Sunday, November 28, 2010

The stupidest thing I ever did for love

The stupidest thing I ever did for love was to stay in a marriage way beyond its life.

I married my first husband when I was 21. He was 25, tall, lanky, funny -- and cold. On our honeymoon in England, I discovered to my dismay that he was not all that interested in sex. He liked to burrow in a cocoon when he slept, carefully tucking blankets close around him as if to ward off any intruding hands. Hands that wanted to touch and be touched. Hands that wanted to light fires and not put them out. Hands that were mine.

We returned from our honeymoon and took up domestic life. We had sex once a month - or so. I pushed down my desires and resigned myself to the reality of what my mother had told me one afternoon before I got married. She and I were sitting in green webbed lawn chairs underneath the chestnut tree in my family's back yard, The remains of tea and cookies lay on a tray on top of a rickety brown, metal folding table.

"Marriage isn't always pleasant," said my mother. "It's mostly hard work."

That made sense to me. Hard work: everyone in our large family of nine worked hard. We rarely spoke of pleasure. Instead the conversations revolved around the chores. Doing dishes, making dinner of boiled potatoes and burnt steak, picking green and yellow beans from the garden, hoeing the broccoli, cutting the grass, setting out the daily bowl of applesauce for my father, cleaning our one bathroom and tidying the small living room which twenty minutes later dissolved into an unbelievable mess yet again.

Hard work. We knew what that was. Perhaps another family could create a perfectly clean house, a perfectly hoed garden, a perfectly cooked meal. For us, that perfection was never realized, and the only reality was endless, wearisome, dusty hard work.

So when my mother equated marriage with hard work, I swallowed it, even though the idea had a taste as bitter as the green kale she used to boil to death and feed us.

I spent 10 years in my marriage. Ten long years of working hard at it. I moped and glummed, as did my husband. A few times, I gathered my courage and raised the issue of our sporadic sex life. We went to a sex therapist. She advised us to broaden our definition of sex.

Most of the time, I simply muffled my desires. Yet I was a passionate person, and the desires leapt out anyway, like a fire I couldn't put out even if I wanted to. I fell in love with other men. More precisely I developed crushes. I held hands with Sidney Morris after our Edmund Spenser literature class; I stood far too close to Peter Ferguson who worked in the same bookstore as me; I kissed George Riley at a communications conference. Each forbidden look, touch and kiss brought guilt and a Catholic determination to stop. After all, I had made my bed. I would lie in it, lonely and untouched, beside the man who was my lawful wedded husband.

Then one day, as I bemoaned my fate to my sister-in-law, she said, "Maybe he isn't the right man for you." At that moment, her words unlocked a door. I pushed it open and caught a glimpse of another life, a happier life, another me, a happier me. At that moment, I knew my marriage was over.

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