Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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


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Most of that Sunday Mel shied away from me. She didn’t grip my hand as tightly as usual, and her smile was forced and uncomfortable. I will admit that at the time, I was a little bugged by Mel’s reaction, but thinking back now, I understand it. We just didn’t know each other well enough.
Once church was over, after we said our heart felt goodbyes to the members of our congregation and left the building, once we were sitting in the car, just the two of us, Mel said, “Why would you do that in sacrament meeting? You really embarrassed me. I don’t think anyone saw, but what if they did? What if someone saw you do that to yourself. It’s just…” she paused for a moment, something she often did when trying to find the right word. In this case, I think she was trying not to say something derogatory. 

 “…Yuck,” was the best she could do.
I laughed a little, more at the situation than at her. But naturally she saw it the other way. Her face was red now. Her eyes a little wet. Then she turned her head and looked out the window, something she often did back then rather than argue with me. I can only assume what was going through her mind at that time. She was probably trying to understand why she was attracted to me. Trying to understand if she could live with this yucky man.
We sat in silence for a while.
Then I tried to explain myself. I told her I was sorry. But when she didn’t accept my apology, when she just kept sitting there silently, I got angry. What didn’t come out until later was that she was mostly angry that I’d done it at church. She wouldn’t have been as angry if we were at home. But at the time I didn’t think much about the setting. I saw her reaction as a personal attack.
I told her she was over reacting. I told her that she was being ridiculous. I told her a lot of things I only said early in our marriage. The things I hadn’t yet learned were derogatory and rude and didn’t help the situation.
Mel remained silent, hands cupped in one another, head turned away so all I could see was her brown braided hair. We were still in the parking lot. Most of the church members were gone. A new congregation was arriving so the parking lot was filling up, but luckily it was full of strangers.
“I’m not leaving until we settle this,” I said. Then I took the keys from the ignition and put them in my pocket.

Thinking back, this all seems extreme. It seems strange that this situation would become so escalated. But if I strip down the emotions we were experiencing, I suppose it makes sense. Mel was embarrassed. In fact, I think she was deeply embarrassed. She was worried that someone might have seen what I’d done, and think less of me. And because she was married to me, they might think less of her. There was a lot of gossip in our congregation. Lot’s of taking. She didn’t want to be known as the wife of the crotch scratcher.
I was dealing with embarrassment, too, but of a different shade. Mel had called me out. Had said something I’d done was unacceptable. And I loved her more than I’d loved anyone else. Sure, other people had told me I was embarrassing. Mostly family: My mom, grandmother, sister, and ex-girlfriends for example. But the relationship I had with my wife was very different. We’d made a commitment to cherish each other forever. Indeed, I cherished her. And I wanted her to cherish me, embarrassing quirks and all. I didn’t want her to see me as “yucky.” But I didn’t know how to explain myself. I didn’t know how to make it better. To get her to see me the way she saw me before I scratched.
We sat in that car not speaking for a long time, probably 30 or 40 minutes, until Mel finally broke the silence.
“Just don’t do it again,” she said. She put both her hands up, palms out, in a stopping motion. 

“I don’t know if I can do that,” I said. “It’s just something that happens.”
Mel rolled her eyes like I had a serious problem. We’d been sitting in the car for so long, that I started to wonder if I did have a problem.
“Listen, Mel,” I said. “This is just something men have to do. The thing itches all the time. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“Fine!” she said. “Just don’t do it at church. Or around me. Or other people. Keep it to yourself.”
I was tired of fighting. I was hungry. And so I did what I often did early in our marriage. I made a foolish promise I knew I couldn’t keep. “Yeah. Sure. You will never see it again.”
Mel nodded, and we drove home.
This was not the last time we fought over something like this.  It was only the first. And it was not the last time that I made a promise I couldn’t keep. And I have to assume that Mel has done the same. In fact, many of our early fights ended with a false compromise. It took us years to understand and expect that we are both inherently gross people.

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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.