Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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The Scratch (Why does my husband always scratch himself?) Part 1

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Mel and I were in sacrament meeting, the first one-hour block of three that make up the Mormon Sunday. We’d been married about two months and were living in Provo, UT, my home city. I was in slacks and a white shirt, and Mel was in a nice blue dress with white heels. We were young, twenty-two, and still getting used to each other. Our dating and engagement combined lasted about one year.
Outside of the Mormon Church, this was a really quick engagement. Many of my friends from Minnesota and Oregon that are not members of the Mormon faith dated for about two years, and then lived together for four or five more years before even considering marriage. But for Mormons, our one-year of courtship was standard, if not a bit long.
The reason I am telling you this is so you will understand that this Sunday, two months into our marriage, was the first time I ever scratched myself around my wife. If we’d dated longer, I have to assume that this would’ve happened sooner, but up to that point I’d gotten really good at making it look like I was searching for something in my pocket, or distracting Mel by pointing at something that wasn’t there and scratching once her back was turned, or pretending I was scratching my upper thigh.

We were sitting on a bench near the east exit. The sacrament bread and water had been blessed and passed, and the bishop, a slender man in a navy blue suite and a white shirt, was at the pulpit discussing church business. Mel was looking forward, listening, when I reached down, moved my legs a little, and scratched. My biggest mistake was that I didn’t consider her peripheral vision. I assumed that she was busy looking forward, when in fact she could still see what I was doing from the corner of her eye.
It wasn’t until Mel leaned into me and whispered, “Really? You just scratched yourself in church.” That I realized I’d finally been caught.
We made eye contact for a while. I gave her a silly forced smile, one that seemed to say, Guilty! I tried to play it off as something funny. She rolled her eyes, slightly exhaled, and whispered, “You’re gross.”
In this particular moment, the major issue was my church clothes. They were hot and uncomfortable. On the walk to church, I’d gotten a little sweaty. But the church building was cool, and I’d started to dry. When this happened it felt, more or less, like someone poured syrup into my pants.  It was all sticky, and uncomfortable, and I need to do something.
This is just one example of what I don’t think Mel understood at the time, nor do I think she understands now. A man’s package is really frustrating. It’s hariy, which makes it itch. It flops around, which makes it itch. It’s warm between my legs and it gets easily sweaty, which makes it itchy. Once it dries from being sweaty, it gets itchy. Everything about my junk is itchy. And if it is not itchy, it is stuck to the one leg, or it is somehow tangled somewhere between my underwear and pants. During the course of the day, there are a million reasons to need to scratch or rearrange the furniture. 

This is not to say that women don’t have similar problems. I can only imagine how frustrating breasts must be. And I don’t even what to know what it would feel like to have a period or to have something growing inside my body for nine months. Never the less, men still have problems with the way they are built.
I don’t think Mel wanted to understand my problems. I think she just wanted them to go away. To not be face to face with her husband as he fixed things. She would rather me live in a little discomfort so that she can still look at me and not be grossed out. This I feel was reasonable. It all comes down to social decency, same as covering my mouth when I sneezed or not burping around guests. And yes, some men are better at social etiquette than others. But frankly, once I got married, I knew that we were going to have to start breaking these rules. We were going to have to get comfortable enough to scratch. And I don’t think this was a bad thing. It simply showed that I felt our relationship was strong enough to over look this type of behavior. In fact, I think that a couple that can scratch, can last.  
Just before Mel saw me scratch my crotch in church, she was rubbing my back. But that came to an abrupt end. She wouldn’t look at me. Or speak to me. And when I placed my hand on her left leg, she crossed it over the right, trying to keep me from touching her. She was disgusted with me. And honestly, thinking back to that stage in our marriage, I would have probably been a little grossed out by her if she’d been the one scratching in church. What I think it came down to was that we just weren’t there yet. We were married, we lived together, we shared a savings account, a checking account, and a credit card.  We had a lease together and were insured to drive each other’s cars. We shared a dresser, consulted each other on major purchases. We were even talking about having kids. 

But all that pragmatic stuff was expected. It was part of the deal. We knew it was coming. Scratching, however, was not on our marriage license. When family members gave me advice on how to get along with my spouse, on how to make a marriage last, they never said, “One or both of you is going to have a few gross habits.” No one said, “Your husband will one day crack wind that is so rank you will have to step outside,” or “About three months into your marriage your wife will run out of toilet paper, and she will need you to hand her a roll through the door.” No one told me that. They told me we might fight over money or dates or affection, but never anything yucky. Maybe it was supposed to be a surprise, or perhaps it was the advice giver’s way of protecting their spouse’s dignity. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the idiom through thick and thin is just a euphemism for the complicated and disgusting realities of living with someone you love.

The Scratch Part II

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You would also enjoy, Sometimes Marriage is Gross. 

Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.