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grendelkhan

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the end of an era. [Nov. 6th, 2011|01:15 am]
grendelkhan
This journal has gone dark, and soon enough, this entry will as well. It's a time in my life that's over and done with; a lot happened, but the person I am now will only diverge further from the person I was. Having this out here was doing me more harm than good. I've gone back to journalling privately, solely for my own benefit, my own mental integration.

But I left loose ends, here. So it's time to put a close on this, to finish what I started.

I saw the situation from the ground level, with my own fears and worries and immaturity in play, and I wasn't even trying to be especially self-serving. But I was. So, here's a summary, in retrospect.

I invited Carin to come live with me with my parents, which she did. Somehow my parents got the idea that her father had dumped her on them, which I have to set them straight on now. Her parents had recently split up, and she'd lost her purpose in life, which not everyone has that young, but she really did. She was a musician, she'd been one since she was a little kid, and that was taken away from her, burned out of her by a teacher who, to put it in the most polite terms possible, didn't work well with her.

And at the same time, she'd been dealing with a hormonal disorder that caused regular but intermittent bouts of emotional problems. I was barely mature enough to deal with myself at that point, and when it became clear that she wasn't adjusting well to living with my folks (I'd said I would move out, but I dragged my feet on that), I turned to my mother and took her advice on the matter, long after it became obvious that it wasn't helping, because I stopped after looking for one solution.

My mother is a social worker; the "every problem looks like a nail" problem was in full effect. Carin had emotional problems, therefore the problem is simply to find the right drug, weight gain and restless-leg syndrome (sounds quirky, but hellish in practice) be damned. At the worst point, I brought Carin to be evaluated for admission at the institution where my mother worked (they told me she wasn't in danger), and while I told myself it was because I was worried for her, it didn't do her a damned bit of good.

We moved out, not because I responded to Carin being unhappy living there (she was very isolated at the time--I was working during the day, and she was stuck in my brother's old room, surrounded by boxes of his stuff), but because my mother issued us an ultimatum--either Carin went, or we both did. So we both did; I pulled off what I still think is the best present I ever made, when I surprised Carin by having moved us into the new apartment in Norwich. We moved in, and things were briefly better, but the root cause was still present, and we were miserable and fought. Not all the time, but we'd spend most of a month getting things straightened out and a week tearing them back down again. We fought in public, we fought over nothing, we used up all our clever energy clashing with each other.

Around that time, Carin went to a physician, who asked her if she'd been on birth control before. As it turned out, her mood troubles had started when she stopped taking birth control the first time she went to college; she was diagnosed with PMDD, and was told that after about a week of terrible emotional troubles, things would stabilize for her for the first time in years. I tried to believe it, but the knowledge didn't really sink in--on some level, I thought that this was the way she was, and I was at the end of my rope, even though I knew it wasn't her fault. I'd talked to people about it, people we both knew, asking what to do, and I was advised to make ultimatums, to not let her treat me that way. I adopted a strategy of lying to her to get by, to never bring up any disagreement, let alone actual criticism, to try and avoid the unpredictable anger. I don't think it really helped in the short term, and it cast a terrible shadow in the long term.

And then, just when she started on her proper meds, everything came to a head, I shouted the truth of how I felt at her, and practically broke up with her for... I can't remember exactly (and I'm trying to write this without directly looking at what I wrote at the time), but it was at least six months. She'd thought that things were going to be okay, and I pulled the rug out from under her. We lived together, but I kept her at arm's length--slept separately, wouldn't even hug her--for a while. I started out with the idea that I was only going to be honestly affectionate with her, to flush the lying that had become second nature from my habits. But really, past a certain point, I was just being mean.

Things got better after that. Not entirely and not immediately--years of having trouble maintaining any kind of relationship take their toll, and I had a lot of habits that I used to cope when she was ill, but now only served to make us both miserable--but she was able to hold down a job, which made her feel a lot less helpless and at-my-mercy, and she started back up at school. She did a very difficult thing and went back to her transcripts and such from her old school, and discovered that she'd have to take some time at community college to bump up her GPA to go to state school, which itself isn't nearly as prestigious as the place she'd left years before. But she started it--took some courses in illustration, and made some friends. It's been a very long, uphill path for her, and she's been moving on up steadily years at this point to get where she is. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

During this, I lost my job at the startup I was working at, and I spent four awful months unemployed. I remember when my father was out of work for a month due to some kind of paperwork issue, and he spent the time wearing a sorrow-beard in the basement and not showering. I felt pretty much the same way. Carin helped--she was kind and helpful when I came home that day and blurted it out. She found Craigslist ads and encouraged me to apply for them when I felt like sitting indoors and feeling sorry for myself. And sure enough, one of the listings she found for me led to another startup job, which I was infinitely grateful for. And after I'd worked there for a few months, I got a call from the state university, and started work there. I liked my coworkers, and felt loyalty, but it was a move up, and I couldn't turn it down. We moved into the middle class.

