Sunday, March 16, 2008

Me and my Knuckle head


I wanted to share with you all a little bit about my husband, aka the Knuckle head. Above is a painting I did of him a million years ago, when we were newly married. We lived in a one bedroom flat in Berkeley, where the light was wonderful. I worked in a bookstore and wrote and painted. He was a grad student at Berkeley. There he is, reading, working, keeping busy, as ever.

This charcoal sketch is from the same period, and it shows more of his soul - the sadness around the edges of his life, that keeps him working so hard, looking away from the past. He didn't have a happy childhood. There was a lot of neglect, the details of which are mostly his to tell or not. But he won't mind if I tell you this. He had an older sister who was born with spina bifida, and couldn't walk. She was a golden, loving person and he adored her. She died when he was three years old. He watched alone from his bedroom window as the ambulance men carried her body away on a stretcher. He once told me that the only happy times he remembers in his family are before she died. It breaks my heart. But the wonder of him, is that it didn't break his. He burrowed down deep inside himself, away from the cold of neglect, and waited.

The day I met him, he was moving to California from his fancy East-coast college. Funny story. He'd had a friend at this college, who also happened to be a friend of mine from high school. Before he left, he asked her for my phone number, just to have a contact. She said, "No, you wouldn't like her." So off he flew, without my name or number. His cousin said he could crash at his apartment till he'd found a place of his own. As fate would have it, I rented a room in his cousins place. I was a busy girl at the time; I was finishing up my English major, and I was in a serious relationship with a hunky grad student in Physics. But I remember hanging out and waiting to meet this cousin from the East coast. And when the door opened and this skinny, apple-cheeked, blond walked in, I thought, "That's the man I'm going to marry." I don't know about fate, predestination, or karma, but I do believe that I was waiting for him, and he was waiting for me. Though it took him a few more years to figure that out. But then, he's a cautious guy, because he's had to be.

Of course, it hasn't always been easy. When you live with a person who was not allowed to have needs as a child, they don't know how to recognize needs in themselves, or others, as adults. They don't naturally know how to look after a sick person, because no one looked after them. They don't know how to make those little thoughtful gestures - little gifts for no reason but love, a favorite meal - that grease the wheels of life together, because no one ever made those gestures for him. I can count on one hand the times he's brought me flowers, over the 25 years I've known him. If I want Christmas or birthday presents, I usually have to buy them for myself. Worst of all, he doesn't know how to cope with weakness, need, illness, in himself, so he ignores the messages his body is sending till there's a desperate, life threatening crisis. But he will never lie to me, never be unfaithful, and he will work himself (all too nearly literally, lately) to death to care for the people he loves.

And I'm no picnic in the park, either. I'm an impulsive, messy, big-mouthed, impractical woman, the fuck-up and black sheep of my family, and a (successfully medicated) depressive. But I'm also big-hearted, inclusive, non-judgmental, and loving. And I have made a home for him where he can bloom and be safe. So, here we are, two completely imperfect humans, who exasperate, perfect, and complete each other. ( Just to be fair, below is a pencil sketch of me from around the same time. Hope it's not too faint for you to see.)

19 comments:

yellowdog granny said...

you just listed all the reasons why i like you so much..and growing quite fond of ole knucklehead...

sageweb said...

That was so sweet. Your hubby has a lot in common with me. I would love to find a nice lady like you to make me safe.
Nice sketches too. You write and draw so well.
I hope everything is going well with the knuckle head, I keep you all in my thougts

Susan at One-Woman Show said...

We're all imperfect. As they say, it's just a matter of finding someone whose baggage matches your own! You sound like a great team. Here's hoping Knucklehead has healthier days ahead with you by his side.

Claire M. Johnson said...

I remember all those "artses," drawn at different periods of your lives together. Love you both.

Doralong said...

Sometimes the wildly different balance one another out.. Having spent the last 27 years with a man who was badly damaged as a child, I think having someone who in many respects is their polar opposite keeps them anchored in the here and now, instead of sliding back into the dark spaces too far.

