Horses are beautiful animals. How useful they were to the human race for travel, farming, hunting, making war, racing, etc. As a boy, I remember them still being used as work animals, primarily for plowing, harrowing and otherwise tending to the crops of local farmers, and homeowners with an acre or two behind the house; their home garden. Now they are a luxury for the well-to-do, animal lovers, and of, course, young girls. Marge, as did many young girls and women, became infatuated with horses. She left some of her drawings and sketches of horses from her childhood. One of them is right above us now.
I don’t know the date of this sketch but I would guess somewhere midway through elementary school. I think it is quite clever. I would not have thought of drawing a horse using my name, and certainly could not carry out the task if I did think of it.
I also think that this drawing is symbolic of Marge and her emotional self, rather closed. One of Marge’s roommates at Syracuse Univ. shared some comments with me about Marge. She described Marge as being gracious and reserved, perhaps a bit shy. Not that I was Mr. Congeniality or Sports Hero then myself, being reserved and studious, as was Marge. Perhaps this reserve was a potential problem for our relationship with each other, particularly after we married and were no longer students.
Marge did leave behind a letter written to a friend of hers in October, 1970. She and this friend talked about their relationships with their husbands earlier in the summer . I copy an abridged part of this letter: “Well, I finally got to where I can admit to a fear, unreasonable as it is, which comes between me and Bob and it is all on my part. There is something in me which is scared to death to let Bob in. The two of us should become one, in that mysterious way, and yet by my fearful reserving of this part of myself, I cannot. I am afraid to let go of myself for fear I would be lost. I don’t know how to handle this now. ..I want to be known, to be open, to be free…. I do, and don’t know how.”
My therapist and I have spent a lot of time discussing the relationship of Marge and I. Her summary conclusion at our last session was that I had married a child, a very vulnerable child. I value her comments and yet I was not quite ready to accept this at the moment. I do not think I am obsessing about the past. Figuring out how things work has always been part of my make-up; who I am and how I deal with life as it moves along. I keep picking away, trying this, trying that until I think I understand.
With extra thought, and recollection, this conclusion has made sense to me. It has been a long time since I have had any children of my own, or even a grandchild, but I do remember some things about when I did. I am probably over generalizing, but children want to have their needs met. Not only the biological needs of eating sleeping, keeping warm and dry, not hurting, but also emotional needs. These include being loved, being safe and secure, not neglected, even adored . The flip side of this is what they do if these needs are not met. At first, they cry and show us their distress vocally. As they grow, they develop their repertoire of behaviors such as becoming petulant and rejecting as well as having tantrums. Should you have, or have had children, I am sure you can add to the list.
After marriage, Marge turned into another person that I had not known. . She became hostile toward me, retreated into the fantasy world of paperback mystery novels, and did throw tantrums. I can remember her blowing up like a volcano, even throwing something toward me. Not all the time of course, but often enough to trouble me. Others noticed this resentment as well. We both went to visit Cornwall before my Air Guard unit deployed. Marge told me later that her Mom had said “You should be nicer to Bob, he might not come back.”
I did not understand where all these negative emotions came from. So what did I do? I distanced myself from her to get away from these outbursts. In retrospect, this very likely added to Marge’s distress and we augured ourselves further down. I now believe that Marge had some need(s) that she expected marriage to resolve. I didn’t meet them and she became more angry and distant. Even more than 10 years after our marriage, as her comments above show, she had a deep-seated fear of letting me get too close. At the same time, as she said she wanted to have that mysterious unity of being not two but one, yet not knowing how.
As for myself, as I read some of the notes and letters that I wrote to her, I sound very superficial and uncaring. I don’t believe I was, but I did not usually express how deeply I did care for her, and love her. I was not very good at expressing myself either personally or in writing. I am sure this did not help. Looking back, I think we both expected that mutual love and affection would just drop in place, by magic, after we said “I Do.” Neither of us understood the hard work ahead for each of us.
Bear with me as we jump forward in time to September 2012. This really does tie some concepts together. Marge was physically quite ill but alert mentally. We both knew the end was near and accepted this as fact. The positive value of this time was that we were able to reminisce about our life together. Often this took the form of one of us saying something such as “Remember when you wanted to do something or other and I refused, well I was wrong.” Then the other of us would say something similar. We were clearing the slate while we still could. At one point our dialogue went something like this:
Me: Marge, one thing I still don’t understand is that it seemed to me that after we married, you changed almost overnight from being sweet and loving to being angry with me. What had I done wrong?
Marge: You were not giving me attention.
Me: Marge, we weren’t students any more. I was struggling to make my way in a company I didn’t like and coping with the bureaucracy and departmental politicking. I had a bill from my school loan to pay, and paid for your tuition for the courses you were able to take. Then you became pregnant and we took parenting classes so we could be good parents. A year after we married, I went on active duty, I took a 75% cut in pay, and was in France for a year but at least was able to come home for 2 weeks after Ingrid was born. On discharge, we had to start all over again, this time with a lovely daughter. We were a family, not just a couple. I really thought I was doing the best I could being a husband, father, and a reliable provider.
Marge: This is the first time you ever told me anything like this.
True enough, I hadn’t. Marge, as the vulnerable child, wanted more affirmation and affection than I had provided. I did love her and believed I was showing it. Now I see what was really important to her, not just the nuts and bolts, the meat and potatoes of married life, but the attention she needed, and I just did not understand.
This dread of loss and being alone Marge feared may have come from her childhood relationship with her father. Marge was born at the end of 1939 and the US declared war in 1941. Her father was a career Army officer. He served abroad for the entire war. He did get some leave home on occasion and Marge had pleasant memories of this. He did get through the war, but Marge did not spend her early formative years with a caring Dad due to WWII. I think that in a way, like the families of so many men in the military, Marge was a war casualty as well.
I thought long ago we were making some headway with our first family therapist, Mr. Woolrich, but Marge shut down when questioned about her father. I will never know why with certainty and it really does not matter. What happened, happened. We did not grow up in perfect families and were not perfect people ourselves. I think I have a better understanding of what had happened in our life together and that is enough. It is OK. We eventually got through our distress and stayed together. I think that says something positive about each of us, and of us as a couple.
What caused this vulnerability and fear of being lost? I don’t know. It was obviously part of Marge long before we met. It was something she was trying to deal with herself. She wouldn’t let me get too close to her, and if she had, I probably would have been found wanting, unable to help. Perhaps, just maybe, that is why Marge left these letters and personal documents for me to find after she died. I will never know if this belief is 100% true, but it feels, subjectively, close.I have attempted to merge her writing into mine. I think that I learned enough from the parts of our lives be satisfied. I have picked away at elements in this story and they fit close enough for me to quit. Not perfectly of course, but close enough to say “done.”
It is time for me to move along and accept the past as being just that. Past, done, completed.