Early Marriage | Part 9
It’s bleak midwinter, 1965-66. No signs yet of early spring. Wrecks are still being towed into the auto shop across the street, day and night. The photo above was taken at night. If things look murky, it’s because they were.
Here’s an informal inventory after several months of do-it-yourself marriage. It isn’t about everything. It’s about what’s troubling me.
- Boredom in the evenings – relieved somewhat; often still standing at the kitchen window
- Academic development – not actively engaged, but feeling better about my ability and prospects for the future
- Self-identity – strong and clear at the law school; elsewhere, unclear and distressingly stuck in neutral
- Spirituality – don’t feel comfortable praying and reading the Bible with D. I’ve never had a ‘spiritual companion.’ I’ve counted on my relationship with God being private and personal.
- Sex – That’s what this post is about.
My very first story-post was The Shopkeeper, in two parts. In the second part I comment about how long this memory stayed with me. Not just the details, but the feel and smell of that old shopkeeper. It haunted me through college and, of course, right into our early marriage.
In 1965 it’s still my secret. Up to now I haven’t told D or anybody else about this sad and sorry event. I’m deeply distressed every time the feel and smell of that old man intrudes on my life. It makes me nauseous and disgusted with him and with myself. I seem to have bought into my worst fear—that I asked for this abusive behavior when I was 10 ½ years old.
Poppycock! I can say that now. I couldn’t say it then, and I couldn’t say it even when I was a young, just-married adult. So why is this so important?
For the first months of our marriage, I don’t have any flashbacks to the old man. In fact, it seems I’m free of him. Other things intrude on my sex life—self-consciousness, shame, humiliation. But not this old man.
Then one evening D comes to bed without shaving. This hasn’t bothered me before, though I prefer clean-shaven.
Without warning, the feel of D’s whiskers triggers the old man’s bristly, dirty, smelly face, stinking breath, and general unwashed body odor. Instant turn-off. And deep distress.
The next morning I decide I have to ‘confess’ all to D. He deserves to know that what happened last night wasn’t about him. It was about something that happened to me just over ten years earlier.
I feel shame and humiliation when I tell him about it. I’m terrified to talk about it. It takes a while to get anything out of my mouth. My heart pounds. I feel responsible and guilty for not telling my parents about it. I don’t have a clue how D will respond.
Not to worry. The way D listens and responds tells me he doesn’t believe I’m to blame at all for what happened back then. He isn’t angry with me. He’s distressed! Then I tell him I’ve never talked with my parents about this–or with anyone else for that matter.
Sadly, this is D’s introduction to the way some things were in my family when I was growing up. It isn’t what he expected. There is, of course, much more he doesn’t yet know about. But that comes years later.
For me, this is a moment of grace and truth. I never dreamed I’d tell D about this at all. It’s already hard enough learning to live with a man (read ‘alien creature’). If D had shown any inclination toward judging me because of that old man’s abusive behavior toward me, I would have drowned in my guilt and shame.
This doesn’t resolve all my uneasiness about sex. I still have flashbacks to the old man from time to time. It is, however, the first time anyone showed compassion toward me when it came to my sexuality. It also let me know that despite our personality differences, D could be my ally. Neither he nor I have a clue how important this will be years later.
To be continued . . . .
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 May 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, Winter 1966