For me, the ultimate freedom is not having to explain myself to others. I love not needing to supply reasons for things. I relish the weightlessness of “it just feels right.” You’ve got to admit that nothing douses a spontaneity high like someone questioning your motives.
Growing up, there was a saying in my family perpetuated by my dad and his father before him, which they inevitably directed at their wives: “That’s your mother, children!” Dad would say this whenever Mom did something amusing or daft or inexplicable. I can picture my grandfather saying it whenever Grandmother did something eccentric or unapologetically forthright.
Another family saying, also mostly said by the fathers of the mothers: “Always positive. Always wrong.” In other words, so stubbornly resolute were these women in their perspectives at times that they refused to listen to reason. (This stubbornness could just as often apply to the fathers, of course, but the mothers seemed less inclined to drive their wins home with a verbal victory lap.)
While these expressions in writing may seem condescending, my impression as a child was that they were said with levity, in a spirit of reconciliation – to gently tease or deflate mounting tension. The words had a way of magically shifting conflict or discomfort into something we could all laugh about.
What I realize now is that these comments were often upside-down terms of endearment. In the silence afterwards, you could almost feel my father’s affection for my mom, as if in parentheses: “That’s your mother, children! (And I wouldn’t have it any other way.)”
These swatches of verbal history suggest that the husbands in my extended family have often been the grounded, pragmatic, sensible sorts, while the wives have been the playful, unpredictable, often impulsive sorts. Surprise, surprise…this apple has not fallen far from that woman tree.
Sometimes I wonder if my ambivalence to my partner’s measured sensibilities might ultimately drive him crazy. Other times, I am convinced he is lucky that I’m saving him from a life of predictability and boredom. Type A I am not. And neither is he, but he is by far the steady hand on the rudder of this spousal ship. There are times – oh so many times – when I’d be sunk without him.
Like the time he basically finished building our half-built house after our labor budget went up in (unbelievably inefficient general contractor) smoke. And the time he saved us a heap of money by contesting an erroneous property assessment. And all the times he deals with our car issues and our leaky plumbing issues and our dog-meets-porcupine issues, not to mention the never-ending trash and recycling.
There are times, however, when what’s needed is not logic or efficiency or even an unflappable work ethic. Sometimes you need to flat-out get crazy. Sometimes you need to shoot the moon. You need to head out into the downpour of your life without a jacket or shoes. You need to stay up all night writing (this) or read a couple more pages of “Moby Dick” with your nine-year-old even though it’s way past bedtime, because holy shit! “Moby Dick”!?
Sometimes you need to do things because they strike your flipping fancy and that is all there is to say about it. You might find yourself regressing to adolescence and answering every question with “up yer butt!” or “that’s what she said!” just to underscore the astonishing absurdity of everything.
You might even need to bust out into an air guitar solo in the kitchen at a totally inopportune moment because there is simply no other segue to the thing that’s just been said. Other than an awesome air guitar solo.
It’s about balancing the stark realities of life with the soft desirables – with laughter and music and get-aways and good friends. It’s about keeping each other guessing and yearning and being okay with a certain amount of chaos. Sometimes it’s about sitting with the discomfort before you can figure out how to pass through it. Maybe you don’t pass through it. Maybe it’s a part of you, and maybe that’s okay.
When things feel dark, we need to know a few tricks for finding the light. When the burden feels heavy, it helps to have a knack for lightness. I come up with cockamamie ideas that will never pan out because it’s fun to imagine the impossible panning out. If you get all serious talking to me about why it doesn’t make sense to go south to see a friend if, later, we have to go north for an appointment, how about a quick trip to Antarctica before lunch?
The thing is, though, I take after my dad as well. Scratch that. I try to take after my dad, not always successfully. I crave order and reason. I long to block out distractions, the temptations, the dizzying alternatives. I would trade a limb for the ability to make a sound decision and stick to it with no regrets. I would kill to be able to hold my shit together in situations when the holding together of shit eradicates, or at least dissipates, confusion, hurt, and misunderstanding.
I long for the absolutes, the clean lines of a “no, thank you,” the well-framed arguments that hold themselves together like bomb-proof scaffolding. And yes, I hang onto the steady hand of a partner who says with utmost certainty, “It’s going to be alright. We got this.”
Provided I can freely wail on my air guitar in the kitchen because, well, “That’s your mother, children!”