Wednesday, July 28, 2004

PART 23 - Against the Wind

I was walking through the Target and it suddenly dawned on me that the Muzak was playing Bob Seger's Main Street. I laughed and wondered if the Target corporate office was aware that their store was broadcasting a song about a stripper. I laughed all the way to the checkout.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Against The Wind

Against the wind
We were runnin' against the wind
We were young and strong, we were running
Against the wind

The years rolled slowly past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends
I found myself further and further from my home
And I guess I lost my way
There were oh so many roads
I was living to run and running to live
Never worried about paying or even how much I owed . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I suppose at this point in the story, you are probably wondering why in the world we were sticking together, and all I can say is: nothing unites like a common enemy. Despite the fact that we were from very different places, had married under duress, and were seemingly at odds, he and I did share a common driving force from the beginning: both of us were extremely proud people. Everyone had quietly (and not so quietly) voiced their opinion on how soon the marriage would crash and burn. We both had something to prove, and the naysayers and doubters that grimly ate our wedding cake added fuel to the already blazing fire. We were both driven to earn more, have more, and accomplish more just to prove everyone wrong.

He would have sold his soul to the Devil himself to change the social standing that he had been born into. Being a fireman in his hometown was Step 1 of Operation Reputation Rescue. His new truck, always clean and waxed, proudly displayed his status as a fireman, and he loved driving it through town. At work, he tirelessly cleaned the engines and the firehouse and was first in line to go into any blaze, perform any act of heroism, or offer his time and energy for any worthy cause. To everyone that knew him, he was a kind, decent, honorable, trustworthy man.

My focus was different, but parallel: I was determined to prove to everyone that this marriage was viable and thriving, despite most people's initial doubts. I didn't let ANYONE in on even the smallest disagreement that we had, much less the larger trust war that was constantly raging. I was masterful at keeping secrets and putting on a brave, happy face. To the outside world, we presented the image of a loving, hardworking couple.

The one thing that belied this perfect, successful image was living in that shitty trailer park. We were both determined to get out of the trailer ASAP, and within a year's time, we had saved enough money to put a downpayment on a new house on the outskirts of his hometown and fill it with beautiful furnishings. The subdivision was surrounded by rolling pasture and woods. It was a gorgeous, serene setting, and the house was my pride and joy. It was a little 3 bedroom 2 bath ranch, with a front porch and a large country kitchen. I was overjoyed with the house and could barely stand to leave in the mornings. I had daydreams of rocking babies in the front porch swing.

He was thrilled to have a half acre backyard, and we added a fence, a pool and a large storage barn for all of his equipment. The front yard was a showcase for his landscaping business. We had beautiful climbing roses, hibiscus, well-tended islands of annuals, and pristine hedges. Not satisfied with the builder's standard landscape package, he had ripped out everything that the builder had planted, tilled up the whole yard, and to the disgust and dismay of the entire neighborhood, spread a DUMPTRUCKLOAD of chicken shit from a local farm before seeding and spreading straw. The smell was disgusting until the next rain, but damn, the yard was absolutely beautiful.

His family's reaction to the house was guarded, at best. They were pleased that we now lived "back home" but none of them had ever lived in a subdivision and none had ever had a mortgage. They all were certain we were setting ourselves up for a big fall, and they were also nearly certain that maybe we deserved it, trying to act and live "higher than we really were." They lived in the same town in squalor, while we were decorating a brand new house. No matter, we were thrilled to bits with the place.

Not long after we got settled in, he started inviting "friends" over for dinner. I didn't know a soul in the town, so it was a nice way for me to meet new people. I would get a little aggravated with the short notice, though. He would invariably call me at work to let me know that he had invited friends to dinner at 7:30, and could I stop by the grocery store and pick up some steaks? This happened a few times before I began to realize that the "friends" that were visiting were people that had known his family long ago, or school acquaintances that had snubbed him that he hadn't seen in years. Since he worked in the center of town, and was often out in front of the firestation, he saw lots of folks that he had known back then. Many of them could barely hide their shock that he had "made something of himself", considering how poor and destitute his family was. He took advantage of every opportunity to spread the word that he was doing well, and actually better than well, and that he was happily married. Somewhere in the midst of catching up, he would feel compelled to invite them over to the house for dinner, and would seldom take no for an answer.