In general, I've been very resistant to change of any kind. I used to tell Carin that I feared growing up as a kind of death, that I'd stop changing or growing, and settle down into a terrible routine. This manifested in driving beaters that were 'good enough', in sticking to every aspect of my routine that I could, in not looking for a different job even when I was unhappy with the one I had, in having my hackles so raised about getting a cat that I argued with Carin about it for something like six months, not because I don't like cats--I grew up with them, after all, and have the fondest memories of Mr. Hobbes--but because I had this crazy idea that our place would turn into a reeking zoo if we got a pet that didn't live in a little cage, and nothing Carin said would dislodge it, until I finally stopped being so stodgy and gave it a shot, and, of course, our place is not a reeking zoo. (I vacuum up some cat hair along with the crumbs, and there's five minutes of extra chores a day. For the price of our small, crazy, furry companion, a tiny black rescue cat with green eyes named Matilda but called "Maddy", it's a hell of a bargain.)

I've given Carin the short end of the deal when describing how I got the university job. I wouldn't have applied if she hadn't pushed me to, if she hadn't encouraged me and done way more than she should have had to, because if left to my own devices, I'd end up in a cardboard box somewhere because making large changes is hard. It's hard, but it matters. I think the biggest lesson I've learned about adulthood is that there's no fairness except what we put there. It's not fair that I was depressed for so long; it's not fair that I got saddled with my own set of family issues. But it's the way it is, and all I can do is make the best of it, and sooner rather than later. This understanding has been a long time in coming, and for years, Carin was pushing me uphill as well as dragging herself. It's unfair to her, and that is the kind of unfairness that's someone's fault, that's my fault.

And perhaps more importantly, I made excuses for my father. He did a lot of admirable things for me (and I'm not just saying that; he tried to be around for us when he wasn't working eighty-hour weeks, and he did his best to advocate for me when I was a miserable kid), but he's creepy around women, he's mentally absent half the time, and he can't hear it when girls talk. Last Thanksgiving, I had a talk with my sister, where she said she wasn't comfortable being around him or being hugged by him, and for some reason it clicked for me, and I talked with Carin about it, about feeling like I was losing my faith, losing a belief--"my father is a good person"--that I didn't even know I had. And like everything else I came to realize, in retrospect, it should have been easy. Changing my mind when the evidence warrants it is a basic skill I need to have if I'm not going to reflexively end up stodgy before I'm even old. I've had a tremendous amount of trouble unclenching that urge, and it's brought Carin no end of grief. I'm better about it now, but I'm not nearly as light on my feet as I want to be.

When I last wrote here, Carin and I were still living in our first apartment, and I'd just recently started working at the university library. I'll summarize what's happened since then.

We got married! We'd been talking about it, and while the immediate impetus was rather crass (working at the university provided good benefits, which I thought would include a tuition waiver for her, but only included health insurance and such), it felt just a bit of a nudge, like we were properly ready and just waiting for an excuse. Cat and Katie were our wedding party--they'd gotten married earlier that summer--and we got married at the university library by a JP. We were originally going to just get some papers signed and be done with it, but my parents objected and we ended up having a small but impressive ceremony. Carin decorated the whole thing--she stayed up late many a night making book-themed decorations out of some printouts of "The Outline of History" (the wedding was book-themed) and baked her own wedding cake--and our friends did the setup, the teardown, the photography, the labor. My brother performed live music, my sister did a reading, and I got to stomp a wine glass and have everyone shout "Mazel Tov!". I thought I wouldn't get overwhelmed when I saw her in the dress for the first time as she walked down the aisle to me, but I did.

Carin's dad flew out to give his daughter away, but the only regret I have in marrying her is that I rushed things, and her mother wasn't there. She went along with it, but when we found out that there was no real reason to file our marriage that early, it did hurt that most of her family wasn't there. That December, when we went down to Florida, we had another ceremony, a rather free-form bit where everyone welcomed me into their family on a lovely beach at magic hour, and we had fire and music--and I especially enjoyed getting to take my time, enjoy myself and actually experience the evening.

