How to Test a Relationship

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It starts simple. An argument – the eponymous lover’s quarrel – begins somewhere. For you it might be the way the trash can is clearly full but he/she keeps pushing it down to avoid taking it out. Or it might be the way you nag about his or her driving habits. Or the way the toilet roll is always in the wrong direction on the holder. It’s usually the little stuff, or a combination thereof. Sometimes, it’s something big, though.

In this instance, it is one little word: Renovations.

Don’t worry. There’s always a honeymoon period. When you and your significant other realize it needs to be done and start talking at length about how to do it and how great it will be when it’s done. The arguments might not even start at this point. You may agree on everything. You may be formulating the way it needs to be done in your head, though; you may even be planning without including him or her into your thoughts. Keep doing that. That’s Step 1.

Step 2: Initiate dispute at the hardware store. It needs to be in a public place to heighten the annoyances of both parties involved. Perhaps it will start with hushed voices in the corner in front of the spanners or whatever tools you need to complete the job. You may notice a couple of people glancing over their shoulders at the pair of you. This is the moment you need to make a decision, but you won’t have any control over it. It will be your nature that will drive you to become either embarrassed or emboldened. Whichever it is, the result is usually the same – a raised voice. “Let’s talk about this at home.” “All these people can see how I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Step 3: After agreeing that you have too many eyes on you, move to the important part of the hardware store. The place where you will pick the integral product that needs replacing. For this, let’s say a kitchen faucet. This is where that earlier planning comes into play. Be sure to stand your ground on the type you want. This will increase your partner’s anger, who is still in a heightened level of rage from the aforementioned whisper battle. Involve the shop clerk. Maybe your partner will ignore the fact the clerk is there while you are deftly aware of how you are wasting the clerk’s time. You may even start thinking about how it must look as they watch your marriage devolve into a pissing contest. More embarrassment is great fuel for the burning remains of your once strong relationship.

Once you’ve finally agreed on what you are doing (note: this may take more than one tripto the hardware store), Step 4 begins: the actual renovation. The key to this step is to ignore everything your significant other is saying, “Hold that here.” “Shine the light there.” Because you are now not invested, you will do the opposite inadvertently. Encourage the raising of voices so the neighbors can hear every word. “I AM HOLDING IT THERE!” (trust me, caps, bold, and italics doesn’t do the yelling justice. It. will. be. loud.) There may be moments where you will want to storm off and can’t. Grinding your teeth may help you get through this time.

Once you’re done installing, consider your next move for Step 5. Maybe you were a little wrong. Maybe this was the worst fight you have ever had. Maybe you don’t ever want this to happen again. Maybe you should kiss and make up. Or. Maybe you can’t consider kissing and making up. Maybe you should see a marriage counselor.

Step 6. Congratulations! You survive the test. Have a drink. And for the love of God, if this is what happens when you change a faucet, don’t suggest painting the inside of your house.


(I might be painting my house right now. I’m shocked to say it is going very well.)

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The Routine

IMG_20171007_174725.jpgI pull out two blue cardboard boxes from my medicine cabinet and blink at my reflection in the mirror. This is it. The routine is near completion. Once I do this I am past the point of no return. Last chance to flake out of training, but I see my thin neck and smile. That’s why I can’t skip this.

As I grew out, I took my big pants to the seamstress. “The hems,” I told her, “- they’re too high.”

But, in reality, my thighs were too thick. My pants bunched up from crotch to knee. I should probably have just bought new ones, but there was a tiny part of me that was still in denial. I’m not fat.

I slide the first contact over my right eye. Always the right one first. I wonder why. Is it because I’m right-handed? Or is it because I always have the right contact box on top of the left? Hard to know. Why am I thinking about this anyway? Just get on with the routine. I blink three times, willing the contact into place.

“It’s my PCOS. I read about it. It causes weight gain,” I told a dietician. “There’s the IBS too.”

