We had the worst fight ever of our twenty-two years together in front of the Castle at Chillon. We had come to the place in order that I might finally see the interior. I’d visited it as a child, but had not been inside the castle; it’s silhouette had lived in my mind for years as a place I simply had to return to one day. I’d heard tales of the dungeons, of the gruesome way they treated prisoners, and I’d wanted to stand in that place and offer my peace to the long-gone tenants as if I could somehow mitigate their long-gone pain. If only I’d been able to offer that kind of peace to myself, and to my partner, that day.
I cannot for the life of me remember what it was that we fought about so terribly that afternoon. We stood mere steps from that stunning building, mountains beyond, sun in the sky sparkling upon the lake, and yet we did not enter it… what could possibly have prevented us from visiting that place? How on earth did it start? As I lay in bed again tonight beginning to pass what will most likely be several sleepless hours, I come upon this island of time in my past and become fascinated. I cast my net wide behind me in time, over the wake of my memories in hopes of catching some evidence or emotional artifacts that can help explain the many fights we two had through our relationship. And it starts at Chillon.
There is a photo of me on the bus, after our fight. My head is tilted, face skeptical. One long, black braid hangs down over my arms, which are crossed in front of me, telling the picture-taker that this is not really over, and you still don’t understand. In fact, your taking this picture – trying to lighten things up – just proves you don’t respect my opinion. And now.. I get it. I wasn’t being heard. I wasn’t being understood. And what’s worse – that’s all I wanted. Understanding. Respect for my voice. Yes, now I begin to recall the feeling…
It occurs to me far too late, that this was the crux of each and every fight Fareed and I ever had. For all my effort I cannot come up with any subject of our arguments, although I can certainly remember many, many fights. I do, however, remember the emotion behind them and the unresolved issue for me: You’re not acknowledging me. You don’t hear me.
I recall another impediment to our understanding. I would crave engagement, he didn’t. I would want a reaction, a witness, a ‘I hear you’. He didn’t have time or energy for that. So I would proceed to try and wring it out of him. He reacted by shutting down. His face would disconnect. I called that his ‘stoneface’. It was one of the most frustrating things about him. Impenetrable as the walls of that old castle.
We worked on all of this through the years, and I can say that I put great effort into curbing my frustration and rage, and he too worked on communicating better with me. We learned a lot from each other and about ourselves. Strangely, although the fights diminished and calmed during our second decade together, that was probably the point at which we began to move away from each other. By then we each became so busy with life that we had little time for our relationship. With dozens of artistic irons in the fire at any one time it was easy to put our marriage to the side. We simply had very few hours together. Perhaps we were both avoiding the truth that our relationship had run its course. I used to think that only people with absolutely no ability to communicate got divorces. Now I think differently. I believe that when lessons are learned, issues are settled, for many that may be reason enough to say ‘thank you’ and walk away. But it’s a sad thing, no matter how right it might be. Not easy to call it quits.
Understanding. I believe that’s all any of us wants. “Mommy, look! Watch! Are you watching?” a child cries. She wants witness to her world, her experience. That’s all. I see the same frustration in my child when he breaks down into his own rage, furious at some main point I am missing. He is frustrated to breaking; he only wants me to know how he sees things. Once my son and I expressed to each other our dearest wish; that each could know fully what the others’ perspective was. We imagined being able to ‘plug in’ to each others’ thoughts. If only we could merely touch the other and receive all of that in one dose. If only we could skip all this tedious, human nonsense of explaining and just be understood already! Elihu and I joke about it when we’re in the midst of a struggle to understand each other. I place my hand on his cheek and say ‘oh, now I get it’, and he laughs. It’s our private thing. We get it. I know how important it is that I understand him. And so I try.
One problem I have with my method – and I’m working on it! – is that I often interrupt my partner, trying to interject what I believe to be the word he is searching for. It’s simply my over-zealous way of trying to show that I get it, but 99% of the time it’s achieving the opposite effect. Remembering my own desperate need to be understood (is that not the crux of this blog?) I must hold my tongue, hold my breath and just listen. Yeah, I’m working on it, but I’m not great at it. I wish to give others what I would have them give me. Witness. Respect and understanding for their side, even if I don’t agree. I just want to know how they feel, why they feel what they do. At the same time, I must also accept that for many people it is not important that they be understood by all. Good for them. It’s gotta be a freer place to live. Nevertheless, I myself wish to live in mutual understanding with the people in my life.
Many people have encouraged me to summon my rage when dealing with my near-ex in his unfair treatment of our son and me. There are moments when I do go there, but I would rather not. I just want acknowledgment, fair treatment. It’s hard to let go of something when it’s so fundamental to you. Maybe, like all the anger I’ve chosen to let go of, I should just finally let go of my greatest wish: that he himself feel remorse for his transgressions and as a result treat us better. But once again, it’s not important to him. Perhaps knowing what I want – and accepting that I may never get it – is the healthiest way to go. Perhaps. Again, working on it.
Last weekend Fareed came to visit. Somehow he seemed different. Disconnected – more than usual. He wore the stoneface more consistently. It wasn’t as a reaction to anything I was doing or saying, it was just there. Fareed seemed swallowed up by his own life. He seemed unhappy, or at least not content. I don’t mean to presume, but I just feel that something is amiss with him these days. Perhaps he too is realizing some things in his own inner life aren’t working. I don’t know. But I hope that he can find his way out. I don’t wish the partner I’ve shared half my life with to live the rest of his adrift, upset, imprisoned.
In fact, my wish tonight is that we may all be granted the vision to see what makes the bars of our own prisons that we may dissolve them and live freely in the worlds beyond…