anger and disappointment at a swing at the major leagues that was a big fat strike. These people swung and missed, but we didn't swing at all. Sure, we stepped up to the plate, but we anticipated the heat of the oncoming pitch and threw the bat down and took our place back in the dugout prior to getting hit in the face with some overwritten sports metaphor (me doing a sports metaphor. now there is some irony).

But I'm gonna move out this week. I've already talked to my mom, and she's making the couch up for me. I'm not even going to unpack my things once I transport them there. The basement will hold my bookshelves, my DVD case, my table, and my bed, but they'll remain there until a plan is developed. I've been flailing and kicking and screaming against everything for so long now that I don't know which way is up.

Being in this town has brought me a perspective I didn't think I'd ever have again. It's taken the cyanide out of my lungs and put air in its place. I breathe deeper up north, I think. Food goes down easier and my eyes work a little better. I can see precisely what's in front of me. On one hand, that's incredibly comforting, because I know exactly what I'm in for. On the other, it's absolutely terrifying, because I know exactly what I'm in for.

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Yoga suggested that I develop a mantra, so I did. It's something I repeat to myself during dark hours, when I'm plagued with the pains of the past.

"My heart is one of kindness, compassion, and love."

I whisper this to myself several times a day. And I say it audibly, too--you have to make the sound if you want to get anything out of it--and I immediately feel better. Any negative energy (when did I turn into such a dirty hippie?) dissipates like a London fog and the world looks more decent. Everything's relatable. It reminds me that I hold no ill will toward anyone.

Tonight, at the aforementioned Saturday vigil mass, the congregation recited the Lord's prayer.

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I lost it. So long have I prayed for my own forgiveness of my own sin, my own backbitings, my own deceptions, my own judgments, my own hate-filled rants, my own dismissals, and I hadn't thought once of releasing those of others that I had held so close to my breast.

But today is different. And tomorrow morning, as I drive back to Utah, the sun is going to shine.

I'm going to open my hands and let the grains of sand I've been holding so firmly for so long sail into the wind like dandelion seeds.

There are so many better things we can all be doing with our hands.

And I miss you. I do. And now, something has lifted off of my chest and allowed me to admit it.

I don't want to go back to what things were. And I think it truly is best that we've both continued on our respective paths. And I think you'll be happy, if you're not already. And you deserve to be. And not in the way that everybody deserves to be, but in a very you-specific way. There are things that you're going to take on and readily defeat like backhanded gnats. You're destined for greatness. And so am I.

Just different brands, I guess.

But everything's gonna be okay for us. In the face of everything else, I know that everything's going to be alright.

And I'm gonna sleep alone again tonight. And that's fine. Because one of these days, something--to borrow a phrase--is going to last. Maybe you've found that. Hell, maybe I've found it and the timing's just wrong. Could be. And we'll never know without time.

Time. The thing we couldn't manage to give ourselves. But I think that's all either of us need. So watch that clock and let it tick. We're gonna figure this whole thing out one day.

Until then, I'm gonna eat my cranberries, drink my mint tea, watch my Clint Eastwood movies, nibble at my Butterfingers, and pray for rain.

8 comments:

Me said...

i told you you were a liberal

emilyf said...

I see.

Caitie said...

you are ridiculously adored.

Me said...

p.s. emily was referring to seeing that you are a liberal

Ronda said...

OH yeah - this was "exactly" my experience - did I tell you about it? Because you wrote me well.

Mantra then: Be fair, Be true, Do no harm. Now: I greet each day with a compassionate heart.

emilyf said...

Nah, I was just stating the obvious fact that I can see. I didn't know what else to say. ;)

Actually, It was more to let you off the hook of writing me an email you'll never get to. It's okay, really. After seeing this, I think I see.

Kayla said...

Vignette? Absolutely beautiful. You have many gifts to share with others, Mr. Andy. Many, many gifts.

Meg said...

I knew you were a dirty hippie, deep down. Mantras? God. Lachelle got to you before I did. :) Also, I liked the sports metaphor, since it is irony coming from you. Having been up to bat and having swung and missed...and the pain of divorce, etc. etc...I'm glad you were able to avoid it, or maybe I'm not. Maybe you would have come out of it okay, just like you came out of this okay.