It’s not the first time we’ve hit a rough patch.
This is really hard, and when the coping reserves are exhausted, imperfections stand out in stark detail, the rosy light of love overtaxed and flickering like lamps in a hurricane. I remember sitting down with a marriage counselor for a few session awhile back because we had been circling the ring like two gladiators. You ever notice – the more desperate the struggle, the more petty the bickering? I always think of these verses from Sylvia Plath:
So we could rave on, darling, you and I,
until the stars tick out a lullaby
about each cosmic pro and con;
nothing changes, for all the blazing of
our drastic jargon, but clock hands that move
implacably from twelve to one.
We raise our arguments like sitting ducks
to knock them down with logic or with luck
and contradict ourselves for fun;
…my intellectual leprechaun (13-25).
It’s pointless in-fighting, of course; we’re always on the same side. The aforementioned counselor said once, “There are only two people in this room capable of understanding what you’re going through,” but chronic strain can easily obscure this essential truth. We become beasts, huddled in respective corners, claws out, licking our own wounds because, Jesus, we have enough fucking problems without this on top of it! And this can degenerate into a very comfortable kind of atrophy, so I’ve been thinking about another poem, one by Matthew Arnold:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight (29-36)
I came across this as I was rereading Fahrenheit to lesson-plan for my ninth graders, and it helps me remember the reality of this, which is that he is just as spent as I am, a thing he also needs to remember about me as I bumble about with all my flaws. (Are you reading this, Darling Husband?) Plath gets us back to “the root of the root and the bud of the bud” when she urges in her final stanzas:
So kiss…we shall walk barefoot on walnut shells
of withered worlds, and stamp out puny hells
and heavens till the spirits squeak
surrender; to build our bed as high as Jack’s
bold beanstalk; lie and love till sharp scythe hacks
away our rationed days and weeks.
Then jet the blue tent topple, stars rain down,
and God or void appall us till we drown
in our own tears; today we start
to pay the piper with each breath, yet love
knows not of death nor calculus above
the simple sum of heart plus heart (31-48).