Untethered

I’ve been married for fifteen years, and I want to tell you things are WAY easier now than they were in the early years, but that would be like telling you putting a man on the moon is way easier the sixth time you do it compared to the first time. NO! Successful moon missions are ALWAYS hard, no matter how many times you do it.

Sure, the first time you do it, you’re inexperienced. You have no idea if you’re going to make it. Your body and mind are untested. Yes, you’ve been preparing, quite often ‘til you’re exhausted, but gearing up for something is WAY different than actually doing the deed. Yeah, I’m still talking about space travel; get your mind out of the gutter!

Going into your sixth landing, you know you can do it, but now you’re dealing with budget cuts you didn’t have before. Your body and mind are stronger, but you also know that you’ve suffered setbacks along the way, and the astronauts and equipment may not hold up under the strain. Your space agency may not be able to perform like it once did.

The same holds true in marriage. You may think you’ve got this thing on lock. Look at all the disagreements you worked through with your partner. All those magical moments you shared and the hard times you limped through together. But those hard times keep coming, you argue about the same things over and over again, and the tough stuff is easier to recall than those magical moments. Plus, you’re just older versions of the two broken people carrying all their baggage all those years ago, and it’s easy to drop that baggage at your partner’s feet, just as they’re gaining momentum.

Just recently, my wife was mad at me for an entire day, and I had no idea until we sat down to eat dinner. The one good thing about years of experience is you start to detect patterns.

She’s avoiding eye contact.

Okay, something’s just shifted.

You ask how her day’s going, and she gives you a one-word response, “Fine.”

This is when you identify with Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 who just heard a bang. All your electronics fluctuate, your thrusters don’t work, and you lose connection with Earth. It feels like all the air is sucked out of the room, and you realize man isn’t made to live here.

So you ask a follow-up question: “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I said I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Just like Lovell had to wait while NASA determined the fate of him and his crew, I found myself surrounded by huge gravity wells of silence. One small mistake could send me hurtling into the unknown.

The BEST thing about our marriage is that I’m an external processor and want to resolve problems immediately, while my wife needs time to think through things and figure out why she’s feeling the way she is, so while she’s checking the instruments and doing the calculations necessary to stay on mission, I’ve dumped out all the materials the crew have in the capsule and am trying to build something new out of it, sorting out exactly what’s gone wrong, so in that moment when I asked her how her day was going, she may have just been realizing she felt upset, and when I asked her if she was okay, that’s the moment she realized that yes, she was in fact mad at me.

People, learn this now. Your person can be upset with you long before she knows why she is and you WILL make it worse if you try to fix it immediately. Imagine Jim Lovell jumping to conclusions, talking over Houston as well as his crew, and steering Apollo 13 into a trajectory from which they’d’ve never returned.

The crew of Apollo 13 blew an oxygen tank just like I’d blown it with my wife, producing unanticipated consequences. The astronauts experienced a drop in temperature due to a lack of electricity, while I experienced the cold shoulder due to a lack of empathy.

The rest of dinner passed as I tried not to take up too much oxygen, the atmosphere thick with animosity. Short breaths. Try not to talk. Slow movements. Yes, you’ve got to eat, but taking your next bite is not as important as taking that next, deliberate breath.

After dinner, I told the kids that mommy and I were going for a walk, which they were totally fine with as Maggie was already perched on her bed, playing Roblox on one device and FaceTiming with her friends on another. Meanwhile, Asher was watching other kids alternate between playing video games and playing with toys on YouTube. Sure, they were both substituting real life experiences for simulated ones, but that meant the wife and I could get out of the house without concern for our children’s safety. What were Jim Lovell’s kids up to while he hurtled through outer space? I’m sure somebody knew.

Securing the door, I had to catch up with the wife as she was already heading down the sidewalk. I adjusted my steps to hers as the crew adjusted their rations to the pace Houston set. It must not have been all that long before Laura started opening up about what was bothering her as we turned the corner together.

“What’s going on?”

“Weekends are for spending time together, but you’ve been doing your own thing all day, and I haven’t gotten to see you at all.”

Instead of realizing all Laura wanted was to spend time with me, I decided to defend myself, pointing out the times in the day I tried to spend time with her, she was preoccupied, because I can be a real asshole sometimes.

We walked. We talked. She held my hand. I apologized for the hurt I caused, and she did the same. And suddenly I could breathe again. The air scrubbers reactivated, dissipating the animosity. 

Just like NASA used their years of experience to slingshot Apollo 13 around the moon and back for a safe splashdown, the wife and I worked our way around feeling like the other was spending too much time alone. We literally looped the neighborhood together on the same trajectory, and instead of feeling like I could vanish into the dark unknown, she kept me tethered by holding my hand well before she felt like doing it.

It feels like that’s where I should end that story, with a nice little bow wrapping up the Apollo 13 analogy, but that’s just it. I’m still an asshole. After the fight about not spending enough time together on a weekend, two days later, we had another fight about basically the same thing, then when I was trying to spend time with her in the sexy way, we had another argument when I thought she called me weak, triggering the emotional baggage I still carry from middle school.

Life is fucked right now. I haven’t hugged my parents or sister in four months, and we haven’t even seen any of Laura’s family since New Year’s. We isolate ourselves from our friends yet see our neighbors lining the street with cars for Father’s Day with nary a mask to be seen. Protestors are gassed in the streets of what will surely become Flavortown, statues tumble while a noose is left for a black man to find because he got the confederate flag banned from NASCAR, and people are shot and run over for celebrating Junteenth while others cheer the President drinking water one-handed, so what’s the point of maintaining our marriage when we could all be dead after the second spike hits?

Well, somebody’s got to generate material to write about, so he can get his homework done for his unaccredited writing class.

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