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Separate but equal?

They had separate apartments, but the same house. Sometimes they would visit each other – a sleepover if you will. Never would they swap, and certainly not live together. That was unheard of.

They had tried that, like every other married couple. A bed was meant to be shared, even if the relationship was celibate. That alone was a shocker – that married people wouldn’t have sex. But why was it assumed they would? Was marriage solely for sex – to legitimize offspring, to stop straying? Sex without marriage was seen as immoral if not illegal. It broke apart society as well as homes. A committed couple, legally bound, was a guarantee of a partner for when the urges came.

But what if they didn’t? What if they too had been conquered in the push for sobriety? Mindfulness, distance, observance of physical “needs” that weren’t – they were simply wants or electrochemical responses to an excess or deficit of minerals and vitamins in the body. Perhaps one day scientists would learn the secret so obvious it had been ignored. Perhaps one day they would prevent addiction by getting people to regulate their bodies and minds.

She knew this, but he didn’t. He had been told, but it was by her and what husband actually listens to his wife? So many felt challenged when their wives were better – better at cooking and child-rearing was acceptable. But see what happens if she is more intelligent or makes more money. His male ego is challenged and he feels he has to put her in her place. Either with words or fists, it doesn’t matter. Only when they learned to tame their internal demon did they become human.

It wasn’t about suppressing it or eliminating it. Those actions were impossible and were the root of some particularly nasty neuroses. Men, like women, had to learn how to live with the shadow side and let it work for them. It could help to alert the person when boundaries were being pushed, if not violated.

But he hadn’t done any of that work. He was haunted by the voices of his dead parents. They spoke words of chastisement to him, telling him he was stupid or lazy or worthless. They spoke through his voice now, in words of anger directed at himself, by himself.

She had married him – not his parents. Her vows were to him, not them. She never promised in writing or verbally to take care of them and she certainly didn’t want to live with them even their ghosts. The house was small enough as is. Even if it was just the two of them physically there, the ghosts of his parents were an unwelcome presence. She wouldn’t share space with them, and told him so.

He wouldn’t evict his parents from his head, though. Perhaps it was a sense of loyalty to them – to kick them out of his head was not to hear from them at all. Bad voices were better than none. He felt it was a betrayal to stand up to them. That is what they had taught him – obey. Don’t question. We are the authorities. They had taught him too well – built a wall around him so high and so strong that he never even thought to break out.

Perhaps that was the mark of an adult – once you finally broke out from the conditioning and the stories that you had grown up with. Once you finally tapped your inner strength and pecked your way out. No escape equals a slow death, a suffocation.

Baby birds didn’t know they had a shell around them – it was all they saw, it was their world. It takes great risk to break free. They have no idea what is behind beyond that shell. All they know is that the pain of remaining where they are is too much to endure.

He, at nearly 50, was still in the shell, still reacting and not acting. Still passive, a life lived defensively, every slight a surprise. Perhaps she could have tolerated this if she’d not gotten sober. Perhaps then she wouldn’t have noticed the glaring holes in his soul. But there was no going back now, so they lived apart. Divorce was not an option. Still married, still in the same house, still sharing time and bank accounts. But not a bed, not even a bedroom.

She had to be alone to recharge from her work, days filled with needy, empty people, people who wanted more than the services provided. They needed companionship, validation, approval. They wanted someone to talk to or at, but not with. They were lonely and empty and hungry and never satisfied and they expected her to fill the holes – not her specifically, but someone, anyone. The clerk at the gas station would do, but it was often too busy there. Her workplace was slower and encouraged tarrying. They didn’t feel they were taking up her time when they trapped her with their tirades.At the end of the day she just didn’t have the energy to endure one more empty soul, one more hungry ghost. Perhaps one day he’d see how he was haunted and he’d start to exorcise them. But until then they lived apart and yet together, sharing a life if not a home.

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