I slept on the floor last night. My husband had been crying late into the early morning and then finally had drifted off into a drugged sleep. Every few minutes he would shake violently but not wake. It put me on edge so I decided to head downstairs.
I pulled out a mat that we had used for camping last summer and lay down on it. I had brought my pillow with me and I knew I had a blanket somewhere.
I decided to listen to an audio book by Mary Karr about writing memoirs. It was my idea that maybe if I delved into memoir writing, it would be like therapy for me and I would finally unravel the psychological demons that have been lurking around all these years.
I woke early as is typical of me. I usually get up around 5 and my internal clock naturally wakes me at this time whether or not it’s the weekend. I’ve been tortured by what my therapist said to me at our last meeting. The idea that I enabled my husband all these years. I gave him a place to live and a camera and didn’t make it difficult at all for him to carry on has he had, without a job. Without ambitions. Without financial contributions.
Why hadn’t I handed him divorce papers? Why hadn’t I given him that ultimate ultimatum?
All week I struggled with that. Some answers. One: I didn’t believe he could make it on his own and I didn’t want to see him living under a bridge. But much more important, I realized that I don’t play that way. If I had given him divorce papers, there is nothing he could have said at that point to change my mind. He could have changed completely and did everything I ever wanted him to do plus some, and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. I’m not that way. I don’t bargain over stakes that large. So I didn’t divorce him because I didn’t want to. I think my therapist was trying to get me to say I loved him. But that word doesn’t come so easily anymore. I’ve become too resentful, too angry.
It’s true though, of course. I do love him. But this love seems to be assaulted by a need for change, and I don’t want to change. I don’t want to change how I love or to engage in a different kind of love. A paternal or rather a maternal love. And that is, it seems, exactly what he needs.
One of the engineers I work with, very inappropriately I think, began talking to me about what men need. This was a man I had been working with for an hour and had never met before. He was supposed to be one of the giants at our company and I needed to interview him and write an article. He said that all men are little boys.
Excuse me. I hadn’t asked. I hadn’t brought up anything private or relationship oriented.
The advice came anyway.
Men are little boys. They need to be mothered.
I returned to my office and shook my head at my “big” boss. He didn’t understand. I didn’t explain.
I’m from a matriarchy. Strong Texas women. Abused, put down at times, but strong. Always strong. The idea of mothering a man disgusts me. My Texas brainwashing says that men must be strong. And as silly as I can recognize that this is and understanding that everyone needs a soft place to be and safety, it’s still ingrained in me that I’m no servant and shouldn’t be.
Mary Karr described passages from The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. This is a book I’ve never read but have on my shelf. I’ve been carting it around with me since grad school. I bought it from the school bookstore not as assigned reading, but on a whim. Karr’s description of this book was so intriguing that I went looking for it around 6 this morning and found it on my shelf. Now it’s laying on my table, within reach.
It promises stories of a rebellious woman. I can’t wait.
This morning, it strikes me with particular force that everything needs to fall away and I need to work on the memoir form. I need to write about my childhood and the brain injury and Russia and my father and how I was nearly raped in college but convinced my attacker to play Scrabble instead.
I’m not good enough for you, I had said. He agreed. Let’s play Scrabble to decide it. Drunk and stupid, a U.S. Marine that my roommate had brought home along with her boyfriend had barged into my bedroom and woken me up. Before I knew what was happening, he was on top of me tearing at my clothes.
He was convinced that he was going to do the deed. I had never seen him before. We were in near darkness except for a street light beaming through my bedroom window. All I could tell was that he was drunk, stupid, and built like tank. I was not going to be any match for his physical strength. I didn’t bother to struggle. Talking was the only thing I could do, so I set to it. I talked and talked, and now I realize that I was practicing some of the tenets of nonviolent communication. I was sensing his feelings and ultimately I gave him an out. Maybe he didn’t really want to be a rapist. Maybe he needed a way to save face. Since then I’ve talked myself out of a few “situations,” but never one as charged as that.
My roommate felt no remorse about his behavior or that she had brought him home. I never forgave her. I hate her to this day.
This was one of the scenes that played through my mind last night as I listened to Karr’s book. There are so many others that I need to release. Maybe it would help. Maybe.
I need to mourn the death of my former relationship with my husband. So says my therapist.
Why didn’t I present him with the divorce papers after say 5 years of not working? Because he was my only friend. The only person I trusted. The person I could confide in and depend on emotionally. I needed him. Now that part of him is gone, drugged most of the time to where I don’t know if it still exists. It must it seems. But I’m not sure.
I just know he doesn’t make sense anymore. The open person I once knew who didn’t hide from me hides now, and try as I might I can’t coax him out. On one hand I want to help him and sympathize with him, on the other I wonder what our lives will truly be like going forward. I can continue to try to manage the situation, to ignore the enormous gaps that are widening. Or, I can get my head together and figure out what it is I’m going to do. I suppose the first step is to figure out what I want. The next is to see if he can get there at all. The final one is to make some decisions.
My therapist says I have choices. But what choices are there when all of them are bad? Where is the choice in that?
What would you do if you could do anything? She asks.
I would travel the world on a trust fund.
Wouldn’t we all, she says, but what really?
No, really. That’s what I would do.
And your job?
It struck me for the first time that I actually like my job these days. I’m incredibly emotionally invested. I don’t want to leave.
But you would write novels or something if you could do anything.
And I thought back to the last Nanowrimo and remembered how difficult it was—and what crap I came up with. All of a sudden that idea, the idea of being a novelist, seemed incredibly unpleasant.
No, trust fund travel. I’ll stick with that.
But then I circled back to Mary Karr. She had tried her hand at fiction but found that she naturally gravitated to memoir. And when I think of tossing off creative writing for good, names get dropped like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coehlo and new people for me show up like Maxine Hong Kingston. Then I remember authors like Amy Tan. And of course guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Sergei Dovlatov.
And like a codependent lover, I’m back.
Surely, I never thought of leaving.