My parents--well, my mother, with my father abstaining from actually saying much of anything--had a talk with me shortly before we got married, trying to get me to reconsider. I don't think they actually told me they didn't want me getting married, but my mother implied real hard that she'd rather I date a Nice Jewish Girl. I was taken aback, and didn't really know what to say except, "err, no". Not particularly forcefully, either. And though they participated in the wedding, Carin's never really forgiven my mother for pulling that, and neither have I. They raised me the best they knew how, and one of the things they imparted was the belief that you judge people on the shape of their minds and nothing else. Accidents of ancestry aren't a basis for judging people, and I really believe that. Apparently my mother forgot the caveat that ethnic Jews should keep their bloodline pure. I told her that if she really felt this way, she should have told me when I was dating around, though I wouldn't have listened then either, and that was that. My brother got married the following year (I was his best man; I hadn't known that you can have your brother be your best man, and he'd thought, for some time, that I hated him--oops); his partner is also not Jewish. My sister dates only Jewish guys, and I don't envy the pressure placed on her to do so. And Carin isn't very keen on my mother, and I really can't blame her for that. I've used the word "bigot" to describe my mother, and used the word "bigotry" to her face, even, but the response I got was that, well, it's okay if we do it. I suppose it's just compartmentalization, like the way engineers can believe in ghosts or whatever, but it's just... disturbing to see it up close.

We had a series of apartment troubles--we moved to be closer to the university, and we had one apartment where the landlord ran off with our security deposit and we had to go to small claims court to get it back. Then we moved into a shack in the woods where we took care of the landlords' horses, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended up with three hundred dollars a month in heat to keep the pipes from freezing, mold growing on the walls when we went on summer vacation, and at least one horse who we were pretty sure had it in for Carin. We moved to a converted mill building a half-hour from the university, and for the first month, muttered the words "professional management" to each other with near-pornographic delight. I'm compressing a lot in there, but... I put us through a lot, trying to make ends meet and doing the penny-wise/pound-foolish thing.

Additionally, I was depressed. I've been mildly to moderately depressed, off and on, since middle school. I've never been suicidal, just low-energy, morose and generally unhappy a lot of the time. I'd even built justifications around why my depression was a part of me, how it made me more thoughtful and deep, and the terrifying thing, in retrospect, is that I could have lived in that little structure for the rest of my life, I really could have. It was when we were in the shack in the woods that Carin kicked me out of my complacency. I don't remember the exact specifics, but I told her "I'm depressed!", as if it were a catch-all, end-of-the-story excuse for whatever I was doing at the time. (I think I was skipping my part of chores, not washing, and being pointlessly snarky, but the specifics aren't the point.) So, she, exasperated, told me to go apply my smarts to the problem, and, huh, I'd been complacent about that as well. I did twenty minutes of research, and it turned out that the best home remedy for mild depression is exercise. So I started running, and two or three weeks later, I started to feel really, really happy, which then settled down into not-being-depressed, which has been my ground state for the last year and a half. It's hard to directly look at how much time and mental energy I wasted slogging through my own depression when I didn't need to, and how much of it I made Carin deal with, but I did.

Carin is in her last year at the university--due to the usual fuckery with the administration, they managed to require her to stay an extra year to get her degree in music properly. She's found a teacher she works well with, who encourages her to compete and, though she's very sparing with the props, has supported her in auditions and competitions. In the last year, she's had two major competition wins, one of which she didn't even think she was competitive for, and while I know she's good, it matters that she hear it from someone who's not me sometimes. She's made friends, and she has the respect of her peers. As much as I tell her she's wonderful, I have to admit that validation from my professional peers counts for a great deal for me, and why shouldn't it for her as well?

Greg, the fellow who ran the DS Toychest, died. My father's friend since childhood, Bill, died. My father's breathing problems have gotten worse, and despite trying for regular exercise, he's making nonsensical excuses about why he can't get his knee looked at. (He couldn't run right now if he were chased by angry wolves.) He falls asleep whenever he's sitting down somewhere; he can't sleep properly at night, so he's never, it seems, really properly awake. I feel like I've grown away from them over the years, except for my brother, who's gotten a lot mellower over the years. (And who's also a role model of mine professionally.)

After three years, I left the university to work for a large company. As before, I felt loyalty--a lot of it, this time, since I was being groomed to succeed the technical director, everyone had started to rely on me, and it was my first job where I really felt like I had professional respect--but the new opportunity was so prestigious, had better opportunity, better pay, benefits and perks, and offered a lot more professional satisfaction. I gave a month's notice to get everything in order, but I still felt bad about leaving. But the new job took so much time and attention--it's like drinking from a firehose--that it seems like I haven't worked at the university in years.

