The fight had been ridiculous. Ten minutes after the explosion I couldn’t recall what it had been about and certainly I can’t remember three decades ago with any precision. But I can still feel in my mouth the metallic taste of a bad fight. We laid in bed, backs to each other, hearts a million miles away. He is a selfish only child. He is bombastic, verbally brilliant and when he unleashes his venom I stagger away knowing I don’t have what it takes to spar with him in this way.
I understand now what I didn’t then: trauma. My left frontal cortex, especially Brocca’s area, goes off line. Words are gone. My Amygdala screams danger and I am flooded with enough cortisol to light up a small city. I feel like I could kick his teeth out. Sensations pulse through my body and I am clouded as broken images flood my mind of past fights and the rage of my mother. All I can do, it seems, is hunker down, keep my back to him and remain quiet with shallow breath. He is dead to me.
If I were to guess what we were fighting about it is likely his mother or mine. I don’t recall what prompted the escalation but usually it arises when I defend my family as ‘normal’ and accentuate the craziness of his mom. And she is crazy. She waits on me to bring her breakfast and then tells me that it is far more than she normally eats and that all she wants is some buttered toast. But not too much butter. What is too much butter? A thin spread will indicate to her I don’t want her with us. Too much butter disrespects her desire. I can never win with her and if I stop trying then she is even more hurt. She makes me crazy.
Maybe I said that my mom, at least, made her own breakfast. Maybe I said, “Why don’t you make your own breakfast.”
I don’t remember.
I find when I am enraged, I feel nearly infinite. I seldom get that angry but when I do I feel like all the hurt I have experienced over a lifetime congeals and guides my heart not to care.
It is the moment when I feel his body turn and the mattress compress as he plants his elbow and reaches to touch my back. His hand feels like a searing poker scorching my back. I hear distant but distinct words: “I know right now you hate me and I don’t blame you. I am wrong and I am so sorry.”
I do hate him. I hated him when I used my back as a bulwark against his anger. But I hate him almost infinitely more for disturbing my refuge. I don’t want to turn and receive his grief. I don’t want to forgive. It is too delicious to give him a taste of all the hurt I have felt with him and all the hurt I have known in my life.
I feel so justified.
As crazy as it sounds, I feel righteous in my rage.
And, he has reached out and in a few words made my world far more difficult. If I turn over, we will talk. We will likely come to face more clearly the damned log in each of our eyes. There will be sadness for our failure and ownership of how we trigger each other. There will be goodness, but it feels so good to be untouchable and cold to his touch.
Now I feel guilty. I should have been the first to reach out and touch. He owns his failures more quickly and forthrightly and is not afraid to be humbled or exposed. I am defensive and I feel cruel. He fails me. He apologizes. I am hurt and then I get to feel guilty. It isn’t fair. It is a cruel play. He is no longer touching my shoulder, but he has not moved away and I know his sleep pattern, he is not returning to slumber. He is waiting, with no demand.
I can’t move, but I can’t remain locked into this fantasy of revenge. It no longer tastes sweet. I can’t turn toward him. I can’t refuse. If I turn now it will be out of compulsion, not desire.
If I remain locked into my refuge, I will drown in my self-righteousness.
All I know to do is to say: “I can’t turn toward you yet.” The words puncture the air and what felt insurmountable like swimming upstream in a raging river feels more now like letting the current wash me down stream. I need to keep my feet forward and look for the closest tree or foliage to grab to pull myself to shore.
His hand is back on my shoulder, his touch gentle and inviting. I don’t hate him. I don’t hate myself for not hating him.
Touch has again offered me life.
If I turn over to face him, will I remain cold, angry, self-righteous and hurt or will I find who I really am?
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 40 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs