At some point in my early teen years, I discovered the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay. I was captivated by the resonance and, often, the sadness of many of her poems from the first time I read them. But few of her lines struck me and stuck with me like the ending of “Witch-Wife”:
She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.
I felt this stanza described me so well; no matter how much I love people, no matter how well I connect with them and enjoy their company, there will always be the power of my own inner world and my need for solitude calling me away. I doubted that I could ever wholly belong to someone.
Years went by, and with them came my parents’ ugly and – for my siblings and me, unexpected – divorce, followed by other major and minor disasters and betrayals of all sorts and from many different sources. More and more the trust I might have had flecked and faded away, leaving a barren surface behind. I knew not to count on anything, or to trust anyone fully. This doesn’t spring from anger or from a hatred of humankind; rather, it’s just that life is so unpredictable. How can I know now what I’ll be doing, thinking, feeling, ten years down the road? How can anyone? How can you say you’ll be faithful to someone for your whole life? How can you believe they’ll be faithful to you? Nothing is permanent. “Man plans, God smiles,” was my grandfather’s saying. It was chosen as his epitaph.
I guess, though, I always thought someone would come and change my way of thinking. My prince charming wouldn’t enter my world impressively mounted on a white horse and wearing armor, but rather walking in ordinary clothes, with a broad, guileless smile. He’d take me into his arms and remind me that there are some things that can last a lifetime; he’d remind me, for example, that I will always love my family.
When I met my boyfriend, in many ways he corresponded to my dream man. But he wasn’t that trusting, smiling fellow. When we shared our life stories, I told him that I tried always to see the good in people, but that there were few – if any – individuals in this world that I felt I could trust or count on 100%. I had no idea how much I’d regret that confession.
The boyfriend also has trust issues. Compared to mine, their origins are mysterious and run deep. There are few things on the surface of his life that would make it obvious what causes him to be so distrustful of everyone and everything. I felt that, like me, he could put those worries aside when it came to our relationship. I live each day knowing that one day our union could crumble – nothing lasts forever. But I also know that for now we’re in love and faithful to each other.
As girlfriends go, I’m pretty easy to deal with, I’d think, when it comes to trust. I’m not a partier, and don’t have friends that I keep to myself. I want my boyfriend to be able to socialize and have a good time with any of my pals, and if I do go out with one of them from time to time, I always tell him he’s welcome to come with us. And what are these nights out? Not dancing in a club or going to a bar and staggering home shitfaced – rather, dinner and conversation at a good but cheap restaurant, maybe followed by a walk. I don’t keep my cell phone or email boxes secret; I even loaned the boyfriend my phone when he went away on a reconstitution group meeting yesterday. I try to make it clear that I have nothing to hide.
I like to joke, though…. I’d say half the things that leave my mouth are meant to be funny. And sometimes those are playful stories or lies or exaggerations. For example, if someone says, “Do you know….” followed by an extremely obscure song/book/event, etc, if I know the person well enough, I’ll say, “Oh yeah, that’s my favorite!” or something like that. I might go on a little while, embellishing. Maybe it’s the writer in me. In the end, though, I always say I’m kidding.
A few weeks ago, the boyfriend asked if I knew a folk song soldiers used to like to sing in Napoleonic times. Of course I didn’t! But I found myself answering, “Oh yeah, actually, in the U.S., we learn that in school and kids sing it on the playground all the time.” I honestly thought the boyfriend would realize that wasn’t true. But instead he looked at me so innocently – when I think back on it now – and pleasantly surprised – and when I told him I was just kidding, he seemed crushed.
Unbeknownst to me, these little stories of mine had started to nag at him. How could someone lie with such a straight face, he wondered? Nevermind that when I try to lie about something important, I’m terrible at it. Oddly enough, I think it’s because maybe deep down, it’s not in my nature to lie – not about anything really serious. I think I want to be honest, to be able to be myself and say what I think, what I want and don’t want to do, what I have a problem with or think is okay, without worrying about the other person’s reaction. The boyfriend’s got it all wrong.
And nevermind that in all our years together, I've never cheated on or betrayed him in any way - nor given cause for him to think I'd done such a thing behind his back.
It’s like I’ve misused magic: My jokes, combined with what I said about never being able to fully trust anyone, have caused the boyfriend to doubt more than ever that he can fully trust me. In spite of being a faithful homebody of a girlfriend, someone who I’d like to think people can tell has integrity, I’ve become the witch-wife. The way he looks at me, the walls he puts up, have made it even easier for me never to fully be his.