A memoir essay by Bear Weaver, December 2019
Bear Weaver spends time working for a nonprofit, exploring New England and beyond with an incredible spouse, and caring for several non-human animals. Bear’s writing centers themes like identity, love, and the absurdity of being alive on Earth.
A few minutes after I’d stormed out of our house to speed away for dramatic effect and stew alone in a parking lot, a Facebook notification pointed me to a comment beneath one of our wedding photos: “You both look so happy.”
Alex and I married privately at the beginning of June. It wasn’t an elopement—we had planned it since shortly after the proposal seven months prior. But we did run away. Our families seemed to have little expectation of a traditional wedding, presumably due to their assumptions about how gay couples operate without concern for convention. Without any familial drama to resolve, we left the U.S. for a cliff-side cottage in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The ceremony, set against the red cliffs of PEI, was brief and peppered by rain. But we’d hired the best photographer on the island, and the photos from that evening depict a landscape that looks almost Martian in its vibrant tinge and lithic textures. The photo with the most enthusiastic responses from friends and strangers alike shows us newlyweds backlit by the sunset, holding each other in a field of what I called weeds but Alex insisted were flowers.
Our week on the island was perhaps the only time during our relationship when I had been unburdened by anxiety. My new spouse also seemed at peace, even when a group of fishermen coerced them into holding two live lobsters for a photo op. We had chosen a wedding-turned-honeymoon with no family to appease, no decorations to put up, no one hundred polite “hellos” to move through as quickly and tactfully as possible over the span of an evening. We instead had Canadian hospitality, a culture that often prides itself on its openness toward queer people, and a whole island to explore. Each night as our departure day grew closer, we invented new schemes to stay in PEI indefinitely, hoping that eventually, Justin Trudeau himself would grant us some kind of goodwill residency permit.
But the honeymoon was over now. “Like” after “love” after glowing comment, so well-intentioned but so seemingly unwarranted, smothered our social media presence. If they only knew what our therapists know, I thought. After an hour of stewing in my hatchback to a soundtrack of sad alt-folk music, I returned home. I was over whatever original slight Alex had made against me, but my resentment over the public expectation that we were blissfully romping about together in our “honeymoon phase” had reached its peak.
“It’s a lie!” I yelled, exasperated and desperate to provoke some drama to reflect my inner discomfort.
“I don’t think we’re lying to anyone,” Alex answered, “I just think people want to assume we’re happy.”
“Are you not bothered that people think our relationship is perfect just because we’re smiling in these photos?”
“I mean, we love each other, and we communicate well. What more—”
“Do we?” I was in a mood.
On this day, I was obstinate. My frustration with what I viewed as inauthenticity had reached its boiling point. If we were honest with ourselves, we struggled even before the wedding. While I was away for work one Tuesday evening, Alex sent me pictures of underlined passages from a book about the aftermath of trauma. My phone buzzed every few minutes and I worried that reading the book without me there as a grounding force—a cue to connect them to our present reality—would trigger for Alex a PTSD reaction. Sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder looks like spending six hours cleaning the baseboards and door trims around both stories of our house. At its worst, it activates a “doom loop” in Alex’s brain that tells them, ceaselessly, that they should die.
An accumulation of complex, layered events laid the groundwork, and Alex and I both have trauma histories. One of the most endearing facts about my spouse is that as a child, their favorite pastime was to sit in a dark closet and wear a headlamp to illuminate books about aliens, wondering when their extraterrestrial birth parents would rescue (read: abduct) them from this planet for which they felt so ill-equipped. When we abandoned Florida to build our life in New England, we were determined that the fallout from our volatile histories—the toxic effects of abuse, generational trauma, parental estrangement—stay in our home state to die, leaving us unencumbered and ready to embark upon a highly functional marriage.
Our best friend described our spousal fights as “two bubbles of trauma that just keep bumping into one another.” The barrier between us is actually two barriers, and we have to level both of them for one of us to reach the other. It is too easy to lose each other in our arguments, which so often stem from our most painful experiences. The truths we learned in childhood and early relationships do not stay in the past, where we wish they lived. Initially minor disagreements can erupt into overwhelming breakdowns of communication. The fears and unstable foundations at the roots of our adult selves infect our abilities to reason, and more importantly, to love and empathize. We lose each other in the chaos.
In the fall, we attended a queer wedding in the New Hampshire woods. The brides were ministers and devoted activists. I wondered for a moment how our wedding would have looked with friends and family in attendance, and then the couple’s dog relieved herself while accompanying one of the brides down the aisle. The officiant delivered a sermon centered, like the relationship being celebrated, around the vitality of social justice and community support. In unison, the audience pronounced our friends married.
Alex and I are a tiny, inexperienced family. We are still trying to build our community, navigate dynamics and boundaries with our families of origin, and define our chosen family of friends. We love each other, probably as much as our social media presence suggests, but our posed photos cannot reflect our inner worlds or the state of our relationship. My dimples say “happy” whether I am or not. Alex has great hair and the face of an androgynous Instagram model whether or not they are feeling particularly stable that day. The wreckage of our past traumas lies beneath our marriage. It holds our relationship until one misstep makes the whole structure quake. I don’t know how we keep pushing our partnership back up, resetting it, and holding our breath.
The night of the fight, I doggedly insisted Alex examine the roots of nearly every feeling they expressed and kindly requested they use a tone that sounded less like my mother. Alex asked that I acknowledge that so many of my sensitivities actually have nothing to do with our marriage and might in fact be about my mother. I changed the sad alt-folk playlist to Kesha. I held Alex’s hand even though I thought I might be too vulnerable for touch. We spoke to our therapists. As always, we found each other again.
“So, where do we go from here?” Alex asked.
“I guess we have to talk about the same issues every time, every day, forever, until we die,” I offered.
“I can do that.”
And here we remain, over a thousand miles from the places that shaped us and the people who most impacted us. We live in a culture that reminds us daily that our marriage is an act of resistance. When I feel unfairly maligned by my partner, I tend to cave into myself and can sometimes only see through the eyes of the frightened child I thought would be long gone by now. In disorientation, all I want is an exit. In “fight, flight, or freeze,” I lean toward “fly across the country and into a new life.” But marriage is a commitment to stay. When my pain tempts me to storm up the stairs or out the door, can I consider the other former child in the room? Can I remember the closet, the aliens, the damn headlamp? Can I reach the lonely kids in us, each looking to the other for companionship? On good days and bad, we are at our cores the ones who will resist by existing, whose sufferings will continue to build empathy, and whose mutual understanding will provide the foundation for a partnership. We, like everyone, are doing our very best with what we have been given. And we choose for our best to be enough.