A decade or so ago he left a candle burning in our home office which caught fire and nearly burned down our apartment. This was unlike him. It had to be gutted, re-carpeted and repainted; the fire was so hot it melted our computer and created a secondary electrical fire that shut down the phone lines. In the weeks that followed I moved my client schedule around to salvage remains, clean, paint, discard everything that was charred beyond recognition and work with construction guys who had to re-build an interior wall. He helped at nights and when he could, but like most things, I handled the bulk of the decisions and put all the pieces back together. There had always been a reason why he couldn’t share more of himself for the collective good. I have come to suspect he started this fire as his first passively explosive steps towards freedom.
As we transitioned to the next chapter of our lives I was accepting of the fact that I’d be the one to clean cabinets and worry about leaving our furnished condo just as we’d found it. I’d spackle the holes, do the carpet cleaning myself, move the owners items from the ski locker back into their correct places. I’d been the one dividing photo albums and remembering what gifts from his family came from who and who might want certain things back. I would not be the one, however, to do anything with the obnoxious shot glass racks.
The shot glasses (some 200 pieces) were mostly from trips his parents had taken and were purchased by his mother who needs to buy something everywhere she goes. The shot glass racks had collected dust on the floor for two years in one home because he wouldn’t mount them. We tripped over them, the cats played with them and a few got broken simply because they were in the way. I wasn’t moving them.
Trivial now. Who cares about who put what in boxes or wrapped the stupid picture frames in newspaper?
While hiking our last winter he started complaining that the trail was slush, and his feet were wet and the trail was icy. He grumbled and sighed and heaved. He said we were running out of water and what time did I want to eat dinner and how the light was going fast, knowing full well that we, I, set out intending to complete the trip, like always. I like to commit to a project and see it through all the way to the end; apparently this was my crime. We came to a bridge covered in ice and he exclaimed that he didn’t want to have to be that guy who said it’s time to turn around and he wouldn’t budge. He said he always wanted to turn around and he hated that about himself because I always wanted to finish and he hated that about me. He hadn’t asked me for what he needed, though. He hadn’t said one direct thing about what he really wanted. I should know when his feet are wet or when he’s cold or tired or hungry, without him telling me, I should just know that he’s had enough and out of psychic kindness, I should empathically resign my own goals and my own needs and suggest that we turn around. I should just know that completing anything drastically upsets him and therefore I should never try to finish anything I set out to do because I should know how much that threatens him. He was steaming. Infuriated. Helpless. And I was the embodiment of the boiling fires of hell because this was not about finishing some fucking trail.
I said nothing. As a retaliation he spent the next hour (the same time needed to finish the loop) chipping chunks of late winter ice off the bridge and chucking them into the river. I joined him in his primal staring contest. My resolve was impenetrable. I would not yield. Only after we’d both spoken our words with most of the ice on the bridge did he finally get tired, and wordlessly turned and started back. I followed in his silent resignation and we ignored the incident for what it really was. A metaphor of our entire existence together. I wanted to move forward and he didn’t and there was no compromise, no explanation, certainly no tenderness left in the ocean of resentment between us. I could have let it go, and had extended offers too many times by then…but, every olive branch in Tuscany and he just threw it in the fire… you know, so I wouldn’t be scared of the dark.
Later we sat in respective, separate spaces…I kicked him out again, and this time suggested he take the cabin in the woods. I found an apartment in town… contemplating the unforeseeable futures that lay ahead of us, because I finally said what he wouldn’t; it was time to give up. Me, the glaring optimist. I said we’ll never make it. We were doomed from the start for picking an impossible trail; our Everest, with no oxygen and no Sherpa and truthfully, no right to be there in the first place. He would later plainly state that he decided to “give it a shot” with regard to our marriage. I now consider his inconsideration merely a flesh wound.
Of all the things we’d ever tried together and failed at, I was content to carry the load and wash it and fold it and hold it together. If I had released him from the icy lock-down on the bridge, he would have found other, colder ways to shut me out. I had to see through the resistance and offer the one thing that always seemed to be missing from his communication. Compassion, love for himself, for me, for what we, (I, see now) set out to build. And often it would seem the more of that I offered, the more forceful his passivity grew. As if loving him made him want to kill me. This time, however, the understanding melted everything. It was like taking the kink out of the hose so the air could pass through and we could breath and resurface. I didn’t want to suffocate under the ocean and I didn’t want to keep him down either. We had different destinations. In letting go we find the peace and love we seek.
10 thoughts on “The 5th Element”
Ouf! Oh what a difficult journey. It’s hardest to do the right thing and what needs to be done.
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Thank you for reading this one. It was a little bit of hell but then all these great things came out of it. See, I started this writing journey a few years ago…anyhoo, thank you!
Yep, one of the scourges of a traumatic upbringing is the high probability that it will result in a number of dysfunctional romantic relationships after leaving home. It’s a real double (or triple, or quadruple) whammy. As if childhood wasn’t painful enough. For nothing in the world would I return to my twenties.
Beautifully written again. I love the hiking photos, great scenery, and that’s a really nicely done shot of the ice too.
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Thanks Sophie. The white mountains are so pretty. My past life was a great lesson. The gift of divorce was finally reaching my limit of pain and humbly submitting myself to the 12 steps of codependent recovery-the absolute best recovery work I’ve ever done. It gives us the skills we didn’t have. When we grow up in generations of dysfunction, even in the absence of active addiction, all we tend to learn are the unhealthy kinds of love which is almost always some form of codependence (or emotional incest, over dependence, detachment, avoidance) basically no healthy example of how to love and be loved. Yes, let’s take our wise now brains, put them in our twenty something bodies and have a celebration…someplace tropical? !!!
Just checking: Boron is the fifth element nowadays, but of course you’re referring to the ancient Greek classification here, and implying ice should be number five? 😉 And not referencing the French Sci-Fi film either?
Hi Sophie. I was referring to the American sci-fi movie with Bruce Willis. There’s a french version? Not surprising. Americans have stolen everything else 😉
From my movie buff husband: Same film! French director, French designers, probably French writers too, but American money and some star American actors (and French ones, and Bilbo too). …my husband feels that it’s not the money that makes the film’s “nationality” but the direction, design, ideas etc. 😉
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I love it! Tell your husband I’m very French and approve his film nationality decision making formula 😉 haha. So to clarify, in the chic French film the 5th element is Love.
Ah! Good riddle. Message conveyed on to other half. 😉
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The answer is always love.