Bad. My husband says I am bad. Not in the sense of evil-bad, but more a case of growing increasingly disobedient, difficult and intractable with age.

He hurls the hateful syllables at me, small shit-balls, grown dry and tight and hard in the bowels of his fury. His words,  like butcher’s knives, have scraped my spirits to ragged bone. Our private life is a public lie.  My soul feels wrinkled, scabbed over. I feel it’s been picked at by scavenger birds and I despair that I will ever heal. But I somehow survive the slow death of my love, not only intact, but forged stronger from the shock of unrelenting pain.

Where shall I start to describe my badness? He says I am unwomanly. Why, because I walk beside him or, always curious, stride ahead at times and don’t linger properly behind? Because I am adventurous and have opinions and do not hide my mouth behind my hands when I laugh out loud? Oh, yes, my laugh. I laugh a lot, with my head thrown back; I shake with joy. He thinks me boisterous and uncouth. I am unladylike. My jokes are coarse, he says – men’s jokes – full of double entendres and sexual innuendo. I laugh as I re-tell them – he does not find them funny. I sit in a chair with my legs drawn up and that offends him. He sneers as he says I must have learned that from the men I work with.  It enrages him that I no longer curl up beside him, close by for petting, should he free a hand from the channel changer.

I wonder if I must have been a better woman once. Now he skewers me with barbs about my failings. I was more docile, back in our beginning, more acceptable. I did not argue then. He’d get annoyed at something I had done then threaten to leave.  I used to have hysterics and promise to behave. I didn’t drive and wept instead of answering back. But even my compliance was annoying – why couldn’t I be more assertive? Was I crying to make him feel bad? Well, now that has changed and I won’t be contained again.

It was all right for me to go back to work when the kids were small, so we could have food and pay the rent . When eventually I made more money than him, I did not tell. When the doctor said I was depressed, he asked why should that be? Home, children, work, home, husband, work, home. But dear, this is your life and we’re your loving family. Come on, I’ll make it better, let’s go to bed, he’d say, as if that was an answer. Years later, sometimes he’d set his watch so he could catch me early. When he was done, he’d pat me absent-mindedly and drift back to sleep.

My passion corroded under the salt of his anger. As I turned reluctant and resentful, he became more ardent, furious when at last I said I was tired of feeling nothing. He does not accept that he could do something, that he must do something to affirm my worth if we are to continue. No. No! It is me, and only ME, who must change the way I am. Stop being my mother’s daughter, my father’s girl.

For the longest time, I made excuses for his stern controlling ways, his lack of warmth or understanding.  But even I, once blinded by love, can finally see through the make-believe.

He retired from a job he hated and started his own business – network marketing. He did not ask me nor did I inquire – it was his thing, and I was grateful he was not staying a couch potato. I didn’t care about the thousands he had to invest to ride the MLM gravy train.  ‘We have 6000 products’ – he crowed proudly. We? He glowed with zeal, but adamantly does not sell – he opens up opportunities. It is his dream come true and the business must come first.  If I don’t like it, he says that I will lose, for he will not forsake this road to certain riches. I said I would not ask that, only that I be tied for second.  Could he not grant me that? No. Rallies, seminars, show the plan. Believe, believe, believe.  Bob and Mary, Frank and Fay, get rich and have a lifestyle. Building together – that’s the pitch. Toothy couples laden with over-large jewellry, pressed side by side in all the promotional material.

I have no interest in soap and tires and fabricated foods but at first, the pressure is relentless. Perky MLM-way women phone and invite me to beauty breaks; their husbands lightly flirt and ask why I’m not ‘out there’. Instead of telling them to bugger off, I plead the press of work and travel. When I come home from work, I’m tired, but the accusation is that I’m not there with him, for him – he calls me unsupportive. The beat goes on – I buy my bras at Eaton’s sales and sneak them in the house. I give up Tide to get him off my back and I hide my sale-priced lipsticks in a drawer. It took me months to realize that he was doing his own laundry, but not mine. If by chance he cooked, it was foods he knew I wouldn’t eat. He went to meetings almost every night. In truth, I grew accustomed to my own company. I sit and knit, eat popcorn, write, talk on the phone. I’m not the selfish bitch he says I am.

Sometimes in my dark hours I remember that I gave him everything that was me, then. I was unknowing about the ways of men and moods and marriage beds. He could have formed me, shaped me gently, but he did not fully fathom my depths, my strengths, my devotion. You are so bright, he’d say, so sharp and so intelligent. He’d shake his head in sorrow, but – wait for the punch line. But, how can you not understand what I’m trying to tell you – not take it to heart and change? He’d say I could be better if I wanted to. If I wanted to really make him happy. Why ever not? I guess I’m not that smart! He says he only  speaks of me in glowing tones! Oh my, you bloody hypocrite. In private you revile me, demean me till I almost cannot bear to face the next day. I weep out my pain to a psychiatrist and take small pills to sleep. I start to find my self again – I thought me lost forever but I was only hiding out. I did not break. And now he has the fear that once was mine and he is  angrier than ever, cold and silent, punishing, critical.

He says I live in my emotions. Of course, where else?  That is who and what I am. I have not changed. I hug too much, he says. He regales our marriage therapist with resentments and a litany of my flaws.  I am bad in so many ways – I tell  too many people that I love them. My friends make me happy and I show it. I can’t prevaricate. I am unreserved, untamed and I don’t act my age.

On the other hand, I have become tough. My shell is more impervious with every hard-flung hurt. My best friend, he finds negative – she has changed me, he says, not realizing that he is what changed me, made me grow this rind around my heart. My other best friend is a man and he is furious because I will not drop him from my circle. That unnerves him, but he says he does not think me unfaithful sexually. Sex? I have found that there is a greater intimacy than rubbing two bodies together. He can’t understand that. If I said I was a lesbian, I think he could accept that and find a reason for his dislike of who I am.  At least he would have something that was concrete and truly feel betrayed, not just in private but  in public. He no longer talks of leaving. I do.

In retrospect, I realize, this is about control. Nearly 30 years ago, I did not know much of life. Naive and starry-eyed, I was like Snow White, but I did not awaken till I was forty five years old. I went for years, walking with head held down, but no more. He used to terrify me with fear of loss and I would cry, forgive me, forgive me! But he never really did.

I break his balls, he shouts. When I do things for myself, like fixing the long-broken broken door hinge, it makes him angry. He says I do not know my place. He says I don’t know how to be a wife because I did not have a father in the house where I grew up. If I’d  had a marriage-model, I’d know just what to do. But I scream inside that I had their love and he is wrong.  This final insult to my family took me to the edge. Some times, I used to think that it would be better if he hit me with his fists and left bruises, because then others would understand my pain.

I asked him once if I opened my veins, would that be sorry enough for him. He didn’t miss a beat but answered said yes. So that was the end of it for me. I knew that I could never be enough. But no one else could save me but myself. Darla