Pat said this to me, today, when we were canoeing at a local state park. Thirty years ago, my father taught me how to canoe at Lake Accotink; roughly twenty years ago, Pat basically made his own canoe. He took an old one that had many holes and patched it. Sadly, his patch job made the canoe very unsteady and it looked like nothing more than something that would have been used in the Flintstones. It did float. A little. For a short amount of time. Eventually, it died a sad death.
Pat and I went canoeing a couple of times; however, he didn’t care for how I paddled or something. Apparently, I was a bit aggressive in my paddling style and he stopped taking me on canoe trips. Wow, in reading this, I sound whiny. Wah wah wah me.
I’m not trying to sound whiney; I am merely giving precedent and context for why Pat and I have not gone canoeing in decades. And I really do mean decades because this August, we will have been together for twenty-one years, sixteen of which are our time married (no, we are not about to get divorced despite how this is sounding).
I was planning on running at the gym today. However, as I was putzing around the house, cleaning up the breakfast dishes, Pat invited me to go canoeing with him.
He hated my canoeing style so much that he insisted I take lessons from one of his brother’s, Joe, who was a professional river raft-guide.
So Pat’s invitation took me by huge surprise. And guess what I did….immediately accept.
But knowing that he hated my canoeing style was enough to create lovely levels of anxiety that made me “nut-up” as he likes to say. “Nutting-up” means that I (or any other person currently experiencing this syndrome) will act with such anxiety that he/she (me) doesn’t perform as well as we could because we are allowing our anxiety to inhibit our normal actions.
So, we get to the boat launch, load up the canoe, and start pushing it out. I manage to get in without tipping. He gets in so smoothly one wouldn’t notice his actions.
And then we start paddling. And my stomach is in knots (not nuts) because I am worried that I am going to screw this up and we’ll never go boating again.
Before the first bend in the creek/river/lake/water source on which we were boating, I summoned up my courage and asked him what he disliked about my canoeing style so much that he wouldn’t go boating with me.
That’s when I learned about my “aggressive” or vigorous style. Apparently, he thought I was trying to show him up or just wouldn’t relax so that he could keep up with me. I was digging in so hard that he couldn’t match my pace. Not because I am super-canoe-woman. I was just doing what I had been taught. I was the motor; the person in the back was the rudder.
Anyhow, somehow, I communicated my anxiety that I was going to screw up this adventure and, instead of mocking me or telling me scathingly not to “nut-up” or to just relax, Pat said, “Don’t worry. We’ll figure out each other’s rhythms.”
Pat is universally known as a grump. His communication style is blunt and, sometimes, a bit too honest. He doesn’t filter his opinion and will tell a person exactly what he thinks the person needs to hear. Put into this mixture an emotionally sensitive person who has insecurities (me) and you have a toxic mixture.
We’ve gone through our share of problems. We’ve had various issues that I don’t want to talk about because they are in the past and I will not revel in them in a pubic forum. Every marriage has its share of problems. That’s enough to say.
So Pat’s statement today…well…it really was the perfect metaphor for our marriage, for our relationship. We spent the first five years of our lives together figuring out one another, seeing each other’s foibles and eccentricities. But it took another five years to be able to start communicating in such a way that we could start polishing, sanding down, and rubbing away the extremities of our personal foibles and eccentricities and flaws. It was hard. It was painful. It was wonderful because I truly am a much stronger person due to these experiences.
I have worried that we were going to lose the tandem-element of our marriage once the kids moved out. I have seen so many couples who couldn’t find each other once the children went to college. But, today, as I picked wild blackberries off a bush and passed several back to him, or when we pointed out wildlife to one another so we could share in the pleasure of being in nature, well….I realized that for a long time we had known each other’s rhythm.
But we had been so busy in the alternate routines of life and basic existence that we had forgotten one another. We were so involved in work, the children, our hobbies, our separate lives, that our concentric circles were spinning next to each other, not with each other.
Last week, we walked three miles on the Appalachian Trail together. Yesterday (and in about five minutes), we worked on fixing the water leak under the house. Today, we went canoeing together. Tomorrow, we will be hiking with our children.
Pat and I are re-exploring the world. The best part is that we are doing this together. Sometimes, we do it hand-in-hand. Other times, it is one leading the other. Either way, we are together, walking the same pace and adjusting when the other needs help.
I need to help Pat with the weeping-leaking pipe under the house. I’ll write poetry about the experiences tonight and will post them later.