No, silly. It’s because you eat crap. Just admit it. But I couldn’t. Not out loud. If I were to admit it, I wouldn’t be allowed cakes, chocolates, or cookies. How could I possibly live without my double fudge chocolate chip cookies?

I press the next contact on over my left eye and blink. I can’t turn back now. These little contacts cost too much to waste them. Now I have to go to boot camp.

In the past six months, the routine has been the same. Come home from work, get dressed, put on my contacts (because I hate sweat dripping onto my glasses), lace up my ankle strap, and slide my shoes on. Once done, the act of getting into the car and driving to the park has already been decided.

“You don’t have to hate food that’s good for you,” the health coach said. “We’ll find the plan that’s just right for you.”

I doubted it, but I paid money so I wasn’t going to be accused of not trying. I will come to their training sessions and eat the meal plans they suggested. What have I got to lose?

I slide my running shoes over my feet and leave for boot camp. The ritual complete for the third time this week. With pride, I strut out of the house with a gym towel over my shoulder. I have beat the lazy-beast for another day, and I’m much happier for it.

I returned to the seamstress. “My pants need hemming again. I lost all this weight.”

The Scary Tree

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It stood in the northwest quadrant of the front yard – this terrifying tree of unknown origin. It could be seen from every window of our bedroom and the living room, and it looked like a giant clawed hand. We called it the scary tree.

It was an important distinction. There was the boring tree, which couldn’t even be climbed because the limbs were too high up. The crepe myrtle tree bloomed and caused Momma to sneeze every Spring.  The climbing tree in the backyard was our favorite, and the giant tree, that cast a shadow on the house every afternoon, would kill us all if it ever fell.

There wasn’t anything special about the scary tree. It was quite normal during the day, but at night, it was a giant beast, clawing its way back to the earth from somewhere beneath us. We spent many a night averting our eyes from the windows only to hear the scratch of its branches outside. We imagined it coming for us, not because we were terribly naughty, but because we’d seen Poltergeist, and the only things scarier than clown toys were trees in a storm and possessed fathers, a la #2.

Locked in our room together, we’d huddle in a corner away from it, away from everything we feared, but we couldn’t escape it. It brought with it an intoxicating stench. When the lightning would crash and the wind would howl, we knew it was coming for us, or at least, someday it would. Until that day, we would be neither seen nor heard.

The scary tree was there after a late night return home when the silence in the house was not calm or pleasant.

The scary tree swayed at the sound of sirens at midnight or the sobs after a smack.

The scary tree convinced us we were worthless and needed to be taught a lesson, even when it never directly said it to us.

We wondered what life was like outside those four walls, but we never dared to leave or escape it. We just accepted it for what it was – a tyrant.

Back then there was more thunder and lightning than sunshine. (Or at least, that’s what my adult brain recalls.) Storms came frequent and fast, in trumpets and torrents, and we weathered them all – albeit frightened and alone in our little crowd.

The day came, though, when it all ended. The storm of our childhood started to settle down, and sunlight broke through the clouds.

Lightning crashed, shaking the house and our bodies, and the tree splintered in two sending a sweetness into the air. A soberness, as it were.

It wasn’t the same anymore. The claws, the sheer terror of it, was gone. But what it symbolized? That never diminished. It lingered there, a permanent reminder of the storms, until we moved and something else took its place.

 

The Run

I look at my phone for the hundredth time in the last hour. Five a.m! Damn. The day won’t even begin for hours yet. Restless. Alone. I can’t just sit here and wait.

I step out the hotel doors and wrap my arms across my chest. The cool Melbourne wind bites my hands and my face – the only spots of exposed skin. Tiny drops of mist leave sprinkles across my glasses. It’s cold, but I’ll be warm soon enough. I slide my hood over my head and set a slow pace as punk queen Gwen sings about running.

Travelling for work isn’t so bad. Your days are all but decided for you, but it’s the night, the early morning – when you’re brain dead or brain preparing – that’s the worst. You dine alone, you try to fill your time with shopping or walking, but most of the time, you read in bed until you fall asleep. Only to then toss in bed because you can’t quite find that right spot or if the sheets should be on or off.

