Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Shaken by a Low Sound": A Marriage Power Ballad and Getting Brave

“Shaken by a Low Sound”: A Marriage Power Ballad and Getting Brave

© Dr. Michelle Johnson, BMWK

John was having a rough time of it.  Another head cold and when you live in perpetual summer in Florida that is no joke.  I resent it really, if I can be honest with you for a minute.  Because I rely on him to say hi and deal with the grumpies when he gets home.  I resent then that I have to do it all while he lies in bed.  But even if I huff and puff in my mind about it, I know it’s not fair.  And that a lot of folks have so much more in the way of challenge and grumpies.  Still, I have no tolerance for shenanigans at bedtime, and John usually does it.  Often invoking me as a threat, come to think of it. 

Anyway, we’d been performing this dog and pony show for awhile and most of the time, we get along just fine.  I’m even coming around to thinking he MIGHT actually be funny (please don't tell him I said so!).  But mostly, between the children and work and school and financial worry, we often just allow our marriage to lie untended.  And that’s when I hear it.

It’s a low, slow beat that usually makes me sit up and take notice.  A tinnitus of the mind that won’t stop, the itch at the just past point of your arm's reach on your back that you cannot get at.  That beat that suggests that vows are starting to shake.  It may seem to be overstating the case, but it isn’t.  Not really.  God gives us gut instincts for a reason.  Most of the time we push them away for fear, or disgust, tiredness or rage, but I think we need to listen to that low sound and begin to get brave about marriage.   I know I do.

I’ve been married for 14 years and with the guy I married for almost 18.  When I met him, I thought he was kind and smart and a horrifying dresser.  In fact, when we hit some dating bumps, I often wondered if all my hard work in getting him to realize stripes and plaid did NOT work well and not to always dress like a waiter (blue shirt, black pants), would end up benefiting another girl who would have nothing left to do but bask. 

God had other plans, however, and here we are, 3 kids and countless hours later.  There’ve been so many reports and stories about how we focus on the wedding and not the life after and how bad, bad, bad that is…but I know I did.  Did you?

I’m an only child.  My parents who had first wanted me to marry an Indian-Christian-boy-from-a-good-family nudged me more than once, then realized that the Indian-Christian-boy-from-a-good-family did not necessarily translate into good husband material and left me to figure it out on my own.  Then, they quickly began to despair that I wasn’t going to marry anyone, from any kind of family, ever.

I wanted to get married, but I’d had a bad time of it, and needed to figure out a lot about what I was about before I was in any kind of shape to figure out what I wanted.  Enter then John.  We met through friends and began a long distance relationship while I was in Cambridge and John, in Connecticut. 

When we finally did tie the proverbial knot, it was a sweltering day in June, and I was planned OUT.  It was a great party.  And then, we headed back to my apartment on Garden Street and I remember a slow burn panic begin to reach its way up from my stomach to my heart, “what do I do now?”
A warm day in June

I got lucky.  I really did, because the guy I married figured out that there was an “after” to the “happily ever” and reckoned with it even before he produced the ring.  Even though there were times I didn’t think so, John really has been pretty steady.  We both had some growing up to do, and so we bumped and moved, argued and were silent all around each other for those first few years of finding our feet and then planting them.

But it didn’t happen right away.  John had family obligations that he had never really understood how to break the tethers to, and wasn’t all that convinced he should.  I was just plain old lonely.  We both worked.   And then life threw us.  My mom got sick and passed away four months later.  I then got pregnant with our first child.  Then my Dad developed dementia, a business collapsed, we had children, we lost children

All the language that we needed to develop to deal with each other and create an understanding of our expectations lay wasted and wanting; not a complete collapse, but just an abandoned project.  (This particular folly would come to revisit us, as scary as any theme park ride when it would rear its ugly head.)  And it has, over the years; in the pain of crises, big things have evaporated to the essence of the small things that were the planks across that relationship bridge that we never finished building.  And fights, prayer, help and sometimes just plain old ignoring it were the strategies that either stalled or full out failed to make a dent of difference.  

