I thought a long time before writing this because it hurts. And it's not my story. But in a way, it could be and is often any couple's story.
Mama Luz kicked Big Papi out of the house a week ago. She called us to tell us that they were done; it was over after 33 years. To say that we were floored is sparkles and sunshine compared to how we felt. We were stomped and pinned, breathless. Tears exploded out of us. They had been a united, anchored boulder in our eyes. They were not perfect, but perfect for each other certainly. They championed each other, for god’s sake, and this idea of championing is so comfortably key to a relationship. Not long ago, friends had put that notion to words and we believed it so fiercely, didn't we? From the just-married, to those seeking love, to me who has been married almost 12 years. I absolutely believed it a cornerstone. But it was not enough. It is not enough.
Husband's and my faith in love, in coupledom, in foreverness diminished greatly in the wake of her words. How does anybody make it, we thought. We looked at each other and with no hesitation clung to each other, said I love you's a hundred times as our understanding of a solid relationship crumbled and slid away from us. I suppose we could have questioned ourselves, but even more we felt, fuck it, we'll be the last couple standing then. In our instant and gut reaction to each other, we didn't know many details of their demise. All that became important was that our belief in each other was real because nothing else was, it seemed.
All the grown kids -- Husband, his sister Baby Luz and me -- have taken shifts on talking it out with them, mainly with Mama Luz because she's more vocal – lord, is she vocal. We take turns relieving the high-pressure steam that is her volcanic emotion, and Husband works on luring the petrified and frozen and near non-existent emotion buried so deeply in his dad. Husband is chipping away in a way that makes me well up with pride. He is a progressive and well-adjusted man saving his father. It's so beautiful it hurts. At the surface, there was an indiscretion. This time by him. In the past, by her. But the thing that drew the line -- a line which has cracked into a gapping chasm after decades -- is the most simple and complex of couple problems; communicating real feelings. She bulldozes. He withdraws. Both styles hem each other up. Over the years, they've glazed it all over with pleasantries and the mundane day to day. He retreats to the TV and she fixes the house. Talk of intimacy, of appreciation, of basic and deep love became cemented and trapped under the glaze. I think many couples are just a few quiet nights from getting here; a few sexless weeks, months, years and then it seems too hard to go back. Each year made it harder on them. Until last week when he decided to get shit off his chest in what he felt was a strong way -- a putting-the-foot-down kind of way -- and it came out so rusty and awkward and hurtful, like he was vomiting sharp rocks. And that sparked her to come back with her raw force, so hurtful and fierce. He tried to match her thunder, but that's not his strength because he was usually the balance of calm and love. She's the action and passion. They don't weave their strengths together anymore we found out.
What is the championing worth if after we've beaten back the hurtful world we can't tell each other how wonderful we make each other feel, how beautiful they look, how sexy they are, what do you need mami/papi, I love you. I'm crying typing this because it hurts to know they've gone so long without this.
Big Papi is sleeping in his car, in the NY winter. We cancelled our Puerto Rico trip to help them (I know -- more on that later. In short, it seems ridiculous to spend all that money on a vacation when family is in severe crisis and needs help.) We were ready to pay for a motel for him, but he refused. We stopped insisting when we realized he was punishing himself. And he knows her well because it's been the only thing that has cracked her so-tough veneer. Her conversations go from fuck that motherfucker, which we expect, to "At least he took his blanket," and "At least it's not that cold tonight," which almost brings us to tears. Old fashioned penance is working some sort of magic on her. And our hearts are breaking each time we talk to them and realize how much they still love each other. But they’ve mistreated each other; their silence the biggest abuser. If they can only crack the glaze, move mountains of resentment, forgive, talk, weave, love again. I'm not sure they'll get there yet, but there's hope. When I was talking to her a couple days ago, when she was spewing F bombs and yelling shit to me that I didn't ever want to hear about him, I told her that she didn't deserve to feel this hurt and I know she was angry, but we had hope for them; we knew there was love, that they need to talk it out more, get counseling. She said she'd cut him if he came by - sigh. It was the first seed planted about hope and she went bananas on me, screaming, "I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT OVER THERE, BUT WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU EVEN TELL ME TO THINK ABOUT GOING BACK TO THAT MOTHERFUCKER?? IF YOUR HUSBAND DID THAT TO YOU---" And on. I don't take this personally because I know that's just how she communicates, but I know I had to get forceful back. I yelled back that Hell yes, I'd be fucking angry and all his fucking shit would be on the lawn too, but I would want someone to tell me to just consider the years we've had, consider talking it out. To my surprise, she got quiet for like one second. Then I broke the news that he was sleeping in his car. And she quietly said, "Good."
My husband has been a hero. He had to track his dad down to talk it out. Big Papi is mortified by the whole thing, reeling in confusion, wishing he never opened his mouth or strayed. He wishes it would all go away now. He wants to come home; he wants his wife back, but Husband told him he can't have it like he had it. He shouldn't want it how it was and it will take a lot to work it out. My husband gave him such sound advice on how to be a fully realized man. The role reversal, son teaching father, was emotional. He was a beacon of light, a savior to a man who could have easily cocooned himself and faded away to crushing loneliness, poverty, sadness, nothingness. He said, "Dad, I'm your only son and I need you. I need you to talk more. We need it. Mom needs it." And Big Papi bawled his eyes out and so did Husband. The last conversation was a gem too, but more in a get-your-shit together kind of way. I heard things like, "That's your woman. Go get her, and treat her like your woman should be treated." I was like, goddamn, baby.
Anyway, it's all broken down to be built back up into something better and much more solid and loving, if they're both willing. There's so much shit through which to traverse though. I don't envy the work ahead of them if they wish to take it on, but god, we hope they do. The thought of them losing their loves while in their sixties is painful. But in the end, it is not our relationship to save. We can help them see some light, some hope, help pay for counseling. We can let them know that we want them to fight. Husband gave tremendous advice, but it will be their work that saves them. I can only work on loving my man the best I can, talking to him, appreciating him, staring at him like he's the last biscuit on a desert island, and of course, still championing him until the wheels fall off.