Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Ghost of You Lingers

     As so often happens, a conversation I had with my husband the other night started me thinking about things that I probably wouldn't were it not for the fact that he was born with Marfan's Syndrome. I have to confess, in this instance, when I say conversation, what I really mean is argument. It was over something stupid and petty, as most arguments the world over are and I eventually realized that whatever it was we were arguing about wasn't truly the problem; it was merely the trigger. I think that's a far more common thing than most people are willing to admit, that their arguments aren't really about the immediate issue. Rather, the immediate issue is just the thing that brought the underlying issue to light.

     I think most couples would agree that the vast majority of fights that occur between partners are fairly trivial and oftentimes the result of one or the other having a bad day/being overly sensitive/taking a seeming benign comment the wrong way. It happens to every damn one of us, medical issues or no. This is nothing exclusive to Marfan's Syndrome, not by a long shot. What is unique to my situation, though, is the fact that the underlying issue was something that began long ago, before I was ever in the picture. I won't disclose exactly what it was, out of respect for my husband's privacy, but it set the stage for a lingering sense of "I'm not good enough".

      One incident, then two incidents, then three, then more. They mostly occurred during his high school years, which can be either the best time of your life or a four-year hell from which you can't wait to escape, depending on which variables you're working with. In his case, the variables were very much working against him. Six-foot-five by the time he was fourteen and the fact that he never broke one hundred and forty pounds does not add up to make a happy high school experience. He knew something was wrong with his health by this point in his life, but the actual diagnosis of Marfan's Syndrome was still something only whispered between his doctors. No one would just come out and say what the problem was.

     We've never talked about it, but I think that made it even harder for him to deal with, the not having a solid reason for looking and feeling the way that he did. I would think that it would've been easier on him if he could've just pointed his finger at some disease or disorder and blamed it on that. (I know, he actually does have a disorder, but since he wasn't really aware of it at that time, it's a moot point.) I know how difficult those formative years were for me and I was relatively normal-looking. Undersized and smart-assed, yes, but nothing that would immediately peg me as different. I don't like imagining what it was like for my husband, knowing there was something very obviously unusual going on and not being able to do anything to disguise the fact.

     The point I'm winding my way towards is that I think these episodes of adolescence affect people with disorders like Marfan's Syndrome more deeply than they do others. Speaking for myself and the handful of close friends I've informally surveyed on the matter, these memories of teasing at the hands of immature peers have long since lost any sting they may once have held. I can look back on incidents that would've bothered me for days when I was fifteen and laugh at the idiocy of the boys who used to mock me mercilessly for no other reason than that they didn't know how to properly flirt. In short, I don't carry any of it with me any longer. The few insecurities that remain with me are of my own creation and cultivation and have nothing to do with anyone else's opinion.

     The same cannot be said of my husband. Though I think the world of him, he does not. It all goes back to that idea of knowing you're defective right out of the box. You see, when the mean kids would try to level insults at me, they tended to either A) stick with me for a while, if I was having a bad day or B) bounce right off, because I knew they were without merit. It was usually the latter option, but even if it was the odd occasion on which the first was more appropriate, whatever was said never truly took root within me. My husband, though, not only allowed the ugliness to take root within him, he allowed it bloom because somewhere in his mind he believed it.

     He believed and probably still does, to some extent, that he was weird, ugly, weak and anything else the cruelty of youth could come up with to throw at him. That's why they affect him still, those incidents from all those years ago - because he truly believes they and their associated insults are accurate. To this day, those bad thoughts that are lurking in the corners of his brain cause problems on multiple fronts. Here at home, I know the reason we have some of the petty fights we do is because it's so easy for him to believe that things that come out of my mouth with absolutely no forethought are carefully crafted barbs meant to take him down a peg or two. Of course that's not the case and it's actually rather hurtful to me to think that he believes me capable of such meanness towards him, but I do understand where he's coming from.

     It's not just his interactions with me, either. Any criticism directed towards him tends to be taken very personally, whether it's meant that way or not. A supervisor's questioning of a project that he's been working hard on can be seen as a direct critique of his skills and abilities, though it's likely not meant that way. A family member's hesitation to jump whole-heartedly behind a plan of his (for example, wanting to have his best friend ordained online and marry us instead of a traditional minister) is perceived as a total lack of support for him as a person. It's not, but it feels that way to him and it's just one more thing that breaks my heart when I think about it.

     I'm trying, I really am, to build him up so that he's got a steadier foundation on which to stand. I suspect that I'm the first one in his life to attempt such a project, but that says more about my husband than it does anyone else in his life. I know for fact how much he's loved by his family and friends; it's just that he is notoriously close-mouthed about ANYTHING related to his disorder and I can't imagine why anyone would try to pry into that area of his life. It's a touchy subject under the best of circumstances and when you're possessed of as sour a disposition as much husband is sometimes, no one can be faulted for not venturing into that thorniness. I'm going to be that person, though, or get my head bitten off trying.


Shan said...

oh, my poor sexy pirate boyfriend. I also suffer from terribly low self esteem & think Husband is always poking at me, when he is not, thank you for shedding some light on how he feels, he loves me as you love yours & I bet it does hurt him when I think he could be that mean. Keep it up, maybe someday some of those old hurts will subside with your love & affection for him :)

Kristin Lee said...

Love you, Shan.