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Maggie M. Ethridge

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Wabi Sabi {Scenes From a Marriage}

Posted: 05/07/2013 12:05 pm

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I wake and move downstairs without my body's approval. Ever still nurses at night. Ever loves nursing more than any human child has ever loved nursing, and without my intervention could easily become the adolescent King boy in Game of Thrones who hangs off his mother's nipple as she perches on the throne. Mr. Curry's black and yellow zipper shoes (as I have come to think of them for no apparent reason) are on the table. This is new. Usually he irritates me by leaving them out, instead of shoved inside the four shoe shelves in the dresser feet away, but this day, he places them on top of the table, proudly. Look wife. I have left my shoes where our children eat. This is good, yes?

As Mr. Curry comes out of the fog of bipolar, I am lifted. The long struggle has ended for now. He is back inside of those large hazel eyes that I adore, of which our baby has one. One of his, one of mine. If I was a cartoonist, I'd like to draw you two line illustrations, one of Mr. Curry during bipolar, and one when he is himself without the disease. The bipolar illustration would have downturned mouth lines, sloped and hollowed cheeks, rounded shoulders, clenched jaw, eyes that are full of terrible clouds so dense and so chaotic that were they the clouds of smoke from a fire, no one could reach through them to save anyone else.

Nothing is as simple as a diary entry, a blog, an article, a summary, a log book, a psychologist's notes. Not my relationship with my husband, not our marriage. Records are for black and white, not shades of grey. Records state high and low, density, clarity, weight, power. Records do not state the dance of sunshine on the leaves when he pulled you through them laughing, the winking of sun on water at the lake as he kissed your forehead, the thundering of your heart as you lay alone in bed together and the entire world was distilled into that one dark and beautiful moment. Perhaps an index comes closer. A dictionary. A thesaurus.

I don't lie when I write, as far as I can control. If I lie to myself, I pass it onto you; forgive me in advance for this contagion. How does one tell a story and always tell the truth? By leaving out whatever parts you choose. This makes it bearable when life is unbearable. This makes it safe when the truth would be dangerous. This also leaves an incomplete story. As I write about my marriage here, I am always thinking of all I am leaving out, and sometimes, I am sure that I have never properly conveyed how much I love my husband. I get those fears about people I love, that they don't know, so that I have to find them wherever they are and hold them and tell them. The truth Mr. Curry and I have to face and face again is that our marriage comes with an unwanted, uninvited guest: bipolar. A disease that sounds so common, easy to say, heard more frequently now. To my ears, ears that know, the word is thick with exhaustion, pain, confusion, desperation and heartbreak. Nothing that I understood- which was more than the average person- about mental illness prepared me for watching the love of my life being taken away and replaced by a stranger, one thinner, more volatile, irrational, hurtful and ten times less thoughtful than my actual husband. If I could capture in time shots the change of his face as he becomes ill, then, I believe, you would begin to understand. This might be the worst part, but it is not. The worst part is not knowing when he is coming home, or if.

Before, if I could lie with him alone for long enough, and press my face to his close enough, and look hard enough, he could come back. Things change over time, this is marriage: what is hard will only become harder. You've solved a problem, found a solution: but is it a solution you can repeat and endure and carry for the rest of your life? So perhaps when I say 'things change' it was a cowardly way of saying 'I've changed'.

I've changed, and perhaps more the truth is that our circumstances have changed greatly, and this is also marriage: what shape your marriage takes in one set of circumstances is not a lifetime form. You keep shaping it, or it shapes itself to meet the moment, and this can be shocking. Our circumstances are now more absolutely engulfing as far as mental, physical and emotional space than they ever were before. Or perhaps I would have needed to find other ways of handing this on my end, regardless. Either way, we are left with the ways time changes us that are unexpected and at times, frightening. Yet despite all that is painful and terrifying about bipolar, every time my husband gets better, I am- even when I am so angry and hurt I fight it- as in love with him as ever, and he I. I still love his face, his smile, his laugh, his smell, his touch, I still feel ridiculously happy when it's his voice on the end of the line, when he comes home early.

I fight hard for this while he is sick. I work to understand this challenge put into our life, and how we are meant to deal with it. I work to resist the temptation to turn away and steer myself to ask the hardest questions of my marriage: What do we owe each other? What do I owe myself? What do I want to do for my husband? What would I want done for myself? What do I want for our children? What do I believe is the nature of suffering and what purpose can it bring to my life? How can I transform fear and pain into transcendence? How can I act in love? How can I see this story differently?


In Japanese culture there is a an aesthetic called Wabi Sabi. Wabi Sabi is the adoration and enjoyment of all things imperfect, old, beaten down. Arielle Ford wrote a book on marriage that centers around this idea: that in marriage it is the art of Wabi Sabi that must be practiced. Here is what Ariel says about this in an interview:

Well that's really the essence of Wabi Sabi love, is finding a way to laugh, to take the significance out. Stop making everything such a big deal. Because that's where we're getting tripped up all the time. And, you know what, it's not all going to matter. So let's make up a new story about it. And since we're making it all up anyway, let's make up stories that empower us and support us and inspire us.

I come downstairs and see those zipper shoes and I think of 5:30 am and day after day after day after day of Mr. Curry coming downstairs. He is tired, with a long day ahead of him, often stressful, always hard work. He works six, sometimes seven days a week, and he does this because I am at home with Ever. He does this with an open heart. He does this with love. Those shoes are an emblem of his devotion and love to his family, on the floor or on the table, and that's how I chose to see it. Wabi Sabi.

 

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