Every day I check my email and the headlines of my daily newspaper. I might even venture online for some news. As I read the messages from friends and family, and articles written by those I’ve never met, I find myself driven to put together pieces of a puzzle for that day. I do this for reasons I can’t say – because I don’t know why I do this.
I suppose it is my own feeble attempt to make sense of things, to somehow read the great barometer that is this life in this world, so that I may act and react accordingly and appropriately. The trouble is, I’m not getting every report and reading. Then again, I shudder to think what madness would ensue if I did.
There came a day not too long ago when every other message and article had something to do with security and feeling secure. The randomness of this theme was vexing and relentless. I wanted badly to shake it off and move on, but I just couldn’t seem to make it happen.
About the same time, I had a bad dream about my husband of 18 years. In my dream, he’d unapologetically taken up with the neighbor lady and was going to run off with her in a blaze of infatuated glory. I would later realize the dream was more about me: I was the other woman in the form of some significant progress we’ve made in our marriage lately. In some ways I was still holding on to patterns and habits that just weren’t working. My perception was that he loved our new ways of doing things – at the expense of who we, specifically I, used to be.
It wasn’t about who I was, though, as much as it was about what I used to do. When I let go of the need to do things that weren’t working (they were more familiar, thus comfortable) and focused on the stuff that was working (they were unfamiliar and a little uncomfortable), things got better. It was, however, a winding road.
Instead of bringing up my initial anxiety to my husband directly, I cleverly disguised it with a discussion about our household budget. I say “cleverly,” but anyone who has taken at least one psychology class knows it would be more accurate of me to say I was pathetically indirect.
There it was. I was feeling insecure, if not threatened – something money cannot fix. This feeling of insecurity was tapping into my every past anxiety of the same ilk. I just could not shake it.
He sat at the table wrapped up in a blanket of spreadsheets, hovering over financial projections tapped out on his cherished calculator, and feeling secure in the knowledge that there was enough money.
Then it started.
“You think money is everything,” I asserted.
“You think money isn’t everything,” he countered.
We were both right – and wrong. It depended on who was speaking, and from what experience each of us spoke. Now we both felt threatened. We were, unknowingly, putting the other person’s sense of security in jeopardy with what we were saying – for the 18th year in a row. I had the extra oomph of that bad dream with me, which I was keeping hidden away.
“If there isn’t enough money, we could starve and end up homeless,” he asserted.
“Money doesn’t cure heartbreak or cancer,” I countered.
The trouble was tempered with one turn left instead of where we would normally have turned right.
My husband grew up in a house that was literally falling down around him. At the tender age of 11, his mother passed. At this, his father shed all pretenses of home repair and parenting. The sudden absence of love, a rapid decline in nutrition, and the ever-growing pile of laundry aside, the lack of money that had at least been tolerable became unbearable. Utilities went one at a time. Cold showers and one meal a day at school became the norm. Because of a leak, and without adult supervision, a young boy turned the gas on at the source only long enough to heat the kitchen so there was a warm place to dress for school.
His father spent what little money there was on his own goings-on, and neglected his son in ways that would now land him in jail. It wasn’t just that there was a parent woefully consumed with his own pain. There simply was not enough money. As an adult, my husband vowed it would never be this way for his own family.
I grew up in a home of conditional love. There was enough food to go around, enough blankets to keep everyone warm, and clean clothes that fit. There was also a looming cloud of discontent that stemmed from my parents’ very unhappy marriage. This trickled down into abuse of us children – and I don’t mean mere spankings and harsh lectures. Even this, though, was at least tolerable until the old man next door got a hold of me. He made it clear what would happen if I told, so I didn’t – for all five years of it, and not for another 20 years. As that child, I could barely stomach the food my mother served and I came to hate the clothes she bought for me. I couldn’t wrap myself up in blankets tightly enough to protect me.
What the old man did would now land him in jail, but he died before I was old enough to know he could never have delivered on his threats. While it was going on, my parents sensed something was wrong. They did ask me about it one time, but I wouldn’t say for fear of what would happen if I did, so they dropped it. It wasn’t just that my parents were woefully consumed with their own pain. There was simply not enough protection. As an adult, I vowed it would never be this way for my own family.
My husband and I knew about each other’s childhoods, but we didn’t realize the full impact of those experiences – specifically how they would come to mold the way we would deal with, prepare for, and shelter ourselves against real and imagined dangers.
Before our discussion, he didn’t want to spend money for a home alarm system because he was aware of my waking up at the slightest sound – and my rattling him awake as I went off to address the source. Additionally, he had been a Marine for 23 years. What he couldn’t defend against would be our demise anyway. Logically, he was right. He could stop an attacker — and has in the past — but there was nothing he could do to protect us from an earthquake or flash flood. Even then, we have more than enough insurance in the unlikely event we survived major calamity.
Before our discussion, I fought adamantly for a home alarm system. I felt vulnerable without it and all the more unprotected by his refusal to give in. My anxiety worsened when the neighborhood we moved into was privy to several violent crimes committed by people who shouldn’t have been let out of jail in the first place, but who nonetheless roamed free. Frankly, the home alarm would have only been a first step. Relocating to a small town was my preference.
Our discussion revolved around how each of us felt about our own reasons for feeling insecure. In the past, we’d have instead focused on what we thought of the other person’s ideas.
After our discussion it was much easier to identify with and accommodate each other based on the reasons we each felt insecure in the first place. He knew he could protect us from anything outside the house, so his focus was the dangers lurking within. I knew I could protect us from anything inside the house, so my focus was the dangers lurking outside.
The trouble had been with each of us being so myopically focused on our own turf, as it were, that we ignored the very real dangers with which the other was consumed. In a turn of events worthy of O. Henry, we’d come to threaten to each other by way of our own need to protect each other.
I now assist with home repairs by providing support. I make the coffee, run to the hardware store, do the cleanup, and sometimes administer first aid. I’ve always done this, but begrudgingly because I often felt I was doing so at the expense of protecting us from outside dangers. I also took another look at the budget in terms of how much more would be better placed in savings, and we are better off financially for my effort. He’s come to tell me he appreciates my way of nurturing, protecting, and providing what money can’t buy.
He created a high-tech, invisible fortress around our home so no one can get past the property line, much less in the house, without the notice of the entire neighborhood and law enforcement. Whereas before he was dismissive of my concerns, he has now made himself aware of those I perceive as dangerous. He has responded to the children and me with protective body language and assuring words. I’ve come to have a new appreciation for the skills he has always had with finances, home repair, telecommunications, and sheer brute strength.
When I check email and read articles in the paper now, I find the world is the same as before all this started. Our part in it, however, is more secure on many levels, not the least of which is with each other.
Last night’s dream was much more pleasant. We were walking hand-in-hand through a vast field of freshly bloomed tulips, my favorite flower. On a dirt road running through the middle of it, he found a BMW M5 with the key in the ignition and a title bearing his name. We ran off together in a blaze of marital glory.