Saturday, September 05, 2009

The best rubbish

So we are sitting in the loungeroom, and I am talking to Mrs Zen about her diet plan. She has lasted a couple of weeks on her plan and now she wants to switch to another one because she is always hungry. I say, eat vegetables when you're hungry. That's what you're supposed to do. (It doesn't sound like much fun to me. You replace meals with shakes and eat meat and vegetables at tea. The meals you replace are ones I don't even eat though. How could I replace breakfast when the earliest I eat is 11, and then only rarely? Not that I couldn't do with replacing something with something.)

You know, we should fix the exercise bike, I say. Because we have one but it was a cheapo thing and the parts didn't fit properly, so we've never been able to use it.

Well, there's a bikeshop in W Rd. They might be able to fix it.

Great, I say, give them a ring. Why not do it now while I'm out with the kids?



I mean wtf though. So I'm like are you fucking kidding? You could take responsibility for sorting this out.

And she starts to drone. I dread the droning. It is the sound of resentment. I have never met anyone who resented their role in life more than Mrs Zen. She has to get the kids ready for school, to pack their lunches and to put them to bed. She takes them swimming and a couple of days in the week, if she can't get out of it by just not being dressed in time, she takes them to school. She occasionally cleans the house in a desultory way for half an hour. You'd think she ran the country or something.

I accept the blame. I carried her when she was pregnant with the twins and first had them. I arranged our life around her and I was glad to work from home so that I could make it easier for her. But she took all that as her due and now she is resentful. Of being a mother, of being a wife, of being an adult even.

But you know, I could do more but I am resentful too. I hate that about myself but I don't want to fix it. I don't want to become indentured to her. She doesn't deserve it. I know some people think that just getting married is enough to bond the other person to you, to make them willing to do whatever you want in whatever way you want, but really, it's more of a process than that. We should be negotiating our lives, renewing our commitment to each other's happiness, in a sense trading needs. But we don't.

I care whether Mrs Zen is happy. I don't want her to be miserable. But I don't want to have to take responsibility for her happiness. (I'd be delighted if she found a boyfriend, but that's a very distant prospect.) I realise that I have in the past allowed her to be, in a measure that is way too great, responsible for mine, and of course, she failed. I think she could maybe have succeeded, because I'm not really all that hard to please, but she hasn't thought there is any need to worry about pleasing me for the nine years we have been parents (and I know what you're thinking -- how can you not have realised that before you had more kids? but you know, you assume it's new motherhood, then you hope that it will change given time; you imagine that your partner ever actually was someone who cared about your happiness, instead of the truth, that they tried to make you happy because they saw that as their role, and that's the thing that has changed, not how they look at the world). But I feel like I was dragged down, pulled into the mire.

So you know, I'm in it. I can't get out of it, because no matter what I do, she is going to be able simply to refuse to negotiate because she has this house to run to. So I can join her in droning -- and yes, that's what I've done, somewhat, for the past few years. That's the "easy" road -- which is not so easy because bearing it is tough. The harder road is to man up and accept that I have a burden that I am capable of carrying without sinking.

I do not know which I will be able to choose. I know myself well enough that I'm aware that I chose to stay here longer in part for all the good reasons I have but also in part because I know that living with her in the UK will be very difficult if she continues not to make any effort to be my wife, and giving us six months longer here allows me to choose not to do that if it seems unbearable (which right now it does, I have to be honest, but I have not given up hope). Because I know that going there means committing myself to making it work for her at least for some years (realistically, three years is how I think of it -- which would be long enough for her not to be comfortable with trying to bring my children back here).

But what else can I do? I have the misfortune of having married a woman who thinks it is a reasonable thing to say when you suggest she rings the bikeshop she just mentioned to ask whether they can fix your exercise bike to go no, it's your exercise bike, you ring them. You know, we can trade blame for our relationship's failing: you are lazy, you are badtempered, you don't like sex, you are grumpy, you don't like conversation, you aren't patient, but you cannot do much about any of it if you cannot be grown up and say this is where we are, this is something we both must be reasonable about, both must take responsibility for, both must work on or we will both stew in it.

Or I just accept that I have four children and give her the love I would give an awkward teenager, because when it comes down to it, I can be dragged down into a mire of resentment and pain or I can rise above it and be better than her, better than myself. I don't need to be rewarded for it (virtue, I remember being told often by my dad when I was a kid, is its own reward).

I do not believe I am a virtuous person. I am not particularly good. But I can be. And should we not make of ourselves what is possible? However we get there, should we not have a day when we can say to ourselves, you know, you are still pretty rubbish, but at least you are the best rubbish you can be?