“I have to do everything”

I am reading Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking. It is a memoir about her husband’s sudden death and the difficult year that followed. As she navigates grief (which calls “passive”) and mourning (the act of dealing with grief) she details memories of her life with John, questions and mistakes she is left with, and the details left open-ended by his departure. She wonders if she has depended on him too much, or did she depend on him just enough.

Of course this bring my mind to Rafal.

We got in a fight yesterday that spilled over into today. I was supposed to make a phone call that I didn’t make. I didn’t realize the urgency of the situation, and my delay made Rafal look bad. We fought (though Rafal did most of the yelling). He said, “I have to do everything.”

This seems like a common stone to hurl in marriage. Each person thinks they do it all. Each person fails to fully recognize the things that they don’t do.

Today frustrations remounted and we fought again (though I did most of the yelling). I was tired of taking care of the baby while he worked on other things. I said, “I have to do everything.”

I needed to leave to go write. I needed to remove the base of the car seat from the Subaru and leave at home. Normally this is something he would do, but we were both proving points.

I had trouble loosening the strap. I couldn’t release the hooks. I pulled and pushed, breaking a sweat in the brisk air. I walked away and went back. I called expletives in frustration. Warm tears began to stream down my face. It’s safe to say I wasn’t crying about the car seat, though I did finally get it free.

In my time alone at Lake Hotel (the cherished writing time I fought for), I am airing out my defensive reactions and taking a reflexive look. What is the right amount of dependency?

When it comes to physical things, technical things, things that involve calling people on the phone, I am too quick to ask for help, to lean on him, to defer. But when it comes to help with Lydia, to taking time for myself, to managing emotional desires, I hardly ever speak up. I wait and stew and the pressure builds until I blow, this habit both old and faithful.

In the heat of an altercation all I can see are the ways I am right. As the cool breeze of time blows through, the ways I am wrong reveal themselves.

We both do everything: for each other and for ourselves.


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