My love betrayed me this week, something I never thought I would have to endure. As I paced in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, I attempted to make sense of it. We have been together five years, through so much, war, chronic illness, multiple moves, a long-distance relationship while he finished up his tour in the Army, him learning to parent three teenagers, and me relearning to parent with a partner instead of on my own. How could he not know the contents of my very essence?
Several times over the course of a week he had left the coffee pot bone dry.
It was a little and big error, if you can believe it. For those of you who rely on this sign of morning loving you get it.
Rewind to a time before this betrayal, to a scruffy, sleep-rumpled man bringing me coffee in bed, seasoned as I prefer with the right amount of cream and sugar, a man who every time he heads for the kitchen tosses back over his shoulder, “Do you need anything?”
“The Otter”, my other, has always looked out for my needs, and in doing so, taught me his love language. Now just as I was getting good at parrotting his talk, he’d abandoned his native tongue.
What the hell? I immediately reverted to defense mode. I must have offended him in a way I couldn’t remember, pissed him off somehow.
This is knee-jerk childhood PTSD. It’s entirely too easy to go there. I went anyway.
I mentioned the coffee fracas to the Otter, joked about it, although, stupidly, it stung. I wondered if he hated my new short hair, if my illness was finally grating on him, as I conveniently forgot the extra layers of crap we are currently going through as a family: ongoing training for his EMT and firefighter jobs, my daughter’s dislocated knee, my son’s extreme anxiety, my transition to long-term disability, non-active employee status at my dream job, selling one of our cars, our sick dog, multiple doctor’s appointments, worries over bills, and both of us feeling hampered in what we could do. We’d been trying to eat a 7-layer crap cake and neither of us were hungry.
I told him how I felt, then I let it go, satisfied I had communicated the gravity of the situation and laughing a little about my tenterhook emotions. The conversation ended with me shaking my head as I said with a chuckle, “I can’t believe I have to tell you how I feel about coffee after five years together.” It was coffee after all. So we laughed and went on. But it was more, my head argued. It could be the beginning of the end.
Because isn’t this how we edge closer to the finish line? When we forget what kind of coffee our loved one takes, when we let their laundry sit in the dryer, knowing full well there are wrinkles developing in their work shirts, when we forget to mail a critical form by the deadline?
Finito – doesn’t this precede the one step that leads to the next neglectful step, and before you know it, you have moved quite a ways from where you both became one. Yep, it all starts with disappointment and, depending on where you go from there, you could wind up winding it up.
No, I vowed. It wouldn’t happen again. Not with this man whom I knew I should have been married to many years ago. The only man to whom I should have been wed. If I couldn’t say I had retained relationship knowledge after a few times around the block, I deserved to be alone, to live in a cave and contemplate life until I died. I didn’t deserve the Otter if I couldn’t appreciate him and his personal trials.
Then in a move that must’ve indicated he’d suffered a stroke, or was having a brain bleed, the Otter forgot to make the coffee again! The heat in my face rose, my stomach lurched. He really was forgetting me. He must be choosing it, too, because I had informed him of my concern.
I punched my frequent flier card that allows me into the dark place in my mind, and began to doubt myself once more. I was so far removed from what he was facing, and unable to make the connections of how he was planning to salvage his family from potential financial ruins. I had no idea of what the Otter had got up to, how he was once more restrapping his boots and reinventing himself for his neat little family.
It had to be me. Eventually, everyone leaves my life. I couldn’t help thinking it, thanks to an absent father, one of the people who was never supposed to split. The person who I’d hoped would embrace having a daughter, had believed would never leave my sisters and me. Self-doubt is a feeling I battle too often, hence the frequent flier miles.
When I was done with my mental beating, I moved my thoughts onto family considerations, and I wondered how my partner had been doing with all the massive upheaval in our lives.
The Otter, a retired bachelor, now charged with a family, and two teens to boot, with a passionate partner, and a stack of bills, was a quick study in child psychology and had forged his own relationships with the kids. He’d rarely let them down and unfailingly offered whatever he could of himself even if it meant he had scant leavings leftover. On some level, I considered him psychic, but the past is a hard and slick ground over which I grapple. The power of it capable of smothering any progress I’d made in a blink.
This time, I didn’t stay in the past. In fact, I was proud of myself for consciously striding ahead and throwing a match behind me. Burn, damn bridge! Instead, I considered my Otter after I’d made the coffee sans pouty face. As I added flavor to the steaming cup I marveled over the many ways he had stretched and pushed himself these past five years. My doubting ceased.
All in all, it was understandable why the needle had slipped out of the groove.
Maybe he suspected I’d become more self-serving and had been responding to my altered mood? I sipped the new brew and considered him more, and I began to appreciate his challenges, to place my feet into his shoes.
Since it is my responsibility to communicate my feelings, I did, making it clear our love is a two-way street of consideration, telling him I was disappointed and a smidge hurt. The coffee faux pas flowed out of my mind and into a chamber of my heart. I replaced my hesitant self-confidence with a hale and hearty suredness and life flowed on, too.
A couple of days later, I found out what had him so distracted — he’d been completing his CPR instructor credentials, which would enable him to make money on the side for the family. Since I’d gotten sick, he’d realized I might not be able to work as much as before, and he wanted to make sure our family’s needs were always met.
The past can hijack your best intentions if you let it, it can color the truth into an entity unrecognizable.
The moral: even in year five, year 20, year 50, communicate, over-communicate. I will always believe I am cared for as I let history fade, which after nearly 30 years still attempts to hold me in its clutches. Some days will be easier than others, and I may even feel foreign inside, as if I am lying to myself about being loved, or believing the best about my Otter, when it is more familiar for me to assume the worst and prepare for fallout. But I will do it. For the sake of my Otter and me, I will.
This morning when I awoke, he’d left a love letter in the form of fresh-brewed java, a gesture of commitment I needed in these trying times.
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Photo: Flickr/Parker Knight