The streets are quiet but not vacant at this hour. The sun isn’t quite up, and the streetlights let out a dim glow as if preparing for it to rise at any moment. I have the volume turned down on my phone and take in the sounds of my surroundings – the clatter of the trams, the buzzing of the power transformers, the chatter of people. There’s something beautiful about a city that is still sleeping.

Sleeping bags and big wooly blankets line the sidewalk in front of the shops. Some of the mounds are moving, but most remain still. Not awake, not asleep. Just existing.

I wonder at the resilience of man. That drive to keep going is certainly not unique but is inspiring all the same. This mind-wander continues until I round a corner and a man shuffles past me. His face and hands are dirty, his hair unruly. I smile at him. Smiles cost nothing, after all. He returns the smile with a big toothy grin.

“Run, run, run. You’re doing great,” he says with a raspy laugh in his voice.

I laugh with him.

He follows me, smiling and jogging alongside me for a hundred meters. I grin from ear-to-ear. I sense no malice, just joy. Maybe it’s only mine. Maybe not.

Later that day, a colleague will tell me how frightful that experience sounds, but nothing in my tone or telling of the story will show I am scared for my safety. She will go on to tell me that a woman should not go out alone in the dark. That I should protect myself – be more careful. 

For now, though, I enjoy the moment; I revel in it.

He stops, and I wave at him as I cross the street to continue this forward momentum.

When the moment passes, I let the next take over and then the next. 

I love every second of the run. I love the river and the way the water ripples with the light rain. I love the flat dirt track around the Botanical Gardens and the way it felt separate but still a part of this city. I love the fountain surrounded by golden leaves and a muted glow. 

I lose track of time and distance, traveling 7km before I realize I need to get back to my room.

The sun rises past the buildings, and first light lands on me just as I reach the hotel. I let out a happy intonation before I walk inside and lower my hood. Contentment never diminishes from lobby to shower.

I decide later that day that I won’t go out and do it again.

Still. I regret nothing.

Had I not gone out, I would have missed all those beautiful moments, and that would have been the true loss.  
 
 
 

The Music

Light shines into my charred room and illuminates one tiny patch of unblemished floor. songSomewhere, in the background, a piano plays Rachminoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” – both melancholy and sanguine. All those enchanting chords bounce off the barren four-walled space and remind me something is waiting for me outside. Hope. I touch the light. I feel it’s warmth on my hand. I let a smile spread across my face.

Someone, somewhere, believes in me. I need to believe in me too.

A cloud covers the light, and I’m plunged back into darkness. Stepping into the corner, I touch the walls. Fire has scorched the room. My fire. Anger over my inadequacy will never diminish. I’m in a prison of my own making. The music swells but is swallowed by blackened wood. Faint traces of “Stairway to Heaven” reach my ears and fade.

I will never amount to anything.

I crouch into the corner and tremble. When will this end? I think of all the times I have tried to escape my fate. I am reminded of all the times I failed in some way. I have spent the better part of my adult life being told “You’re so smart. You’ll go places.”, but that hasn’t happened yet. Am I meant to be a permanent reminder to all? You can work hard and do everything in your power to get ahead in life but “in the end, it is about who you know and not what you know.” I have had opportunities to achieve my dreams, and every time I have lost. I’m a failure. Maybe it’s time to give up on moving up?

The clouds fade away, and the light returns. It shines into the other three edges of my self-made cell and touches my toes, my fingers. The tempo changes. It’s a full orchestra – it’s a choir – it’s Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor”.

“You got the job!” I hear over the throng.

Success. I have finally reached the success I’ve craved.

The warmth tries to envelope me, but I inch further into the adjoining walls. I stand rigid as the light creeps closer. It tries to cover me whole, but I won’t let it, shrinking further into that dark recess. Why is my fear and anger of inadequacy still here? Why does it dominate so? I want to be happy.

I want to be happy.

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