that scar on your face

Last night we are in our first ever couples counseling session. My husband is speaking. He relates his experiences of the near two years since our son was born: the hurt and distance he felt in those first few months; evenings of hard work at home and sleep-deprived nights; and most painful, a wife who was not available to him. I am listening anew to these hurts in the way you can when there is a compassionate third party witnessing. I am listening, experiencing stillness. He admits he has not forgiven me for this time in our lives.

Silence, briefly. The counselor turns to me and asks if this is the story I hold. What have I been feeling as Ralph spoke? What do I remember now, looking back on this time of my life?

I speak slowly, “Well, I agree with the events as described…” I pause, trying to think back, starting my own story: “I had these two young children…” my voice breaks. I start to cry. In going back I am suddenly in our living room on a summer midday, two crying babies, postpartum shock, overwhelmed. No one there for me. And now, in the room with friends, I try not to let the sadness overcome me. Our counselor says gently, “Don’t hold your breath. You have to breathe.” – something in all my years of crying no one has told me. And I discover that if I stop holding my breath, my language flows out as weeping. I hide my face in my hands. But the moment is short. In being given permission to breathe, I have permission to break down and then regain calm. I hold a tissue in my hands and begin anew.

When I relive those feelings, it feels like what I’ve heard of post-traumatic stress. But there was no awful event; there were no horrific cruelties. There were two sweet babies and a blissful, almost frenetic busyness. Exhilaration, love for my children and pride in the beauty of our family. What is the story of the deep sadness that prevailed?

Forty minutes, much reflection, and a take-home assignment later Ralph and I leave. I feel fine. Cautious yet optimistic for our marriage that forms the cornerstone of our little foursome. My husband and I discuss this first experience together. Ralph comments that our counselor said many things like, “And how do you respond to that?” and “Have you taken anything positive away from this?” He jokes, “Gee, she sure needed a lot of positive reinforcement!” with a mock eye-roll. We laugh for a few minutes as we pull up to a restaurant to split a plate of barbecue together. One last hour before we get back to the kids and our home, that still stands as we built it.

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