The one downside of the new job is that it's in the city. It's a lovely place to work, but Carin's still in school, so I've rented a small shoebox in the city and take the bus or train back to see her on weekends. We keep in touch via IM and the occasional video chat, but after learning to live together, after constructing our wonderful domesticity together, it feels wrong. For me, it feels like I'm sleeping on someone's couch somewhere, like the work week is one day with a bunch of long naps in it, but for Carin, who's living in our home with me gone, it's much worse. She's there, in our home, with me missing. She says that it feels, on a visceral level, like we're broken up during the week, and I see where she's coming from. Knowing something and feeling it are two very different things. It's not an ideal arrangement, and despite making some modifications--I work one day a week from home, for instance--it's put a strain on us, and this winter looks like it'll be a harsh one. But spring will follow, she'll be done with school, and we'll be living together again. The company provides plenty of opportunity to transfer around, and they have offices in a lot of cities.

But really, the thing that makes me feel best about the future is that we're working better together. It's been a long trip for both of us; we've shed a great deal of immaturity along the way. Carin made it through illness and professional despair to regain her pride and the respect of her peers. (Oh! And she's drawing, too--she does the best strip in the campus paper, and she's read by thousands of students a day, which still blows my mind. Awesome.) I made it through depression, profound immaturity, selfishness and petulance to become a reasonably responsible adult, even a happy one. But most importantly, we've worked through every problem we've had, we've taken the difficult path in working out disagreements rather than drifting apart so they don't matter. I don't think there's a royal road to happiness as a couple, but we could have gotten there quicker if I'd been less complacent, and there's no honor in wasting time like that. But Carin stuck with me, and has treated me with kindness and patience when it's warranted and nudged me into action when I needed it (see above, re depression). So, I'm ashamed it took this long, but I've finally gone from being a good partner some of the time, to being a good partner most of the time, to being a good partner pretty much all of the time.

And, above all, it's unseemly that I should be so public about the bad things in life, and so private about the good things. Because relationship work is difficult; what's it for? Well, all sorts of things.

I live in a bigger world because of her. This is not hyperbole; I used to have the engineer's distaste for the humanities, and I didn't really get classical music. (For instance, I thought the conductor was there primarily to make sure everyone kept the same tempo.) Because Carin puts cleverness into everything she makes, from advertising posters for her senior recital to little art jokes in her comic strip to the way (she explained this to me) you have to play a Baroque-era piece differently from a modern piece, because the modern flute is a different instrument than the Baroque flute. It turned my perspective from being that most things aren't worth intellectual attention to the idea that there can be art and wonder in anything. I tell her this a lot, because it really, really makes a difference in how I see things. For someone like me who lives in my head a great deal, it's an limitless gift. When she says "this is a guilty pleasure of mine", I hear it as, "there's going to be something surprising and interesting to learn here".

I've grown into a better person because of her, and it's not because she made me do it; it's because of the example she set. She came here with nothing, or close to it, and built a life up from it. She's managed to make friends in a place that she has bad culture-fit with (she's Midwestern; New Englanders are cranky and always in a rush in comparison). I think college is structured as a time for people to get their lives in gear and learn to interact with the outside world, and she didn't really get to do it that way, because she got sick and had to leave partway through. There's a moderately well-greased track to adulthood that people from our social class usually take, and she didn't have that advantage; she had to build her own, and in some ways, I think that counts for more. She earned every bit of peer esteem, every bit of social cachet, every bit of respect from her instructors. She's overcome so much without much help, and, well, I want to be a better partner and a better person. She's helped me overcome a lot of my own issues to get there.

Things are better when we do them together. I've never been so excited to share stuff with someone; since we have differing tastes (which, in a really memorable dinner-table talk, we traced back to the different primary things we look for in stories--she identifies with characters and wants to feel absorbed in the setting; I want to see characters pushed to their limits and flayed down to their true selves), this is sometimes difficult. (The opening of "Oracle" is kind of dark, for example.) But I've become less parochial about what I enjoy; I get "Pride and Prejudice" now, and she's made an effort to move into my world of math-geek humor and hard SF. I love going out and being sociable together; I feel like we're showing off, even when we're not trying to, because we radiate the message that we have our shit together, and that didn't happen by accident.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had at an offsite for work in a loud bar.

Me: [taking out a picture] Yeah, that's my girl!
Coworker: Wow, she's hot! Is she cool?
Me: Oh, she is so cool!

Because she is. Trying new things is better with her than without. There are infinite adventures to be had together, and we've dipped our toes in some of them already. I'm leaving a lot out, necessarily, but we've traveled to foreign lands, seen great works of art (the originals, which is especially impressive because now I can see a lot of the cleverness and symbolism that goes into academic painting), attended fascinating productions (most recently, "Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: The Musical") and up and down mountains ranging in size from "local hill" to "Alp". (Well, part of an Alp. But still!)

I love you, Carin. It's time for us to step into the future together.
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