But this is what I know.  As tough as it is, I wouldn’t want to undo it.  And I cannot imagine going through all of this with anyone else. In a world where so much is disposable, where mistakes can be quickly rectified and challenges walked away from, it means something to stand and say this means something.  You know, maybe the experts that Gwenyth Paltrow consulted before her own “conscious uncoupling” may be right, because, reasons the authors, there is no historical precedent for a commitment to last many years.  Earlier humans didn’t survive very long, seems to be the thesis, it is folly to assume that anything should last “for life” when life expectancy has exceeded past anything in prior generations.


But I don’t think so.  For example, we do have better dental care now than in the past, and typically when there’s a problem, the doctor will work to save the tooth, rather than yanking it out.  That’s cultural evolution at work too.

© Love and Life Toolbox


You are only one of two people who knows your story.  And so you need to captain that ship however works the best for you and your family.  But for me,
I’ve understood that there is a deep need to begin again, laying the boards, pushing in the screws, connecting work together, allowing patches to come before time slips away and sound becomes loud volume and then loud volume to quiet echo of emptiness. 


I wish that I had the husband that brought me “no reason” flowers or wrote to me or planned surprises, but I don’t—at least those boards have yet to be laid.   But I do have the one that always remembers to leave me a night glass of ice water, reminds me that I have a lot left to write and an eager audience to read it, who clips my Dad's distracted fingernails, and who is the first one to say, "It's going to be fine" while clearing away assorted papers and books from our bed and taking a pen out of my completely tired and unfocused hands--all without complaint.  So, before I allow that buzzing to get too high or too hard, I’ve learned to pay attention to it.

Look at the awesome we accomplished!
 When I hear it that discordant noise, I know now that I’ve got to mind it.  Before it becomes so loud and brash that it drowns out everything else and then all you think about is discord and wrong and never about harmony or right.  And this requires courage on my part, because I believe that I am always right.  Always.  That’s just the way it is.  And because of that fervent belief, it becomes difficult to listen to another storyteller’s rendition of the same.

Brave on some days of a low beat may mean putting away the shoes/clothes/books/papers/insert-annoying-thing-here that have been waiting for some kind of millennial strike to actually happen.  And then, here’s the peach: saying NOTHING about it.

Brave on another day may be just saying, “hey you’re even better looking now than when we got married.”  Even if I haven’t heard any such thing in return or first for more than a little while.

And then brave may be me getting to the heart of the trouble by just asking a simple question and focusing for an entire 5 minutes on the answer.  Even if nothing else is said, just waiting out the silence for the rest to come.   

And then there’s the brave that comes with 80s power ballads like those from Chicago.  Because after a whole evening full of feeding and bathing and snuggles and last drinks of water and irritation and threats, I hobbled off to bed myself instead of leaving John alone and me reading in the family room.  I'd heard the low sound, and decided that our marriage couldn't be alone and cold remedied.  And that’s what, looking through my phone, I decided to serenade John with that night.  And it wasn’t the Chicago classics that this “true rock-n-roll” guy likes (25 or 6 to 4, Saturday in the Park), no sir, it was full on “Hard Habit to Break,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and when the groans of “please stop, my ears are bleeding," to a final “Will You Still Love Me?”  

We both started laughing, and John, coughing, and I finally let him sleep while I wondered whatever happened to the Thompson Twins.  But the next morning, he asked me, “Hey, was it a Nyquil terror or were you singing bad Chicago to me last night?”  “Oh, no.  That was AWESOME Chicago, and you are so welcome!”  Pause.  “Ah.  Okay, that was fun.”  And the accompanying grin that went with it, seemed to send the sound right back below, down deep to rest until it could hear a fissure from above to crawl to.

Sometimes life is just about being brave and reaching out without thinking a lot.  Sometimes connections are strung and held with fine silver thin filament.  Sometimes those are the strongest to hold and the most difficult to disengage.  Sometimes repairs need to be made under the exhaustingly relentless eye of a microscope where you are standing, in clunky shoes staring down for hours with careful hands, ready to cauterize whatever is hopelessly broken.  And sometimes that has a soundtrack; and that soundtrack is a Diane Warren compiled, David Foster produced, 80s MTV permed mullet power ballad.  For today that worked.  Tomorrow it may be another song entirely.

© Joyce Shor Johnson

What about you friend?  Are you shaken by a low sound?  What are you going to do today to get brave?

*Images above may be subject to copyright.  Original artists' names could not be found for attribution.
**"Shaken bya Low Sound" is the amazing title track off of Crooked Still's album.    

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