Mail-Order Bride

It’s been two years living here with my cohabitant. Last week we finally had the toilet paper conversation. It was a breakthrough moment. Turns out all this time he’s been living in quiet dissatisfaction. I would never have done that. I’m demanding. I had the feeling when I came here that it could be a huge mistake, so I’ve made it as difficult as possible for him just to be sure he really wants me. But he has endured, survived the torture of my constant cleaning and rearranging his stuff, purging treasures that appear to be junk, recklessly donating to Goodwill, hiding his clothes in closets and drawers, and organizing the kitchen with military precision until there is a defined order, visual harmony, and a wee bit of style. These are the things I’ve forced on him, and he’s been nice about it. He’s so much nicer than I am.

His niceness used to bug me, but I’m getting used to it. Although sometimes his good cheer sucks all the oxygen out of the room, and I have to just go for a walk to get my edge back. My anger validates me. Ancient grievances are embedded in my personality and were I to simply forget the wrongs in my life, I fear my skin would collapse against my bones. I would lose my substance. Anger gives me muscle. I’m loud and cutting and it makes me feel safe. I yell. I unpack my baggage and strew it around where it’s unavoidable. He trips over it, and I wreak indignation. Sometimes I cry. But lately I’ve noticed I’m not as raw as I was when I got here, my scars are blending, and the deep ravines of my mood swings are no longer the lines on the road. 

Time has condensed my past into a nugget of memory. For so many years my mind  was a retention pond of toxic recollections ready to breach into bleakness, easily punctured by disappointment, a fear, or a flashback. An idea could storm me, and it could be weeks before I found daylight again. Now those dark currents have been diluted by this fresh experience. I’m brighter, more stable. I blame him for that. 

Spending time in the arms of love is transformative. I was single and lived alone for eleven years between the time my husband died in 2009, and the day I met Roger at Silver Falls State Park in 2020 for a socially distanced trail walk with my dog. It was an awakening. Mainly it was sex. But like a mail-order bride, I have learned to be his partner, we’ve made a home together and our collaboration is regenerative. We believe we have a future. 

There is no pill, no therapy, no organ transplant that can fix the past. To make space for this life, time crunches memories smaller and smaller until my moonscape of loss fits into a few sentences as an homage to my identity. I say I will never forget. But I forget. Life goes on. Forgetting composts my rage. I let go of my grievances and focus forward. It helps that I’m in a beautiful place. The green reign of the Doug firs is cleansing. I look out at long stretches of wild Earth, and I am soothed. His outdoor lifestyle is big medicine. Also, his hot tub. 

Being loved changes how I feel about myself. I am easier, less ambitious, more infatuated with ordinary life, not working so hard to be exceptional, not ashamed to enjoy grocery shopping. It’s a paradigm shift. He eats what’s easy to cook. I prepare meals I would like to order in a restaurant. If we ate in restaurants. Which we don’t. His idea of status is not the same as mine. I had to overcome a thousand Carhart t-shirts and twenty pairs of the exact same style of shoe to feel good about myself in this relationship. He does things because they make sense. I do them because they look good. He puts things where they are convenient. I put things where they would flatter me in an Architectural Digest photo shoot. 

This summer we discovered couples gardening. That’s like couples therapy only without the conversation. It was fun until I had to euthanize my tomato plants because they were weeping in the shade of his cannabis tree. He doesn’t eat tomatoes. I had no idea how big cannabis can grow. And I’m not really interested in growing it. But here in Oregon, backyard cannabis is local culture, same as growing grapes for homemade wine. Watching his fastidious obsession with the horticultural enterprise was enlightening. I saw a commitment to managing details that otherwise might have been hidden from me. The sight of him pruning, picking yellow leaves, and fertilizing was a revelation. This man who seems so haphazard in his habits is actually quite fussy when it comes to his pleasures. When I told him I was surprised he cared so much about how things looked, he suggested I gain a hundred pounds and test my theory of his obliviousness. Because he isn’t oblivious at all. He picks his battles. And he picked me.

Now I see that I’ve been managed through this transition in my life. All the while I’ve been training him to eat vegetables and hang up his lunch pail when he comes home from work, he’s been training me to relax. I’ve been duped! It’s been a subtle power struggle and I think I’m losing. Who will I become when I can’t find anything to be angry about anymore? Dang. 

~ : ~

What It’s Like to Date After Middle Age by Faith Hill in The Atlantic

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3 thoughts on “Mail-Order Bride

  1. Oh Billie! I so love you! So glad you are back writing! My favorite thing to look forward to on Wednesdays are your posts! I really loved this one in particular!

  2. One of yr best, Best. When I think ‘mail order bride’ i think of that Aussie movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, where the Viet Namese” woman was able to fire ping pong balls out of her vagina. Astonishing skill. About your voice when you got angry back in the day, it went WAY up in register and lost all intended power. So funny to me.
    ml, r

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