The minute I would arrive home, steaks in hand, the Chinese firedrill would commence (no disrespect to either the Chinese or firemen, or Chinese firemen). I would feverishly sweep through the house, straightening comforters, throwing out papers, wiping bathroom mirrors and sinks, dustmopping the floors, vacuuming the rugs, and basically spit-shining the place. It had to be pristine, every time. Not only did he expect me to do it, I was compelled to do it. I wanted the perfect house and I wanted him to be proud of me and our home.

More often than not, the dinner conversation would be somewhat stilted at first, seeing that we were complete strangers, but I would always try to find common ground and usually within a short while, we would all be engaged in pleasant conversation together. It was a bit like driving a car that was badly out of alignment; he would steer the conversation toward how well he was doing, how much money he had made, how many accounts he had, how much equipment he owned, and how much he had accomplished, and I would struggle to pull the conversation back to center, asking our guests about their families, jobs, anything to keep the conversation from focusing on him. It was just another power struggle, and I would often be debriefed as he and I cleared dishes after our guests departed for the evening.

"Why did you keep interrupting me?" he would snap as he wiped the table clean.

"Because you sound conceited when you talk about yourself all the time," I would counter, rinsing dishes.

"I noticed you didn't think HE was conceited, did you? " he would sneer, and in his girliest voice would mock me, "Oh you are so funny! Your job sounds so INTERESTING!" as he flounced around the kitchen. Disgusted, he would grumble, "Why do you always have to be such a flirt? How come you have that happy face for everybody but me?" He was certain that I saved the best parts of myself for others. Truth was, I felt the same about him.

Every time we were waiting for company to arrive, I couldn't stop myself from comparing him to Wayne Newton getting ready for a performance, backstage getting his makeup freshened up, being given a swig of water and a last minute coiffure check before stepping out before an adoring audience. Where once I had been the adoring audience that he preened and posed for, I was now a backstage hand.

His energy was vast, but it wasn't limitless. He seemed to be a perpetual motion machine, constantly working on his equipment, or working in the yard. He never really took a day off. He spent his weekends going full-tilt, and his weekdays working his two jobs. The one luxury he allowed himself was a leisurely dinner, either at home or out. When we went out in the evenings, I always drove, and he napped in the passenger seat until we arrived. He would come to life when we arrived, and we would generally have a good time with whatever company we were keeping at the time. I loved being with him when we were out, it was the only time I saw traces of the man that I had fallen in love with. The ride back home was always a time for silent decompression, and more times than not, he was asleep when we pulled in the driveway.

It won't surprise anyone to hear that my weight began to creep back up. I was constantly running to work or back home, trying to keep up with the house, and our pseudo-social life, family, and him. I was doing what I had always done to cope with stress - I binged. This time, though, he didn't have alot to say about the weight, other than a little jab here and there. A comment he made to one of his brothers in jest seemed to be as reasonable an answer as any, when at a family gathering, he gave me a hug and announced, "She's getting chubby, but at least I don't have to worry about anyone stealing her away." In humor, there is always a little bit of truth.

Even in the privacy of our bedroom, appearance was important. I had never experienced the sexual pleasures that I had read about in magazines. He had always been the initiator, sexually, and although I had never fully enjoyed sex, I never turned him away. I had always enjoyed just pleasing and accomodating him, but I began to respond in a way that I had not in the past. This was a very unwelcome change, and he voiced his displeasure one night, quickly extricating himself from me when I began to grip his back and moan during intercourse, urging him into a pleasurable position that he wasn't used to. "Don't act like that, it makes you look like a slut," he snapped as he grabbed a pillow and blanket to go sleep on the sofa. Shame and embarassment washed over me; all of the old messages were revitalized and reinforced. There in the dark, as I laid alone, I was angry at myself for having tried, and hurt that I was rejected and humiliated for what I was feeling. I vowed to part ways with those desires then and there, hiding them in the dim recesses of my mind, and pretend that they never existed.

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