Laughing until you cry. That’s how I would describe my marriage, especially the final years. The extreme highs and the lows. One minute you are laughing until your stomach hurts and the next you just hurt and are crying til your head hurts. It’s like walking on shifting sand, you think you are on a solid foundation and then, Poof!, it changes. It’s not until you are completely on the other side you realize you have engaged in a twisted dance, the Eggshell Dance.
Three years ago August, I had the fortune to captain and played on a tennis team bound for Nationals. We trained, we laughed, we studied the game, we drank wine together, we won matches, we had fun. Finally, the big weekend arrived. Our motto was we were going to give it everything we had and remember to have fun! We did, despite, ambulances, losses, and bad calls, we all remembered the joy of the game and the joy of girlfriends getting together. Our car ride home was filled with funny stories, hugs and most importantly full belly laughs. I hadn’t had so much fun in years and I felt blessed. As we drove up to my driveway, the laughter subsided and a feeling of dread shrouded me. “Be happy”, I thought, “you are home with your husband and family.” If I could have this much fun with girlfriends, surely my husband of 25 years and I could share a few genuine chuckles.
Boy was I wrong. He came out to unload my suitcase, as any “perfect” husband would, and then we walked the green mile inside our self-imposed luxury prison. We made small talk in monotone voices, tried to act interested in one another and ate our Chinese food in strained silence. Little did I know at the time he begrudged my very existence, like a teenager annoyed with a parent for breathing and sucking up all of the air. My eggshell dance was in full swing.
Like childbirth, when we were apart from one another during the day, I forgot how painful the silence was, how hurtful the power of words, and how piercing to know deep in my heart that there were now three of us – again. I knew this time it was different, this time the eggs shells were being crushed, the dance was coming to an end. I felt powerless and after years of living this lifestyle was immersed in my own fear. Publicly, I laughed, internally I cried and then I played the victim. My husband was cheating, gallivanting all over town with another woman who was also desperate in love with him, and I faced it by lamenting “Oh poor me”. Our community of friends and gawkers ate it up. Everybody loves a victim and a story that’s not their own. They fed my ego, or lack of ego by saying, “he’s awful”, “she’s a tramp”. It was comforting because I was able to continue my part of the dance and not confront my fears, years of emotional abuse(emotional abuse that I willingly participated) had nearly annihilated my self-worth and esteem. Here I was a bright, capable woman fearful that the I had zero skills or assets and I was destined to work at a minimum wage job, part time, that no one would want me. Pretending all the time, to others and to myself, wavering between fits of anger and desperation, clinging to a lifestyle that deep down I despised, mourning the loss of my family as I knew it and most importantly, mourning the loss of me. Vacillating between speaking my mind, to looking for marriage counselors, to long discussions about how we could be a family once again. It’s exhausting. This is the Eggshell Dance and I was a chicken!
Months passed and I continued to dance. It’s easier to pretend than to look in the mirror and admit that my footsteps carried me into this twisted charade. It’s easier to blame someone else rather than admit I was addicted to the drama hiding behind, “I am a smart woman”, of course, I was beaten down by a monster, of course, none of this was my fault. I looked the other way for years, reveling in the (egg shell)good times and terrorized in the bad times. What person wants to admit to their family and friends that they tolerate, no not tolerate, but accept the invitation to dance?
Ironically, despite years of hearing I was awkward and without rhythm, I took dance lessons. I was learning new dances, the waltz, the tango, the foxtrot and I even signed up for a beginner dance competition in Las Vegas. Little did I recognize the paradoxical humor of my new dance moves. Literally, I changed the dance. The chicken I once was doing the Eggshell Dance was becoming a graceful, confident Swan doing the waltz!