He said no. That’s how it started.
I had asked him to take our oldest to ballet and to bring the toddler along. I had wanted, needed, that hour, in the house, in the quiet. When the first hours of the weekend arrive, I crave a quiet house. I crave the solitude. Just me, a woman unattached, a woman free to sit in one place, carrying no one, talking to no one, listening to no one. The week drains me and I need to refill and the quiet renews me. So I had asked him to take the kids.
But he said no.
He said no and my hour of quiet evaporated into a stream of yells and screams. Both of us high on emotion and low on rest, we yelled, through the morning and then well into the night, in front of the children because what, these days, happens anywhere else? We flung accusations that we hadn’t found time to talk about between making breakfasts and managing bath times, and we screamed tales of burden and overwhelming stress. I felt abandoned and crushed under the weight of demands that I felt were mine alone. He felt the same. But I didn’t see his side and I didn’t understand his point and it wasn’t that neither was clear, it was that I just couldn’t see.
Our words tore holes in this life we’re living together. We uncovered that all of this, the yelling, the expecting, the blindness, it wasn’t about the hour and my weary spirit. It wasn’t about him saying no, needing time of his own to breathe and be still. It was about us. It was about support and communication and compassion. Or, rather, it was about how we had assumed all of those things were there but when we tore the holes open, we found only a hollow.
We’d fallen into the trap. Kids, then self, then work, then friends and family, then everything I want for myself. “I never meant for you to be at the bottom of my list,” I want to tell him. “You are not there because I love you the least,” I want to say. “I want you to know I don’t think you belong there, beneath diapers and laundry and deadlines.” I want to usher these words into the space between us. I just need some quiet and some peace and a moment alone to collect my thoughts first. Of course, the quiet never comes and the peace never settles and I forget that I meant to say these things and all the other words that would, I’m sure, fill the holes quite nicely.
We refer to this space, this early parenthood, in terms of war. We hold ourselves, our careers, our hobbies and passions and dreams up as shields. And we wrap ourselves in the armor of our marriage, our love. We see the first shots arch over our heads and we hold each other tight. We believe our armor is impenetrable, the strongest stuff; it will deflect the bombs and the shells and the shrapnel and we’ll be just fine and protected inside. But the years roll along and the war continues. Our shields become shreds of all they once were, so we trade them out for new and that isn’t as wrong as it sounds. New wars require new shields. But when our armor begins to bear chinks and gashes, well, that is a bigger problem. When we are the ones firing the shots and sounding our battle calls through the air, then we’re in danger. Because someday, the war will end. It always does. I’ve seen it end and I’ve seen what the war can do. I’ve seen warriors leave the field, weary and worn. Their armor dragging behind them, they walk miles apart, eventually wandering in separate directions. And I’ve felt us building to that moment. I’ve felt it in the way that our deepest thoughts and dreams and our most basic needs explode like bombs, loud and harsh, powered by a thousand days of silence.
Someday the war will end. Someday the children will be grown. Someday there will be no kids to take. Someday Saturday will dawn and I won’t crave solitude anymore. I’ll crave him. I want our armor to be intact when the war is over.
Before bed, we called a cease-fire. And in the darkness of the small hours, I relaxed at the sight of him. I saw the weight on his shoulders, a reflection of all that I felt on mine. And I felt him see me too. Into the hole we had torn open in pain, we whispered answers to each other’s thoughts and dreams and basic needs, wrapping each other’s battle wounds in promises of trying harder, bandages of support and communication and compassion. “I want you to know I don’t want you to be last,” we said. “I love you more than laundry and diapers and deadlines,” we assured. We promised to keep talking, to fill the holes and sew them tight. And we whispered good night and held each other until sleep came. That’s how the battle ended. That’s how we made a new start.
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