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2012-02-16 11:10


    It is this happiness, I suppose (which is really a few months old by now), that gets me to thinking upon my return to Rome that I need to do something about David. That maybe it's time for us to end our story forever. We were already separated, that was official, but there was still a window of hope left open that perhaps someday (maybe after my travels, maybe after a year apart) we could give things another try. We loved each other. That was never the question. It's just that we couldn't figure out how to stop making each other desperately, shriekingly, soul-punishingly miserable.



    Last spring David had offered this crazy solution to our woes, only half in jest: "What if we just acknowledged that we have a bad relationship, and we stuck it out, anyway? What if we admitted that we make each other nuts, we fight constantly and hardly ever have sex, but we can't live without each other, so we deal with it? And then we could spend our lives together—in misery, but happy to not be apart."


    Let it be a testimony to how desperately I love this guy that I have spent the last ten months giving that offer serious consideration.


    The other alternative in the backs of our minds, of course, was that one of us might change. He might become more open and affectionate, not withholding himself from anyone who loves him on the fear that she will eat his soul. Or I might learn how to . . . stop trying to eat his soul.


    So many times I had wished with David that I could behave more like my mother does in her marriage—independent, strong, self-sufficient. A self-feeder. Able to exist without regular doses of romance or flattery from my solitary farmer of a father. Able to cheerfully plant gardens of daisies among the inexplicable stone walls of silence that my dad sometimes builds up around himself. My dad is quite simply my favorite person in the world, but he is a bit of an odd case. An ex-boyfriend of mine once described him this way: "Your father only has one foot on this earth. And really, really long legs . . ."


    What I grew up watching in my household was a mother who would receive her husband's love and affection whenever he thought to offer it, but would then step aside and take care of herself whenever he drifted off into his own peculiar universe of low-grade oblivious neglect. This is how it looked to me, anyway, taking into account that nobody (and especially not the children) ever knows the secrets of a marriage. What I believed I grew up seeing was a mother who asked nothing of anybody. This was my mom, after all—a woman who had taught herself how to swim as an adolescent, alone in a cold Minnesota lake, with a book she'd borrowed from the local library entitled How to Swim. To my eye, there was nothing this woman could not do on her own.


    But then I'd had a revelatory conversation with my mother, not long before I'd left for Rome. She'd come into New York to have one last lunch with me, and she'd asked me frankly—breaking all the rules of communication in our family's history—what had happened between me and David. Further disregarding the Gilbert Family Standard Communications Rule-book, I actually told her. I told her everything. I told her how much I loved David, but how lonely and heartsick it made me to be with this person who was always disappearing from the room, from the bed, from the planet.


    "He sounds kind of like your father," she said. A brave and generous admission.


    "The problem is," I said, "I'm not like my mother. I'm not as tough as you, Mom. There's a constant level of closeness that I really need from the person I love. I wish I could be more like you, then I could have this love story with David. But it just destroys me to not be able to count on that affection when I need it."


    Then my mother shocked me. She said, "All those things that you want from your relationship, Liz? I have always wanted those things, too."


    In that moment, it was as if my strong mother reached across the table, opened her fist and finally showed me the handful of bullets she'd had to bite over the decades in order to stay happily married (and she is happily married, all considerations weighed) to my father. I had never seen this side of her before, not ever. I had never imagined what she might have wanted, what she might have been missing, what she might have decided not to fight for in the larger scheme of things. Seeing all this, I could feel my worldview start to make a radical shift.

    那一刻,仿佛我坚强的母亲伸出手来打开拳头, 让我终于看见她几十年来为了和我父亲维持快乐的婚姻(若基于种种考虑,她确实婚姻快乐)而承受的伤痕。我从未见过她这一面,从来不曾。我未曾想象过她要什么,她错失了什么,在为大局着想而决定不去争取的东西。看见的这一切,使我感到我的世界观开始发生急剧变化。

     If even she wants what I want, then . . .?




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