That or he's usually too busy either laughing at me or being exasperated to dwell on it too long.

citizen jane said...

So much love and insight in both the words and the sketches.

Keeping you and the Knucklehead in my thoughts...

Willym said...

There is so much love in those words you've written and in those sketches. Finding someone who can inspire those lines written and drawn is a truly wonderful thing. You are both greatly blessed.

mumbliss said...

Dear Elizabeth,
Ahem.....I hesitate to rustle the mood in here, but...
in the name of truth and beauty, and love and honor, and dignity and self respect,
Have you checked your sources? All of them? Hmmmmmm? eyelashes fluttering. Hmmmm? another small clearing of the throat?
Misquote, misquote, Miss Quote, Ms. Quote.
P.S. Collecting Blackmailing material.... as we send love and a nice Hawaiian punch.

Elizabeth said...

You know it's true!!!! That's what HE reports that YOU said to him. Also, you know it's one of my absolute favorite stories ever. It just makes the fatedness of our meeting all the more clear and wonderful. And you know I've never thought it was anything but amusing!

Elizabeth said...

Granny: Yes, the ol' Knuckle head does grow on a person.....

Susan: That's exactly it, you need to have complimentary crap, e.g. for him, my relaxed messiness is a good thing because his mother was an angry, anal-retentive, neat freak.

Elizabeth said...

Sage: Well I wish I could find one for you. Of course, everyone has to travel their own road, so my lessons probably won't apply to you. But for me, before I could get to the place where I knew he was the one, I had to go through a lot of Mr. very, very wrongs. With each one, I discarded another idea about my "type" (which had been dark, sexy, creative, unavailable). By the time I met KH, I knew that all I really needed was someone kind, honest, and reliable.

Elizabeth said...

Doralong: "Too busy laughing at me or being exasperated..." is the perfect balance, and very like our home.

Claire: Just looking at that little painting brought that apt. back - the meyer lemon tree in back, friends and family nearby, great weather, cheap mexican food. Oh, I'm suddenly so homesick!

Jane: Hard-won insights, learned over a long life together.

Willym: We are greatly blessed to have found each other, and to be able to put up with each other! Complimentary flaws. That's what it's all about, no? Now if he'd just stop being SUCH a knuckle head and get healthy, things would be great!

mumbliss said...

'Tisn't.
Beg pardon Mrs. MisQuote.
Knuckle Head is in big trouble. He is now in line for a lashing if there isn't some reworking of the quote.
I try to be amiable when it comes to being someone else's laugh at my own expense, Grumbling... feeling misunderstood... and unfairly accused with no recourse.... because you aren't supposed to hit a girl with glasses, and you aren't supposed to kick someone when they are down, and I do try to be good, but.....but favorite story or not, Knuckle Head is awfully close to being called something really scary and you still are accused of libel until you check each factoid. Huffing and Puffing, and puffing and huffing, and thinking of reallybad and scary things to call people.

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evilganome said...

Wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing. I've never found the right one to put up with me, so I hope that the Knucklehead knows how lucky he is.

Will said...

"But I want to make scones with KNUCLKEHEAD!!!"

How's the weather in the 'Burgh these days?

jason said...

So beautiful...
the art, but most of all what you've written.

more cowbell said...

Your pictures say so much, and fill in what's unwritten. (I can never do line sketches, like the one of you -- always the urge to shade, blend, fill in ... I like how you made those few faint lines into you) The light was the first thing I noticed in the painting! So nice. But the middle one's expression - captured in the charcoal - i never mastered that.

Thanks for sharing all of that, pieces of your story. Hugs to you all.

steppenhund said...

There are only a few persons in the world who could describe the reality of love as understandable as to be found in your lines.
I hope everything went well with the surgery.
The story with the living will reminds me of my father who had told me this already when I was ten years old.
I remembered it several years ago, when I was having my gall removed. Just shortly before the surgery I wrote down my will and I was quite contented to have done so. Risk seemed to be minimized.
Best luck for both of you.