Fuck You Sunday
“Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.”
I don’t know if it matters that it happened on a Sunday or that it happened after Christmas 2012. But it happened. I was on the floor, looking up at the ceiling of my house and at my husband’s angry face glaring down on me. He had pushed me down, over the dining room chair, and was looming over me, red-faced and angry, daggers in his eyes. A school teacher, a supposedly spiritual man who practiced daily meditation, spat out the two words intending to pierce my eardrums, break my heart, splinter my soul.
F u c k Y o u
He stabbed me repeatedly with those two huge little words and told me he wanted a divorce so he could live the life of a celibate monk. Rather a contradiction, my husband cussing at me so he could be a monk. Aren’t monks meant to be peaceful? Evidently, his hours of meditation and scriptural study didn’t make him immune to the human emotions of rage.
His verbal assault felt worse than the date rape I endured in college. I was left with a massive wound, a giant gash in my earth. While he didn’t use the c-word at me that day, and he didn’t physically rape me, his words felt like the deepest violation I had ever endured in my thirty-nine years on the planet. When it was all done, my entire world shifted. An earthquake, and I was left gripping the edge while he stepped on my fingers.
Saying ‘Fuck You’ once is nothing. Most of us say it in traffic once a week. We hear it on HBO or Netflix several times an episode. We’re used to it. We say it to our friends and loved ones like a term of endearment or a special privilege. With the right smile and an inside joke, intimate friends who trust each other tell each other to lovingly fuck off.
But when we mean it, that’s when it hurts. Like the rubber balloon you’ve been squeezing suddenly pops, that’s when ‘Fuck You’ is weaponized, and becomes a sharp object that does what it was meant to do—to stab and violate and hurt.
I did not know it at the time, but when Ted pounded my eardrums with the two words I hated the most in the world, the doors of the airplane cabin burst open, and I was ripped out of my safe seat and hurled into the wide vast blue unknown, away from everything I knew.
While I’d heard those words escape Ted’s lips many times in our eleven years as a couple, he never pointed them directly at me. On the other hand, I was no stranger to feeling those words aimed in my direction. As a high school teacher of at-risk youth, I had learned to shield myself from impact, and deflect their energy. Vulgarity has never really hurt me before. But that day, those two words repeated like a mantra, burned me like a red-hot brand directly on the rawness of my heart.
The ubiquitous word speaks volumes, not by its definitions or connotations, but by its energy. It carries with it an invisible and mutable arrow, capable of making any discourse turn from drab to techni-color. It can make all ears within range buzz from its unique frequency. The combination of sounds in the word, the soft F and the sharp –ck blend to energetically re-tune the frequency of anything it attaches to or strikes. While short and sharp, the sound resonates like the ripple of a boulder dropped into a still pond, disturbing and adjusting everything around it, underneath it, inside it, and even above it.
My family respected the potency of the F-word while Ted’s family instinctively diminished its power through overuse. To my family, the vulgarity was as foreign to our tongues as rolling r’s are to non-Latin speakers. Ted’s dad used it often, to describe anything and everything distasteful, as well as to emphasize joy or excitement. As a result, Ted could change the meaning of words, while I was confined to dictionary definitions.
Ted and I are both English teachers by training, educated to value and respect the structure and culture of language, burdened with the responsibility to teach the youth of Midwestern America to effectively communicate. Yet, our own means of expression are diametrically opposed. Ted speaks in a language that can numb and desensitize, while I speak a language of emotion meant to heighten and ignite. He takes big bites of words and swallows whole while I cut syllables into tiny pieces and suck the flavor, ingesting the essence on my tongue before swallowing it to my core. One day we eventually found ourselves 10 years into marriage without the ability to communicate.
“I’m trying to figure out a way out,” he said blankly. His face froze in a cold stare. I swallowed his sentence whole, feeling the thorn of the word “out” scratching the interior walls of my esophagus. When it reached my stomach, I felt all air sucked from my lungs.
He had said the unimaginable. I grew up in a family where divorce just didn’t happen. It was inconceivable. My parents, and my grandparents, and all my aunts and uncles were still together, until death do they part. With one little sentence and an icy cold stare, he pushed me outside of my comfort zone, forced me to step away from the familiar, and shoved me into the world of who-knows-what-happens-next.
I knew that anything I said might just bounce right off of him, my own emotions ricocheting back at me.
“If that’s what you want, then just do it. Get out.” I stood up and pointed to the door. We’d had the conversation many times, about how I thought he was disrespecting me by not pulling his weight around the house, by not contributing to the relationship, not communicating with me about his life. For the last three years I had felt more like his housemaid and roommate than his wife.
“I’m trying to figure out how,” he said quietly.
“GET OUT NOW! If you wanna be a monk and live a solitary life devoted to meditation and scriptural study, stop pretending and just go do it. You’ve had plenty of time to figure it out. You’ve had three years of treating me like this. Your time is up.”
“You can’t just kick me out. I live here too. I pay most of the mortgage.”
“Get Out.” Those two words were all I had left.
“Fuck you! You always have to have things your way. You want what you want!” His voice began to elevate, and for a moment emotion took him over.
There it hit. For just a moment, he spoke in my language of emotion.
“I FUCKING HATE YOU.” He pushed me over a chair onto the floor. He glared down at me, rage written all over his face, daggers spitting from his eyes. Giant icicles penetrated deep beneath my rib cage, deflated my lungs and punctured my heart over and over again, leaving a chill that froze me from the marrow of my bones outward.
