It's not so much the marriage that was unhappy, but the two people in it. The root cause of our unhappiness was not each other. Unbeknownst to me, he was descending into schizophrenia. Me, I was trying to crawl out of life-long, low-grade depression.
I came to a point of frustration. Frustration with my husband. Frustration with myself. Frustration with the marriage itself. It was stagnant. It was institutionally and fundamentally sad. I felt helpless to change any of it, most of all myself.
"Sometimes when you are unable to make yourself happy, it can help if you try and make someone else happy," my therapist suggested.
This was new.
This was different.
This was mildly annoying.
Yet I did attempt acts of kindness for my then husband. I offered back rubs. I made meals. I tried to strike up conversation. I even left the couch and slept in our marital bed for a change. I spooned.
None of it worked. Not even a little.
I was even more miserable for having tried it and failed, and he didn't seem the slightest bit interested in any of my gestures. I chalked it up to some monumentally bad advice from an otherwise terrific therapist. Yet here I sit, a decade later, and I still remember that advice. It stuck with me for a reason.
What I have found is that I am able to follow my therapist's advice when it comes to my children.
For instance, I was thrown for a loop this weekend. I rather spastically and inexplicably threw my new Blackberry Torch in the bathtub with my baby daughter. I know! It seems impossible, but it happened. I'd been holding it a few feet away from the tub when it started to slip. Rather than let it fall harmlessly to the floor, I freaked out and started bobbling and batting at it until I hurled it high into the air, where it made an Olympic dive into a bubble bath.
I can still hear the splash.
I'll spare you the details of the three AT&T stores I visited, the multiple visits and phone calls, the black tape, the out-of-town husband, the one-year-old and seven-year-old children who couldn't wait that long in a store, the benevolent niece who accompanied me and talked me out of my cellular-induced emotional breakdown. (Slight exaggeration, but I was pretty riled and I'm normally unruffled by such things).
It all added up to me being a pretty high-strung madre by Sunday afternoon.
So I took my children to Chuck E. Cheese. There was so much built-up tension on the Saturday of the Smartphone Swan Dive, I knew something had to give. My seven-year-old son is a sensitive little soul. He was worried about me. He knew I was agitated, irritated and mad about my phone. He gave me a lot of moon-eyed looks of concern. I felt bad about that.
Because I couldn't fix me and I couldn't fix my phone situation until regular business hours on Monday morning, the only things I could fix were the two little people who depend on me. I packed them up and took them to Chuck E. Cheese for no damn reason on a Sunday afternoon.
I'm basically a parenting god.
My son was overjoyed. He couldn't believe his good fortune. My one-year-old daughter wandered around admiring the sights and sounds for two hours, uncomplaining and thoroughly entertained. She had a sweet little smile on the toddler rides and toddler slides. My son marched around with a cup overflowing with tokens and tickets draped around his neck like a paper garland.
That night, I went upstairs and examined my son's face as he slept, his arms wrapped around his stuffed kitty. Such a cherubic face. The round cheeks, the dark lashes, the tender little hand curled under his chin. He's such a tall, slim boy now and he's getting so big I can barely hold him, but in the darkened room I saw him for the little boy he still is. And he was at peace with his world.
I made somebody happy.
Maybe there's hope for me yet.