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5 Being Undone Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. —Judith Butler, Undoing Gender I was home from college one weekend shortly after my parents moved back to Colorado. After dinner, we slowly cleaned up. I paused for a moment and sat down in the living room. Suddenly, my mother and father began quarreling, the way they used to fight when I was a little girl. This time, however, I wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t hide under the covers , whispering desperate prayers over and over. “Please God, don’t let them get a divorce,” I’d pray, because to my eightyear -old mind, divorce seemed like the end of the world. Although I wasn’t afraid this time, I held my breath, frozen, because I hadn’t seen a fight like this in a while. They were both in the kitchen, but I could see them from the couch. My mother was gesticulating with a spoon in one hand, shrieking about the long hours of thankless work with him for the 87 church. My father stood up and began bellowing back, trying to get a word in edgewise. Then, as though in slow motion, I saw her turn and reach for the small plant in a terra cotta pot on the counter behind her, and in one smooth motion, she chucked it at him. I remembered seeing that green plant in the apartment they had occupied in Princeton when my father decided to go to seminary. I was amazed it had survived the trip after graduation back to Colorado with them. I wondered why they brought it, since it was the kind of plant you could just buy at the local grocery store. I dove in between them and swatted it to the floor before it hit anyone. I looked at the dirt on the carpet, scattered on top of the broken pieces of the pot, with the leaves of the plant crushed and strewn at my feet. Something in me snapped. I squeezed my fists and screamed, “Stop it! Just stop it! Stop fighting!” as if all the years of pent-up angst from hearing them scream at each other were bursting forth like water over a breaking dam. “Why are you still fighting like this?! Just get a divorce if you hate each other so much!” They barely looked at me and simply circled each other like two predators in the wild trying to protect their territory. My mother went to her room and locked the door, but as usual, I could hear her talking angrily. After any fight, she used to talk to no one in particular—maybe to the dishes while cleaning up the kitchen or to the walls of her closet as she folded the laundry. My father left the apartment. I cleaned Outside the Lines 88 up the remains of the houseplant and tossed the mess into the garbage. My first perspective on marriage was molded on my parents ’ marriage, which was a relationship that often struck me as deeply lacking. I never saw them express physical affection, and it seemed as if the volume and tone of their voices were constantly at a fever pitch, intense and combative. Certainly, they had stressful times as much as anyone else, especially as immigrants trying to negotiate survival in this country. Still, I held up their life together next to rom-coms and Disney princess movies, and judged it according to some imaginary happily-ever-after that I assumed must exist after the credits finished rolling. It wasn’t until after my honeymoon, when I moved into the church manse with Andy, that I realized marriage was all quite a bit more involved than flying off on a magic carpet toward the horizon, where some easy, perfect union awaited. Nearly every day of our lives was filled with the strenuous task of simply living together in the same space—trying to do the simple work of adjustment and compromise even as our sense of selves was constantly colliding around what missionary and evangelical author Elisabeth Elliot described as the four areas of marital conflict: “bedroom, bathroom, breakfast, and budget.”1 The traditional scripts around marriage came undone for me many years later, as I saw that the formulas for a sound marriage were untenable—not just for me, but for so many around us—because there was little room for choice or...


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MARC Record
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