Progress? Part 1

A few things happened over the past few weeks that led up to what I think may be a little bit of progress towards healing, something like dipping my toe into the healing waters. It’s hard to say, given that I’m still very much emotionally shut down most of the time. I think writing it all down at this point will help me get a clearer picture of whether I’ve made some actual progress or not.

It all started a few weeks back when the whole family went on a trip to visit Elizabeth and Steve. Steve is an old friend from high school that I reconnected with during my separation. Last year, we visited them on a weekend, this time we stayed there a whole week, renting a house nearby.

Being respectful of Steve’s personal space, I did not spend all my time visiting him, nor did I want to because it was important for the family and I to have our own space too.

We said our ‘hellos’ on the first day and I had some evening drinks with Steve while my son hung around listening to our stories. The next day I didn’t see him at all. On the third day, I was hoping to have some one on one time with Steve so we could properly catch up with each other about the deeper, darker aspects of life, so I told Carol that I was heading over to his place for a couple of beers that afternoon.

“Okay, great. I’ll just stay here and babysit again, I guess,” she replied.

This was the exact moment that the sealed bottle of the past popped its top. You see, after Carol gave birth to our daughter, she spent 7 of her 12 allowed months on parental leave. For the bulk of days during those 7 months, I would put in my time at work, and come home to have the baby handed to me, so Carol could get away and participate in one of her several extra curricular sports leagues or visit a friend. I tolerated this because she had a tough pregnancy and our second baby was fussy.

For the final 5 of the 12 allowed months of parental leave, I stayed home with the baby. Carol wanted to get back to work ASAP and prove herself to those idiots. During that time, she would be at work all day, then come home to promptly change and go out to one of the activities.

When we were both back to work, can you guess what the routine was? That’s right, we’d both work then come home and she would go out to one of her activities.

When I had surgery on Monday, guess what she did on Tuesday? Yep. And when she booked herself in to another outing that Thursday, that’s when things got heated and she called me names. That day, I promised myself I would leave her if she did that again, but she never reached that level of nastiness for years to come.

One day, I had brought the kids and my mother to one of Carol’s games. I told my mother that I was ‘babysitting’. Carol heard this and corrected me, “You are not babysitting, these are your own kids,” to which I replied, that is all I am to her: the babysitter.

Now, with my wife saying that she’s babysitting years later when the kids don’t even need our supervision much of the time, after all those years of doing my best to help her feel normal while sacrificing everything, the term and completely lopsided comparison made me snap.

“Babysitting? You’re gonna talk to me about babysitting? You’re seriously talking to me about babysitting? Get the fuck out of here.”

I went and grabbed a beer and walked past her, mumbling a few more words about ‘fucking babysitting’ and left the house.

I know what you’re thinking. How does one come to express oneself so eloquently? By keeping it all bottled up inside, of course. I’m sure she had no clue why that set me off and I haven’t followed up on it specifically, but it was the beginning of something.

That evening, we all visited with Elizabeth and Steve since, after I calmed down, I told Carol to stop waiting for an invitation and just walk over there. And so, every other night, we’d sit around the fire at their house until long after dark. Then people would turn in for the night until there were only two left standing, Steve and I. Then we could have our conversations.

Steve began to open up about his experiences in the military, not so much the details, but the effect they had on him, things he couldn’t or wouldn’t say to anyone else. Secrets. For some reason, people trust me with their secrets. It is a heavy burden at times. But because he was so open with me, I began to feel something that must’ve been trust, or something close to it. I decided to share something regarding the affair that I haven’t even told my therapist. That’s not to say he now knows more than my therapist as I haven’t shared the details of the second discovery with him, but I think I could actually tell him and not feel vulnerable by doing so. The campfire burns, the beer flows and Steve and I talk like true friends ought to: openly, or at least more open than I’ve ever done in a long time.

I went back to our rented house to find Carol still awake.

“Steve’s been telling me things about his life again. Things I can’t repeat. So many people have secrets, and they give them to me to hold onto. It’s almost too much to deal with sometimes.”

“You can tell him you don’t want to know,” Carol replied.

“But that’s the thing. I’m too curious. You’d be surprised how much someone will open up if you let them, and when they do, you want to hear it all.”

I got into bed next to Carol. I began thinking about someone who died. I dreamt of her the night before, and so, with the aid of alcohol, I talked to Steve about her. I can’t quite remember what I said to him. Carol knows about her and doesn’t understand why I feel such guilt over her death. Neither do I. I thought about why I feel the way I do over it.

I decided that there was no answer for the time being. I thought about the other thing I shared that I had completely kept it to myself until I told Steve. Thinking about it got me to say to Carol:

“You know, there are things I haven’t even told my therapist? I keep all this shit inside and I don’t even tell my own therapist. I can’t talk to anyone. I talked to Steve but I keep so much inside still. Am I even able to talk to you? I don’t feel like I can. What is wrong with me? Don’t I seem off to you? Like something’s missing?”

“You seem fine to me. You’re the same old you, a good person. You can talk to me,” Carol replied. “What is bothering you?”

I hesitated, but it didn’t matter. The bottle was open and I couldn’t hold it in. “I feel like I’m losing my emotions. Like something inside me got damaged and now it’s rotting. I’m losing my humanity, my empathy. I’m supposed to talk but it’s so hard to. It’s like I don’t want to, like I’m too broken and being fixed is too hard.”

“I don’t know how to help you,” Carol said.

“You can’t. Only I can, I guess.”

We lay in bed for a long while. I had opened up twice this night and I still felt absolutely nothing inside. Now I was tired, so I turned off the light and got under the covers. Carol held me and whispered ‘I love you so much’ in my ear. That night, I noted the emotion in her voice like a detached observer. Today, it makes me feel a light flutter in my belly, a muted, muffled feeling of love.

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