Who was this man with coldness that bites worse than wind chill in Minnesota winters? This man I married, who treated that word before as insignificant as the leftover dust in a cereal bag was now using it to its full potency, against me, the wife he had vowed to love for the rest of our lives. I defended myself with the only protection I knew, the same two words I had used with high school students when they used the f-word on me.
“Get out.” It came out as a whisper.
“You can’t make me,” Ted responded exactly the same way as my students had, mocking my small physical stature and testing my will. Yet, I had filled a toolbox of skills for situations like this after years of dealing with juvenile delinquents. My tools hadn’t ever failed me with them, and they worked again with Ted. I got up from the floor.
Maneuvered the chair upright between us, planted my feet on the ground and said it again.
“Get out.” The words came from my core. I felt my belly heat up with internal fire, resolve, conviction. Entirely different from the rage he showed me only a moment ago.
“I live here too,” his voice quivered.
“You said ‘fuck you’ repeatedly and pushed me over a chair onto the floor. I can call the police and have you physically removed for domestic abuse.” I replaced the hammer of “get out” with the hatchet, knowing that if I had to, I could add some barbs by picking up the phone.
Just like the kids at school, Ted was taken aback, half in disbelief that I could even say such a thing, and half in sheer terror that I would follow through. At first, his ire was raised, and he took a step towards me as if to strike. But, I stood my ground, using the coldness that he had injected into me with his fuck-you icicles against him, and he surrendered.
“I don’t hate you. I didn’t mean that. Can’t we discuss this like adults?”
“Just go.” The words escaped as a whisper this time. I stood up and retreated to my sanctuary in the basement while he packed his stuff. That day was not the first time I had accused him of being a monk and he had accused me of being needy. But, that day was the first time he used the f-word against me. Our relationship was devolving into the realm of abusive. I curled up in the fetal position in front of my meditation altar with pictures of my ancestors gazing lovingly at me as if to say, “Stay strong, let him go.”
Ted is good at letting go. One of his favorite pictures is of the Indian guru, Nityananda, whose hands were perfect expressions of non-attachment, his hands open, fingers spread evenly, completely devoid of wrinkles and stress from any grip. The only thing Ted gripped with any intensity was his discipline towards his spiritual practice, the perfect oxymoron. A renunciate, he valued wide-open space and felt smothered by clutter. Junk drawers and overstuffed closets were as toxic to him as ammonia is to bleach. Ultimately renunciation meant letting go of all attachments, evidently that included the vows he had made to me.
I’m no stranger to letting go either, but until “Fuck You Sunday” I employed the practice of letting go of one thing only so that I may grasp onto something else, preferably of better quality. I sold my house, quit my job, and moved my world to marry him, the man my mother picked out for me, because that is what the woman does, and it was an upgrade from single life in a smaller town. I pictured our marriage like our two hands folded together, fingers interwoven in a way that we couldn’t tell mine from his, the exact opposite of Nityananda’s. My marriage was the greatest treasure I had ever grasped, and I couldn’t imagine trading it in for anything else in the world. But this time, I had no choice. He had let go, and I couldn’t hold on anymore.
While meditation had always been a priority in his life that I had supported, when the morning alarm started going off at 4 a.m. and earlier so he could meditate when the rest of the world was still, I resisted. When he would get out of bed, and his energy left my space, I felt as though the comforter had been pulled off of me. While 5 a.m. could work with my sleep cycle, that meant Ted would lay in bed staring at the ceiling, antsy and uncomfortable for 45 minutes to an hour until I was ready to wake. When he suggested separate bedrooms, I felt one of his fingers loosen its grip away from mine. Eventually, I let go of sleeping late in trade for my own early morning routine of yoga and meditation and a daily walk with our dog.
The more we fought about wake-up times and he argued for separate bedrooms, the less he wanted sex. To him, ejaculation was an extreme expenditure of spiritual energy that worked in direct conflict with his spiritual practice. To me, sex was the ultimate union of the masculine and feminine energies, the merging of the yin and yang. When he experimented with tantric exercises to withhold ejaculation, I felt another finger of his release its grip from my hand. When his sexual drive diminished and he leaned towards celibacy, a third finger released from my hand. I had a choice, give up sex or give up my husband. I loved him, and I wanted him to be happy, so I tightened my grip on his hand with only two fingers left and released sexuality in trade for creative expression. I started writing more, traveling more, and teaching more. I built a small name for myself as a traveling yoga instructor and spiritual teacher.
While Ted retreated further and further into his hermit cave of meditation and celibacy, my career flourished, and I developed a large network of friends and clients across the country. I’d go away for a week or two making connections with people all over America while he’d retreat deep into his cave, coming out only for teaching school, and daily ten minute telephone conversations with me and his mother. I joked with my friends that Ted’s level of being social was equal to my own level of being anti-social. Over several months, I started to recognize that he didn’t want to go on any social outings when I was home. He’d long since let all his own friendships evaporate, and was pulling away from our mutual friends as well. While I distracted myself by booking jobs that took me further away for longer and developing deeper connections with my friends on the road, he had let go of one more finger, leaving me to hold the marriage together by gripping his palm and his one pinky finger.
Fuck You Sunday, Ted pulled his hand away from me entirely. When I refused to reach to catch it again, I noticed that his hands looked just like Nityananda’s in the photo, empty, flat, completely free of grip.