Sunday, March 15, 2009

The way we fight

During the first few months of our relationship, when we stayed up late talking until the sky turned blue with the rising sun, Monster and I wore our hearts pulsing upon our sleeves. We shared, we laughed, we cried, we fell in love. We fell in love that summer, the two of us young and reckless and fresh out of college. We didn't fight because we forgave. We forgave quickly and thoughtlessly, eager to dismiss the other's minor misgivings and show off our own kind tolerance. We forgave and were forgiven every time, even when we didn't deserve it; we were fresh in a relationship and had little to lose, everything to gain. That summer was a summer of firsts. When we had our first fight, even though it was a small one, I fretted that the harmony and perfection of our relationship had shattered, whereas Monster was glad that our relationship had progressed to a newer, different level, one where we knew we could face obstacles and overcome them together.

The more our relationship developed, the more we continued to argue, as every couple argues. But we talked through it together every time, no matter how many tears and broken hearts and shattered spirits were left in the wake of our anger. We re-emerged with patched-up hearts, ready to face whatever came our way next. But one day, we got into a silly argument over a board game, one of those arguments so silly that a few hours later, you don't even remember what it was you fought about to begin with. The thing is, we had it in front of our friends.

I didn't think anything about it until I found Monster terribly distraught, which alarmed me because it belied his usually calm, cool composure. It startled him that we fought so publicly, he said, because when he was growing up, his parents never fought in front of him. Come to think of it, my parents never fought in front of me, either. I'd naively taken it as a given that once people walked down the aisle and swore to be with each other forever, till death did they part, their problems were tucked away along with their single lives. I realized that people married and divorced, but my parents were simply not one of those people. Contrast this with a conversation Monster had with one of his cousins, who assumed that fighting and shouting was a norm among married people, because her parents fought openly all the time. Monster didn't want us to become one of those couples--didn't want our children to remember their childhood as one where their parents were angry and loud, where fury resounded off the walls as slammed doors and screeched retorts.

People say that children are quick to forget, but what they don't give them credit for is that a traumatic memory can be etched like a scar into the folds of your mind. The first time I saw my mother cry because of something my father said, when I saw her face pinch inwards like she held something sour on her tongue, I swear to you, I felt my heart splinter into a million different pieces. I will remember that image until the day I die; I will remember the pain I felt in feeling like I caused my mother that pain, I caused my father that anger. Children remember, and they blame themselves.

Since the moment that I saw Monster so distraught over our public fight, I've been a lot more conscious about keeping my emotions in check until we're free to resolve our issues in private. Several of his family members have asked whether or not we fight, and at first I worried that we came across as a flat couple, one that lacked an emotional connection and therefore didn't have anything to fight about. "I guess we can fight in front of my family..." Monster said, and we'd burst out laughing as the silliness of his statement made me realize how silly I was being. Anyone can see the depth of the love we have for one another, even the blindest man.

Everyone has a different childhood, and everyone is comfortable setting different examples for their children. One of Monster's aunts, giving us relationship advice, confided that there is no such thing as a happy ending--the fairy-tales are fake, and the rosy life is something that requires work and effort and patience. While that may be true, I want our children to be as naive as I was. I want them to believe that their parents are in love, and that while people in love may fight, marriage is not something that comes hand-in-hand with open shouting and doors slamming and anger and blame and guilt. I will work hard for the rest of my life if I can save one child from feeling the guilt I felt upon seeing my mother cry. I want my children to love freely without fear of hurt or a reluctance to commit; to look at their parents and think, You are all wrong--happily after ever does exist, and here it is.

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